Caring & Practical Support for You & Your Family

Caring and practical support for you and your familyI sent a newsletter to my subscribers the other day, letting them know I would like to offer more helpful resources and products for you and your family. I can’t do any of this unless I know what YOU are looking for and what would be most helpful for YOUR FAMILY.

Do you use printables to help organize your family?

Would you like to read e-books or watch videos that explain how to keep the peace and prevent (as much as possible) chaos in your home?

What issues and topics deeply affect you and your family?

Basically, how can I help you manage your home, take care of yourself, raise your children, support your marriage, and encourage you in the life-journey God has blessed you with?

For this reason I’ve set up a simple and quick 10 question survey so I can learn more about the struggles your family faces everyday, and how I can support and encourage you through those challenges. By completing this multiple choice questionnaire you will help me discover the best ways to serve YOU.

Feel free to answer as many or as few questions as you’d like. There are also spaces for you to leave comments if you wish to do so. The survey is also completely anonymous.

THANK YOU in advance for helping me to help you. As always if you’d like to speak with me directly, you may email me at samantha@livingwithrealjoy.com.

Click HERE to begin your survey.

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My "Personal Stress Reducers" printable hanging on my fridge

My “Personal Stress Reducers” printable hanging on my fridge

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6 Tools to Help Calm Your Anxious Child

6 Tools to Help Calm Your Anxious ChildLast week I ended my series “What Autism Looks Like in Our Home”. It included emotional reactivity (aka meltdowns), sensory issues, sleep problems, anxiety, and food aversions. This is not an exclusive list by any means but these are the Top 5 that stand out to me as we raise our son.

Today I’d like to share some of the tools I did not mention in this series, that we’ve used to help with these daily issues.

(This post contains affiliate links. All products we promote we have used or purchased for our own family’s needs. For more details, read our advertising disclosure.)

Yoga Ball

This has been a huge hit in our home. We originally bought this for our daughter with ADHD. It works wonders for her when she just can’t settle down and is super fidgety. It also works for our son when he’s bored or just needs to get some energy out.

Activity Books

Our son loves books. Before he could even read he would sit and look through books often. Over the last year we’ve found that he particularly enjoys activity books – mazes, puzzles, and seek and finds.

More recently, I’ve been using these as a distraction for him when he’s on the verge of a frustrating meltdown. They’ve worked so far, which means I need to keep a variety of these activity books on hand at all times.

Watching “Go Noodle”

Have you heard of this website? We discovered this website through our occupational therapist. It’s also used by public schools as a way to give kids “brain breaks” and effectively release all that energy kids seem to have.

On this website, we’ve taught our son about belly-breathing as a way to calm down, but they also have some fun, unique videos and games that our son just loves. His favorite channel is “Moose Tube”. It’s free to sign up. I highly recommend it!

Privacy 

When our son is feeling overwhelmed it’s a good idea to give him some privacy. One of the things our occupational therapist wanted him to learn was to “self-soothe” or learn how to regulate his own emotions. The goal is for him to recognize when he’s becoming frustrated or anxious, take himself out of that situation and into a calming place. 

Our son received a tent for Christmas, from his Grandma. It’s a “Minion” Tent and he loves it. He uses it when he wants some time alone. We’ve also used it when he needs a break. One time I placed him in his tent when he was on the verge of a meltdown. I then placed a few tools in there with him – bouncy ball, therapy putty, and books. One by one he threw each one back out at me (which was hilarious). But he stayed in there and did not try to hurt himself or anyone else. That is a victory in our eyes!!

Weighted Blankets and Pillows

We’ve also found, through occupational therapy, that he enjoys being covered with heavy weight, usually a blanket or bean bag or heavy pillows. One day he was getting bored so I suggested he lay on the floor and I cover him up. He laid on his belly with a bunch of books while I covered him with 2 comforters and a bunch of pillows. He loved it! He laid there for at least a half hour and he was perfectly content.

