Children & Anxiety: The Impacts of Trauma and Anxiety on a Child’s Mind and Body

The words anxiety and stress are used more frequently in our world today than ever before and even more so when considering the traumatic situations children are faced with. Trauma is considered “an out of control, frightening experience that has disconnected us from all sense of resourcefulness or safety or coping or love.” (Brach, 2011).

When we consider trauma within this context, I imagine there are a few more events or situations that may come to your mind for yourself as a child or for the children you are currently caring for.

When children are in constant states of powerlessness or in unpredictable/unsafe environments there are implications for the mind and body because fear is the emotion felt in both scenarios. If children do not have access to a primary caregiver who can guide them through fearful emotions with patience, love and understanding, ultimately the child accesses the fight/flight/freeze mechanism in the brain. This mechanism, when overactive, will begin creating a neuro pathway in the brain advising the child they need to disconnect from feeling which ultimately means they disconnect from their body – leaving them feeling anxious in their world.

What is anxiety?

Before we continue, let’s clear up the term ‘anxiety’ and what it means. Anxiety is a state of being when we are concerned, fearful or worried about the future. Our mind focuses on an issue or situation and in its attempt to feel safe, will try to predict every possible outcome of that issue or situation – leaving us feeling uncomfortable sensations in our bodies. These sensations may include; shallow breathing, reduced energy, headaches, tense muscles, sleeplessness and diarrhea.

When anxiety is felt on a regular basis, especially during the core developmental years of 0-7, our fight/flight/freeze response becomes our default functioning system. This system has been designed to protect us when we detect a threat in our environment. For example, approaching a school bully, hearing parents argue, hearing a loud noise or being asked a question by a school teacher. When this system is constantly triggered and strengthened, children may experience:

  • learning difficulties;
  • control seeking behaviour’s such as bullying;
  • explosive behaviours;
  • difficulty regulating their emotions;
  • difficulty remaining engaged with their teacher and learning content;
  • extreme and challenging behaviours (anger, sadness, frustration);
  • a reduced desire to interact with people or their environment;
  • self-harming behaviours and
  • depression.

How can we help reduce anxiety in children?

Luckily for us, we now know enough about the brain and body to begin reducing a child’s experience of anxiety. The introduction of brain scans in the last 20 years helps us understand how the brain functions during certain situations such as a traumatic experience, anxiety, depression or a tantrum.

Tip 1:

The first tip to begin helping your child when they are anxious is to tend to the emotion. This sounds simple however it is often forgotten because we as parents/caregivers go straight to problem solving mode.  When a child is in meltdown mode, and adults for that matter, access to the logical part of our brain (Neocortex) is minimal and all behaviours and actions are being directed by the emotion centre (Limbic System). I am sure you have many stories of extreme outbursts from your children because of something you consider insignificant. It’s crucial to understand here however that the ‘insignificant’ reason is indeed significant to your child.

All meltdown behaviours you see from children are occurring to meet a need. If the emotion attached to that need is not explored or understood by a primary caregiver, then children are left feeling confused and deserted which only increases their anxiety the next time they feel big emotions as they don’t have a safe adult to help them.

Tip 2:

The second tip in helping children with anxiety is to offer them alternative methods in exploring big emotions. The language centre of our brain (Neocortex) is developing from 3 years into adolescents which make our requests of children to explain emotions with words often unsuccessful. Help your child allocate colours, animals, cartoon characters or songs to feelings. When your child is struggling to explain their emotions to you, pointing to a colour or cartoon character can be easier. Your child will then feel understood and you will know which emotion to tend to, thus, your child feels safe and supported.

Tip 3:

Thirdly, it’s crucial for children to have a strategy to calm their mind and body. When we are anxious or fearful, we need to activate the relaxation response (Parasympathetic System) which can only be accessed by our breath. Balloon Breath is a good option for children. Guide your child to breathe in through their nose for 4 seconds, filling up their belly like a balloon of their favourite colour and exhale through their mouth for 4 seconds. If your child needs a point of focus, you can have your child lay on their back with a toy on their belly to watch as it does up and down.

