What will 2022 look like for your family?

Regardless of where you live in the world, this year has been full of uncertainty, modifications to your lifestyle, and constant change.  Parenting is stressful, this year has taken the cake. This year has taught all of us a little about ourselves and our ability to adapt and deal with stressful moments, days, or weeks. Maybe you’ve surprised yourself with how strong you can be when you have to adapt to changes, and you’ve discovered your inner strength.  I’m also certain that on some days, you felt depleted. What would you do differently?

It’s a new year, a new start and a new beginning. I’m talking to you!

You’re a very important person in your child’s life.  When your health or spirit is depleted, you can’t be there for your child and the rest of your family.  Maybe this year can begin with you taking care of yourself.  Start small and make small changes.  I’m only going to recommend one thing because if I recommend 3 or 4, you’ll do none.


Stress can cause fatigue, burnout, and even physical illness.  Mindfulness is one strategy that is free, can be done anywhere and only requires a short time. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease brain activity in the amygdala. The amygdala oversees emotions and elicits stress reactions in the body.  Are you getting it?  As little as 5-10 minutes a day can decrease anxiety and depression and increase mental and physical health.

The practice of being mindful slows down thinking, emotions, and responses.  It causes you to pause, identify what you’re feeling, and generate a response that isn’t driven by emotion.  Each moment that we have in and around our children creates memories and teaching moments.

Start here:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Pay attention to what is around you at this moment.

You may notice your child’s beautiful eyes, a tree outside, the feeling of your muscles tightening up.

3. Now just take a deep breath.  Imagine filling up the two large balloons in your chest cavity with oxygen as your rib cage expands, then exhaling intentionally, as if you’re blowing out candles.

This intention has been scientifically proven to increase empathy, increase gratitude, and decrease stress.  I think we could all use a little bit of that these days.  Be good to yourself first, and then you’ll be better for everyone else! 

3 Things to Make Sure You Say in 2022

January is full of new year resolutions of things we will start–or stop–doing. What if, instead of resolutions, we vowed to be more conscious of our words in this new year?

After my own reflection on my words, here are three phrases that I think we all could benefit from using a little more in 2022.

“Yes, that would help a lot.”

Why is it so difficult for us to accept help? Perhaps you, like me, are a perfectionist who struggles to let people perceive that she needs something. Maybe you feel guilty putting something you “should” be able to do onto someone else. Or you could struggle giving up control of things that you usually do.

Or perhaps you are really like me and it’s all of the above.

This year, when someone extends an offer of something that might help, let’s take them up on it!

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that it took me at least a year to finally fill out the handicap parking pass application that I had on my desk because I felt like I could (or maybe should?) “handle” my son’s physical limitations without it. My resistance didn’t have anything to do with any of the reasons I listed before; I had simply formed a habit.

When we deny help over and over, that refusal becomes like a reflex, and we end up missing out on the resources that were created for situations just like ours. Let’s stop practicing that refusal this year.

“Unfortunately, I can’t.”

Probably for similar reasons to those that keep us from accepting help, many of us have a very hard time saying no, even when we KNOW the thing being proposed is not something we want to do.

I’ve found, though, that the bad feelings I experience when I have to go back and tell the person no after I already said yes–or just bite my lip and do the thing despite how much I don’t want to–are far more uncomfortable than the disappointment I might put on that person if I had just been honest in the first place.

Most recently, a family member asked if we could get the kids together over the weekend. Beyond exhausted and well aware of it, I swept my own feelings aside and typed “Sure!” as a response to her text. A couple of days later, the morning of the play date, I knew that all I needed was some quiet space that day. So, I texted her to cancel. Was she disappointed? Yes. But I could have saved us both some disappointment and frustration by just being honest in the first place.

Let’s practice saying NO when we need to this year!

“I need _____.”

Both previous statements come down to this: We must start telling those closest to us what we need!

I’m beyond guilty of this one, particularly in my marriage. I am great at assuming that my husband knows what I need, but no one is a mind-reader! Being willing to ask for what I need doesn’t present a burden on those I ask; it removes the burden of them having to guess!

So, if this one is the same as the previous two, why is it here? Notice, the first two statements are responses to a question:

Can I bring you guys’ dinner tomorrow? “Yes, that would help a lot.”

Are you available to babysit this weekend? “Unfortunately, I can’t.”

Once we’ve got the hang of honoring ourselves with our responses to questions, we must get comfortable honoring ourselves when no one is asking.

