How Do I Help My Fearful or Sensitive Child?

As a mom of a sensitive child, you know the difficulty your child faces on a day-to-day basis. They may be feeling scared or stressed on any given day. Stressors, especially things that they don’t understand, can cause children to act more clingy than usual or act out. 

There’s nothing wrong with you or your parenting if your child is being too clingy. They are afraid and regressing, which is what can happen when children are stressed.[1] They are seeking connection, which can be done through attunement and empathy. 

During this time of international crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and the current national climate that includes riots and violence, your highly sensitive child is probably experiencing stress and is afraid. This is where I can help you through dance/movement therapy learn to use movement and breath to connect with your child and calm them down. That’s what we do at Rachael’s Moving HeARTS, LLC.

The stress response

Everyone handles stress differently, but one thing we all have in common is that when we become stressed and afraid, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This is the part of the brain that goes into fight, flight, or freeze.[2] When our sympathetic nervous system is in control, we are not.

When your child is in this state, rational thinking and words are not easily accessible. In order to be able to communicate with your child so they can better understand what is happening in the world, you need to help them activate their parasympathetic nervous system.

Calming down


The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that calms the body down.[3] There are a few things you can do to activate this part of your child’s brain.

The first thing that can stop the sympathetic nervous system from taking over is one of the most important. You need to connect with your child. Get down on their level, make eye contact, and breathe with them.

As a dance/movement therapist I spend a lot of time with highly sensitive children meeting them where they are. I mirror their movements, I give them space to explore movements that evoke an emotional release as well as bring awareness to their other senses.

A great way for you to connect with your child and activate the parasympathetic nervous system is to tap into their senses. Use things such as pressure, touch, essential oils, calming smells or tactile things such as playdough or putty. 

Once they are calmer, you can explain in terms they can understand what is happening and what the adults are doing to make it better. Information can be calming to a child and help them understand and be less afraid. Let them know they can look to you for guidance.

Put your mask on first before helping your child

It’s important when trying to help your fearful child that you tend to your own emotions and remain calm. This is kind of like when flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. You want to keep your child safe and calm but you have to feel safe and calm first.

Children look to their mothers to see how to handle stressful situations. If your parasympathetic nervous system is activated and you are taking care of yourself, you can take care of your scared child.

What to do when your child is feeling scared or angry?

One of the best ways to connect with your child is through attunement and empathy.

Attunement means that you are “in tune” with your child’s emotional state. You demonstrate that you are with them and that you understand their fears. [4] You can attune to your child’s movements or breath to show that they are seen and understood. This is what I do as a dance/movement therapist, and it’s great for moms of children who are afraid.

One of the most important things you need as a mom of a highly sensitive and fearful child is empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy because when you demonstrate empathy, you don’t just recognize that your child is having a hard time, you understand and feel it with them. Empathy means you find a way to understand how they are feeling and see it through their eyes. [5]

Using breath to attune and connect with your child

A great way to attune and connect with your child is to get down on their level and breathe together. When your breathing and physical movements match each other you are demonstrating attunement. You are more physically and emotionally connected and you are more attuned to your child’s emotions through the physical act of breathing and being together.

Another way to reach attunement is something I do in dance/movement therapy all the time, and that is mirroring your child’s movements. This demonstrates what is called “kinesthetic empathy,” which means that you are meeting your child where they are in the moment and feeling with them through movement. [6] You are both breathing and moving together, and that connection forms a bond between the two of you that your child needs in order to feel safe.

 How can dance/movement therapy help my child who is afraid?

Dance/movement therapy is a therapeutic process that helps children work through their emotions nonverbally. By moving with a trained professional, they feel seen and heard by the way the dance/movement therapist mirrors their movements and dances and moves with them.

Highly sensitive and afraid children can explore their fear and stress in a safe space without having to find the words for it. Movement gets the child out of their head and into their body.

Dance/movement therapy helps regulate a child’s stress response and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, getting them out of fight/flight/freeze and into a calmer state. Movement is a great stress reliever and helps regulate emotions and calm your child down. 

How can you help your child who is afraid? 

