Fall is my favorite time of year. Holidays are right around the corner and there is so much fun to be had. From Halloween trick-or-treating and candy eating, to a Thanksgiving filled with family traditions, to the sight of our family around the Christmas tree in the morning unwrapping toys and playing on the floor with our littles full of joy and excitement.
This time of year is a season of joy and anticipation. It’s a season of busyness, and yet a time to slow down as well. It’s a season of chaos, yet a season of blessings and wonderful memories waiting to be cherished.
For some, the holiday season can be overwhelming. It can bring feelings of depression to someone who is working through a tough time in life. It can also bring feelings of anxiety with all there is to be done and the many extra events and outings this the holiday season brings.
It’s during these times that I am often reminded to slow down through the busyness and keep checking on our kiddos. We have one little who gets especially overwhelmed on busy days and over-stimulated.
Our child has moments of extreme overwhelm, to a point where he’s sometimes screaming for an hour, unable to stabilize his emotions. It’s like he’s in a state of mental disconnection, extreme anxiety, and needs to be brought back to the here and now.
He needs to be grounded.
Does this sound familiar to you?
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Perhaps you have a child who experiences the same anxious struggles.
Perhaps it’s a foster child who is new to your family, missing home and fearful of what might happen next in their life. Perhaps it’s a child who has suffered trauma and abuse and often lives in fight or flight mode. Perhaps it’s a child with sensory processing needs who becomes overstimulated easily. Perhaps it’s a child who suffered prenatal drug exposure and these moments of angst have become a chronic phenomenon in your home.
Whatever your scenario or situation looks like, the holiday season may seem equally as exciting as it does dreadful to you as a parent.
Your child’s anxiety triggers may look similar to ours, or be very different. For many, SLEEPLESS NIGHTS become a trigger.
LATE NIGHT = trigger.
EXTRA SWEETS = trigger.
BUSYNESS = trigger.
LOUD MUSIC = trigger.
LOTS OF LIGHTS = trigger.
TRAVELING = trigger.
SPOOKY DECOR = trigger.
BEING TOLD NO = trigger.
CHANGE IN ROUTINE = trigger.
MYSTERY ITEM I’M STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT = trigger.
Unfortunately, we don’t always know his triggers. One thing we can count on: lack of sleep to set him off more often and more severely. You can bet driving past our neighbors’ houses with creepy Halloween decor hanging from trees and fences can trigger him, and also trigger sleepless nights. A change in routine is almost always a trigger. I think busyness can also fall into that category.
While we as parents are always on the lookout for triggers and watching his body language and change in demeanor for cues, we can miss them, too.
Enter: GROUNDING TECHNIQUES
I myself have had a few run-ins with bad anxiety attacks and know how scary it is to feel mentally out of control, like your grasp on life is slipping through your fingertips and you are so unsure of how to mentally get refocused again. It can be an isolated event or a trail of anxiety attacks over the span of a day or a few days. It’s tough. It’s overwhelming. It’s scary.
Thankfully, I know my triggers and I am aware enough of my mind and body to keep myself busy and distract my mind so that I don’t tailspin into an anxiety attack. And, boy, are kids a great distraction.
As for my little guy, he’s not there yet. He doesn’t always know his triggers. He doesn’t always see the anxiousness approaching. He doesn’t always know how to control his body and emotions when the anxiety starts to kick in and take over.
And he goes from 0 to 60 in about 10 seconds flat.
If your child deals with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, try these two sensory-engaging methods to help ground them and bring them back to a state of calm.
Practice these method while interacting with your child at home, in the car, or out running errands while your child is calm, so that in those moments when you see triggers or when your child is already in full meltdown mode, it becomes a second-nature resource to you both as a grounding method.
Both of these methods work similarly and can be used with children of all ages.
Remember, it is important to for you to set the example of calm, as hard as it may be at times. Your child uses you to co-regulate and learn self-regulation.
I’ll be honest, there are times I feel like the greatest, calmest mom. We can get through a day of anxious meltdowns with my son having extreme screaming panic attacks for anywhere up to an hour without being able to self-soothe, self-regulate, and come back to present time. We make it through days of this happening all day long and I’m so patient, and keep it together.
And then there are other days.
The days where I’m screaming at him and straight LOSING. MY. COOL.
And I kick myself for not controlling my own temper better. And I feel like a terrible mom for setting an example of anger and frustration. And I feel like a failure for not giving my child what HE needed in those moments.
