Anxiety, Travel

5 Strategies to Get Your Anxious Child Ready for a Family Vacation

Any time we’re lucky enough to go on vacation for a few days, I tend to forget all of the anxiety my daughter carries with her. 

I get so lost in thinking about what a fantastic time we’re going to have. I spend my time looking at Pinterest to discover the wonderful possibilities our family vacation could hold. And I forget to talk with my daughter about the things she’s worried about during the vacation.

If your child is a worrier, especially if they have the smarts to concoct tons of troubling scenarios in their head, but lacks the communication skills to actually share those scenarios, then you know what a challenge this can become! 

Anxiety can show up in mild forms of worry, to all out panic for some, where the individual can display very different reactions than are typical for her or him. This may manifest as defiance, which is generally the case in our household. 

Family vacations should be relaxing for everyone. Parents can help their little worriers enjoy the trip by keeping in mind a few tips I’ve learned over the years from various books, therapists, and experience.

1 | Preview, preview, preview

Parents can preview the vacation with their children in the weeks leading up to the trip. This type of preview should include a general schedule of the vacation, like dates and times of travel, as well as any big destinations or events. 

When we took a trip to Denver a few years ago, we shared with my daughter pictures of thewing-221526_1920 airport, videos of airplanes landing and taking off (be careful with these videos as they are quickly linked on YouTube to videos of airplanes crashing) and photos of the hotel where we’d be staying. 

Sharing visuals to preview what and where your vacation will look like is an easy way to ease any fears that may creep into their minds. This can also be a starting point for a discussion about their concerns. Even if they’re unable to vocalize the fears they have, they can point to the pictures or videos you’re showing them. 

2 | Social stories

At its heart, social stories are tools that help kids navigate situations that could become overwhelming, work on changing a behavior, or teach a new skill.

Research shows that social stories have been successful for individuals with autism, but they have also been extremely successful for kids who are anxious, struggle with navigating social situations, or are prone to meltdowns.  

Creating a social story for a child’s vacation is like writing the itinerary in a story checklist-2077019_1920format. At its most basic level, it lists what someone can expect during a specific event or time. Reading the story over a few times before and during the vacation will help the anxious child mentally prepare for what to expect. 

3 | Ask specific questions

Instead of using open-ended questions, which usually result in one-word answers, ask your child specific questions about the vacation. Asking what your child is most looking forward to or what she thinks will be boring will give you much more information than simply asking if the kid is excited for vacation.

Questions that will give parents more insight into a child’s worries for vacation include:

What are you going to pack for vacation? Take note of any odd items they include, as this may lead to additional insight into any fears or worries. Ask follow-up questions like, “Why do you think you need to bring a flashlight?” This may lead to an interesting conversation about the fear of a possible power outage or bad weather.

What activity are you looking forward to the most? The least?  My daughter refused to swim in Lake Michigan on our last trip because of a fear of alligators. So we studied the habitats of alligators and were relieved to learn alligators do not live in Lake Michigan. When an innocent beach-goer brought a life-sized alligator float to the beach, my daughter did freak out for a moment. She recovered nicely, though, because of our prep work. If we hadn’t studied the habitats, though, and she didn’t share her festering worry, she would have most likely melted down and refused to go near the water.

What do you want to do on our vacation? What do you want to skip? This gives your child another opening to share their own feelings of excitement and worry with you. Sometimes children can get so overwhelmed with feelings, they don’t share their extensive plans clearly.  Giving them multiple paths to chat is another great way to prepare for a vacation. 

Have any of your friends gone on vacation to (insert vacation location)? Questions like this get any preconceived notions out into the open. If a friend has been to the location before and had a great time, chances are your child’s expectations have increased or they are looking forward to the trip. If the friend did not have a fun time, this could exacerbate your child’s worries about the trip. 

4 | Respect your child’s feelings

Be aware of how you respond as your child shares their concerns or even comments on the vacation. My daughter was always very frightened of her great-grandparents. This was odd to my husband and me because they are the sweetest people. Anytime we would ask our daughter why she acted so scared, her response was the same, “They have white hair.” grandparents-1969824_1920

What does a parent say to that? We would often squash her feelings down by saying, “That’s not a reason to be scared.” 

One day my daughter was feeling particularly open about her worries and shared with me that what she meant was that the great-grandparents in question were old, very old in fact. So old that what my daughter meant by saying they have white hair, is that she was worried they would die while she was in the room. Each time we told her to not worry about their white hair, we were basically telling her that she shouldn’t worry if an old person would die right in front of her. 