Get on your child’s level. Hug them, breathe with them, let them know that they are safe. And also let them know that it’s ok if they don’t feel ok.

Allow them to run around or dance or play or safely hit and kick pillows when they are afraid and stressed. Do calming activities together such as playing, yoga, deep breathing, coloring, listening, and dancing to music. These are things that you can learn from working with me and that we can do together with your child at Rachael’s Moving HeARTS, LLC.

Regulate your child’s environment through sensory input

There are many ways to use sensory input to calm a child. A few things are touch, pressure, essential oils, dimming the lights, changing a harsh light color to a softer one, playing calming music, chewing or drinking something, squeezing something like a stress ball, using playdough or putty, swing them around, go on a swing, jump on a trampoline, and using weighted blankets. You can activate the different senses, for you and your child, to manage fear. And you can do it together.

What would Rachael do?

When practicing dance/movement therapy with you and your child I support you both by meeting you where you are. If your child is feeling heightened I match their movements and eventually guide toward a more regulated way of moving. If they have low energy or are struggling to connect I might stay on the floor with them and breathe, eventually introducing more movement that regulates their energy to find a balance.

If they are in a stress response state I focus on breath and nonverbal communication. When a child is stressed and their sympathetic nervous system has kicked in, talking less and nonverbally attuning more is how you regulate them.

I do the same things I suggested that you do, such as get down on your child’s level, put some music on, and mirror their movements to bring them back to a calm, regulated state in their body. I also invite them to take a pretend shower to use touch and pressure on their bodies. I teach them about the brain and body as well. And I ask them what they need and let them know, using kinesthetic empathy and body language, that I understand them. I make your child feel seen, heard, and felt and give them tools to regulate themselves. 

To schedule an appointment with me at Rachael’s Moving HeARTS, LLC so that I can work with you and your sensitive and/or your fearful child, click here. I look forward to helping you and your child connect, attune, and express yourselves. 

[1](https://www.today.com/parents/child-regression-signs-regression-kids-what-do-about-it-t177861)

[2]https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/sympathetic_nervous_system.htm

[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553141/

[4]https://affectautism.com/2016/08/23/attunement/

[5]https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201505/empathy-vs-sympathy[6]https://brecha.com.ar/_files/200000303-0a9f40b92a/Therapeutic_Relationships_and_Kinesthetic_Empathy_Por_Diana_Fischman,_PhD,_BC-DMT.pdf

Zoom Zoom Zoom

During this Pandemic, there has been one thing that I am both very grateful for and exhausted by: Zoom. Zoom has connected me to my friends, family, and to my clients. If you are reading this, you also most likely have a mixed relationship to it like I do. It’s a video conferencing app that I first only used with my job at the time to have meetings online since I couldn’t go there in person because the office is far. But now, due to the virus and the stay at home order, almost everyone is using this and other apps that are similar, to play games with friends, have school online, therapy online, dance, exercise, community events, and workshops. It’s been interesting to provide creative movement classes to kids over zoom and to see what games they want to play with me even through the computer. There are two girls in particular who are both ages 3-4 year olds and separately asked to play hide and seek and play family.

As a developmental specialist and a dance/movement therapist, I have noticed how children love to play games where they are exploring their day to day life experiences such as going to sleep, waking up, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, getting dressed, etc. Sometimes kids like to reenact things that their parents do as well. But a lot of kids I have worked with could play this over and over and OVER again. “Go to sleep. Wake up. Go to sleep.” Then when we look at the game hide and seek, it’s this similar idea of back and forth interaction and a way to explore cause and effect. So it is only natural to see that these play themes (ie: family and hide and seek) are also being played during the pandemic and through zoom.

When I meet a child over zoom, I come prepared with my yoga mat, stuffed animals, musical instruments, music on my computer, and children books about yoga and meditation. I first check in and see how they are and pick up on their cues and interest and then follow their lead by using movement to take them to the next level and explore their bodies. Sometimes we dance to Laurie Berkner’s guided movement songs such as The goldfish, We are the dinosaurs or Greg and Steve An Adventure in Space, or a song of their choice. Then depending on their interest and on where they are at in the moment, I offer a yoga book to read to them to support them in relaxation. In Dance therapy, we often end with a cool down of some kind. One session, the little 3 year old girl was very interested in frogs so for the relaxation part, I played frog sounds and led her in mindful breathing and relaxing her body.

