Help your child find balance, reduce power struggles, and find more ease.
by Annie Brook, Ph.D., LPC
Are your child’s behavior struggles due to sensory challenges? For over 35 years I have helped children and families build skills. Protective behaviors are at the base of sensory issues; start as early as birth, and show up in behaviors like skin sensitivities, struggles due to taste or sounds, inability to settle until exhausted and cranky; even struggles to sit upright, often appearing “lazy.” These are signals that some kind of body support is missing.
What are sensory issues and how do they start?
We all record experience in our bodies and create responses to feel safe, like protective numbing, distractions, escalations. Sensory issues show up as controlling, fearful, anxious, or aggressive, even a “gifted child” with emotional meltdowns. They might use “sneaky power,” be manipulative or take every interaction into a power struggle and create fights with you. They may struggle with transition moments; getting ready for bed, to the store, or to school.
Anytime your child felt unsafe, overly stimulated, invaded, or fought back in anger against invasive forces, (even a C-section that saved their life), they created a neural/behavior pathway. Who would have guessed that a c-section birth, vacuum suction, infant or child surgery, even circumcision, could be at the root of sensory issues.
What to do about Sensory Processing issues.
The good news is that you can help your child, right at the brain-body level, to be more flexible and resilient. I’ve compiled games parents can play and teach their children in my book Help for Sensory Challenges, that fills in the gaps in a child’s sensory abilities.
Parents who understand the anatomy alphabet and movement building blocks can help their child “change the brain, to change the pain.” This means giving new input to the bodymind, interrupting an old response pattern. Here is an example that helps with proprioception.
Cow Against a Tree
Idea: Proprioception, the ability to feel weight and pressure, helps a child feel inside
their body, tolerate sensation, and withstand pressure in life.
Benefits: Using their own body to feel, not just the hands, helps a child process
sensations and use them as support for learning.
Helps a child learn to feel weight and pressure, and pleasure with pushing. They must
learn the “right amount of push” so it is not too much or too little. This teaches
cooperation as well.
• Stand back to back. One child is the cow. The other is the tree. (An adult working with
a child will need to get down on their knees).
• “Cow” uses partner’s pressure against your back for finding pleasure, just like a cow
scratches against a tree.
• “Tree” is not rigid, but it moves a bit so it is fun for you too!
Tight as a Rock, Loose as Water
(Teaches Relaxation: Tonic Labrynthine Reflex)
Idea: Tone is the quality of body tissue; it’s the texture and sensation. Tone can be too
low, like “loose as water,” or too high or tense, like “tight as a rock.” When tone is too
high or low, feedback to self and integrated movements are impaired.
Benefits: Balances tone so the body responds congruently. Babies born premature
often have tissue tone difficulties and need extra help to develop tone.
• Rest on the floor on your belly. Let your weight sink into the floor. Breathe and feel
how the floor supports you.
• Now become “loose as water” and make yourself overly loose or collapsed into the
floor. This is different than relaxing. It is a feeling of being lethargic or not motivated.
• Now become “tight as a rock.” Tense your whole body, all your bones, organs,
muscles, and tissues. Feel how a rock can’t move or respond.
• Ask the child to look out at others through eyes that are too tight or too loose. How
do they feel when their eyes are this way? Are they friendly or suspicious or bored?
• Place your hands on your child so they can feel how they respond to pressure. You can
ask them “do you feel too tight or too loose?”
• Now go back and forth between tight and loose until you find a balance. See how you
can feel sensation and be more present when you have a balanced tone.
Questions to ask:
Which was more familiar, tight or loose? Not too tight, not too loose! Practice finding balance and playful responses in the body.
Where to go from here?
Once you understand sensory issues, you really can help your child. The basics of weight, skin, pressure, and balance are the foundation. We also look at auditory processing and ease for the eyes. My book was written exactly for parents wanting to help their child. Enjoy the fun of interacting in a playful manner with your child and helping them feel more relaxed and alert.
Annie Brook, Ph.D., LPC is a specialist is birth trauma, who can help your child “tell that story” in a child-friendly manner. Parents learn how to recognize birth trauma behavior as a story needing to be told, and she teaches them how to play out the story in child-friendly language bringing great relief to sensory issues, which is often the hidden story behind difficult behavior. Colorado Therapies, (off Lookout Rd in Gunbarrel), has therapists who know about sensory processing issues and can work with your children to give them help. Please contact Joanne Graham or Annie Brook at (720) 839-4332 and visit their website at Coloradotherapies.com for more information.