One of our current goals for Luke is to help him find and maintain a sense of calm. We’ve tried a number of strategies with him and are still working to discern what works best for him (and for the rest of the family!).
To help us glean new ideas and procedures, I suggested to Dannette from S-O-S Research that the Best of the Best (BoB) Edition 10 could be about how to help special needs kids to calm down and/or refocus after a melt down or stressful event. She kindly accepted my proposal. Thus, I am now looking forward to the latest edition of B-O-B going live on September 15, so I can browse the links there in order to learn about others’ thoughts, opinions, strategies and research about calming strategies for special kids, and, by default, their siblings, too. (Because, truth be told, as Nina has modeled her behavior after Luke’s, I almost find her copycat meltdowns harder to take than Luke’s sensory-induced ones!). Perhaps someone else’s original idea or practical twist on tried-and-true calming method will be just what our family needs.
Needs and Interests
- Luke does okay sometimes when Mommy or Daddy help him calm down through redirection, holding, deep pressure, etc., but he has yet to find strategies that he can effectively use on his own. As someone inspired by Montessori, I am especially interested in promoting such strategies since they, in turn, facilitate an “I can do it myself” attitude. We seek to empower our children with the ability to self-soothe.
- Nina is still not making connections with letter recognition and sounds. This does not worry me yet, since she is only four, but it does tell me I need to focus on providing even more opportunities for Nina to explore early literacy.
- Both Luke and Nina thrive with visual cues. They not only enjoy making visual schedules, charts and materials with me, but they also tend to respond better to such things than they do verbal cues. I also like how visual tools help my pre- and early-reading children with personal accountability.
- Luke, by nature, seeks control. Nina, by nature or nurture – we are not sure – loves choice. Whenever we can build opportunities for the children to exercise their freedoms to direct and select (within limits) into our days, the better.
- Luke and Nina both enjoy playing and working with cards. During learning time, play time and other times, we find that adding decks or rings of relevant cards makes the atmosphere of our home more positive. The kids just love them!
- Unrelated to our children, but bearing the interests of others in mind, I have noticed that the post I wrote where I shared the Alerting Activity ABC Cards that I made when we first began our SPD journey is consistently one of the most popular posts ever on this blog. It seems others are seeking easy-to-use, kid-friendly tools for dealing with sensory issues in young children.
Momma’s Latest Project: I Can Calm Myself ABC Cards
Synthesizing all of my thoughts, I decided to borrow every moment I could over the past few days to create a new deck of cards for both my kids and those who share our journey here at Training Happy Hearts. The goal of these cards is four-fold:
- to offer young children a menu of ideas they can use to self-soothe. (Thus, you won’t find any strategies among those pictured on the cards that require a second person, say, to apply deep pressure or to play on a see-saw together.)
- to provide further opportunities for letter recognition and phonics work through play. (Admittedly, some of the cards do not follow basics phonics rules. For example, the had sound for “k” as in “kick” is not used on the “k” card, but rather the silent sound, as in “knead”.) Since phonics work is a secondary goal for the cards, I opted to overlook this detail at times and I hope you can, too. Besides, it can provide an opportunity for teaching children about lesser-known phonics patterns and exceptions if you’re really gung-ho.)
- to give back to the community of fellow special needs and young children’s parents, educators and specialists I have met online. I truly hope you find these cards useful.
- to afford opportunities for choice. Just as every child is unique, the activities that work to help calm one may not work for another. Some activities, particularly heavy work ones, can be both calming or alerting depending not only on the child, but on the state a child is in at a given moment. Likewise, some children find more comfort in tactile strategies, say, than oral-motor ones, while others may like auditory ones. Thus, I opted to make more than 26 cards in order to include some extra possible calming solutions. That way, both kids and the adults in their lives can pick and choose as desired.
Also, since the cards are meant to be for calming, I opted to use gray, instead of black for the letters and to use more pastel/muted tones for the color-coded letters. I have not had time to test if these color choices work yet, or just make the cards more difficult for children to read, so please offer feedback if you choose to print out and use the cards. I always appreciate comments and, if you can think of ways to make the cards a more effective tool – through color choices, added activities, reworded descriptions, etc, I would be grateful to hear your ideas and to update the cards accordingly as I have time.