As with in person sessions, there have been virtual sessions that go really well and there have been sessions that don’t go as smoothly. For example, one time, my 4 year old client asked for a song and I thought she said yes to the one I played so I kept dancing and couldn’t see her face. But then her mom got closer to the computer and told me she was upset and crying because it wasn’t the song she wanted. They ended so she could be there for her daughter and support her. I felt helpless. I couldn’t give her a hug. I couldn’t see her facial expressions or that she was crying. The technology is a great tool AND it also has its own challenges. How do we also keep in mind that children shouldn’t be on the computer and on screens all day long but that they also get connection with others, time to express themselves and how they are feeling, time for movement, and time for their parents to step away for even just a short moment?! Perhaps this is the new norm or it will be something we look back on in the past as how we dealt with this pandemic. But since we are still in this quarantine, let’s do the best we can with what we’ve got. Even if that means zooming for dance parties, zoom for school, zoom for socializing, zoom for therapy, or zoom for fun! There needs to be a balance as with everything in life, including our relationship to zoom.

Be Gentle with Yourself

We’ve often heard of the cliche statement, “Put your own mask on before helping others” yet now that phrase is even more applicable for all of us. It’s difficult to even discuss but is vital to be open right now with our feelings and where we are at while we as a world are experiencing a global pandemic. Now more than ever, I feel the need to look inward and focus on my own self-care with the intention of thinking of others. We put our own masks on now to protect others from ourselves as well as with the trust and hope that others will do the same. It is a shift in our society to become more mindful of what we do in the world and how that affects others and inevitably our loved ones as well. I can’t just go out to see my family and hug them because I am risking not only their lives but also my own and my family. There is so much that we cannot control right now which brings up so many emotions and challenging moments. Yet, the bright side is, there is a lot that we can control. We can protect others by wearing a mask and staying home as much as possible. We can connect to others through the use of technology. We can connect to ourselves by having more time to take care of ourselves during the day. We can do our best to be more mindful of our thoughts, our words, our actions, and our intentions. We can control how we react to others. We have always had the resources to do this but perhaps before when we were all living our lives, we weren’t necessarily thinking intentionally about how we affect those we are in contact with and vice a versa. During this pandemic, I am realizing how hard I am on myself and that the type of self-care that I need these days is to allow myself to feel whatever I feel whenever I feel it. To be kind and gentle to myself when I “mess up” or miss a meeting or am late to a zoom session. To be kind and gentle with myself when I feel angry. To be kind and gentle to my thoughts and insecurities. Lastly, to be gentle with the world and how everyone is handling themselves and this pandemic differently and to be gentle with others’ ways of handling this stressful and difficult time. I invite you to welcome in some gentleness and love to you and to notice when you are being hard on yourself or on someone else and to invite some curiosity to that and then to even give yourself a hug and some kisses. We now more than ever, need touch and if we can’t get it from others, then we must give it to ourselves. Hug yourself. Kiss yourself. Touch yourself. Love yourself. Take care of YOU in the best way you know how.

Dancing Wolves

Many people hear about Dance/Movement Therapy and ask if it is either therapy for dancers or ask what style of dance do I do with my clients. Even though both of those are possible for Dance/Movement therapists, the definition of Dance/Movement therapy according to the American Dance/Movement therapy Association is the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote social, emotional, physical, and cognitive integration of the individual.” Therefore, we may use performance to support the client(s) we are working with or use a specific dance style that they are interested in or comfortable with, but the goal is to support the person where they are at and help them express themselves through the use of movement. Here is a client that I used to work with using dance/movement therapy to promote her self-expression, regulation, communication, and her overall well-being. We sometimes used performance as a way for her to be seen by her family and gain more self-confidence. 