Anxiety can be a very scary experience for children if they do not have a safe and understanding parent/caregiver to turn to. Providing children with a predictable and safe environment and teaching them tools to help with big emotions will begin creating a sense of resilience and confidence that will reduce anxiety.kids yoga therapy

Jessica McIveen- Social Worker and Children’s Yoga & Meditation teacher at Kids Yoga Therapy.

Find out more about Jess at:

http://www.kidsyogatherapy.com.au

info@kidsyogatherapy.com.au

ph: 0403 270 367

*NDIS Registered Service Provider

The Importance of Pretend Play- From the Founder of ‘My OT University’

“When children pretend, they’re using their imaginations to move beyond the bounds of reality. A stick can be a magic wand. A sock can be a puppet. A small child can be a superhero” – Fred Rogers

social skills 2

I love watching children engage in pretend play where a doormat can be a space-ship, a toy car can blow-up and a child can be a superhero. Kids engage in pretend play in lots of different ways from teddy tea-parties to role-plays with figurines to mud kitchens in the garden. When children work together and role-play with characters, they have the opportunity to create problems and develop coping skills. As these scripts become more complex; the problem-solving and compromising in play also becomes more complex and they learn skills they will use as a teenager without the actual emotions attached to the real-life situation.

Boredom often fuels creativity in play so the more structured activities you implement with kids at home, the less pretend play a child needs to engage in. Being bored is a part of life and it is in this space that we are left with our own thoughts, ideas and creativity. There is great creativity in a child’s ability to create a game with a story line of their own and characters to go along with it. So what happens when we replace this type of play with single use toys and technology- does this skill disappear? Technology is always going to be a part of their life so how do we get the right balance so different types of play are all part of the routine.

So how can you create opportunities for pretend play at home?

  • Don’t throw out cardboard boxes and allow children to play with them. If they need help, you can give some suggestions or model ideas for them i.e. driving in a car, rocket, spaceship, boat etc.
  • Use puppets especially with younger children. Give them funny voices and express lots of different emotions.
  • Have a dress-up box- don’t get rid of any fancy dress costumes!
  • Props can be very helpful for kids to help develop story-lines especially if they are finding pretend play challenging. Props like a kitchen, vet kits, doctors kit, washing machine etc.
  • Have lots of new experiences which can be incorporated into play e.g. going to a wildlife park, museum, park, bush, beach etc.

It is vital that parents and educators can access information on positive child development so that change can happen in the home and school environment. The My OT University is an online learning platform which was developed to provide information and practical tips and strategies around Occupational Therapy and Child Development. The platform offers an online video series including guest speakers from the fields of Child Psychology, Physiotherapy, Education and Speech and Language Therapy. In addition, members will have access to monthly webinars on topics chosen by subscribers and ‘Let’s Get Moving’ gross motor classes for kids to encourage them to engage in exercise. Join the rest of the My OT & Me Community on www.myotandme.com

Jessica Kennedy- Occupational Therapist

Core Strength: How can I develop my child’s postural control at home?

What is core strength?

Core strength, or postural control, is the base and launching pad for everything that we do.

The body’s core, referring to the muscles in the abdomen, back and pelvis, is the foundation for children being able to maintain an upright sitting posture, control fine motor movements, such as handwriting, and participate in gross motor activities like school sport.

child girl doing gymnastics

Signs of poor postural control include:

  • Sitting on a chair in a slouched position
  • Leaning over the table and propping the body up with hands when completing work
  • Preferring to lie down during floor work
  • Finding it challenging to control a pencil when writing
  • Having difficulty balancing and playing on playground equipment

How can I develop my child’s core strength?

