Sunday, 9 December 2018

Sensory Santa 2018

This is our fourth year of visiting a Sensory Santa and three out of the four years both my little superheroes have been in the photo with Santa. Winning!!!

Essentially Sensory Santa, or Sensitive Santa as the sessions are occasionally known as, is held in selected shopping centres that host Santa each year leading up to Christmas. Santa's Kingdom is opened up to families whose children have additional needs prior to the normal shopping centre hours. Families book in advance so that there are no queues and as such no noisy crowds of people. The lights are kept low in the area, there is very little or no background music and very few staff within Santa's Kingdom itself.

All these factors often contribute to children who have additional needs struggling to participate in activities that families who do not have children with additional needs, often take for granted. Too much noise or bright lights and L just shuts down as there is far too much sensory input.

We first heard about Sensory Santa in 2015 when we were living in Perth. At that stage the only way that we could get either O or L to sit anywhere near Santa was to have Daddy Superhero and I in the photo as well. Cue an impromptu Christmas family photo.

In 2016, Santa was running quite a bit late - sleigh mechanical difficulties and he had to feed his reindeer - so by the time that Santa arrived, L was completely over the whole Santa thing. But we did get a wonderful, smiling photo of O and Santa.

Last year, we'd just moved to Queensland. We found a Sensory Santa not too far from where had moved to and both the little superheroes were keen to visit Santa - they were a little worried that Santa might not have realised that we'd moved. O was wonderful as always in assisting L to feel comfortable. She did all of the talking and kept a reassuring hand on L the entire time. The photo was lovely, O was sitting on the chair with Santa while L was sitting on the floor snuggled into O's leg. O is an amazing big sister.

This year, well the Santa that we visited recently was hands down, the best one yet! He either had a lot of experience in engaging with children who have additional needs, had done a sleigh load of training, is a natural or a combination of all three! Both little superheroes were keen as mustard to visit Santa but when we arrived, L shut down. He was able to make to the inside of Santa's Kingdom and then that was it, he parked himself on the floor and started grunting at us. O on the other hand, marched straight over and parked herself on the chair next to Santa!

Santa sensing that L was struggling, turned his back and essentially ignored L - which was the best thing that he could have done. Santa had a short conversation with O about what she would like for Christmas before getting up to go and talk to his elves.

At this point, L was intrigued by the bubbles that one of the elves was blowing into a fan, so up he hopped to go and sit next to the fan. When Santa saw that L was happy and comfortable playing with the bubbles, he snuck back into the area and sat on the far end of the chair next to O. By that stage L was obviously feeling comfortable enough to sit on the chair as up he hopped and snuggled into O and then Santa just went with the flow!

At one point both O and L had their feet tucked up on the chair, so that's exactly what Santa did!

When O and L were trying to catch the bubbles, Santa joined in! When L started dabbing, so did Santa. I would never have thought that we'd have difficulty in choosing which Santa photo we wanted!

It was such a positive experience for both O and L. And even better, L let Santa put the sparkly reindeer antlers that all his visitors received onto his head. This was a first, L won't even give Santa a high five or fist bump. To allow Santa to touch his head, wow!

It makes me so very happy to see more and more shopping centres becoming involved with the Sensory Santa sessions. Families who have never been able to get photos of their children, both the young and slightly older, are now being able to add this yearly tradition to the calendar. 

And touch wood, we've not had a screaming child in a photo in four years! The little superheroes have been all smiles!

STEM Tinker Crates by KiwiCo

**** Please note that I do not receive commissions of any kind for this review. It is simply a product that we have found useful. ****

Several months ago I stumbled across a company on a social media site which caught my attention and my inner science geek interest …. KiwiCo.

Both and O and L love science and doing extra curricular unschooling activities like making slime, researching topics of interest on the internet, digging for dinosaur bones and shark teeth and so on. So when I spotted the products that KiwiCo produce, I immediately thought that my little superheroes would love them.

KiwiCo are a company that makes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) activities accessible, engaging and fun for kids. The company produces a number of crates for children that are along the STEAM line of interest.

They offer monthly (or 3 monthly, 6 monthly or 12 monthly) subscriptions for various ages - Tadpole Crate is an Explore and Discover project for ages 0 to 36 months, Koala Crate is a play and learn project for ages 3 to 4, Kiwi Crate is a science and art project for ages 5 to 8, Atlas Crate is a Geography and Culture project for ages 6 to 11, Doodle Crate is an Art and Design project for ages 14 plus, Tinker Crate is a Science and Engineering project for ages 9 to 16 and the Eureka Crate is an Engineering and Design project for ages 14 to 104! You can opt out of the subscription at any stage.