 

Belly feeling excited

Neck feels calm

And my feet is feeling excited

And my arms want to play with someone

And my heart and is feeling loved

My brain is feeling confident

But my whole body feeling kinda new

And my eye lashes feeling they want to move themselves

My eyes want to see want to see everything

And my toes feeling wiggly

And my fingers feeling touchily

My back wants to lay down

This poem was created by a three year old child who I used to work weekly with using dance and movement to support her in behavioral challenges and mostly, to use play and dance to help her express herself and experience joy! It was always such a pleasure going to her house and having one whole hour where we got to dance together. We usually ended up using our imaginations as well and made up stories or pretended to be someone or creatures or something while dancing. Sometimes our sessions would include us making a fort using her chairs and blankets and go back and forth to our house while there was music on in the background. While other times, we were pretending to be bears and crawled on all fours going back and forth to our hut to sleep and eat. Yet, the one game that she loved to play was pretending to be a wolf and a human. We took turns pretending to be the human and the wolf (while she was mostly the wolf) as we danced to Shakira’s SheWolf song. No matter what it was, I followed her lead and supported her to express herself through dance and play.

As a registered dance/movement therapist, I always started our session with a little check in and movement warm-up and we would end with a meditation. We used my rainbow blanket in the middle of the living room as the center to begin together with some of my special materials that include musical instruments, scarves, my magic wand, and a breathing ball. Then we sat together and I invited my client to choose which thing she’d like to hold as she checks in with her body and her feelings. We took deep breaths together and then moved different parts of our bodies to warm-up and get the blood flowing! Then I put on music ( a playlist that I have added to since I have been working with kids for years and continue to add to for each child/person that I work with) and we began moving our bodies. I guided her into stretches and movements that physically and emotionally warmed us up and prepare us for dancing. Then we would dance freely and we would take turns “mirroring” each other’s movements. I’ll give her the option of either following me or me following her or if she preferred to dance freely and we dance in the space together. This provides the child with feeling empowered, confident, safe, and strong. Lastly, after the warm-up and our experience of the games we would play that came from her interest, we would often end in a meditation. I would guide her into a body scan while she relaxed on scarves or a blanket. Sometimes her mom would join us at the end of our session to either watch her dance or join her in dancing or join her in laying down under my rainbow blanket as I guided them in a meditation and/or gentle touches over the blanket to provide them with sensory input. Each session of course looked different, and sometimes, we wouldn’t be able to dance at all since she was having a difficult moment or day and the session would consist of her being alone in her room and us waiting it out until she was ready to come out. But the goal of my session was always to meet her where she was, empower her, and support her in expressing herself. Needless to say, by the end of our time together, she was pretty proficient in these areas and was excited to create a dance with me to show to her brother and her mom as our last performance and exploration of herself in the many forms of who she is: a dancer, a child, a sister, a daughter, a bear, a minecraft character, an alien, a wolf, and lastly, a human.

 

Waking Up Early For Self-Care

Every day I have a struggle. I debate whether to wake up when my body naturally wakes up which is usually 6:00 am or to press snooze on my alarm and go back to dreamland. When I lived in New York City, I would often wake up early and take a nice walk by myself to my favorite little park called Carl Shurz which was only a two streets away from my tall apartment building in the upper east side. I would always be so glad that I did that as it really made an impact to the rest of my day. I felt energized, happier, brighter, and like I didn’t waste any part of the day and had this special time to myself with nature. Now living in California, I have done this a handful of times (minus the walking to a park part). I get out of bed, put on some coffee, make something to eat, and write freely. Or I will sit outside or get some work done. But when I have the time, scratch that-when I MAKE the time for myself in the morning and focus on me instead of chores for the house, I truly feel so much better and more readily available to be there for others and to then take care of the things that I need to take care of. This morning, I got up when my alarm for 6 when off, after some coaxing to myself, of course and then I realized that my back could really use a bath. So I decided to use the delightful bath bomb that my wife got me. (Its a unicorn bath bomb which had a little surprise in it and today it was a unicorn ring. I know that they are meant for kids but hey, this nourishes my soul so who cares if a 7 year old also uses this when she takes a bath..I have a 7 year old inside of me so does that count?) Wow do I get off track. Anywho… I took the time for myself this morning and enjoyed a hot bath with my unicorn bath bomb and purely relaxed. Told myself to let go of the thoughts I am having and that everything will get done. I got out of the bath, got dressed, made myself a cup of coffee, two sunny side up eggs on toast, and sat down to write. Even though I still had a moment of feeling eh and didn’t like how I looked when I was getting dressed, I realized that no matter what, a bath won’t fix all of our problems. But, giving ourselves some time to be alone, does help me at least, relax, focus, and get clearer on what is bothering me and what it is that will help. Today, it was a bath and writing. Tomorrow, it might be different or I might not want to get up when my alarm goes off (especially since it will be saturday). But I know that when I do listen to my body and take this time in the morning before the sun rises, I am grateful I did it. The more that I write about my experience, hopefully, the more I will make it my reality and daily ritual/habit.