Now when we go to a party with the great-grandparents in attendance, I try to relieve my daughter’s worries by saying that, “Grandma and Grandpa must feel pretty good today. If they felt like coming to a party, they probably don’t feel like they will die today.” 

5 | Avoid surprisesappointment-15979_1920

Change is hard, but especially for kids who struggle with transitions. Ease the level of anxiety in your child by giving him lots of time to prepare for the change. Instead of suddenly leaving a fun park, let him know when he has 10 minutes left. Then give him a five-minute warning. As it is nearing time to leave, ask your kids what they’d like to do as their last activity before leaving the park.

The more you can prepare your child for a change, the less likely they’ll feel overwhelmed. This will lead to fewer meltdowns and a more memorable vacation for everyone. 

*This was originally written by me as a piece for and published on Parent.co

 

Early Intervention

9 Concerns You Need to Share With Your Child’s Doctor

During my son’s one-year exam with the pediatrician he happened, by chance to crawl in boy-1916204_1920the exam room. All of his crawling behaviors were normal, except that he had a funny thing he did with his leg as he moved around the room, looking kind of like and injured dog trying to walk. Since my son was not in any pain, this odd movement didn’t initially concern my husband or me as he began crawling at the expected age and was able to get from place to place in the normal crawling amount of time. His form looked funny as he crawled, but that seemed like a picky parent concern to us, so we thought we would wait to mention our observation at his yearly checkup and see what the doctor thought.

 

Looking back, I am so thankful the doctor was able to see this funny crawl. My describing of the doggie crawl would have lead to me babbling to the doctor, leading to frustration on my part and most likely confusion on the pediatrician. If you struggle with specifically describing any concerns you may have about your child, take the time before the appointment to write down your description or take a video on your phone. This is a nice portable way to show your doctor if your child is not the type to perform on command in the exam room.

 

This simple crawling experience set off a series of events that would lead my child into working with therapists in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy. Every time I mention to someone that my little guy is in physical therapy and has been receiving services for over a year, their reaction is typically the same, “He needs physical therapy?”

 

This initial surprise comes from these observers noticing that my child runs, walks, climbs baby-1842293_1920stairs and navigates pretty much any physical task with apparent ease. These observers don’t notice, though, that my son takes a few extra moments to think about how he is going to navigate the playground or that he avoids sitting in ways that engage his core muscles. They also don’t notice that his right leg is so much stronger than his left leg that he is creating an imbalance in his leg strength. I am continually surprised by how much slower my little guy moves or the ease of frustration that washes over him if I have him climb stairs leading with his weaker leg.

 

If your child has any difficulties like my child and is a little too smart for their own good, chances are they know what physical tasks they struggle with and are planning alternate ways around those challenging movements. It is very hard to know when a kid struggles with something if they do everything to avoid that struggle. How can a parent observe something their child is trying to keep hidden?

 

This is why those conversations with your pediatrician are crucial. Just mentioning something or showing a video of a concern you may have will either relieve you of your concern, or if it is a valid concern it will get your child on the road to early interventions. At the very least, your pediatrician should note the concern in your child’s medical record, making those concerns a great source of documentation over time.

 

What should a parent be on the lookout for if their kid is trying to avoid any challenges that may be difficult for them? Here is my brief list of behaviors to be on the lookout for since this could be an indication of a greater challenge for your child.

 

9 Concerns that would be beneficial to mention to your child’s pediatrician include:

 

Sensory

  • Picky eating

Does your kid not even attempt to eat something? Is dinnertime a source of frustration for you? Picky eating can include situations or behaviors where your child only eats a limited type or temperature of food, refusing vegetables and/or fruit, absolute refusal to try new foods, and has a preference for foods with no texture (creamy carbohydrates- ice cream, crackers, and fruit snacks- are typically preferred in our household).

 

  • Constipation

Constipation can be a sign that your child is not eating a balanced diet, even though you may be doing everything you can to get your child to eat. If your child suffers from chronic constipation, start to ask yourself why they are constantly blocked up.

 

  • Easily upset by messy clothes

Drops of water on your child’s clothes, glue on their hands, and a constant need to wash their hands can be signs of sensory disregulation in your child. While every kid can be upset at some time or other, take a moment to observe your child when they are near other children doing the same activity. Are the other kids upset by the glue on their hands? It would be worth mentioning to your pediatrician if you are often finding your child is the only one upset.

 

  • Crashing into objects purposely

If your kid likes to crash into objects this could be a sign they are sensory seeking. Take note of the times they crash into things, often these kids are not typically hurt by these incidences so they may not be on your radar. If this is a concern prepare a list of the times and places they crash. If it is only in one setting, like the park, they may only be blowing off excess energy. If you are finding it is at the grocery store, your house, grandmas, and church, you might want to say something to your doctor.

