The whole family has been “cooked”. We are wildly flopping our noodle arms around the room and bobbing along on freshly noodled legs. My family of spaghetti is dancing around the therapist in a freshly cooked state with their therapist. God bless her!
Our whole family is learning and practicing coping skills to help with “big feelings.” Because of past trauma and PTSD, our children can quickly become dis-regulated. Once their “fight-or-flight” response is triggered, they can become dangerous to themselves and the rest of the family. Our goal is to catch their escalating emotions and intervene before they get to this point.
My husband and I will often start a coping skill while the child is dis-regulated and hope they will join in. We can often sense when an outburst is brewing long before they even know that their feelings are beginning to take over the “driver’s seat.” I am, by no means, a therapist or a neurologist. I will, however, try and paraphrase the experts as I show you some of the things we have learned. Here are some of the calming strategies we have tried. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!
1. Cooked spaghetti:
There is a tutorial available online for this. The basic idea is to have the child tense up their body like uncooked, stiff pasta. Then they “cook” it either all at once or lying down and one body part at a time. The cooked child becomes limp and floppy. We prefer to stand up so we can dance around in our wiggly, floppy, “cooked” state!
- YouTube has lots of videos. Search “Spaghetti toes”
2. Deep pressure:
Sometimes deep pressure activities provide a sensory feedback that is needed to sort of bring the child back down into a “grounded” feeling and a sense of body control. Some children prefer a weighted blanket. We use a Velcro vest that we tighten according to the child’s preference. The tight squeeze is soothing to our kids. We also have body gloves that can encompass the child completely. They can see out, but you can’t see in. This gives pressure feedback but also a sense of safety and privacy. And it looks super cool!
- Weighted blankets and body socks are available on Amazon.com and Abilitations.com
3. Scent Memory:
We spend quiet happy times massaging lavender-scented lotion into each other’s arms and hands. That way, our children associate the smell of lavender with calming and nurturing. Once their Amygdala assigns an emotional state to the scent, then the scent can be used to activate this calming state. Now, in times of stress we can nonchalantly open up the lotion and apply it to ourselves. Then, when Carl or Mary are ready, we can give a soothing hand massage. This is also true for objects that smell like mom and dad. Our dirty shirts from yesterday can be worn by the Littles in times of stress. Believe it or not, these smells are soothing and comforting to children in distress. Yup, they love our stink!
Warmth is a basic human need. We are hard-wired to seek out good, warmth, and shelter. We have a heating pad that plugs in and helps warm the back of any child who is becoming dis-regulated. A fuzzy blanket, heating pad, and snuggles are often a good way to soothe a frightened child. We have also ordered heated stuffed animals (accented with lavander!) that our chickens can microwave and hold close. You can make this yourself with a sock or small bean bag. Fill it with beans or rice and a few drops of lavender essential oils. Sew shut and microwave for warm hugs!
- quirkymomma.com has a great DIY lap snake.
When any animal-even humans- perceived danger, they enter into a state of primal fear. This is also known as the fight-flight-freeze response. Children who have been traumatized are often operating very close to this fear-based survival state much of the time. Their pupils will dilate and their breathing will be rapid and shallow. When the survival brain kicks in, the thinking brain shuts down. The beast way to bring your child back to their “thinking” brain is through breathing.
Slow their breathing and you can calm their neuro-response. Our kids’ super-swell therapist gave them jelly belly bubbles to blow. They are awesome! These bubbles are scented like Jelly Belly candy so they automatically trigger happy candy memories in the brains Amygdala. Plus, blowing bubbles will force the child to slow their breathing down.
We also like “Lazy 8 Breathing” from the Zones of Regulation curriculum. This has the child trace a sideways figure 8. They breathe in on one side and out on the other. This is also used in Brain Gym activities in part to have the child cross the midline of their brains. It’s calming and it activates different areas in the brain to work together.
- Bubbles available at Vat19.com
- Check out BrainGym.com for more brain-based activities
Please feel free to add your own ideas about calming your child’s stress responses. How do other Trauma Mamas out there help kids to regulate their emotions?
When all is said and done, I have to thank our therapist. So, here it goes. Thank you for cooking my children!
**Please note that I am in NO WAY a certified professional in the areas of occupational therapy, psychiatry, psychology or counseling. I am a special education teacher by day and a trauma-mama by night. See your own child’s professionals for specific plans. Thanks!