Simple and fun activities can be incorporated into your child’s day to build their core muscles and create a good base for fine motor and gross motor activities. Here are some simple ideas:

  • Animal walks – your child can pretend to be a variety of animals whilst strengthening their core e.g. crab walks, bear crawls, frog jumps.
  • Wheelbarrow walks– your child ‘walks’ on their hand and an adult holds their knees (easier) or ankles. Your child can see how far they can go, complete 10 steps forward then 10 steps backward, balance a toy on their back whilst walking or even complete a puzzle by wheelbarrow walking to retrieve pieces.
  • Create an obstacle course which includes unstable surfaces (pillows), crawling under objects and climbing. To give the game purpose you could: time how fast they can go, set up unmatched socks or memory cards at the start and end so your child needs to find the pair.
  • A simple way to develop postural control is to change your child’s position when completing activities e.g. lying on their stomach and propping their bodies up with their arms.
  • Superman – your child lies on their tummy and lifts up their legs and arms at the same time so the thighs and chest leave the floor. Can they hold a ball or toy between their feet or hands?
  • Plank positions – start lying on stomach and push up onto hands and feet. It is important to maintain a straight body position whilst holding this for as long as possible. If holding a full plank is too tricky your child can try dropping the knees to the floor or drop to their elbows with arms at 90 degrees.
  • Climbing up a slide instead of sliding down.
  • Participation in sporting activities such as swimming, gymnastics and martial arts can assist with developing postural control.Lucy Taylor 3

Lucy Taylor- Occupational Therapist

The Importance of Physical Play: Simple Ways to Develop Motor Skills at Home

Some of you may have heard me speak at your child’s Kindy about the importance of physical play and the role it plays in making sure that children have the necessary skills to start school.  Below are some simple ways to develop your child’s gross and fine motor skills at home:

smiling excited kids having fun together on playground

Gross Motor Skills:

If you think back to your own childhood I’m sure you can recall hours spent playing outside on the playground at the local park, on bikes and playing sport with neighbourhood kids.  These tasks allow development of the centres of your brain that are responsible for interpreting movement and body position (vestibular and proprioceptive systems).  They also assist to build sound core strength which is vital for success at school.  Core strength allows children to maintain sitting posture at the desk and for mat-time.  It also gives them a supportive base to carry out gross motor tasks with control.  Without these underlying skills children appear clumsy, fatigue quickly, can’t sit still and produce lower quality written work.

Encouraging Gross Motor Skill Development: 

  • Backyard obstacle courses- jumping, hopping, balancing, climbing, crawling, throwing, catching etc.
  • Playground- slides, swings, monkey bars, flying foxes, fireman’s poles, balance beams, climbing walls
  • Equipment- trampolines, junior stilts, scooters, bikes
  • Weight bearing walks- wheelbarrow walks, commando walks, animal walks (crab, bear, frog, caterpillar)
  • Change the position you complete tasks in- reading whilst lying on stomach, propped up on elbows or writing up against a vertical surface.

Fine Motor Skills:

Again, if you think back to your childhood you may recall things like digging in the sand pit, using hacksaws (My parents used to let my brothers and I saw into an old tree stump,, with adequate supervision of course!) and hammers in the backyard, building Lego, completing jigsaws, creating craft (cutting, gluing, threading and drawing).  These activities ensure that kids develop essential foundation skills such as hand strength, in hand manipulation, hand dominance and bilateral integration.  These allow us to develop efficiency and control for tasks such as writing, cutting with scissors, doing up buttons and tying shoe laces.

Encouraging Fine Motor Skill Development:

  • Make drawing and writing fun by using novelty pens- scented pens, stampers, window pens, wiggle writers, crayons, changer pens, invisible markers
  • Pencil control activities- mazes, dot to dots, tracing, step by step drawings, stencils, colour by numbers
  • Finger and hand strength- pegs, playdough, tennis ball monsters, pop beads, nuts and bolts, finger soccer, spray bottles, water pistols
  • Tool use- hammers, screwdrivers, tongs, tweezers
  • Paper craft- origami, paper plans, paper toys (there are heaps of templates freely available online)
  • Construction toys- Lego, Mobilo, block designs, marble towers

Kate Kleinau- Occupational Therapistkate headshot

CoordiKids: Childhood Development Programs

There are many vital underlying skills that underpin higher level learning and cognitive abilities.  The Pyramid of Learning pictured below demonstrates the building blocks that are required for behavioural control and academic success.