I hope you can find some time for you whether its in the morning or at night or sometime in between. We deserve and need that for ourselves and however we can make it as yummy and magical and joyful, whether it is with a unicorn bath bomb or some incense, a candle, practicing yoga or movement or solely sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, we can become more mindful and aware of where we are in our mind, body, and spirit and it will eventually, make us more calm and ready for the day ahead. Thank you for reading! Have a great day!

Love and light,

Rachael

Making Space

August 24th, 2019

As I sit here next to my window and sitting at this little desk/office/ spiritual place my wife and I created last weekend. It was one of those moments where she offered, “Hey do you want to move the living room around?” We have talked about it before but you know, you have to be in a good mood and feeling good to do practice Feng Shui. Is that what you say? I remember my choir director changed his office around and said he chose the colors intentionally to bring positive energy into the room. Or something like that. And to change and move things around is figuratively empowering and rejuvenating. By letting go of some things or if you don’t throw things away, you can give them away or put them in a closet (if  you have space and no time). But, besides the point, I have been wanting to sit near the window and because I read writers views on how your physical space can positively affect your writing and affect the way you feel, which then has the domino effect of helping you become more productive. If your area feels yummy then you will want to spend time there. Thats what this little corner is for me. It’s by the window, still connected and close to where my wife will be sitting and still part of the living room, compared to where my current desk/our dining table is-which is close to the wall near the kitchen. Ya know, a dining room. We had it like a ding room table before but then moved it to where it is now and it also feels very good to have a space for my office and to help us stay organized with important documents and materials like the colorful sharpies and kitty cat stamps and the pink stapler, (There is a stapler story but that’s for later…) I am grateful for all of the writers who have been inspiring to me who write about the writing process such as Anne Lamott and Dani Shapiro. They write the way that I do and even more free and clear. I am a writer and want to continue to write everyday and publish and share it. Either now or for my book. Also, I love that our diffuser is here with our essential oils nearby in a small cup. The cup actually used to be a jar for delicious gelato ice cream and I saved them when I was a preschool teacher and have ever since..even though my wife  said it’s trash.recyclables can become treasure!) See the picture below! For me, I need to engage my senses in order to be calm, regulated, and focused. 

The senses always come back to everything I do and everything that I am! We also have music on, the natural light coming through the window, my little buddha candle to my left and an Indian goddess to my right. Behind my computer, holding us, is our family. Thank you universe for my life, my family, my wife, my friends, and myself. I am truly grateful for you and trust and know that everything in my life is for a reason to affect something else. Last night, we met Alexandra Billings, and she is from transparent It was at this fundraising event for Penny Lane Foundation that supports children and youth and families LGBTQ+. We were invited by a parent from the toddler transition class. It’s funny because we totally forgot about it and then when I remembered, there were so many things that evening but I knew I needed and wanted to go to it. It was great to be together in this profound place and where it was meaningful for us and our future.  

Here’s to making space (literally and figuratively) in our environments and in our daily lives for ourselves. when we can make space for ourselves, we can let go of what we don’t need and create more of what we do want and then we will be more able to share our space with others. The old saying, filling our cup up first so that we can have enough to fill others up too..Or just be there as fully present as we can for others.

Thank you and love you! Sending light and love to you!