Calm Down Bin

I first saw this idea on Pinterest. It’s basically a bin, basket, or box of items that will help your child when he or she is on the verge of a meltdown. We also discussed this during our son’s occupational therapy appointments.

(Do you see a pattern here with occupational therapy? Besides our psychiatrist and medication, this has been the most helpful resource for our son. Read more here about our personal experience.)

So how do you make one of these? Pretty simple actually. You don’t have to spend any money at all or very little money to make your very own.

  • Find a container – I used an old plastic dishpan tub that we used to store some of his toys. I bleached it and it was as good as new.
  • Choose your items – What tools, toys, blankets, media, etc help your child calm down when he or she is getting frustrated or mad? For our son it was certain books he likes to read, putty or play doh, a light-up ball, bubble wrap, a list of calming activities, and a fidget toy.
  • Place the items in the container (self-explanatory)
  • completed boxShow your child the calm down bin and clearly explain how it will be used – When our son was in a good mood, I called him over to me and told him this was his very own “Break Box”. I used break box because in occupational therapy we talked a lot about taking breaks when he felt his “engine” was going too fast. And I’ve told him plenty of times to calm down so I thought the word “calm” may not be the best to use with him. I explained that when he was getting frustrated or mad I would tell him it’s time for a break and he would go to his “Break Box” and find something in there to help him relax. And I let him decide where it should be. We placed it in his bedroom on his bookshelf.
  • Use the Calm Down Bin – Ha! Now here’s the tricky part – using the box. If you are the parent of a child who has meltdowns, you know very well that getting your child to do anything during a meltdown is impossible. So my husband and I attempt to catch him before he explodes. When it works, he’s still upset, but one of us takes him to his bedroom and we stay with him while he plays with his “Break Box”. If he’s already exploded, we usually pick him up,  and take him to his bedroom, or I may bring his calm down bin out to him.

Let me be honest – this does NOT always work. Most of the time he throws the items in his bin all over and makes a huge mess. After he’s calmed down we do make him clean it up. Then it’s all ready for the next time. 🙂

I hope this gave you some good ideas of what you can use in your home to help ease anxiety and promote peace.

If you have any ideas or suggestions to add to this list, please do! Thank you so much for your input. 🙂

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Autism in Our Home: Food Aversions

What Autism Looks Like in Our HomeFood aversion issues in our home have been the largest source of tension for our Little Man. In an earlier article I mentioned how oral sensory issues is the same as “our son does not eat” and this is fairly accurate. He eats a small, limited variety of foods, and most of them are not very good for you.

Food Aversion  – AKA My Son Does Not Eat!

His food aversion began when he was a toddler. After being off formula he would eat all kinds of things – ham, turkey, meatloaf, hot dogs, spaghettios, cheese, apples, peanut butter. Typical toddler food. Around the age of 2 he began to literally refuse food by throwing his plate on the floor. We had a carpeted dining room so you can imagine how messy this was.

And how aggravating this was.

I did not understand this. It seemed like out of the blue he would refuse foods he had always eaten. During this time he did develop a sensitivity to peanut butter and dairy, until about the age of 3. He would break out in a terrible rash and have some major digestive issues.

I began to do research on food sensitivities and also read a few books about picky eaters. I tried some of the strategies they suggested but no matter what I did he would refuse the food anyway.

Slowly over time we saw his palate become more and more limited. If I had known then what I know now, I would not have given up so easily on trying to increase the variety of foods he would eat.

By the age of 5 he was limiting himself to the following:

Fruit snacks, cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, crackers, chips, candy, cookies, macaroni and cheese, pancakes, juice, milk (he loves milk so that’s a good thing), chicken nuggets, yogurt, and zero fruits, vegetables, or meat. Today that list is even more limited. He since then has given up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches unless he’s super hungry and there is absolutely no other food in the house he wants.