Prepping I Can Calm Myself ABC Cards
To Prep the Cards simply click on the thumbnails of the cards throughout this post. When you do, larger, printable versions should pop up. (Since I still have not dedicated time to figure out how to share documents through any of the free online sharing sites that exist, and have not played around enough with a free PDF file maker I found, I simply uploaded the cards as images.) Should the way I have shared the cards not work for you, simply leave a comment and your email address and I will get a copy out to you that way. (And, if you have a favorite free site for sharing files, do clue me in with a comment!)
Of course, please aware that in the set of cards, there are relatively quick and easy activities kids can select to calm themselves based on their seven senses: Hearing, Gustatory/Oral Motor, Smelling, Proprioception, Pressure/Touch, Vestibular/Space/Balance and Visual. On their own, with just their bodies and some typical items found at home (or prepared ahead of time if at school, camp or other locations), children can use the cards to self-soothe. Before playing, in deference to your child's individual needs and abilities, as well as to what supplies you may or may not have on hand (think vanilla votive candles at home or a bathtub at school) take a quick flip through the deck to pull out any that might not work for your child.
Once the deck is ready, train your child in self-soothing activities through playing a simple game: When your child is already calm, have your child select a random card and follow the choice on it. Then, select another one and do the same. If you wish, add some extra fun by choosing only cards with letters of the same color. (The letters on the cards are color-coded by sense) Or, select cards that spell names of people you know or favorite things. The idea is to play often – for short or long durations depending on your child’s interest – in order to help your child recognize the many ways one can independently calm and organize oneself. That way, when your child has a moment when calming down is necessary, a myriad of strategies may come to mind.
In order to keep exposure to the calming strategies on the cards fresh and fun, you may want to try the following variations of play:
Role-Reversal Role Playing: Tell your child that you are the Child and your child is the Parent. Child describes an event that may be overwhelming or stressful and then asks Parent for help calming down. Parent flips through the cards and selects a depicted activity that might be an appropriate technique for calming down given the situation Child described. Parent says, “You can help yourself. Try this.” For example, Child says, “It is loud in hear. I feel antsy. Something smells funny. I can’t calm down. Help me.” Parent flips through cards and finds the “Q” card. Parent says, “You can calm yourself. Try going to your quiet corner.”
Name the Situation: Draw a card. Look at the choice depicted on it. Then, try to name a situation when the idea might be appropriate. For example, if the child drew the “Rr - I can go for a run card,” the child might suggest, “I just got home from a noisy party and I feel like I have way too much energy still.” Or, “I feel angry because my sister broke my toy.”
Or, you could use any of the games described in my Alerting Activity ABC Cards post, which include a Board Game, Spelling Snake, Pick a Letter, Any Letter, What letter Is It?, Can You Think Of...? and Three-Part Cards. With any of these games, you will likely wish to allow children to mime, instead of completing, choices depicted as some choices may be difficult to actually do while playing the game (such as taking a bath or playing in the yard). Also, bear in mind that boisterous competitive play often defeats the purpose of practicing calming activities and techniques. Thus, it might behoove everyone to tweak all the game variations described to be cooperative ones. For example, consider it a "win for all" once all of the letters have been identified and all choices mimed or completed.
Of course, there are many other ways your could use the cards. I know I will likely discover more as I put them into play with my children.
A Work in Progress
Just like our family's efforts to train our children to self-soothe are a work in progress, so are these cards. They have been created in between moments of homekeeping, homeschooling, therapies, soothing my youngest's croup through the night, etc. And, they are made by me (a parent not a professional therapist). So, there is bound to be room for improvement with the cards.
With this in mind, I sincerely ask you to do me the courtesy of stopping by here to leave a comment after you have looked the cards over or put them into play. Let me know what worked with them for your child, what did not, what you would like to see included in them, deleted from them, changed about them. Share the ways you used them. Offer an idea for a new way to play. Truly, your constructive criticism, as well as kudos, on this tool that I have created for my children and am sharing for you to use with yours is not only welcome, but requested.