Love,

Rachael 

Meditation is Magic

I feel like I always start my writing by taking a deep inhale, a deep breath. I also usually write that as the first two words but instead I decided to just talk about it. I’m not sure how much I have talked about meditation and mindfulness and the way it helps me everyday. But I had a realization last night when I was laying in bed next to my wife, is that since I was a child, I somewhat meditated. One day, I took a shower and had a feeling like what if I just tell my mind not to think the thoughts and just be. I don’t know how old I was but I definitely was old enough to take a shower by myself and young enough to not know what it was called or that meditation and mindfulness already exists. Funny how I am wearing a Hogwarts t-shirt that one of my good friends bought me at this moment and can see the reflection of the sorting hat on my computer. It makes me smile as I know in my heart and in my gut that magic does exist. It exists when you are open to it, it exists if you truly believe, it exists if you know the secret to life which is that we create our own reality by our thoughts and actions, it exists if you practice meditation on a daily basis (or as much as you possibly can). It exists if you exist. Trust yourself, trust when you know you need to put the phone down and take some time to breathe, sit, observe, and solely be. I promise those couple of minutes will enhance your mood, your way of being, and how you react and relate to others. The more we practice mindfulness and meditation, the more we are able to access this non-attached, presence which will positively effect our daily lives. I am grateful for my brain and body and for the existence of meditation and for you. Thank you for reading and have a magical mindful day!

The Magic Blanket

Mmm the Magic Blanket. Sounds magical right? Well it definitely is. It can transport you anywhere you would like to go while feeling safe, contained, and connected. This is a special tool that is very well known to Dance/Movement Therapists and perhaps other expressive art therapists, educators, or occupational therapists. I discovered this Body Band at an Expressive Arts Summit in New York a couple of years ago. The creative art therapists played in one of these to explore the benefits of it. I remember seeing these adults smiling and moving slowly in one of these props in the convention center near the bathroom. Of course I had to join in on the fun and once inside, I felt transported to a place of peace. I could see how this would be amazing for all humans but especially children. The year after this, I made the best purchase in my life and bought one at the Dance Therapy conference in San Diego.

Once I brought the body band to my classroom of toddlers at my previous preschool, Buckle My Shoe, the children and I named it the magic blanket. It definitely feels magical. While playing and using our imaginations inside of them, we take a journey to different places such as the ocean, a cave, or just a pure joyful game of hide and seek. The texture of the blanket is stretchy and it can envelope you or if you choose, you can keep it open. I have found that it is helpful for children who want to be part of the group but also want space to themselves. Through many experiences with the magic blanket, children and adults navigate the world balancing to interact or not to in social situations. To be with others or to be alone. We all have to manage this all of the time and it isn’t easy to do so all of the time. Sometimes we have to be around others even when we don’t feel like it. We also learn how to balance inter/intra personal skills and the magic blanket is an amazing way to do so.

We are also learning how to take turns, manage problem solving skills, and listening to your body to see what feels good and what doesn’t. When I come into work now at the preschool that I currently work at, the children of all ages come up to me asking for the magic blanket. Even though sometimes it feels like it’s a big deal to bring it out, I always remember that it is so exciting and fun for the children and that if they are enjoying something, it also means they’re learning. Today, when I brought it out for the children, We first tried to all go inside of it together. Then, once that there were about 8-10 kids squished next to each other’s bodies and all huddle together like they were porcupines in the winter, one of the children who is four years old said, “There are too many people in here.” I was amazed that she was able to express herself in that way instead of getting upset and just crying or pushing a child or exhibiting any other negative response. But then again, four year olds are much more verbal and self-aware than my little two year olds. So once she said that, I supported her completely and agreed. We all got out for a moment and then we talked about how many children do we think should be in at one time. Somehow we agreed and the quickest four kiddos were the lucky ones to try it first!

We took turns counting to 5 while one group was inside and they got to hide underneath it and have it fully covered. Also the first time that we did it, I was inside with them and then when we split the groups, I stood outside watching. This was a key part as well because I am always learning as a teacher how to balance interacting with the kids and joining, guiding them, and knowing when to step aside and really allow them to play on their own. Wow it really does come back to that idea of being with others and being away. Observing or Joining.