This statement might be the most difficult one of all. So, start small. Instead of getting up to get the ketchup yourself at dinner tonight, ask a family member in the kitchen to grab it for you. When you just can’t stand another minute of noise, tell the kids you need a moment of quiet.

Will you always get the thing you ask for? Of course, not. But building the practice of honoring your needs with all these phrases builds the muscle of self-care that I believe is essential for each of us to really make 2022 a great year.

To Sit or Not to Sit? Is Your Baby Ready

I know that you’ve read the blogs, seen the apps, and according to your developmental tracker it’s time for your baby to be sitting.  The truth is that there are so many small things your baby must learn before they are ready to sit.

Body awareness

Babies start to learn about where their bodies are in space, when they’re on the floor.  Each time they actively move on the floor, they are strengthening their muscles, experimenting with their limbs, and always return to rest either on their back or their tummy. 

Head control

From the moment a child is born, they can lift and turn their head side to side. This control increases and eventually a child can lift and maintain their head up in all positions.  It’s much easier to work on sitting if you don’t have to simultaneously work on keeping your head upright.

Core control

The core consists of abdominal muscles, back muscles, and pelvic muscles.  All these muscles work symbiotically when a child is sitting.  If any one of these muscle groups are weak, a child may fall frequently, fatigue easily, or require upper extremity support for prop sitting on the floor.

Balance reactions

Body righting and balance reactions emerge slowly but surely.  Body righting occurs when one loses their balance and tries to regain it before falling. Balance reactions occur if one has lost their balance and reaches out with one or both hands to break their fall.

 A baby is not ready to sit if:

  1. Their head is bobbing in an upright position.
  2. Present with a rounded back when they’re sitting on the floor.
  3. They just sit there with their hands propped in front with their eyes looking downward.

Dr. Sharon Galitzer Pediatric Physical Therapist

5 Things We Can Do To Make Life Easier

Christmas seems a distant memory and the throws of being a carer and holding down a full-time job is in full swing.  It feels like Groundhog Day with Covid still haunting us all and our every day lives. But there must be some positivity, right?

Yes, there is!  I, along with lots of others need to look at 2022 in a more positive way – what are the little things that can be done to make life easier and more bearable.  I am going to break this down into five things that I hope most can be done by all of us.

Go for a walk

Even if it’s a short 15–30-minute walk with your children. I enjoy taking my son Joey, who has a life limited condition, for a walk whether this be around the local area, by the sea – he loves the sound of the sea and feeling the wind on his face makes him giggle. The little pleasures that we take for granted can add so much to a child’s life.

Get in the garden

I spent 20 minutes in the garden in Joey’s ppod, wrapped him up warm and just listened for the sounds of the natural environment whether this be the sounds of birds, the odd plane going overhead or the beep of a car.  The main thing is we got some fresh air and he loved it.

Read more stories

I love seeing the look in Joey’s eyes when I am reading him a story.  I need to do more of this and even though he is nonverbal his face tells me how much he enjoys it.  So, my default won’t be the stories that are available online, but ones I can read to him in the old fashion way of reading a book and showing the pictures and being as animated as I can be to make him smile.

Spend time with the family

Family time is so important whether it be a quick walk with Grandma or a visit from the cousins/aunties/uncles/brothers/stepbrothers and sisters/ step mum.  My aim is to try and get that interaction up and organise some nice activities to look forward to – in the summer that could be a trip to the beach and in the winter an early showing in the cinema or a walk in the country park.  We went to see Clifford the big red dog recently and Joey and his brother Jaxon had that time together with me, which is something that they don’t get enough of.

Being in the now

I am desperately trying not to think about the future and what that holds as it can be scary.  Living in the now is my goal – what can I do now to live life as positive as I can with the challenges we face and spend the time with Joey loving life and laughing more. He is a wonderful boy whose smile brings much joy to everyone he meets.

Preparing for New Experiences

The tooth fairy is real, and her name is Sarah!

A lot of things have changed for James over the past six months. He had his 19th Birthday in June, and since then we have been working through many transitions from children’s services to adult services.  Different teams, different styles, different locations, lots of changes.  David Bowie might have written a song about it…

This week, the ch-ch-changes train pulled in at the station called ‘Dentist’.  For several years now James has been to a wonderful special needs children’s dentist surgery.  But, following his visit last year they told us that, unfortunately, as James would be 19 by the time of his next appointment. He would need to transition to the adult team.  In a different location.

Ready to brave the journey

So, on Tuesday, armed with visuals of the dentist, James’ toothbrush, his sensory chew, and much prayer. We let James know that it was time to go and see the new dentist.  James needed time to prepare for this new experience and to gather up the courage to come out to the car to go somewhere new.  We reassured him that we were with him and that he would be OK.