central nervous system hierarchy

Recently we were lucky enough to meet with Marga Grey, the founder of CoordiKids, an online development program for children that targets the building blocks of sensory motor development. Marga has over 40 years of experience working with children and their families to address learning difficulties.  This is what she had to say about the program:

CoordiKids offers four components that each target a specific need:

  1. CoordiChild – a home based program for families on-the-go and in need of intervention for a child with issues, such as concentration, sitting still, being clumsy, learning challenges.
  2. CoordiClass – a classroom-based program for teachers to provide a quick 5-minute break towards optimal concentration for the whole class.
  3. CoordiKindy – a classroom-based program for educators of 3 – 6 year old children in Kindergarten or Prep to encourage optimal development in the foundational skills necessary for academic learning.
  4. CoordiConsult – online consultations to support our members.

We have compiled, prepared and video recorded activities and exercises for parents and children to do at home in a fun way.  At CoordiKids we are absolutely passionate about giving ALL children the very best chance for success, whether or not they have regular access to a paediatric occupational therapist.  We hope you enjoy the program with your child as much as we have enjoyed seeing the positive results our programs create!

This unique childhood development program has been refined over many years of clinical experiences with children who suffer from developmental delays and learning problems.

All exercises are video recorded and available online on all devices – always ready, wherever you are.  Parents and teachers do not need to prepare, the children follow the video and their hands are free to observe and to support.

CoordiKids is the perfect program to support and compliment therapy sessions.  It will enhance performance in all children, not only those with challenges.  CoordiKids takes pride and care in the accurate grading of the programs to ensure that developmental levels are targeted and reached to enable the child towards optimal functioning and performance.

If you think this program would be helpful for your child, Marga has generously offered for Synchrony OT newsletter recipients to receive a discounted rate of 20% off. Click here to find out more about the CoordiKids program and claim your discount.

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A Peek Inside the Resource Cupboard: 5 of Our Favourite Books for Self-Regulation

Open our resource cupboard and you will find shelves full of books! Story books are one of the best ways to teach and reinforce concepts to kids.  You’ll be amazed at what they can understand when information is delivered in a clear, simple and fun way.

A few of our favourites…

1. Have You Filled A Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids 

Author: Carol McCloudHave you filled a bucket today

This heartfelt book teaches kids the importance of kindness.  We love using this book when we are teaching empathy.  It is wonderful for reinforcing how our actions and words can impact the emotions of those around us.

2. Fear Factor (from the Ant Patrol Series)

Authors: Dr Deberea Sherlock and Aisling MulvihillFear factor

If you have a child who battles with anxiety or negative self-talk this is a great book to have in your collection.  We use this book to assist kids to reinforce how to develop resilience and use a positive mindset to overcome challenges.

3. Size of the Problem: Dinosaur Birthday Party (from the We Thinkers Series, Volume 2)

Authors: Ryan Hendrix, Kari Zweber Palmer, Nancy Tarshis and Michelle Garcia Winnersize of the problem

This book is helpful for working with kids who tend to overreact when they encounter tiny problems.  This book clearly outlines what expected reactions would be to different sized problems. It helps kids learn to identify when they might be able to solve issues themselves and when they might need to ask for help from adults.

4. The Red Beast

Author: Kay Al-Ghanired beast

If you have a strong-willed child, this one is for you.  Lots of kids find it challenging to keep their emotions in check when things don’t work out their way.  The Red Beast is an excellent story for discussing anger and developing strategies to calm down.

5. Homemade Books to Help Kids Cope: An Easy to Lean Technique for Parents and Professionals

Author: Robert ZieglerHomemade books to help kids cope

Of course, there will never be a book that fits every child perfectly. This book gives step by step examples and templates to make it easy to learn how to write your own simple stories to help kids problem solve how to cope with whatever situation they might currently be struggling with.

Happy reading!