I chose the Tinker Crate which is aimed at children between the ages of 9 to 16 years. Both of my little superheroes, but especially O, love their science. I also figured that the Tinker Crate would extend on O's knowledge of science. The Tinker Crate is a STEM project and each crate (read project box) contains the materials needed to create the STEM project, an amazing blueprint that has detailed step-by-step instructions on how to make the project, a Tinker Zine which is essentially a magazine with additional science activities and experiments based on the STEM project and access to video tutorials.

Initially I wasn't sure what to expect so when our first tinker crate arrived, I was a little apprehensive. Was the crate going to be worth the monthly fee? Would O and L enjoy the STEM project in the tinker crate? And the all important question, would I need to gather any extra resources?

I needn't have worried. O and L loved the crate. While the crate is aimed at O's age group, L thoroughly enjoyed helping to make the project. And the project stimulated and extended on O's interest in STEM activities. The crate contained everything that O and L needed for the project, except for a pair of scissors.

The first crate that we received was a Spin Art Project. O and L assembled a Spin Art machine, using science and engineering principles to create some amazing art projects. 

While t
he blueprints were quite easy for O to read and follow, it did challenge her understanding of how things worked. She also did an amazing job at explaining the steps on the blueprint to L.

Once the little superheroes had created their spin art machine, they then experimented with the placement of the resistors on the breadboard to increase and decrease the speed of their spin art machine. 

O was fascinated by the concept that simply by moving the resistors on the breadboard, they were able to change the speed of the motor - the path of least resistance caused the motor to spin fast. The path with the most resistance caused the motor to spin at a slower rate. L was fascinated by the patterns that they were creating. I loved that they were both so busy having fun, that they didn't realise that they were doing lots of learning!!

One of the best things about the spin art machine was that there was no mess - all of the paint was contained within the crate that the components came in! Once they had finished making and playing with their spin art machine, O asked "Can you get another crate please, that was fun!" Sure can kiddo, we just need to wait a month until the next crate arrives!!

We recently received our second Tinker Crate - a STEM project to create a mini planetarium. As soon as I read what the project was, I knew that O would love it as her main interest is anything to with space. She loves getting out into the backyard at night time to do a spot of star gazing!. This weekend just gone, O had her bestie G over for a sleepover and on Sunday afternoon they were looking for something "interesting" to do, so I brought the Tinker Crate out and they both got right into the project.

Once O and G had completed the planetarium, they took it into O's bedroom to test it out. We had a little readjusting of the inside of the planetarium as there were a few gaps in the panels but wow, for a planetarium made out of cardboard, the stars projected really well. The tricky part was finding that the stars could project onto!

The girls then decided that they wanted to take the planetarium to school the following day to show their teacher. Not only was their teacher impressed, but they also had the opportunity to take the planetarium up to show one of the school's deputy principals (and the school student leaders who just happened to be meeting with the deputy principal.) O and G were very chuffed after school when they were telling me all about how they received a Deputy Principal's award for the project!!

I would highly recommend the Tinker Crate to anyone who is wanting to extend on their child's interest in STEM principles. The Tinker Crate also me curious about the other products available from KiwiCo! Watch this space for future developments!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Why we shouldn't tell our children that they LOOK beautiful.

I have a bit of a bug bear to share with you.

I hate it, nay detest it, when adults make a comment about a child's appearance - "oh, don't you look beautiful" or "aren't you looking handsome today," or "you look very pretty" or "you look gorgeous in that dress." 

I hate it when people make comments like that to me! Comments like that make me want to respond with "so you only think I'm beautiful when I'm wearing clothes that you approve of? Does that mean that in your eyes, I'm not beautiful when I'm wearing my daggy clothes?" or "And aren't you very rude today!"

We don't call children out on when their hair is scruffy and their clothes are messy. Imagine the response if you said to a child "Oh geez, you look like a hot mess! Not looking very beautiful today are you!" Ummmm, I can hear the tears and tantrums right now!

I don't want my children, in particular my daughter, growing up thinking that she has to look immaculate when she gets dressed in the morning. I don't want O to be constantly concerned that the only trait about herself that matters to those around her, is her appearance.

I want O to be comfortable in her own skin, regardless of whether she has brushed her hair, is still in her pyjamas or if she is wearing her Sunday best.

I tell both of my children on a regular basis that I think that they are wonderful little humans. I tell them on a regular basis how kind and polite they are when interacting with others. I tell them both regularly that I am proud of how brave they are when they overcome obstacles. 

I do tell O that she is beautiful and L that he is handsome BUT not only when they've brushed their hair and are wearing their best clothes. I praise both of my children when I catch them sharing with each other, or with other children. I tell both of my children that they are great friends when I find out that they've looked out for their own friends. I tell both of my children on a regular basis that I love how their brains work!