He also goes back and forth with his liquid medicine. He takes 2 liquid medications in the morning in juice, and the other 2 medications he takes he can chew. Well, the juice worked great for a while, but now it’s a fight almost every morning to get him to take his medicine. We do this thing where we have a cup of milk in one hand and a cup of juice/medicine in the other, and he’ll take drinks of both of them until the medicine is gone. And it’s only 2 ounces of juice for the meds. It’s really not that much at all. Some days he takes it just fine; other days it’s a 15 minute meltdown followed by him giving up and finally taking it.

How We Feed Our Son Nutritious Food

There are a few strategies I have tried that seem to work well.

Purchasing Whole Grain Foods or Foods With Few Ingredients

Since our son is a lover of all things crunchy and crackers, I try to purchase foods that are filled with whole grains, like Triscuits. He also likes tortilla chips, which have few ingredients in them, and plain potato chips. We also buy 100% whole grain bread for when he will eat the occasional pb and j. I know these are not the best foods, but in all my research, and in talking with our pediatrician, I’ve found the less ingredients a food has the better, especially if you know what all the ingredients are.

Purchasing Organic and non-GMO Foods

As you’ve noticed our son likes a lot of processed foods. Because of this I will buy, when our budget can handle it, foods that are organic and non-GMO. For example I’ve found an organic fruit snack he will eat, and an organic cereal he will eat. These products are also made with real food.

Providing Nutrients through Protein Powder and Meal Replacement Powder

We do buy him “shakes” as he calls them. Usually something like Pediasure or Ensure, and he loves them, which is great since they have all the necessary nutrients he needs. Along with my endeavor to provide real nutritional food for my son, I’ve also found a whole food protein powder and meal replacement powder he will tolerate, as long  as I add a lot of chocolate syrup to his homemade “shake”.

The Sneaky ChefUsing a Cookbook – The Sneaky Chef

When I first learned about this cookbook I bought it right away. The basics of the cookbook is to create smooth purees of food, made from real fruits and vegetables, to add to regular food that your child will eat. I’ve tried a few of them and they have worked, like adding pureed orange vegetables to his macaroni and cheese. He didn’t even notice. Hallelujah!!

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Purchasing Real Food He Will Eat or Drink Whenever Possible

He loves juice so we buy only 100% juice. He will also eat applesauce once in awhile so I do purchase the kind without high fructose corn syrup or made with real fruit and fruit juice. He also will eat yogurt and I found one that is organic with very little sugar and only real ingredients, that he will eat sometimes. His favorite yogurt is the “slurpy” kind you squeeze from a tube.

Celebrate Every Little Victory

This whole refusal to eat can be so frustrating. I remind myself that I have to celebrate even the smallest victories. We have a chart on the fridge, first developed by our Occupational Therapist, to help him try new foods. Every time he does, he receives a check mark, and we praise him for that. After so many check marks he earns a trip to the Dollar Store. Every little victory helps him feel better and more secure about trying something new.

Do you have a child with a food aversion, or someone in your home who is a severely picky eater? Please share what tricks and tips you’ve applied in your home to help in this area. I am happy to accept any advice or suggestions, and I bet someone else reading this would love to hear what has worked for you too.

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Autism in Our Home: Anxiety

Autism in Our Home AnxietyWe first noticed anxiety in our Little Man when he was a toddler. It started with never wanting to leave my side. I thought it was a normal phase. All toddlers go through a stage like that now and then. But this seemed different.

During his preschool years he did not like to be in loud places or places with a lot of people. The only way he would attend Kid’s Connection at our church is because my mother and my oldest daughter helped out in his class.

Signs of Anxiety in our Little Man

Our son always, always had to have someone with him at all times. This is the very reason we could not leave him alone when he was trying to fall asleep at night. For a while I thought these were just unfounded fears that had gotten out of control. As the years went on, they only became increasingly worse.

He seemed to do just fine during preschool and Kindergarten, but I think this is due to the regimented schedule and routine that school offered. As long as he knew what was going to happen, and it didn’t change, he was perfectly fine.

