My kiddo is now of the age where superheroes and comic books reign supreme. As a highly visual person, he loves to see the progression of events laid out graphically every step of the way.
Nevertheless, his love of comics worked to our advantage when I brought home our first Superflex book. This series of comics is actually a social learning curriculum developed by Michelle Garcia Winner that was recommended to me by an occupational therapist from CARE. It’s absolutely one of the best tools I’ve ever purchased for helping my son with his behavioral challenges.
I recently attended a conference on the Social Thinking curriculum and had the opportunity to see Michelle Garcia Winner speak. Her down-to-earth, often humorous approach was not only very accessible, but inspiring. She showed clips of her techniques with clients to help drive home how to implement the Social Thinking strategies in the real world.
The one major theme that ran through all of Michelle’s stories was that of compassion. She deals with a lot of different kinds of kids, but no matter how difficult, she strives to see the world from their perspective. Often, children with behavior difficulties have no one in their lives to do this.
By far my favorite thing about the Superflex series is how much it engages my little guy in managing his own behavior. The ingenious concept is that a young boy protagonist who typically has troubles being a “flexible thinker” is transformed into his favorite superhero, Superflex, and is thereby able to become a “social thinker”.
In his capacity as a socially thinking superhero, he protects the people of Social Town from a series of “brain invaders”. Our personal favorites (because they are most relevant to us) are Rock Brain, who makes the citizens of social town get stuck on their ideas, Glass Man, who shatters at the slightest change in his emotional state, and One-Sided Sid, who only wants to talk about himself and what he’s interested in.
My son asks to read the book frequently before bed, and we discuss which characters are infected by which brain invader. He invariably gets it right. We also especially love the card game that offers several different ways to play (he’s a real board game aficionado). Despite his clear comprehension of the material, he is a bit reluctant to apply the concepts to himself, insisting that “they’re not really real, mom”.
I remedied this by applying the brain invaders to myself and my own behavior, because, yeah, I can be a little dramatic and distractible myself. My son of course gets a huge kick out of this strategy, and is quick to tell me which brain invaders might’ve infected my brain that day. This way, he gets to learn the concepts without a sense of shame or blame.
I found that once I humbled myself—i.e. showed my son that I’m a human being who doesn’t behave or react to situations perfectly all the time—it gave him permission to do the same. He became a lot more open to, at least tentatively, applying the concepts in the book to himself. He has a seriously difficult time admitting fault and taking responsibility, to the extent that he’ll often turn and yell at me when he’s stubbed his toe and I’m ten feet away. No exaggeration. It’s that “mom is the all-giving everything” phase, which means mom is also at fault for everything. Really fun.
Anyway, the fact that he’s even poking around the vicinity of honestly looking at his own behavior is a revelation. Nothing could be more exciting to me as a mom than instilling the muscle for this kind of self-reflection at such an early age.
Responsibility vs. Blame
Of course, I want to tread carefully and ensure that my son’s reflection doesn’t become self-criticism, as I already suspect that he takes after mom in the realm of perfectionism and high expectations of himself. I model compassion for myself when I reflect on which brain invaders I’ve been inadvertently affected by that day, reminding him that it’s okay to make a mistake and that I’ll do better next time.
This gives him a framework for working through his own process of identifying the behavior, taking responsibility for it, and then dropping it. No holding, no self-blame, and no long lectures about how to do better next time (those never, ever work for us, by the way). I trust that this process is deepening his capacity to eventually reflect in the moment and catch himself during an undesirable behavior, and even further down the line to have the pause to choose to avoid the behavior altogether.
Until then, patience, both for him and for me. I always remind him that he can change, that he can improve, that he has a choice and is not beholden to any labels or preconceptions, and especially to the past. I remind him that change takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, just like the warrior characters in one of our favorite TV shows who are dedicated to lives of discipline and practice. This analogy always puts the wind in his sails. He is my little warrior, and he deserves to see himself that way.