 

Speech

 

  • Picky Eating

When my daughter (both my kids received early interventions) was assessed for occupational therapy, due to sensory regulation issues, her picky eating came up as a concern. Picky eating can have a sensory component to it or it could be also weak mouth muscles as the cause. This led to a speech evaluation and therapy for my daughter.

 

  • Repeating words or phrases

Don’t mix this one up with stuttering. My daughter received speech therapy as a tot, which was a surprise as she was a chatterbox, clearly articulating every phrase uttered about a wide variety of things. One area that stood out as a concern was that she would repeat a question or comment two or three times. For example, when asking to go to the library she would say:

“Can we go to the . . .

Can we go to the . . .

Can we go to the library?”

Being so close to her every day, I grew accustomed to this way of speaking and didn’t notice that my daughter struggled with a word finding issue, not being able to think of the word she wanted to say. If your child seems to struggle with finding that one word or it seems like words are always on the tip of their tongue, take note of the times and places this may happen. Is it only occurring when they are really excited about their favorite toy? Maybe it is only because they are tired. Either way discussing a possible speech evaluation might be worthwhile.

 

Physical Movement

 

  • W Sitting

If your child sits with their butt in between their legs on the floor, they are sitting in a ‘w’ position. This is not a good position to constantly sit in as it puts unnecessary pressure on their hips. ‘W’ sitting is also a sign that the child’s core may not be supporting their body as it should. Telling your kid to change their sitting position is a good start, but keep note of how often they are sitting in this spot.

 

  • Later Walking

Both of my children were in the typical range of independent walking, up to 15 months is considered typical. However, both of them did not successfully walk until 15 months. On its own, this is not a concern, but as my children had other delays in their development as well, it was something that I made sure to pass on to the doctor.

 

  • Buddha Belly

Little baby bellies are adorable. As these little ones increase in their developmental milestones, all areas of their body should be coordinating together causing the cute little belly to go away. If your child continues to have a pronounced belly, it could be a sign that their core abdominal muscles aren’t working in coordination with their bodies. This one would most likely show up as a concern after two-years of age.

 

Each of these concerns on their own are most likely little quirks of your child. As you read through this list, if you are finding there are a few areas that sound just like your child, jot a few notes and take a few pictures to share with your child’s pediatrician. At the very least the doctor can give you an explanation or share ideas for you to work on at home. If it is something to be concerned about, though, they will send you on to the proper specialist for an evaluation. If you were to go to a specialist, use the gift of time for your child to work in an early intervention.

 

My children have received services from a variety of therapists for years. I am so thankful for the support of these individuals because my children love the individual therapy time to play on some amazing equipment and I have received so many wonderful and helpful tips to better support my children as unique individuals.

* This was originally written by me as a piece for and posted in parent.co
Picky Eaters

Grow a Garden With Your Picky Eater

Yesterday I shared books that are enjoyable to read with your picky eater.  Today I will share another strategy to ease your child’s frustrations and fears about eating fruits, vegetables and any other offensive foods to the sensory system.

container-garden-1051454_1920Growing a garden with your picky eater is another way to help rebrand the foods your child despises.  This is a great activity to do any time of year but especially at the end of winter and beginning of springtime.  As a family you can plant seeds into starter trays and watch the seeds grow into herbs, fruits or vegetables. Continue reading “Grow a Garden With Your Picky Eater”

Picky Eaters

Picture Books to Encourage Picky Eaters

Having two children that struggle with sensory issues leads to challenges during meal time, snack time, and . . . basically any time of the day.  It seems as though the more nutritious and healthy a food is for you (I’m looking at you broccoli), the more unappealing it is to kids who struggle with sensory integration.Broccoli (1)

Think about it, if you think something is funky one of the last things you would ever want to do is put it in your mouth.  Kids who struggle with sensory integration seem to be on the lookout for any and every possible offender that might want to find its way into a kid’s mouth.  The reason for such an increased desire is basically a survival tactic, if you think an unknown food may be poisonous, naturally you would keep it far away from your mouth so you don’t poison yourself.  Unfortunately for kids with extreme sensory processing challenges, they have a super strength ability to ‘sense’ food that may be offensive to them, which in turn leads to an increased awareness and challenge in eating nutritionally dense foods.  In other words they don’t want to eat that broccoli because their brain thinks the broccoli is going to poison them.

Continue reading “Picture Books to Encourage Picky Eaters”