Thursday, December 18, 2014

Teaching Gratitude to Children and Teens with Special Needs

It is frustrating to give a gift to a youngster, only to have him declare how much he hates it. This situation can discourage even the most loving relatives from spending the holidays with your family. There are many benefits to taking the time to teach your child how to show gratitude, including

  • Your youngster will be happier expressing grateful thoughts than disparaging ones. 
  • It will be easier to forge social connections and make friends when others feel appreciated. 
  • You will have fewer inappropriate reactions that embarrass everyone associated with the situation. 
  • Family members will experience more peace in the home. 
Teaching gratitude is a process, not an event. You begin with direct instruction, follow through with practice, and give plenty of exposure to reinforcing experiences. 

Begin by teaching why we should be grateful for the blessings in our lives. You may want to share stories or examples of those who do not have the things we take for granted, such as running water. Next you will explain why we should feel and express gratitude. Have your youngster help you make a list of people, experiences, and objects they feel make life better. This list may include Grandma for her hugs, time to swing because it makes the child calm, or appreciation for a warm bed at night for a good rest. Add to this list from time to time as individual values are seen. 

Help your child develop empathy by teaching her to give. They can help select clothing and toys they've outgrown to donate to friends or a charity. Try to take her with you to make the donation so she can participate more fully. Also give her the opportunity to make or choose appropriate presents for family members--many children with special needs reach adulthood without having given anyone else a present, therefore missing out on joyful experiences. As you help her make selections, talk about the excitement the recipient will feel, and how she would feel if her gift was rejected. Try to move the focus from getting to giving. 

Now is the time to practice gratitude. You will need to be the role model--try some of the following suggestions:
  • Pretend to receive a gift you really like, one you aren't particularly crazy about, and a third that is not appropriate for you. Demonstrate polite expressions of thanks for each and allow your child the chance to role play as well. 
  • Talk about gratitude and thanks often, and have family members leave notes of gratitude for each other.
  • You may want to write things you are thankful for and place them in a gratitude jar. Then you can use the slips of paper to form a gratitude chain and see how long it reaches. 
  • When you have the opportunity to do service, talk about the gratitude of others. 
  • Encourage your child to give thanks
    • make visits to those who have helped him
    • write notes to teachers
    • make or purchase small gifts
You may also want to rehearse appropriate reactions on a regular basis, including thanks for food preparation, any help or service she may receive, and give lots of praise and recognition when they make others feel appreciated. 

Finally, you may want to limit the commercialism of the season for all your children. Less commercial television exposure should reduce the "want" list. Try to spend more time making lists of acts of service, shopping for others, or providing gifts of time. 

How do you teach gratitude in your home? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Resources to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holiday season can be especially stressful for those with disabilities, especially mental illness. Expectations for this time of year run high, especially when fed by images of perfect families and idyllic lives provided by the media. There are a number of resources with excellent ideas to help with stress reduction, provide reasonable expectations, and help you deal with psychological challenges.

You may choose to begin with tips to prevent difficulties you've faced in the past. Or, you may need to implement ideas to deal with problems in progress. Take a look at these lists, and chances are you'll find some useful suggestions:

Proactive Strategies
Reactive Strategies
What are your best tips for managing holiday stress and depression?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Appropriate Gifts - Making Suggestions to Relatives

Having your child receive a gift that will not last long, or is inappropriate, is one sure way to put a damper on the holiday. It's difficult for many relatives to select toys for children they see infrequently, and for youngsters with special needs, this process becomes a special challenge. Here are a few tips you can provide as guidance:

  • The first consideration must always be safety. 
    • Check the World Against Toys Causing Harm site at for information on recalls and safety warnings. 
    • Children over the age of three years who continue to put non-food items into their mouths should not be given toys with small pieces. 
    • ToysRUs has a site with safety hints for children with special needs. 
    • Is the toy durable to last for over a year without breaking or coming apart?
    • Is it resistant to water and can it be washed or cleaned?
  • The next factor is the frustration level. 
    • It should be difficult enough to provide a challenge, but not so hard it is frustrating--for example children with fine motor problems would appreciate larger building blocks, while tiny parts would prove impossible. 
    • How much force is required to activate lights, motion, etc.?
    • Games and puzzles should not have many complex steps, or the child will lose interest. 
    • Can game rules be adapted so the youngster will feel successful?
    • Is the activity or craft manageable alone, or does it require assistance?
  • Appeal is also important. 
    • Contrasting colors and varied textures provide stimulation. 
    • Scents may attract some children and upset others--you need to give recommendations for your individual child on this one. 
    • Lights and sounds are exciting and entertaining, but may also annoy parents.
    • Does it allow for creativity or flexible play?
    • Is it both developmentally and age appropriate?
  • Toy use and positioning should also be examined.
    • Can it be used by children who must lie down for part of the day? 
    • Will it fit on a wheelchair tray?
    • Is it adjustable in height, volume, speed, or difficulty level?
    • For those in smaller apartments or homes, storage may be an issue.
    • Does it expose the child to new technological skills? 
  • Popularity can be a plus.
    • Is it based on a familiar character?
    • Does it tie in to a preferred TV show or movie?
    • Would other children like this toy?
  • Opportunities for interaction are beneficial.
    • Will the child actively participate in the toy use?
    • Can the toy be shared with others?
    • Does it encourage interaction?

You may want to create a checklist from the items above that are a priority for you, and give this to the potential gift givers. They will appreciate the helpful hints. 

How do you share information about appropriate Christmas gifts for your child?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hurry Up, Christmas! Helping Children with Special Needs Wait

Waiting for something as exciting as Christmas is difficult for any child, and many adults. When you add the impulsivity, short attention spans, and reduced behavioral control that comes with many disabilities, the month of December becomes interminably long. There are several things you can try to improve your youngster's outlook and the mood of the entire family. 

There are many countdown calendars commercially available. My children enjoyed moving a bear around his house on a wall hanging until he finally found Christmas on December 25. Other kinds have drawers for small treats, different activities to do each day, or a number countdown. This visual reminder helps your child understand the passage of time and how to be patient when waiting. 

The best countdown calendars include special activities or treats. This helps your youngster look forward to smaller, more frequent events. The expectations aren't as high, so there is less risk of disappointment or sensory overload. It also serves as a distraction as you focus on short-term waits rather than the month-long ordeal. 

You may also want to practice relaxation exercises to help develop patience and anxiety reduction. Try some yoga from a class or DVD,    You can learn some techniques on, from create to speak, or Stress Free Kids

Another method to help children with special needs at Christmas time is to perform service. Consider the activities your family member really enjoys, then look for ways to use this talent to help others. If he or she enjoys Internet activities, a coat or toy drive could be coordinated. Bakers could make treats to take to others. Musicians could share their talent at a nursing home or day care center. Artists could create cards or posters. Crafters might make gifts to donate to charity. Serving others helps develop talents, and creates a new perspective as these youngsters learn to understand the point of view of others and to appreciate the blessings in their own lives. 

How do you help your youngster wait for Christmas?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

An Important Skill You can Model for your Child

Participating in non-preferred activities, learning a new skill, and encountering unfamiliar people are all situations that challenge children with disabilities. One skill will help them do better in all three areas--having a positive attitude.

The first step to helping your youngster develop a positive attitude is to demonstrate that perspective yourself. Start with a look in the mirror. When you encounter unexpected challenges, do you rant & rave, or look for solutions? After a confrontation with another adult, do you find yourself very upset, or are you able to let the bad experience go? Before attending a meeting with a professional to discuss your child, do you anticipate a poor outcome and make yourself upset before you even leave home?

When going to a non-preferred activity yourself, try modelling a positive attitude by thinking out loud. Are there some aspects of the event that you do enjoy? Will there be someone there you are looking forward to seeing? Focus on the good thoughts so that your child can be prompted to do the same.

Prior to attending an activity your child does not instinctively like, point out things he or she can enjoy. Encourage positive participation, even if you have to start with just 10 minutes. Then you can reward the good behavior by going to a preferred location, or changing to another activity. The time can be increased during subsequent sessions.

How do you model and teach positive attitudes?