Kate Kleinau- Occupational Therapistkate headshot

Handwriting Ideas For Back To School

As the busyness of Christmas has ended and the new year is well on its way, our focus has shifted to the upcoming first day of school… which means back to handwriting!

Many children may find handwriting difficult or lack the motivation to write. Having your child complete some easy and fun handwriting activities at home in the week leading up to returning to school can make for an easier transition.

The trick is to make it fun or purposeful, so your child doesn’t even realise they are writing!

Writing ideas for kids starting Kindy and Prep:

  1. Drawing, tracing and dot to dots

Practise pencil grasp and pencil control by completing drawings of your child’s favourite part of their holidays, tracing over shapes/lines/words or completing dot to dot activities.

  1. Create name posters for their bedroom door

Get crafty and have your child decorate a poster for their door. Their main task is to write their name. If they are not yet able to write from memory, simply have them copy it.out pictures of silly cartoons or images to use as prompts to write descriptive sentences or stories.

  1. Multi-sensory writing

Writing in different sensations is not only fun but helps to cement motor patterns in your child’s brain. Using chalk, sand, shaving cream, play dough, sprinkle boxes and magic boards are all great options.

writing-ideas.jpg

Writing ideas for kids starting Grade 1:

  1. Paragraph about their holiday

Ask for your child to write a journal or a letter to a friend or loved one, talking about their holiday. You could even stick in pictures/drawings to make it more creative.

  1. Wanted Poster

Have your child complete a wanted poster with a picture and a description of who the missing person is, what they look like and don’t forget the reward! This could be of their favourite TV villain or someone they know.  You can find some free templates here. 

  1. Writing out their school list

If you still need to do the school shopping, have your child write down what supplies they need. They can then help collect the items at the shops (the same can be done for grocery shopping).

Writing ideas for kids starting Grade 2 and up:

  1. Storey Dice

Get creative and make or print out different a story dice. Have your child roll a character and location dice and write a short story based on the results. You can print out free character and setting templates here.

  1. Silly Sentences

Print out pictures of silly cartoons or images to use as prompts to write descriptive sentences or stories.

  1. Experiment write up

Have your child write out the instructions for an experiment.  We often make balloon rockets and volcanos here at the clinic.hannah lynch uniform

Happy writing!

 

– Hannah Lynch, Occupational Therapist

5 Tips To Make Christmas Day Run Smoothly For Your Child

Christmas is a wonderful chance to celebrate, look back over the past year and create wonderful memories with family and friends.

However, for many of the children I work with, Christmas Day can often be a very overwhelming experience.  It can be a very busy day that presents many additional sensory challenges with large gatherings, driving to unfamiliar places, loud music and bright decorations.

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Christmas can also be very socially demanding with lots of people and the expectation to participate in traditions that require the ability to wait and self-regulate.  Planning ahead can assist to make Christmas Day go more smoothly.

5 tips to assist your child:

  1. Make a visual schedule of what the day will include and discuss this in advance.  Where possible, let your child know the order of events: when  they will open presents, who will see, what they will eat, where they will be driving to etc.
  2. Don’t feel that you have to stay the entire time if you are going to a family gathering. Maybe aim to stay just for a short while or go for the parts that you know your child can cope with.
  3. Have an escape plan for if things start to get too much. This could be to go to a quite room of the house or a quiet place outside.  It could be to go for a short walk and come back or it could be to retreat to the car and head to the safety of home.  It can be helpful to have some of your child’s favourite toys or activities on hand that can help to distract or calm them down if needed.
  4. Make a short story to explain the etiquette for giving and receiving gifts.  This can include saying “Thank you” and also discuss how to manage their emotions and respond, especially if they receive a gift that they don’t like.  It can be helpful to discuss the escape plan as well so they know what they can do if they need a break.
  5. Use play to reinforce what might happen throughout the day e.g. Use puppets and figurines to play out the steps in the schedule or social story.

I hope that with these strategies you can work towards making Christmas Day less stressful! kate headshot

-Kate Kleinau, Occupational Therapist

Please feel free to ask questions or give me your feedback.  I am always more than happy to answer any emails personally.