I have to remind myself daily, hourly, and sometimes minute-by-minute, to breathe and be ready to help my child through his struggle. And then I can vent to my husband about the rough day we had later. In those moments, it’s about him. It’s about meeting his needs and us co-regulating together.
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Our strategies have changed as our son has gotten older. Mostly because we just plain didn’t have a clue what we were doing or how to help him.
Whichever grounding method you choose, start each technique by having your child:
1. Stand or sit, planting their feet firmly on the ground.
2. Take a few deep breaths. Inhale slowly counting to 5. Exhale slowly counting to 5.
3. Look around and describe the items you ask them to find.
These techniques work best when you can practice them in moments when your child is calm and isn’t being triggered. When you do see triggers, try to start these techniques right at an anxiety set-off, but these can work as a great tool in the midst of a severe meltdown, as well.
These things may not always be feasible depending on the level of your child’s anxiety and how far into the anxious moment they are, but do your best to keep asking your child to look around and engage their senses until they begin to respond and you see cues of calm within them.
Technique 1: The Rainbow Grounding Method
Ask your child to describe items from around the room in each color of the rainbow, going in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. Repeat this exercise as many times as needed until calm.
Technique 2: The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Method
Ask your child to describe things from around the room using all five of their senses. Ask them to describe out loud:
5 Things They See
4 Things They Hear
3 Things They Feel
2 Things They Smell
1 Thing They Taste
TIP #1: Sensory Pack
Keep a small baggie or bucket of sensory items in your purse, diaper bag, or in a common area of the house so you can grab it quickly with items to practice the 5-4-3-2-1 Method. Here are some ideas of sensory items you can keep in your Sensory Pack:
Something You Can Smell: Essential Oils, YL Therapeutic Grade are perfect for grounding exercises. Ask me how to get these oils at a great price!
Try these fantastic calming oils and blends – Lavender, Grounding, Peace&Calming, Release, Stress Away, Present Time, Oola Balance, Inner Child, etc.
TIP #2: Keep A List of Your Child’s Triggers
When you notice a new trigger, write it down in a notebook or on the notes app of your phone. The simple act of writing something down can help you to better remember and be able to notice triggers when they happen or catch them early! So, do it. Write them down!
This will also help you be on the lookout for less noticeable triggers, and things you may not realize are triggers from your child’s past.
This can also help you pick up on sensory triggers you may not have noticed before, such as a piece of string hanging off clothing and rubbing against their skin all day, noisy crowds in a shopping mall, a song or scent that reminds them of something in their past, the way certain voices sound, characteristics about a person they remember from their past, etc.
It’s good to have a list handy of recorded triggers that you can pass along to therapists, doctors, and social workers involved in your child’s case or life. Once you figure out the things that trigger your child into an anxiety attack, you can begin to avoid them whenever possible, and help your child work through them with a team of professionals to help your child thrive. You can also begin using other coping methods, like Therapeutic Grade essential oils throughout the day to stay ahead of meltdowns that triggers may have otherwise caused, or at least lessen the blow.
ONE LAST NOTE…
If you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy of Karyn Purvis’ book: The Connected Child. My husband and I continually re-read this book to keep her strategies at the forefront of our minds and as reminders of ways to deal with a child who is overwhelmed. Just take a look at the summary of the book:
“The adoption of a child is always a joyous moment in the life of a family. Some adoptions, though, present unique challenges. Welcoming these children into your family–and addressing their special needs–requires care, consideration, and compassion.
Written by two research psychologists specializing in adoption and attachment, “The Connected Child” will help you: Build bonds of affection and trust with your adopted child Effectively deal with any learning or behavioral disorders Discipline your child with love without making him or her feel threatened.”
These are just a couple of many grounding methods. What grounding methods have you tried with your kiddos? Tell us in the comments below!
Disclosure: These are just a couple strategies we’ve learned through therapy, fellow foster parents, foster parent training, failing forward ourselves, and from those walking the same walk as us. In fact, our licensing worker who sees us quarterly, if not monthly, has been a wonderful help with ideas and strategies for different coping methods. I say all this to say: I’m not an expert, and these strategies may not work for everyone. Each person and situation is unique. There are TONS of techniques out there. Find what works for you and your child. Please always seek medical attention and advice from licensed professionals if you or your child are experiencing extreme anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide or harm to others, or similar feelings.