When we got to the new dentists office, there was much that was new for James. He was very unsure about it all.  Having parked the car, we tried to encourage James to get out and come into the building. But it was just a step too far for him, too much change to cope with in one go.

So, while Clare stayed with James, I trotted off to the reception desk to let them know that we had arrived, but weren’t able to come in.  I wasn’t sure what to expect; would I be told that another appointment would have to be booked; that if James couldn’t come in then it would be classed as a missed appointment; that would we have to pay a cancellation fee?

A sigh of relief

I needn’t have worried, the team were magnificent.  They immediately showed outstanding understanding and care and started planning for how they could come and see James in the car park.  A few minutes later, one of the dentists, Sarah, and one of their assistants, Jay-Jay, accompanied me to the car to meet James.

They showed such wonderful, gentle, thoughtful care for James.  Crouched down at his level, so that they didn’t look intimidating; spoke softly and carefully to him; used his own toothbrush as a familiar way of exploring his mouth.  Also, using a plastic-coated dentists mirror, designed so that it didn’t ‘chink’ on his teeth. Sarah managed to have a good look around James’s teeth, carefully assessing almost all of them and confirming that they were all OK.

When they had finished, they suggested that they see him again in three-months’ time.  Not because he needs anything done, but to build his confidence and familiarity with the location and team.  They suggested that if we were driving by in the meantime, that we could ‘pop in’ with James and if he was able to come inside he could have a look around, sit in the dentist’s chair, and say “hello” to Sarah and her colleagues.

We were absolutely thrilled with how supportive and understanding the visit was, it really exceeded my expectations and the team at The Browning Centre deserve the very highest credit.  And James absolutely deserved his trip to the McDonald’s drive-thru and a drive through the New Forest afterwards!

What we learned

As I pondered more on how well things had gone, I considered all the transferrable lessons that could be applied to other settings, including school, church, clubs and other medical or social care appointments:

  • Prepare in advance. We were able to help James understand a little about the visit before we got there.
  • Go at the child, young person, or adult’s pace.  We didn’t rush James, we let him show us how much he could manage and when he had reached his limit for the visit.
  • Be flexible.  The team at the dentists were wonderfully flexible, willing to meet James’ needs where he was.
  • Go gently.  Sarah modelled how to interact with a child, young person, or adult with additional needs; she positioned herself at James level, spoke softly and carefully, took things one step at a time, used what he had brought with him to help him, let him tell her when he’d had enough.
  • Build confidence.  This visit is a starting point, if we manage to ‘pop in’ that will help grow James’ confidence.  Planning another appointment in three-month’s time will do the same.
  • Add a nice surprise.  James didn’t expect a trip to the McDonald’s drive-thru and a drive out to the New Forest afterwards, but he was delighted that we did that, and it will add to the good memories from this visit to the dentist.
  • And finally, believe that there are good people out there who are wonderfully kind and caring.  The ‘Tooth Fairy’ is real, and her name is Sarah!

Keep flossing!

Let’s Stop Feeling Guilty About These Three Things

When my first baby was born, I expected to come home with a bundle of joy and an additional bundle of worries. I was prepared to be carrying a little person with me all the time. What I wasn’t prepared for was the guilt I seemed to carry with me all the time as well.

We’ve all heard of “Mom Guilt,” and I would venture to say “Dad Guilt” is a thing too. It’s just one that isn’t talked about as much. I’ll continue to use Mom Guilt here, but, Dads, know that we see your feelings, too. We so often chalk our feelings up to Mom Guilt and call them normal.

Most of the time, the things we feel Mom Guilt about are not things that were actually wrong. Did I hurt someone on purpose? Of course not! If I did, my guilt would be justified. In reality, my Mom Guilt comes at times like when I take an extra couple of minutes in the shower, while I know my spouse is watching the kids. I did nothing wrong, so why do I feel guilty?

This year let’s make a promise to ourselves to only feel guilty about the things that actually warrant guilt. Here are three things to stop feeling guilty about right now:

Trust Your Gut

We so often feel like we need to be able to explain our decisions. I, however, believe so strongly in what I call the “Mom Gut”. Which is not, for the record, something you can work off in the gym. The Mom Gut is what sparks those little nudges you feel as a mom that something is a bad idea. Or, sometimes, a good idea. Sure, other people might think it’s stupid or silly. But I don’t need to feel guilty, or even judged, for that.