My kiddo and I have a living room that basically looks like a gym. We’ve got our mini trampoline in one corner, an inflatable punching toy in another, and a huge crash pad for jumping from the couch to the ground and back again.
While it might look a little surprising to guests when they first walk on, this sensory space is crucial for both of us. My son just can’t be cooped up inside; he’s far too active for it. He has to jump around, get his jiggles out, and feel the impact of his body against firm surfaces.
To this end, we have several rituals we go through (on a daily basis when I’m really good) to keep him integrated and regulated in his own body.
1. The Inside Obstacle Course
Creating an obstacle course inside the house is a lot of fun for both of us. I get to be creative and play coach while my son gets to “win” races with himself–he loves winning.
I’ll set up something like the following;
jump from couch to cushion on floor
jump from cushion onto soft chair
jump from chair and roll-land on crash pad
10 jumps on crash pad
grab full laundry basket, carry it down the hall
army crawl back down the hall and repeat
A couple of rounds of this and my kiddo is beat. It helps him to get not only the exercise he needs, but to do the heavy work that helps him regulate his senses.
2. Making A Burrito
My kiddo really enjoys pressure, so I often roll him up into a “burrito” with our blanket and do a bit of joint compression and massage. He insists on keeping his arms out, because while he enjoys pressure he hates being restrained.
I start by rolling him up, then “tenderizing the meat” with gentle, firm fists. Next, I “chop the lettuce” with a karate chop massage up and down his body. Next comes “mixing in the lettuce”, in which I use my whole hand to grab and squeeze as if I’m kneading dough. Finally, I “sprinkle on the cheese” with little fingertip tickles.
We usually have a blast doing this, plus he is getting a lot of different types of pressure and stimulation. We also add variations, like shrimp tacos or extra sour cream and salsa; whatever the moment calls for.
I add in the joint compression at the end by gently pressing in his wrists and ankles.
3. Suit Monster
My son and I love to play a game called “suit monster”. This game involves us taking turns chasing each other around using our sensory sock.
We run back and forth playing tag or hide and seek, and usually we end up in the sock together and rolling around on the floor. The resistance of the sock gives him some proprioceptive input. By the end of it, we’re usually both sweaty.
4. Acro Yoga
This one is getting harder as my kiddo gets older, but it’s still lots of fun to whip out our acro moves. It builds a sense of trust between us, gets me a legit workout, and helps my son understand how to use his core and balance his body better.
We typically learn our moves from videos on YouTube, and you can also make up your own.
These activities go a long way toward getting my little guy the action and stimulation he needs to self-regulate. He’s often calmer, less reactive, and more cooperative after one of these sessions.
Try them out and share how it goes, or share your favorite sensory diet activities in the comments.
Many of us have fond memories from our childhood of Saturday morning cartoons and wholesome TV shows like Mr. Rogers. It was a simpler time in the days of TV programming when shows weren’t available on demand, and there wasn’t such a sheer and overwhelming volume of choices.
As a parent, there is virtually no way to monitor all the selections a child might make, and shows tend to be far more entertainment-focused than education. Not only that, but a lot of kids shows these days are just downright intolerable for a self-respecting adult to watch (the new Care Bears rehash comes to mind).
It’s not only an issue of kids’ shows being boring or hokey for adults; it’s that they essentially ignore the basics of child development.
Firstly, young children imitate; they do not learn lessons from complex storylines. As heart-warming as a story might be, your child is not learning and growing along with the main character; they are copying the behaviors they see, the good and the bad.
Take a show like Thomas the Tank Engine, which has been wildly popularly ever since its inception, with members of The Beatles providing voiceovers.
This show was created by Reverend A.W. Awdry, who likely had very good intentions to teach children lessons about pride, poor work ethic, selfishness, and what have you.
The problem is he uses characters who are fairly awful to get his moral truisms across. These are characters you don’t want your kid imitating, even the beloved protagonist, Thomas.
Luckily, more and more great shows are coming out to actually model the behavior we’d like to see in our kids.