After the children took turns, the teachers came and said, “two more minutes left to play.” I made sure to tell them okay this is your last turn as a group and then the other group’s last turn too. I’m always trying to make sure to give warnings and sing songs during transitions with children. That has become one of my pet peeves when teachers don’t always give the children a heads up about what is happening. They are people too and need to know what is going on in their day. I am like that and I am 29 years old! Anywho, I know it gets tough to always sing the song or inform the children of what is next, but when we do it often, it becomes a habit and the children expect it too. Plus, telling them ahead of time, helps avoid tantrums and sad kiddos.

Lastly, it was time to say goodnight to the magic blanket and we said thank you to it as well. I put it back in my special white bag in the cupboard as the children ran to catch up to their teachers.

I am very grateful to 1. Have obtained my own magic blanket (body band) and to 2. Share it with the children at my school. It gets hard to be creative as a teacher and I am always thinking about new experiences to provide for them. I also forget that they help us be creative. If we fully listen to them and to their ideas and what they have to say, then our jobs will be easier, more fun, and more effective. Also, there are SO many ways to achieve inter/intra personal skills with children whether you have the body blanket or not. But making sure that we are always thinking about how do the children learn to be independent and social, and how do we help them learn what they need to be in social situations, whether it’s to have some space first, to take deep breaths, to ask for some sensory input from their teachers, etc. One way to support them in this, it by making sure to have a cozy area in the classroom is VERY important!

Ahhh. Well it feels so good to write and share about my day. I want to write everyday like Teacher Tom does. I know it will only make me a better teacher and a better human.

Check out the Magic Blanket and other sensory products here!

Thank you everything and everyone.

Love Rachael

The Tire Swing: Where learning and play happens

Ever since I was a kid, I always found tire swings to be exciting and fun! I remember when we had one for a little bit and it was the highlight of my day. It is such a simple-open ended material that is recycled but has so much power in bringing joy, movement, creativity, imagination, and problem solving and more!

Everyday, I attend a school with my client as his 1:1/Aide/Developmental specialist. My purpose is to support him in his transitions, seeing when his body is demonstrating he is becoming dysregulated and then helping him become aware of that and supporting him in finding other ways to express and calm himself instead of using his body to hurt others or any materials.

The school that he attends is all about social/emotional learning and there are two super clear “agreements” that they remind the children of:

1. Take care of the people

2. Take care of the things

The structure of the day is pretty typical to preschool settings and since they have an expansive playground, most of the time they spend is outside (depending on the weather of course). One of the tools that I use with my client and now he expects it, is a map. in the beginning of the year, we would do what everyone else did-Go outside, wait in line, get sunscreen, and go play on the lower yard of their playground. Now, there is an AMAZING dirt hill that used to be my client’s favorite place to play in. He could use the water from the hose and create dams with his peers and could get as messy as he wanted to! Even though going to the lower yard worked for awhile for him, it did take a lot of effort on my end to make sure he was being safe with others and that he was able to take turns with the people and use his words with them. After the first few months of school had passed and everyone became more comfortable, it was time for the whole school to allow the children to use the entire yard and go wherever they please as long as there wasn’t a cone in that area (which means that it is closed.)

Unfortunately, we had a change in our schedule due to my client having some particular difficult moments where he hurt others at school when he was feeling frustrated, dysregulated, and when his family was also going through transitions of their own. Since the school was worried about both my client and the other children at their school, they decided it would be best if he only had a half-day since they believed the incidences were due to the school being too big for him and the outside time being part of that challenge.

As time went on, my supervisor and I came up with a plan for my client that in order to avoid as many transitions, that I would help him in creating a map before going outside to the yard to play and start the outside time with a small group of peers where he can engage with others but on a smaller level than having to find someone to play with in a large space. His peers like to join us in making the map as well or at least in seeing what he put on it as they also seem to enjoy predictability, and I mean cmon, maps are pretty cool.

My client has come a long way and is now the one who draws the map pretty much on his own and he numbers them 1-4 of the choices he wants to play at. I also remind him to add in getting his backpack and then going to read books where we meet his parents at pick-up time. This map has become very helpful and has shown us that he does better with a plan and when he knows what to expect. Of course, things still happen but the difficult behaviors do occur less.