Do you sense a common theme?

I want both of my children to view themselves as wonderful, kind, polite, brave, strong individuals as these are all great traits to have. Everyone is beautiful in some way, but I don't want my children to view "being beautiful" as the only trait that they should have. A major part of being a parent is imparting our own values on our children. I don't want to send an unintentional, totally avoidable message to my children that their physical appearance is more important than how they think, feel and behave.

When we spend a lot of time talking about something with our children, we send a message to them that that particular topic is important to us. If our children are only told that they are beautiful when they've brushed their hair and are wearing their Sunday best clothes, what message is that sending to them?

I don't want O to become self conscious of her looks. While it drives me insane when she refuses to brush her hair, I will never call her out on it. She is still a beautiful child, inside and out, when her hair is messy.

Why? Because I want O to love the way that she looks.

There are enough pressures on our children from the media and our children's peers as they grow older, to look their absolute best at all times. Our children don't need that pressure from those that are meant to love them unconditionally. 

So the next time that you find yourself about to tell a child, especially one of mine, how beautiful or handsome they are, consider all of the other qualities of the child that you admire or love about them. Consider how you could impart a different, more meaningful message to them instead of telling them how beautiful or handsome you think that they are!

Remember beauty is not everything!

Monday, 3 December 2018

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies, Part Two

This parenting gig can be pretty demanding at the best of times but throw in challenging behaviour from your little ones, and it can become a whole new level of demanding on everyone. Yes that's right, on everyone. Our children, ourselves and those around us.

From experience I know that at times parenting can feel like a battle of wits. Who is going to win out?? Who is going to crack first?

But there is one important piece of information that we as parents (and even our children's teachers and carers) tend to forget and that is that children rarely exhibit challenging behaviour on purpose. They exhibit these challenging behaviours to serve a purpose. And that purpose is usually to communicate their needs or wants to us. Behaviour in it's simplest form is a type of communication.

It is taken me a number of years of constantly reminding myself when O and L are having rough days, that they aren't doing the behaviour on purpose, even though it does feel like that at times. I've written a post previously on how to get to the root cause of challenging behaviour and wanted to write a follow up post on things that we can do as parents to assist our children with their behaviour.

Over the last three and a half years, I have attended numerous workshops and seminars specifically geared towards parents who have children on the spectrum.  One of the topics that is discussed at length in every workshop and seminar is Positive Behaviour Support Strategies. Every time that I have discussed Positive Behaviour Support Strategies with others, the question always comes back to me .... "but they will only work for children who are on the spectrum, those who have a diagnosis."

he thing is, challenging behaviour is not something that only children who are diagnosed with autism exhibit. I have met many, many children who are not on the spectrum who also exhibit challenging behaviour. The positive behaviour support strategies that I have learnt over the last few years can also be used with children who have not received a diagnosis and are unlikely to ever be diagnosed with anything, i.e. your everyday, typically developing child!  In fact, I have used all of these strategies with many children, with great success.

So before I get onto the strategies, what are positive behaviour support strategies?

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies are all about aiming to prevent the challenging behaviour from occurring in the first place by promoting positive behaviour from children in environments that are both positive and supportive. These two words, "positive" and "supportive" are instrumental in assisting our children. We need to teach our children what to do, rather than what not to do. As parents we need to equip our children with the skills that they need to become accountable and take ownership for their own behaviour. By taking away the perceived negative language (no, stop, don't and so on) and replacing them with teaching children and modelling to them what to do, it all becomes a much more positive experience for all. Children are not born with the inherent ability to know right from wrong so we need to be supportive of them as they learn new skills.

The following Positive Behaviour Support Strategies are strategies that primarily teach YOU how to remain calm when dealing with challenging behaviours but they will also begin to teach your child about developing self control in relation to their own behaviour.

Now of course as with all new strategies that parents put in place, the Positive Behaviour Support Strategies may not work 100 percent of the time. However if you practicing these strategies regularly, they will become much more effective. Keep in mind that this is part two of this series. I have discussed some of these strategies in a previous post.

Please also keep in mind that if your child is in a state of meltdown then it is highly unlikely that ANY of these strategies will work. The best advice that I can give you is to stay calm and just be there for your child.

So let's get started!

1. You are your child's most influential teacher. We begin teaching our children from the moment that they make it earth side. From the beginning, let's show them what we want them to do. If we are respectful to others, then hopefully our children will follow our lead. Be the positive role model that all children need.