Below are my favorites:
1. Puffin Rock
This sweet, beautifully animated series features a young Puffin and his family. They go through what a typical day might be like for a family of puffins, which is both wholesome and adorable. There are a lot of nature themes present, as well as simple lessons that kids can relate to, like how to include the younger sibling.
The characters speak calmly and respectfully to each other, show care and concern, and demonstrate selflessness at time. All good things for kids to pick up on. Incidentally, this show is illustrated by the same artists who did one of my all-time favorite children’s movies, Song of the Sea. Oh, and everyone has an Irish accent!
Another benefit is that these are relaxed storylines; they aren’t the drama and flashing lights of a lot of kids programming. You feel calmer at the end of watching this show, and the soft music throughout helps, too.
As a fan of travel that really opens you up to new cultures and ways of living, I’m especially fond of Mouk. It follows two best friends as they bicycle their way around the world, meeting new characters in each destination they find. It includes authentic factoids about each place they visit and a window into other cultures.
Of course, being a kids show, it can be a bit simplistic, but it still gives a snapshot of what the rest of the world is like. I particularly like that the two main characters have opposite personalities; one is very cheerful and ready to take on new adventures, the other a bit curmudgeonly. It opens up a lot of opportunities for dialogues about being positive, open-minded, trying new things, and choosing to have a good experience even when things don’t go your way.
3. Peppa Pig
These days most everyone with a kiddo has heard of Peppa Pig. This show isn’t my absolute favorite, but for a popular option it gets a pretty good grade in my book. The storylines are simple and sweet, there are cute little ditties that the kids will enjoy singing, and it’s just quirky enough that it can elicit a laugh from an adult from time to time.
Peppa Pig’s multigenerational family is mostly cooperative and empathetic toward each other. They also spend a lot of time in the garden, in the country, at the seaside, and generally out of doors.
4. Odd Squad
A show for kids who are a bit older, the Odd Squad has a much more Hollywood feel to it. It’s a live action show that features a troupe of secret agent-esque kids who go around solving “oddities” that have to do with math concepts, like fractions, prime numbers, counting by tens, and more.
The kids of this show are really talented, and it has a bit of a slapstick quality script that isn’t snarky or rude. I actually really enjoy the punny writing, and I’m happy for my kiddo to imitate it. This show is great for kids who are into theater.
5. The Magic School Bus
I was thrilled when I saw the original show from my childhood come out on Netflix, and my little science-minded guy was immediately into it. I’m assuming that because of the popularity of the first, Netflix decided to do a reboot featuring Ms. Frizzle’s sister as the new teacher in town.
This show has all the charm and magic of the first, although the kids are a little more modern in their speech and don’t always behave exactly how you’d want your kids to. They also talk about technology and using phones a lot, which is a little too meta for my taste. Despite that, I still love the passion for science that it instills as well as the little bit of mystery and wonder you can always expect from the Friz.
When family TV time comes around, I hope you enjoy these shows as much as me and my little guy do. Let me know what you think about these and if there are any other favorites of yours I might’ve left out.
Seaweed is chock-full of great stuff, like magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, and fiber, and according to Chinese medicine is a yin-nourishing food. Seaweed is also a great option when you’re short on time but still want to get some veggies in.
I’ve been in love with seaweed ever since I first tried sushi as a kid, and I’ve always looked for ways to incorporate this extremely beneficial and delicious food into my diet. I’m thrilled that my kiddo loves sushi as much as I do, because it’s an easy way to sneak a great veggie into his meals without too much fuss.
Seaweed also makes a great flavor enhancer for a simple soup or rice-based dish, and can work well as a garnish in a salad.
My Top 6 Seaweed Picks and How to Use Them
Dulse – I love to sprinkle dulse on just about everything I eat. Dulse makes a great garnish seaweed, as its tiny flakes can easily enhance almost any dish, from a salad to a stew.
Wakame – When I make my weekly Instant Pot meal to take to work, I almost always include some wakame. I simply crumble up the dried wakame, place it in a bowl of water until it rehydrates, and then add it to my stew, rice porridge, or soup after cooking it. It creates a salty flavor that makes it unnecessary to add extra salt. Wakame is also a key ingredient for seaweed salad.