We all do best when we know what is going to happen-I have my calendar in my phone that I totally rely on everyday to know what is my schedule! If something changes or gets cancelled, I survive but I do have to pause and breathe and calm myself down to an extent. Change is hard and children do really well with knowing what to expect and usually LOVE making a plan/map.

The place my client loves going to the most is the tire swing. He joins his peers on there by asking who is going to start the swinging, who is going to slow it down, and who will stop it. I have helped him navigate this with his peers as well as reminding them to say if someone wants to get off or not. My client is now able to see from afar if there are three peers on the tire swing or not which then lets him know if there is space for him or not. Before, I was there to remind him that there were people on there and that he had to wait his turn. Supporting and developing Communication is a huge part of my work with my clients who have Autism. By providing them with various options of ways in communicating to his peers, they are able to have a tool box in their memory of ways that help them stay regulated and in getting what they need without using their body to express it.

The swinging of the tire is a safe haven for my client. Sometimes they pretend it is an airplane. Sometimes they pretend it is a jet, a boat, or a star wars ship. And sometimes, it is just a place for them to receive vestibular movement together, in a shared space, to either talk or not talk. Through this shared experience, they are navigating problem solving, communication, and critical thinking while also receiving sensory input in a playful way!

It is my pleasure to be able to observe, support, and engage with my client and his peers at his school and to continue to learn about myself as a therapist, a human, a teacher, and a playmate.

With love and positivity,

Rachael Anne Singer


Connecting through Dance

Every week I get the opportunity to support a 7 year old girl who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She teaches me so much and it is always a joy to be with her. Not only am I utilizing DIR-Floortime Therapy, but I am also incorporating Dance/Movement Therapy in our sessions. She enjoys bouncing on her large ball to classical music and has a love for gross movement (running, jumping, climbing) but has difficulty moving to the rhythm and being more in her body. Since I have been with her for a couple of months now, we have a routine of what our session looks like. It varies every time of course, but she does like structure and routine and does better when we do some things that are the same and than also add in variation to help her to become more flexible and expand her experience.

Now when I come over, after we make a plan, either I will ask her if she wants to dance or she’ll go to my bag of tricks and take the drum out herself or my scarves and say in her limited speech, ” I play drum.” Her language and her ability to relate to others has improved so much.

We are constantly working with her to support her in expressing her emotions and feel more comfortable with the difficult feelings (is: sad and mad). The games that we “play” incorporate Zones of Regulation to further develop her awareness of feelings. We want to help her identify where they are in her body and to help alleviate the ick she has associated with feelings and support her to see that all feelings are important and we all experience them in different ways.

The games we play that now incorporate my Dance Therapy props all stemmed from her interests and previous games she has played with her other therapists.

One game we often play that utilizes Movement, feelings, and music, doesn’t have a name but we use this great number rug that they have. It is somewhat similar to the game we all know as Twister. Basically, one person sits on the couch (also sometimes with my Native American drum) and chooses either a number or a color that is on the rug and the other person has to jump to that space and then sometimes, pick up the color scarf that is on top of that, usually matching the color. I also have been including zones of regulation into our games, especially this one. When she picks up the scarves or when she drops them for me to pick them up, I embody the emotion that that color represents in the zones (ie: Blue: Sad, Red: Angry/frustrated, Green: Happy/Content, Yellow: Scared/Anxious, Purple: Excited).

I demonstrate each emotion using my facial expressions and my body language and either lower my whole body and curve my shoulders inward and change my face to sad by lowering my mouth and eyes, and move slower and then I say, “Oh blue, Sad.” Or if it is a green scarf, I move my shoulders back, stand taller, smile with my mouth and eyes and use a brighter tone to say, “Green-Happy!” The goal is to support her in becoming more in tune with her emotions and what better way to teach that but through movement and sound all under the umbrella of play.

In addition, during the moments that are difficult that sometimes occur in our sessions, we model and guide her then too on how to express herself in a clear and kind way. Through the different activities we do, I am always looking at things from a movement perspective as well as seeing the therapeutic play elements as well.

I am so grateful to be doing what I do and supporting children in learning how to better express themselves! Thanks for reading and feel free to comment with any questions or thoughts you might have!

Love and light,

Rachael Anne Singer