Just this morning, my Mom Gut reminded me that my little guy should not wear his puffy coat in his car seat. Concerned that someone at school drop-off might see and judge me as not putting my kid in a coat. I ended up intentionally going with my Mom Gut and listening to what the nudge (and safety recommendations) was telling me was safe.

Setting and Holding Boundaries

My kids do not like it when I set boundaries. Of course, when the boundary is that they can’t have ice cream every day. I don’t feel bad about setting it. But, when the boundary is something that benefits me, like going for a walk alone after Dad gets home from work and not allowing my kids to come along. Mom Guilt shows up.

Guilt has no place here, because, in the long run, my whole family is better for my setting that boundary. When I drop my boundary and let the kids come even though what I really need is some quiet and space to myself. I end up coming home from the walk just as agitated, if not more, than when I left. When I hold the boundary, I can come home refreshed and better able to be present and joyful with my family.

Taking Time for Yourself

This winter, I decided to gift myself a class that I have been wanting to take. When it was time to go to my office and log on to Zoom, my daughter said, “But, Mommy, aren’t you going to put me to bed?” Cue sad puppy eyes.

And, cue the Mom Guilt.

I stepped through the guilt, kissed my littles good night a bit early, and shut my office door. After that class, and even now, the morning after, I feel noticeably lighter. Again, the choice I made and action I took allowed me to be more patient and joyful with my kids even a day later.

So often, these choices that make us feel guilty in the moment are things that help us show up as better parents after the fact. When we step past the discomfort of the guilt and stay true to ourselves, we make everyone around us a little better. That’s something to be proud of, not guilty about.

Using EMPATHY When Relating to Those with Disabilities

This acronym can be a helpful tool for communication.

There is no doubt that we should all use more empathy when relating to anyone, but especially to those with additional needs.

But did you know there is a commonly used acronym for empathy?  In the medical profession it is widely accepted as a useful, necessary, and successful tool for providing compassionate care. We can learn a lot from this helpful tool!

The “E” stands for eye contact.  Making eye contact with a person shows you acknowledge them as an individual.  This may seem obvious but looking directly at a person implies you see them apart from yourself, as another person with their own set of values and concerns.  This is highly important when communicating with someone who is nonverbal, too! 

The “M” is for musculofascial cues.  In other words, facial expressions.  When you speak to this person, do they smile?  Grimace?  Do their eyes convey distress or pain?  These are all important cues to watch for.

The “P” stands for posture.  How is the person you’re speaking with sitting – upright, slouching, with difficulty?  Of course, we will be sensitive to the typical way this person’s body is affected by their disability.  However, if they are normally able to sit upright but are now slouching down and with eyes downcast, this might tell you how they are emotionally in this moment.

The “A” stands for affect.  This one is a bit trickier to understand and may not apply in all interactions.  Affect is the general attitude of a person, which considers all the other cues talked about here. For example, a caregiver might have an effect of being positive, always putting a positive spin on the other person’s comments.  This could be helpful or not; if our aim is to acknowledge someone’s concerns as legitimate, we should try to match their affect. 

The “T” represents tone of voice and is straightforward.  Pay attention to the tone someone is using, and how your tone might sound to them!

The “H” stands for ‘hearing the person.’  Not only does this mean literally listening to them when they speak, but also trying to hear what they truly mean.  This can be challenging if someone has affected speech ability; try your best to understand and don’t underestimate the power in asking questions!

The last letter in the acronym is “Y” which is for your response.  We can practice good listening and overall empathy toward our disabled brothers and sisters all we want, but if our concluding response to them is dismissive or cold, then the effort is nullified.  If you do nothing else in these steps, focus on your response being warm and sincere!

Our world can become a more accepting and inclusive place, one personal relationship at a time.

Inclusion of Children of All Needs

‘Ohana’ Means Family. Family Means No One Gets Left Behind or Forgotten.

As lockdown restrictions have eased and we continue to navigate a safe path out of the pandemic, children’s and youth work including clubs, uniformed organisations, and play centres, have been gradually resuming in-building activity.

Over the past couple of years, some children’s and youth work has stopped altogether, so meeting with children and young people again is rightly being greeted with great enthusiasm (not least by families!).  For some, children’s and youth work has continued online, with a variety of approaches having been taken to create environments that have been engaging, interesting and fun.  Much has been learned over the past couple of years, and many of us have become Zoom ‘guru’s’!

But as in-building children’s and youth work resumes, albeit initially somewhat different looking to when we last were able to do this, let’s not lose all the learning and experience we’ve gained from the last couple of years.  Let’s not abandon the progress we’ve made in reaching children and young people, and their families, through Zoom and other online solutions, that we wouldn’t have reached through in-building activity, many of whom have special needs or disabilities.