Kombu – This thick, flavorful seaweed is best added to stock. It’s a little too chewy even when cooked (trust me, I’ve tried it), but it adds a unique taste to whatever you put it in. Think of it as the bay leaf of the sea.
Kelp – Kelp noodles, anyone? These are a great alternative to pasta when you’re doing full paleo or just trying to lighten up a meal.
Agar – Agar is a lot of fun and you can make a variety of tasty deserts and unique dishes with it. You can also find agar boba (also known as crystal boba) at milk tea shops these days. I’ve used agar in lieu of gelatin to make a vegan flan, to make vitamin C gummies for my little guy, and to make jello.
Nori – Probably the most familiar of seaweeds, nori is best for making sushi. It’s also nice to simply snack on, and is the type of seaweed you’ll find in most seaweed snack packs. I often add these to my little guy’s lunch as a healthy non-perishable veggie option. Nori also makes a quick and easy addition to a salad. Just tear it into bite-sized pieces and mix it in.
Making Healthy Meals Simple
Not only do I love the health benefits and the unique salty taste, I love that my kiddo enjoys it. I make sure he eats a vegetable serving at every meal, which isn’t always easy.
When we go out for sushi, the veggie is built right into the meal. This is a major win for both of us, as I don’t have to do any bribing, and he knows that he’ll get his end-of-meal treat with what seems like no extra effort.
If you can, I suggest getting your kiddo into sushi when they’re young. That way, it won’t be a struggle to incorporate this awesome vegetable into their diet on the regs.
I hope you’re inspired to try adding this super simple food into your diet. Let me know how you do so in the comments below, and good luck getting your sea greens!
That’s a lot of pressure for a five-year-old, guys. Plus, it isn’t the best way to teach kids how to relate to each other, to pull their collective resources, and to collaborate to make the world a better place.
So I get excited when I come across opportunities to teach cooperation, especially to my sometimes hard-headed and rigid little guy.
Learning Values Through Play
A fun tool for cooperation that we love to play together is the 7 Habits of Happy Kids board game, which I came across on Amazon.com after he and I checked out the book from the library.
It uses the lessons from the book and asks kids to creatively apply them to real-life situations, and focuses a lot on how we can help each other out.
While it ultimately is a competitive game, as in someone is the winner, there are elements of cooperation woven in, such as trading tokens and acknowledging other players for their strengths.
If you are averse to the self-help genre, you might find it a bit too earnest for your taste. But I’m happy to stomach a bit of the hokey if it imparts some solid life skills.
Ultimately, it isn’t the absolutely most fun board game in the world, but I think the instructive value makes it worthwhile. And watching the kids get creative together is pretty satisfying.
Teaching Kids to Work Together
Another awesome game that we’ve gotten tons of traction out of is the Busy Town Eye Found It game. This game is truly cooperative, as players work toward the common goal of getting all players to Pig Island before their picnic is devoured by the hungry pigs. You do so by playing seek-and-find on the game board itself, looking for common busy town items according to the cards in the deck.
I really enjoy the simplicity and cooperative nature of this game, and it’s easy to play a quick round or two without a major time commitment like some other games (ahem, Monopoly–not my fave).
It’s also great for smaller kids because there is no reading required, so it makes the perfect first board game. As a former preschool teacher, I love this game as an intro to the concept of working together toward a common goal.
My kiddo saw a video of shrimp bacon kabobs somewhere, and begged me for several days to make them. Once I got to the store for skewers and shrimp (because we always have bacon, obviously), I went for it.
This recipe is so amazingly simple, it barely counts as a recipe. Since I’m obsessed with digestion-enhancing spices, I simply rubbed them with cumin, a bit of Braggs, salt, and pepper.
My little guy helped, too! He’s shaping up to be a pretty capable chef.
Then I threw ’em on my tabletop grill until they were nice ‘n’ brown, flipped ’em, and ate. Next time I’m feeling fancy, I think I’ll whip up a little basil aioli for dipping.