His anxiety also became apparent when his routine did change. For example, my husband always drove the same way to school each and every day. One day I had to drive him instead and I took a shortcut. He was worried the entire time that we were going to be late.

He also felt comfort and security in knowing the plan for each day. He would ask countless times during the day, “Where are we going today?” and I had better include each and every stop. If we veered off the original schedule he definitely noticed and would ask about it.

Our son’s anxiety rose at an all-time high the summer between his Kindergarten and 1st grade year. By this time, our psychiatrist had diagnosed him with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, along with ADHD and Autism.

Towards the end of his Kindergarten year he began crying and running away during recess because of all the bugs and bees and flies that were now around. During that same summer, he refused to go outside because of the bugs. I recall one day we all wanted to go outside to do some yard work. He did not want to go outside. I brought him out, holding him, and he became hysterical. He held on to me so tightly and was crying and pleading with me to bring him back inside, that I realized this was no longer a passing phase.

Help for Our Son’s Anxiety

When we called his psychiatrist, she was not at all surprised. She gave us a medication to help ease his anxiety. It does not completely take care of it, but it makes things less fearful for him.

He can now go to the bathroom on his own, be alone in the bathroom while taking a bath, play in his bedroom with the door closed, and not be in the same room as either his Dad or I at all times.

Yes, one of us had to be with him in the same room at all times. You can imagine the lack of privacy my husband and I began to feel. I would find myself getting mad at him for something he could not control. We would have to remind ourselves that this was a symptom of his Autism and he could not help himself.

I remember feeling terrible for my son, as he wrestled with these fearful and hopeless feelings. Anxiety makes you feel completely out of control, which is a terrible way to feel. I did not want my then 4 year old, to be freaking out over something little boys usually love to play with – bugs and the outdoors. I could only imagine how he felt when he had an uncontrollable need to be in the presence of my husband or I at all times. No one ever wants to feel that way.

I wish I could say I have some practical tips and ideas on how to help your child with his/her anxiety but I don’t have much to offer you here. There are a few things we have done that seem to help (never prevent) a meltdown due to his uncontrollable anxiety.

Medication had been the number one solution for his anxiety that has really helped.

Like I said before, he no longer needs someone to be in the same room with him at all times. He enjoys playing with his Legos and Squinkies by himself in his room. He’ll tell me now if he wants me to stay with him while he’s taking a bath or if I can leave the room. Most of the time, I’m allowed to leave the bathroom. 🙂

He is still afraid of bugs but he will venture outside for a short time, and he absolutely loves recess at school.

Front-loading our son, letting him know what to expect ahead of time, has also greatly helped him with his anxiety.

We have a few visual schedules and charts hanging up in our house that have worked wonders for him. I designed a morning and afternoon schedule for him so he can expect the same thing every day. I also keep a calendar up for everyone to see and let him know, at least a day or 2 ahead of time, if there’s an event we have to attend or an appointment he has.

After school, I let him know right away what we are doing. Some days we have to drop his sisters off at dance class or go to the grocery store. I let him know each and every stop we have to make and he seems ok with that, as long as he knows what to expect.

Rewards have also worked well in our home. On his morning and after school schedule, if he’s completed each and every item he can choose a reward like an electronic or tv show. He used to have a terrible time when he had an occupational therapy appointment. We began the “you can pick a free movie from the movie rental store, if you have a good attitude at your appointment,” and that worked well. Again, this is all part of front-loading. And giving someone a positive incentive for performing a certain task works very, very well.

You get paid when you work right? I like knowing that if I show up for my job and perform my duties the best I can, I’m going to get paid. Positive reinforcement at its finest. 🙂

All in all his anxiety is being handled as well as it can be at this moment. I would love to see him completely over his fears, but this is something we will have to help him with. His fears and anxieties will most likely change or evolve over the years. We will always be there to help him if and when he needs it.

Do any of your children struggle with anxiety? How do you handle this in your home? I would love to hear any of your stories – good, bad, or ugly. Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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