Friday, 15 December 2017

Why aren't we teaching our children how to recognise their emotions?

I was recently talking to a good friend about how to teach children about their emotions and it really got me thinking.

Why aren't we, and I'm talking about parents in general, teaching our children how to recognise their emotions? Some of us are doing it, some are not.

We are not born with the inherent ability to recognise and respond to our own emotions. This is a skill that begins to develop from birth. New born babies begin to learn about their emotions just through their parents responding to their cries. Children further develop these much needed skills through the interactions and relationships that they have with their families, caregivers, peers and their teachers.

From a young age we teach our children, I know that I have anyway, about their feelings and those of others. We teach them how to identify their own feelings and communicate their feelings to others.

Children's brains grow at a very rapid rate and all children are constantly noticing, reacting, adapting and developing ideas based on their emotional experiences. This year at my previous work place I was doing quite a bit of work with the Kindy children in my care on BIG emotions. After only a few sessions on how we could calm ourselves down if we were sad, mad or angry, the children were putting into practice and reminding each other of what we had spoken about. It was truly wonderful to see. Three to five year olds genuinely concerned for their peers, reminding each other to take some deep breaths and walking away from situations that were making them mad, sad or angry.

Recognising and responding to one's own emotions is a skill that is important for developing a child's ability to interact successfully with those around them and with their physical world. It is a skill that they can carry with them through life.

So why is it that when children reach school age, this aspect of their development is rarely spoken about in the formal education setting or taught for that matter?

I know with O in previous years, she has come home from school talking about being taught ways in which she can brush off bullying but rarely did she come home talking about lessons on identifying emotions.

This is the first year that she has come home talking about what different emotions can look and feel like!

If we equip our children, our teenagers, our young adults, with an emotional education, then hopefully we can dramatically improve the quality of their lives in the future.

All too often in the media you hear about teenagers and young adults taking their lives. The majority of these sad stories are due to the individual being bullied at school. Bullying drastically affects the emotional state of an individual. And as children grow older, it seems somewhat of a taboo subject to talk about ones emotions.

When we teach children about emotional intelligence - how to recognise their feelings, assisting them to understand where these emotions come from and how to deal with these emotions - it makes sense that we are teaching them some of the most essential skills for their success in life. Teaching emotional intelligence will also assist in getting rid of the taboo label.

Our own emotions and those of others can have a profound influence on the way that we live our lives. We need to acknowledge the influence that one's emotional state can have not only on ourselves but also on others.

By taking the taboo status away from talking about emotions, perhaps we will be able to inspire a new attitude in future generations towards this subject and in turn about mental health issues.

As parents if we don't have a healthy way of handling our own emotions, then we may have issues in teaching our own children about how to handle their emotions.

The change really needs to start with us.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Working with Children. What I have learnt?

Over the last two and a half years through my workplace I have had the opportunity to be a positive influence on the children that attended the early learning centre that I worked at. Yes sadly, I had to resign from my position due to relocating our superhero family back to Queensland but I do hope to gain employment at another early learning centre in the very near future.

Through the children and families at the centre, I gained new knowledge and was able to hone my skills as an early childhood educator.

Here are some of the things that I have learnt from a gorgeous group of children, babies through to five year olds, and their families over the last two and a half years ....
  • I have learnt to say hello in eighteen different languages - German, Filipino Tagalong, Vietnamese, Sudanese Arabic, Noongar, Maori, Burmese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi, Italian, Hebrew, French, Dutch, Libya Arabic, Croatian and Pirate!
  • That I am able to learn to speak another language, albeit it was only counting from 1 to 10! But I am proud to say that I can now count to ten in eight languages - English (of course,) Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese, Italian, Croatian, German, Filipino Tagalong and Hebrew!
  • Counting in Vietnamese and German generally evokes a lot of giggles from those children who speak the language fluently. I know that I wasn't insulting anyone, they were giggles of joy that I had taken the time to learn their language.
  • Asking a child whose first language is not English how to pronounce something in their home language generally ends in fits of laughter from everyone! There was a lot of miscommunication! And there was some frustration, on the child's part, when I was unable to say the word correctly - "Seriously Jenni, not like that, like this!"
  • That the line "I know that I am not your Mum, but I am a Mum, so would you like me to give you a Mum cuddle?" works wonders on scraped knees, tears and other minor aliments!
  • Being a "day care Mum" is perfectly acceptable!
  • That the words "I love you more than hot wheels" from a three year old is a HUGE compliment.
  • That you can ice skate and fall down on to astro turf and only occasionally injure yourself. And that spending an entire day pretending to ice skate and fall down is absolutely hilarious and a really fun way to spend the day!
Throughout my working career thus far, I have always worked with children in some capacity. Either as an educator, as a mentor for at risk youth, or as a tutor. I will admit that I did try working solely in administration after returning the workplace after having L, however the call of working with children brought me back to where I truly belonged!

