Love is a powerful force for healing in our lives, both for our children and for us.
When one of our sons was young, he needed many reminders that Russ and I would be his parents forever. We would not leave him. We would not go away.
A very wise therapist advised us to take a picture with him, then print and laminate a few copies. One was hung next to his bed and another pinned inside the little tent he slept in at the time (a sensory processing tool). A third hung on a piece of yarn he wore around his neck during the day, better yet, we should have put it on a stretchy bracelet or clipped it to his shirt for safety.
Christmas break is here, which brings challenges for some of our kids – and for us. We may need to dig deep to keep ourselves regulated along with our kids.
Today, I’m talking about a simple strategy for stressful moments – asking ourselves the question:
Is this a big problem or a little problem?
Over the years, Russ and I sat through many therapy sessions with our kids. While the knowledge we gained continues to be invaluable for our kids, there are unexpected gifts for us – insights and skills we use to heal, cope, and manage our own relationships and lives.
This post is the third in the series Tips Stolen From the Kids’ Therapist.
I have a little tip that was very helpful with Eby when he was younger and I find I still use for myself today.
He had extreme reactions to disappointments, mild injuries, corrections, and all kinds of situations. Our wonderful therapist, Deborah, taught us to use our hands and ask,
“Is this a big problem…?
“…or a little problem?”
His brain was often stuck in crisis mode, so his reactions responded to the perceived big crisis. With support and this physical/visual reminder, he realized it was a little problem and then I could help him calm down.
In the framework of Sensory Processing Disorder, we would say that Eby had an inability to match the intensity of his responses to the intensity of the situation. He was on high alert – ready for something big to happen.
So how does this apply to me?
It’s not uncommon for me to feel my own “big feelings” about a situation, and let those emotions affect me more than necessary.
I may find myself going to great lengths to find a solution to a problem that I should simply let go. Other times I’ll worry about something I’ve said or done, and it will consume energy I should use in better ways.
It helps to step back and ask, “Is this a big problem, or a little problem?”
Often I realize I’ve let the problem grow in my mind until it’s taken on too much importance.
Having lived through tragedy, there are not many actual “big problems.” Facing death puts a lot in perspective.
Besides, God’s Word tells us a lot about worry.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).
And perhaps best of all, I love these words of Jesus, “Fear not, little flock….” (Luke 12:32)
When I make small problems into big problems, I waste energy and time which should be spent loving God and loving people.
I remember a night when I was upset about something, telling Russ about it in great detail. He listened for quite awhile, then he held his hands far apart and said, “Is this a big problem?” He brought his hands closer together and simply said, “Or…?”
I was annoyed for a moment, then realized the truth, this was not a life-changing, earth-shattering problem. Most likely it would feel smaller after a night of sleep. Most things look better in the morning when the house is quiet, my Bible is in my lap and a mug of coffee is in my hand.
Do you practice some form of “Is this a big problem or a little problem?”
What are some of the best tips you learned from your kids’ therapy sessions or from parenting books, etc. you apply to yourself?
As always, I love hearing from you. Take a moment to say hello.
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Is your child always moving, jumping on the furniture, spinning in circles, and wiggling in his seat? Or how about covering her ears because the room is too loud and begging to have the tags cut out of her shirts?
Your child is most likely not “hyper,” “picky,” or “difficult.” He may have sensory challenges, or even Sensory Processing Disorder.
She may be a sensory seeker or sensory avoider. It seems to me that most kids show signs of both – he hates loud noises, but can’t get enough of jumping on the trampoline. She won’t wear socks because they “hurt her feet,” but she has to chew gum while doing homework in order to stay calm and still.
One of my children has significant sensory challenges we’ve spent years sorting through. For a long time, we wrongly attributed behaviors to attachment or behavior problems until a therapist who was working with one of our other children said, “Does that happen often?” as she observed him interact with me.
She asked questions about a variety of other behaviors I had never linked together, and then suggested an evaluation by a pediatric occupational therapist. That was an important turning point for us.
We had a new way of looking at our child that relieved some of our concerns. There were explanations for behaviors we hadn’t been able to figure out.
We also had practical tools and new approaches to help him in simple ways that made life easier for all of us.
These toys and tools are some of the best that worked (and continue to work) for us or for our friends. Click on the photos for details or to order through Amazon.