Like many children’s and youth workers, I love a good Disney movie, and that well known quote from ‘Lilo & Stitch’ keeps coming to mind whenever I think about the return to in-building children’s and youth work:

“Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”

So often, families of children with special needs or disabilities can find themselves forgotten, overlooked, not considered when plans are being made.  After so long it is unsurprising that many children’s and youth teams are excitedly opening the doors again and getting in-building work restarting, but I’ve personally been saddened to see many people posting on social media about how thrilled they are to not have to run Zoom sessions anymore.  For families who cannot, for all kinds of reasons, attend in-building activities, this is so harmful, another form of exclusion.

So, let’s not choose between in-building or online children’s and youth work; let’s not create exclusion by cutting off families who have been able to connect like never before over the past couple of years. Let’s make sure that no one gets left behind or forgotten.

Here’s 5 ‘C’s’ that we can all do that will help with this:

1. Communicate

Ask families what they prefer, what they can access, what resources they need to join in.  Make sure we are including them as we plan, remembering that phrase used by the disabled community ‘Nothing about us without us.’

2. Community

Recognise that our community includes families that come to the building and families that connect from home.  Structure our activities in ways that link both parts of this community together so that they can enjoy being involved wherever they are and can feel the ‘togetherness’.

3. Camera

A ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ offering isn’t about providing an in-building programme and broadcasting it via a static camera at the back of the room to anyone else.  It’s about interaction, giving families at home a chance to contribute, share and lead; having the camera moving around to see what is happening in-building, and broadcasting on a screen and sound system what is happening at home, making it a truly interactive experience for everyone.

4. Creativity

Are we doing something ‘crafty’ or ‘creative’?  Have we thought about how to equip families that are taking part from home?  Maybe drop a bag of resources round to them so that they have everything that the children and young people in the building have, enabling them to all join in together.  Is there a programme or timetable that we could include?  For children and young people with special needs, make this visual by including symbols and photos.

5. Check-in

We generally chat with families as they collect their children from in-building sessions, so why not do the same for families that are connecting online?  Don’t just drop them an email but pick up the phone or pop round for a chat.  How did the session go for them?  What worked and what didn’t?  What do they need from us next time?  How would they like to take part?

I hope these tips and ideas will help as we continue to open up our children’s and youth work, and plan for the ‘new normal’.  Let’s make sure we all remember that “family means no one gets left behind or forgotten”.  Let’s ensure that whether families are getting involved in what we are offering in-building, or at home, that they all feel connected, and all experience the sense of community that this brings.


Self-compassion: A vital ingredient for parent carer wellbeing

We may be familiar with the idea of being compassionate towards others but often we find this harder to apply to ourselves.  Yet self-compassion is key to helping parent carers who may feel overwhelmed by their caring role and the systems around them.

Dr Kristin Neff is a researcher in the field of self-compassion, who is also a mother of an autistic son.  She writes:

‘In a study on self-compassion in parents of autistic children the researchers found that those parents with more self-compassion perceived less stress when dealing with their children.  They were less likely to be depressed, and more likely to be hopeful and satisfied with their lives. 

In fact self-compassion was actually a stronger predictor of how they were doing than the severity of their children’s autism.  This suggests that what’s more important than the intensity of the challenges you face in life is how you relate to yourself in the midst of it.’

Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive

I think all parent carers (and parents in general) can learn from these findings. 

We may beat ourselves up for a perceived ‘failure’ or when we don’t have all the answers in relation to our child.  But self-compassion is where we treat ourselves with self-kindness instead of self-criticism.  It’s the opposite of shame.

Self-compassion means we accept that human beings are fallible and there is no such thing as a ‘perfect parent’.  It’s ok to be ‘good enough’.

If you struggle to be kind to yourself, try these statements to develop your self-compassion:

  • We’re only human and everyone makes mistakes
  • This is really hard. What do you need in this moment?
  • Of course this is difficult. Anyone would find this hard.
  • May I let go of that which no longer serves me

If something doesn’t go to plan, don’t generalise it to all other areas in your life. If you make a mistake replace any thoughts of ‘there you did it again, you always mess things up’ with ‘that didn’t go how I wanted but I’m now clear how to avoid that outcome in the future.’

Replacing self-criticism with self-compassion is a key ingredient in supporting your own emotional wellbeing.

You can find more parent carer wellbeing tips at www.affinityhub.uk.