Children make work life interesting. They think outside of the box and cause you to look at the world around us from a completely different perspective. No two days are ever the same.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Little Superheroes at Perth Zoo

One of the places in Perth that both my little superheroes love visiting is Perth Zoo. During our first year in Perth we were at the Perth Zoo so often that we got ourselves a family membership, it was one of O's most favourite places as a toddler.

After L came along, he too fell in love with the animals at the zoo. One of the very first times that we took L to the zoo he ended up in meltdown mode but a walk to see the elephants soon distracted him from the meltdown.

The zoo runs a marvellous program titled "A to Zoo" for toddlers. Each session is based on a particular animal at the zoo. The sessions include songs, reading a story book based on the animal and some craft. L loved these sessions, especially going to visit the animal at the conclusion of the session.

So it made sense that one of the places that both of the little superheroes were desperate to visit before we left Perth was the zoo.

So without much further ado, what follows are some of the little superheroes favourite snaps of their favourite animals from our final zoo visit!

The Cassowary, or Dinosaur bird as L calls him!

I love the meerkats. I could spend hours just sitting, watching them play.

Both O and L were fascinated by the comparison board of the plants and animals in Australia and in the Amazon Rainforest. O conducted a short math lesson with L about graphs! L just wanted to open and close the boards!

We had to do two tours of the Nocturnal house just so that L could see his new favourite animal, the ghost bats.

One little monkey, I mean superhero, pretending to be an orangutan! O loves the orangutans! She could spend hours watching them play and talking to them through the glass when she was a toddler.

Sensory break time.

The Jabiru, a very majestic bird that brings back memories of my childhood.

Aww, Mummy and baby snuggling in a tree. L told me that the baby was just like him because he hangs onto me like a baby koala, just like this little one was.

L is fascinated by this gorilla sculpture at the entrance of the zoo, and always has been. Every time we visit the zoo he has to sit and inspect every part of the gorilla and the baby!

And that's it - our Perth adventures have been wrapped up and are now fabulous memories and now we move onto new adventures in Queensland. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Hidden Sense of Interoception

One of the things that I have learnt on our Autism journey thus far is that you never stop learning. Never!

Since O started her therapy sessions we have begun yet another learning journey.

But before I get onto the topic of this post, there is some background information that you need to know about first, otherwise you may become slightly confused.

Ever since O started Kindy, we have always struggled to get her to drink water regularly, eat her recess and lunch at school and go to the bathroom on a more regular basis.

I am sure that she has a hidden camel hump somewhere, as on some days she will rarely drink water during the day but then she loads up in the afternoon and evening. I also wonder if she has a bladder of steel as this little superhero can hold on for a very, very long time!

We've always put these struggles that we have down to O just simply being too busy at school or simply forgetting. Now the issue with not drinking enough water or eating enough food throughout the day leads to other more serious complications. On more occasions than I would like, we have ended up in the emergency department of our local hospital with a very dehydrated child.

It was only in talking to O's key therapist and the school age services coordinator that we realised that perhaps, just perhaps, O's sense of interoception hasn't fully developed.

I can now hear you asking, what on earth is interoception?

I have talked briefly about interoception in a previous post, but let's go into a little more detail.