If you’re lazy/a parent/employed/ran out of eggs, add 1 cup Sir Kensington’s Organic Mayonaise, 1 cup crushed, dried basil, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Pureé until smooth.
If you want to do it the old fashioned way for whatever reason (including your pride), try this:
Put three eggs in a blender.
Slowly pour in 3/4 cup oil and blend intermittently until smooth.
Add 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 tsp vinegar.
Then either remove and blend the basil before replacing the mayonnaise, or put the fresh basil in a food processor and add to the blender for one last mix.
Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy, as my kiddo and I like to say.
This is an awesome quick-and-easy weeknight dinner we can have fun making together, and cleanup is super simple, too. We both love meals you don’t have to wait long for, don’t have to pre-meditate, and can dip in mayonnaise.
Now I keep some frozen shrimp on hand at all times so we can bust this out with no forethought. It’s a definite top 10.
Give it a try and let me know how your kiddo’s like it!
I was practically raised in a shopping mall, but I’ve come to find that spending time in a retail store really drains me. Between fluorescent lights, crowds, and too many choices, it’s one of the easiest ways for me to lose energy.
Interestingly, I find time in a thrift store doesn’t have the same effect. Typically, I’m going in with no objective in mind; I allow myself to meander and really take in what I find.
In a thrift store, you get what you see. There aren’t rows and rows of the same item, so you don’t find yourself deciding over this size, that color, which fit looks best. Everything is what it is. It keeps things simple.
Beyond that, is has its practical aspect as well. It’s an especially good way to find gently used kid’s clothes, toys, and baby items.
Taking It Out of the Mall and Into the Neighborhood
My kiddo and I did a bit of impromptu garage-sailing this weekend when there just so happened to be three en route to the farmer’s market. I couldn’t resist!
It’s a good thing, too, because we found several items that have been on my list for awhile, including a 100 piece set of cookie cutters for $1, an ice cream maker for $5, and an oil warmer for self massage for $1. The little guy found himself a die cast car for 50 cents. Can’t beat those prices!
Besides keeping it simple and saving a buck, there are a few more reasons I like skipping the mall and heading for a local shop or friendly neighborhood garage sale.
We’ve all heard the expression that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. More than that, reusing what another person is ready to trash is a great way to keep usable items out of landfills. For those that aren’t usable, there are often ways they can be repurposed into something new, whether for utility or art.
I used the opportunity to explain to my kiddo that it takes a lot of resources to create the
products we see on store shelves, and that resource use is hard on the earth. I also explained that when we buy things without packaging, we are preventing a lot of plastic, cardboard, and paper from ending up in landfills.
According to the EPA, Americans generated 254 million tons of trash in 2013. About 55% of that trash gets buried in landfills, which tend to act as mummifiers–preserving rather than decomposing what’s inside. I’ll try to avoid giving an ecology lesson, suffice it to say there is lots of chemical leakage that happens from electronics and batteries, and it isn’t a very pretty picture for soil and water health.
Another common trope these days is that we vote with our dollars, and I stand by this idea when I’m making a purchase. It’s good to know that your money is going directly to a family or shop owner when you buy something, and in the case of thrift shops, that money often goes to charities as well.
In our town, several thrift shops are set up to support the local hospices, and I always feel good knowing that my dollar is going to help comfort someone who is soon to leave this world.
Manufactured goods are also produced by people, and not always in the most favorable conditions. Cheap labor often comes at a very high price, including environments that degrade workers’ health and require them to live far away from family.
In the more immediate, garage sales are a great way to meet the neighbors. I’ve had the opportunity to shake hands and get to know several people whom I likely wouldn’t have met had I not stopped by their sale.
Obviously, buying used items is a much cheaper way to shop. Another way repurposing the old is easy on the wallet is that old stuff is more durable.
Gone are the days when products were designed to outlive their owners and be passed down through the generations. More and more, especially in the rapidly evolving world of tech, things are not built to last. In some cases, companies design their products specifically so consumers will have to purchase new ones within 1 to 5 years.