2. I've touched on this next strategy many times before and have no doubt that I will touch on it again in the future. Behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done to serve a purpose. One of our role as a parent/care giver/teacher/educator is to work out what that purpose is. At times it can be incredibly difficult to figure out the purpose. At other times it can be quite easy. But once you have worked out what the purpose is, we can begin to put strategies in place to assist our children.

We need to ascertain why our children are behaving in the manner that they are. Are they hungry? Are they tired? Are they bored or over stimulated? Are they simply exhibiting the behaviour to gain our attention? Are they physically unable to verbally tell us what they need or want at that particular moment. It can be helpful to make diary notes about the challenging behaviour - record the time of day, what occurred in the lead up to the challenging behaviour. You may start to notice patterns or triggers in the behaviour.

3. Be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to your children's behaviour. Most of the time I can predict when O or L are going to lose it. I may not know why they are having a rough time, but I can generally predict it. By being proactive I can put strategies in place to assist both of my little superheroes when they're having a rough time. But in saying that, there are still times when their challenging behaviour completely blind sides me. When you notice the signs of your children becoming agitated, step in at that point, rather than waiting for the situation to blow up.

4. When talking with (notice the word with rather then at) your children about their challenging behaviour try to remain calm. Admittedly this is easier said than done BUT remaining calm usually gets a better response from our children. Responding to your child in a calm and respectful manner is most likely going to get a better response then screaming back at them. This way we are also modelling how we would like them to interact with us and with others.

If at any point you need to walk away to take a few deep breaths and regroup, do it. Give yourself a few moments of time out. This will only help your child in the long run.

We are working on mindfulness breathing exercises at the moment with O in the hope that when she feels herself becoming anxious, she will be able to self regulate and ground herself. One program that we are using is Cosmic Kids Yoga. We're still in the early stages but O has been using deep breathing exercises at school and she has recently begun to teach L all about Cosmic Kids Yoga too! I'm finding the exercises useful for myself for when O and L are exhibiting challenging behaviours as well!

5. How many times have you asked your child not to do something only to find them doing the exact same thing 2 minutes later. When we say to children, "L don't run inside," they hear, "L run inside." Their brains filter out the stop, don't, no and only hear the rest of the instruction. So rather than telling our children what not to do, talk with them about what they can do as this takes away the negative language and replaces it with positive language. Or even better, show them.

"Can you show me how you can run really fast outside?
"We sit on the chairs, can you show me how you sit on a chair?"

Getting your children to assist in setting limits, as opposed to rules, can also be incredibly useful as they are more likely to remember and follow the limits if they have had an active part in creating them. We should always guide them towards the limits that we would like to see in our house and don't be surprised if at some point your children pick you up on breaking one of the limits!!! In the past when I have done this with my little superheroes and with children in my care, I have added visuals next to the limit so that the children could see what the limit was.

6. Rather than saying "good girl" or "good boy," praise their behaviour so that your children know what they did well. "That was great sharing L." If they know what they did well, they are more likely to do the same thing next time. Make them feel good about themselves. A positive reinforcement could be as simple as "Thanks for putting your shoes on," or "Thanks for putting your dishes in the sink." 

If a child is constantly being told don't do this, don't do that, stop this and so on, they are not going to feel real good about themselves. This also teaches the child how to attract negative attention. Whereas if we praise our children, they will begin to understand how to get positive attention.

I've also been asked on numerous occasions "but why should I be rewarding my children for doing what they should be doing in the first place?" This all goes back to strategy number 5! Children learn from being shown what to do, rather then being told off for doing the wrong thing!

Children also need to understand that by exhibiting appropriate socially acceptable behaviour means that they will be rewarded in some way. Praise is a reward.

7. We use a lot of "first and next" or "first and then" language in our house along with simplified instructions. 

"First put your shoes on and then we can go outside." 
"First put your hat on and then you can go and play in the sun." 

Multiple step instructions can be confusing for anyone but especially for our children. Break down the steps. Let our children know what they need to do first. First and next language and simple instructions really do go hand in hand.

8. Rather then labelling the child with a behaviour, for example …. 

"L is being naughty/crying/yelling/throwing toys,
label why the behaviour is occurring. "L is yelling because he wants the toy truck." By labelling why the behaviour is occurring, we can attempt to find a solution. Do we need to teach the child how to share? Are they struggling to communicate their needs? Do we need to introduce more turn taking activities? By labelling the behaviour we can also attempt to get to the route cause of the child's behaviour. Remember, behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done to serve a purpose.

There is no such thing as a naughty child so please don't label the child with the behaviour. As a parent whose child has been labelled as "the naughty boy," it is truly heartbreaking. And if a child hears themselves being called the naughty child long enough, they will begin to mimic that. 