First we need to go back to basics. We all know about the five senses - hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste. But there are three others that are considered our hidden senses. Senses that we don't consciously think about or are aware of on a daily basis.

The sixth sense is our vestibular sense - this sense provides our bodies with information as to where our head and body are in space. It helps us to keep our balance as we move about.

Then we have the seventh sense which is proprioception. This is our body sense that tells us where our body is in relation to the rest of us. It also tells us how much force to exert when performing different activities like hugging someone, shaking hands, cracking an egg open and so on.

Then we have an eighth sense - our interoception sense. This is a relatively unheard of internal part of the sensory system and consists of all of the internal sensations that we may feel on a daily basis when we're hungry, thirsty, anxious, nervous or when we need to go to the bathroom. Any sensations that originate from within our bodies all stem from the sense of interoception. Receptors in our body organs and skin, are constantly sending information about the inside of our bodies to our brain.

Our sense of interoception is always there in the background and it isn't something that we are generally consciously aware of.

In some individuals, particularly those who have sensory processing difficulties, this hidden sense may still be developing. And as with sensory processing difficulties, individuals may be under-responsive, over-responsive or a combination of both.

Some specialists consider that individuals with sensory processing difficulties may not know how to verbally label the data that their brains receive from the interoceptive sense. If they are not receiving enough data, the sensations that they receive may be confusing. And likewise if their brains are receiving too much data from the interoceptive sense, the sensations may become very overwhelming.

In O not feeling the need to drink water regularly in essence means that this part of her interoception sense is under-responsive - she simply isn't receiving enough data to register that she is thirsty.

In O being in a constant state of anxiety at times in essence means that this part of her interoception sense is over-responsive. Her brain is receiving too much information and the data becomes a distraction so she is unable to focus on anything else and enters into an anxious state.

The tricky thing about our sense of interoception is that the data that it sends to our brain, is required for a range of basic and advanced functions. These functions range from breathing, being hungry or bring full, needing to go to the bathroom, being aware of our own emotions, being able to manage our own emotions and everything else in between.

So it makes sense then that if a child's sense of interoception is still developing, then they may struggle with recognising and responding appropriately to their own emotions and to those of others.

If an individuals brain has difficulties in making sense of the information that it receives, then the individual may not be tuned into their internal body cues that assist others to interpret emotions. They may have difficulty "feeling" the different emotions that they experience. If an individual is not able to interpret their own different body sensations, then they may have difficulty in identifying their own and others emotions.

So how can we help children whose sense of interoception may still be developing?

One of the activities that O's key therapist has been working on with O is labelling different emotions and talking about what some of the external AND internal feelings that she may feel that are associated with these emotions. We have quite a number of body outlines with different sensations written around them - anger, nervous, happy, sad, you get the picture. This has been incredibly beneficial and very effective as O is now starting to recognise the early warning signs of her different emotions and can now verbally tell us how she is starting to feel.

Earlier this year, I developed a social story called "My Book About My Feelings" to assist O in labelling her own emotions. The story started to assist O to identify how she felt inside when she was sad or anxious.

We regularly read books and talk about how the characters might be feeling in particular situations.

When we see the little superheroes experiencing different emotions, we will verbally assist them to label their emotions - "Oh you look very excited....." or "I can see that you are becoming angry/frustrated by ..............." This not only assists them to label their own emotions but it also provides them with the appropriate language so that the next time, they may be able to verbally express themselves.

We also verbally label our own emotions and our internal sensations to the little superheroes. If they recognise that they too experience these internal sensations then they will begin to connect the dots!

Interoception issues are not as well known as other sensory processing difficulties and as such, medical professionals are still developing strategies to further develop this sense in those who need it.

The great thing about being on a learning journey with the little superheroes is that as we have an awareness of and basic understanding of the possible causes behind the little superheroes behaviour and/or functional limitations, means that we are helping the little superheroes. Just having an awareness of the sense of interoception and implications of this sense still developing means that we are able to trial different strategies to see what works best for them. It means that we are more understanding when we see them struggle with skills that everyone seems to take for granted.