This is called “planned obsolescence”. It’s good for the bottom line, but that’s about it. Not only does it require that consumers spend their money at a faster rate; it utilizes more and more resources to keep up with demand. Logic dictates that when demand surpasses supply, we’ll run out of the materials we need to keep the manufacturing process going. Of course, this is a contentious point and I suppose only time will tell whether I’m accurate or not.
Another thing to consider is that the price of the item we’re being sold is often inflated far beyond the cost of production. For instance, a t-shirt made in Malaysia costs 10 cents to make. When we buy it for $30, that’s a 300 x inflation. That makes a great profit margin, but it also makes me feel a bit like a sucker. When I can get 5 shirts for the price of one, why wouldn’t I do that? Plus, when you consider the wages of the worker who made the shirt, it throws more nuance on the issue.
Taking a Break from the Mass Produced
My final reason for loving a good hunt through a thrift store is the story. I don’t even have to buy anything, I just enjoy perusing the aisles and wondering about the unique origins of what I find. Each item has a bit of history, a bit of humanity, and can be repurposed in a thousand different ways that may differ from the original use. That’s just not something you get from rows of identical packaged goods and the latest branded toys.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t sworn off retail shopping altogether. I love a good sale, and I still buy new stuff pretty often. And yes, my kid watches Disney movies. I just try to be mindful about what I get from where, and think about whether there might be alternatives that are more beneficial.
And I absolutely, totally splurge sometimes. I think treating yourself to something nice and new once in awhile can be an act of self care. For me, it’s also an antidote to perfectionism and the guilt I sometimes feel about being a consumer.
It’s all about balance and finding what’s right for you. Happy sailing!
That’s why I was thrilled when my son and I came across Shel Silverstein’s “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” at the library. Not only was I pleasantly surprised to come across a book by Silverstein I hadn’t heard of–being a big fan since childhood–I was even more pleased with the profundity and value of the message therein. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; it is Shel Silverstein, after all.
“The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” is actually a sequel to “The Missing Piece,” and it begins with a lonely little “piece” sitting around waiting for “someone to come along and take it somewhere.”
The piece encounters plenty of companions who it hopes can make it into a whole. Unfortunately, it finds that some are too big, some are too small, some are too fragile.
Eventually, along comes The Big O. The missing piece asks if it can hitch a ride, and the Big O suggests perhaps the piece try moving on its own. It gets off to a bumpy start, but eventually the piece is happily rolling along on its own journey.
Whoah. I can relate.
Teaching Kids to Face Their Fears
Shel puts it in childlike, poetic terms that made my eyes well up at times, illustrating with deft simplicity the error of seeking wholeness and satisfaction outside of oneself, and the empowerment and fulfillment that comes from growth.
This stimulated a great discussion about overcoming fears and obstacles between my little guy and me. We talked about how we can’t really grow if we always rely on others to do things for us, and that in order to be strong and believe in ourselves, it takes effort, hard work, and sometimes suffering. In the end, of course, it’s worth it to become better than who we were before.
These are important lessons for a kid who catches on to most things quickly but is easily frustrated when a challenge rears its head (taking after mom). He’s certainly got the strength and intelligence, but our instant gratification society hasn’t helped him develop a sense of satisfaction in having to work for something. Quite frankly, it wasn’t until this American millennial became a mother that I–eventually and after great resistance–learned the value and gratification of hard work and reaping the fruits of my efforts.
And I haven’t got that on lock or anything.
I’m still working on my own patterns toward co-dependency that I didn’t become privy to until long after I became a mother. It’s a subtle, sticky thing, and it’s not something I want to instill in my son. Crossing my fingers.
Not to gush but thanks again, Shel, for another masterpiece that says so much with so few words. My hope is that it can stir similar conversations among other mamas, papas, or whoever gets the privilege of sharing story time with the children they love. After all, a child can never be told too much that they are perfect, capable, and whole, all on their own.