Though it feels like it happens a bit later here in Colorado than it does in some other parts of the country, spring has sprung! Spring and summer gardening have become a tradition in our family over recent years. My husband, Greg, is an educator and gets about six weeks off in the summer. Gardening has become a great way for the kids to work by his side during his long summer days at home.
For all of our kids, but in particular for our kids from hard places, garden work provides incredible amounts of sensory input and fresh air – one of my favorite combos.
Pushing wheelbarrows, carrying bags of soil, digging in dirt, spinning the composter – taking breaks to bounce on the trampoline. The garden has become one of our very best tools to prevent dysregulation and “boredom meltdowns” during the spring and summer. And weeding is a timeless, tried-and-true “redirecting” activity when needed!
Beyond that, a garden is packed with lessons in what consistent work at a worthwhile task can produce over time. This is a lesson we hope all of our children learn well!
Greg and the kids cleared an area of sod in our backyard a few years ago to expand the garden and then created fencing and a gate with found pallets. How’s that for deep sensory input?
Each child has their own plot, and they all begin working and amending the soil in early spring as they plan out their plots on paper. My only request is that they include roma and grape tomatoes every year. And they never forget sunflowers and zucchini!
Last year, we had so much zucchini that I had to leave baskets of it in front of the house for neighbors to take. One lovely woman who lives several blocks away brought us a box of chocolate as a thank you. So, depending on how you look at it, we actually grew chocolate in our garden last summer!
One of the things I love about gardening with kids is that it can be a small or large project – whatever fits your family’s needs best in any given year. This has been so important in our family during times of foster care transition or times when the calendar is full of surgeries or other medical interventions. We do what fits and adjust again the following year!
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In preparation for this year’s garden, I’ve gathered a “getting ready for the garden” list at the end of this post.We own several of these items already, and I have friends who own a few more that have made it onto my wish list (kitchen composter and indoor greenhouse are next in line). In fact, these basil sprouts are growing right now in my friend Michelle’s indoor greenhouse, and she has promised a few of them to me.
Hands-down, our favorite gardening item is our backyard spinning composter – I don’t know if I would have purchased this on my own because I wouldn’t have realized how wonderful it is, but our friends left it for us when we moved into this house. I always found composting tedious before, so I rarely did it. This has simplified it so much – just toss the items in and give the barrel a spin. Our younger kids have loved being chosen to carry out a pile of kitchen compost and to spin the big barrel.
And it gives us rich, dark soil year after year. Our composter is sturdy and solid – it has made it through at least seven years of summer thunderstorms and Colorado blizzards and has many more years left. We also love our deck boxes (we have two), which have provided easy garden tool storage and great backyard work surfaces for the kids. They have also done triple duty as bench seating when we have dinner guests – we eat mainly in the backyard throughout the summer, and these provide seating for four extra people!
Although my kids are getting older and are not intially as eager to join in the garden planning as the weather begins to warm, they usually find themselves not wanting to miss out and end up joining in – so the garden continues on as a family tradition even in the midst of teenagers.
(Though I did have to tease my 14-year-old daughter just today that if she wasn’t planning to garden with dad this year, maybe we could take a foster placement of 6-year-old triplets who would love gardening, and they could share her bedroom! Surprisingly enough, she said she will happily garden and that we probably shouldn’t take a placement of triplets.)
Ebenezer has always hated wearing long pants, even when the weather is below zero. It was fine when I homeschooled, but now that he is in school, showing up in shorts is a problem. Not only is it against school policy, since they are supposed to be appropriately dressed for the weather, but let’s be honest, I feel (a little) like a bad mom.
Many kids with Sensory challenges struggle with the way their clothes feel. These kids often can’t bear to wear socks, underwear, clothing with tags, and even shoes.
I woke up this morning in Richmond, Virginia. I won’t complain about the delayed flights (even the one that departed three hours late) because I’ve flown to Africa more than once, and those are looooooong flights and very tiring days.
My nephew is getting married tomorrow; he is my sister, Laura’s, oldest son. I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to come, but as I thought about my parents being here and both of my sisters, it seemed wise to take the opportunity to spend some special time together. Plus we get to celebrate Drew and his new wife.
As a super bonus, Mimi traveled with me and Hannah is flying in tonight. We’re even going to do a little sightseeing all together after the wedding. This is such a rare and sweet time.