So the next time you see a child who can't seem to get the hang of toilet training, or they never seem hungry or thirsty, or they fly off the handle at the drop of a hat, keep in mind that perhaps their sense of interoception is still developing.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Peek-a-Boo Treasure Bag Tutorial

Another of the sensory tools that we use on a regular basis at home and when we are travelling are Peek-a-Boo Treasure bags.

Essentially a Peek-a-Boo Treasure bag is a fabric bag with a clear vinyl window and the bag is filled with an assortment of small treasures to find. Playing with the bag is great distraction when O or L are in overload or when they just need to be distracted from what is happening around them.

Playing with a Peek-a-Boo Treasure bag is also great for fine motor control and hand eye co-ordination as the child has to use their fingers to manipulate the bag to find all the treasures in the bag.

Peek-a-Boo Treasure bags are also great activities for children to do when it is quiet time. I have made a few for my charges at work for rest time and the children love to play with them.

Quite a number of people have asked me how to make these magical bags so I thought that it was about time that I published another tutorial. So here goes ....

You will need:

- A small rectangle or square of strong clear plastic vinyl. I generally use a rectangle that is approximately 20cm by 18cm in size. You are able to purchase the clear vinyl from Spotlight by the metre.
- Fabric for the front and back of the Peek-a-Boo Bag. I generally use two different patterned fabrics - one for the front and one for the back, just as a contrast.
- An assortment of small toys, large over sized buttons, poly beads and other objects to put into the bag. I use small plastic animals, small toy cars, buttons, small dinosaurs and anything else that I think children would like to look for in the bag. The poly beads are great to fill up the bag so that the child has to push the toys through the beads to find them.

What to do:

Step 1: Cut four rectangles of the fabric that you are using for the front of your treasure bag. My rectangles overhang at each end of the clear vinyl rectangle by approximately 5cm.

Step 2: Pin two of the fabric rectangles to the two long edges of the clear vinyl. Once pinned, first straight stitch and then zig zag stitch the two long edges approximately 1cm in. As the vinyl/fabric seam is going to be getting a lot of manipulating, these seams need to be strong.

Step 3: Pin back the two edges that you have just attached. This keeps them out of the way when you do the two side edges but also keeps them in place to make the window of the bag.

Step 4: Pin the other two fabric rectangles on the two remaining sides of the clear vinyl. Then as per Step 2, straight stitch and then zig zag these two edges to ensure that the seams are strong.

Step 5: Pin the two short edges back as per Step 3. In effect you will now have a window of vinyl surrounded by four fabric panels.

Step 6: This step is optional. I do this step to add extra strength to the vinyl/fabric seam. I simply straight stitch all around the edge of the vinyl window.

Step 7: Cut a rectangle of your backing fabric that is larger than your vinyl window. Ideally you want the backing fabric to be at least two or three centimetres wider than your vinyl window. Pin the fabrics right side to right side together.

Step 8: Straight stitch and then zig zag stitch all edges, leaving an opening of approximately 10cm on one edge so that you are able to turn the pocket through. Once sewn, trim the edges and corners and then turn through.

Step 9: Before adding the assortment of small toys and other bits and pieces, I pin around the edge of the vinyl window. This serves two purposes - the pins keep all the treasures away from the edge of the bag, which in turn makes it easier to sew around the edge of the bag. Once pinned, add the treasure to the bag and then pin the bag closed along the opening.

Step 10: Use a straight stitch to sew around the entire edge of the Peek-a-Boo bag, ensuring that you close the opening securely. Once I have sewn the edge of the bag, I sew an extra row approximately 1cm in from the edge to add extra strength to the seams of the bag. Depending on what you chose to put in the bag, there may be small parts. The extra seam just adds a little extra strength to the bag.

And voila, you have your very own Peek-a-Boo Treasure Bag.

Once you have made one Peek-a-Boo bag, the possibilities of what you can put into the bags are endless. I have made an alphabet bag, complete with a card listing what can be found in the bag. I've made an insect bag and a dinosaur bag. Half the fun is finding treasure to go into the bags!