9. Green/Happy versus Red/Sad choices. 

Now this strategy is quite contentious depending on who you talk to. It is quite often misinterpreted as to how this strategy is used which is why it is contentious - just recently I have read a number of incorrect descriptions of this strategy.

You should NOT use this strategy to label a child's behaviour - "That is a red choice L." You should NOT use this strategy to make a child feel bad about their behaviour. - "Why do you always choose red choices?" And you should definitely NOT use this strategy to be demeaning towards a child.

This strategy IS used to begin to teach a child that there are consequences for them choosing to do particular behaviours. The Green/Red strategy puts the onus for the behaviour back onto the child. I have used this strategy in a positive way, successfully with children as young as 18 months. The idea is that the child is rewarded for choosing to make green choices and they can begin to understand that there are consequences for red choices. For example .... "If you make a green choice and  put your hat on, you can go and play outside but if you don't put a hat on, you'll need to stay on the verandah because we need to wear our hats when it is sunny." Saying it in this manner, still sounds positive.

The reward doesn't need to be a physical reward like a toy or sticker or other such item, it could just be being able to play outside. The Green/Red choices is about a child gaining an understanding that their behaviour is their choice - we're not telling them what they can and can't do. They choose to do the behaviour.

Whenever I have introduced the green/red choices to children, including my own, I have first talked with them about what they think green and red choices are. Again by including them in setting the limits has been useful as they have played an active role.

If you would like more details on the Green/Red Choices, I talk about it more in this post.

10. This next one is difficult to get into the habit of doing - pick your battles. At times we just want our children to stop doing whatever they are doing, but why? If the behaviour is just annoying to us, do they really need to stop doing it? 

There's a few questions you could ask yourself … Is the behaviour unsafe? Is the behaviour hurting anyone else? Is the child damaging or likely to damage any property other than their own toys? 

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, then we should be redirecting the child to another activity. If the answer is no and the behaviour is simply annoying, then we probably don't need to stop the child. Is stopping annoying behaviour really worth the battle? 

It isn't always possible to overlook challenging behaviour particularly if there is a potential safety issue either to themselves or to others around the child, but to the greatest extent possible, we need to attempt to redirect the child to another activity. If you do need to redirect your child to another activity, always ensure that you talk with your child why they shouldn't be doing the undesired behaviour …. "That wasn't very safe so I need you to go and have some quiet time reading a book." Again it isn't just us telling children what they can or can't do, we are giving them a reason as to why they shouldn't be doing that behaviour.

With unwanted challenging behaviours, it is vital that you assist your child to find an acceptable behaviour or activity to replace the challenging behaviour. If you don't, then it is highly likely that your child will continue with the challenging behaviour or they find an equally challenging behaviour themselves!!

11. One on one time! All children love one on one time with their parents. At times challenging behaviour in which your child is trying to simply get your attention could be solved be spending a little one on one time with them. This could be as simple as going for a walk with your child around the block where you live. You could read a book together. You could just lay in bed and have cuddles. O will often tell us "I just want to sit and cuddle you and tell you what happened today!" after she has had a rough moment. Listen to and acknowledge your child's feelings if they open up to you. One on one time is the perfect opportunity to assist your child to come up with solutions on their own (with your assistance of course.) They will end up feeling empowered that they are capable of managing their own issues to rise up.

12. Lastly if a behaviour strategy is not working, it is NOT your child's fault. We need to look at the behaviour from another angle. The best example that I have of this is as follows …. I had a child many, many years ago in my care that would strip butt naked in front of his peers. At first we thought that he needed to go to the toilet, so we'd assist him to the bathrooms but as he was fully toilet trained, the behaviour just did not make any sense. This went on for weeks and the challenging behaviour of striping naked at random points throughout the day in front of his peers and other people coming into the service continued. It took another staff member to ask the question "is he just striping naked to get everyone's attention?" All it took was a fresh set of eyes and voila, the challenging behaviour made a lot more sense. Our chosen strategy of redirecting him to the bathroom was giving him exactly what he wanted - attention - we had chosen the wrong strategy. When we began to ignore his behaviour, to an extent, and began to give him one on one attention in other settings, the challenging behaviour stopped within days! This is where keeping diary records of when and where the challenging behaviour occurs is useful.

I hope that you have found this post useful and I'd love to hear about any other Positive Behaviour Support Strategies that you use.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

My Favourite Motivational Memes, 2018.

This year I have gotten into the swing of creating memes for my blog and for our social media sites. I wanted to share a few of my favourite memes that I have created!

These are just a few of the motivational memes that I created throughout 2018. I hope that you enjoy!