Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for psychotherapy, nor does it constitute a client/therapist relationship. If you are in crisis, call the crisis hotline at 600-273-TALK.
Teaching My Child to Call 911: Helpful or Harmful?
Last year my husband had a kind of scary medical emergency while we were visiting the zoo with our then infant and three year old. Husband is doing fine and the doctor believes it could have been just a one-off thing, but it feels important that we teach our now four year old how to be able to call 911 or get help should something like this happen again and I am not there or there is not another adult in the immediate vicinity. Any tips for how to teach him these skills without completely re-traumatizing him? And what is an appropriate age to have this conversation? We have a one year old as well.
A: What a hard thing to go through as a family, especially on a day of fun at the zoo. I can see your conflict here and why you are wrestling with how to handle it moving forward. The encouraging thing is that you and your husband are the emotional regulators for your kids at their ages right now. Trauma experts say that when a young child is in the presence of safe care givers when they endure traumatic events, the effects on them are much less than when a child is left to process it on their own. That said, be encouraged that your 4-year-old having you guys there with him when this happened did a lot for his nervous system! I encourage you to be open with him but on his level. Talk about the event, making sure you and your husband are regulated emotionally when doing so, every so often, showing him that processing it is healthy and okay. That may look like this:
“Remember when Daddy fell at the zoo and all the sirens went off? Mommy was scared and I think you were scared too. We got the help we needed and Daddy is now safe.”
Let him say whatever is on his mind at that point and don’t be surprised if he moves on to a different topic immediately. I would bring this up every so often because you are modeling what it looks like to process feelings, and you are labeling his feelings for him which helps him to learn what his are.
After you have discussed it from a processing standpoint, you can safely begin to teach him what to do if anyone is ever in a situation where they need help. Again, keep your tone calm and talk about it pretty matter-of-factly. That may sound like:
“Do you know what (mom/someone) did when Daddy was hurt at the zoo? They got a phone and called 911. When you call 911 the police, ambulance, and firetrucks all come to help!” (Also use this to explain that the emergency workers are very important and we never want to call unless we need them, so they can be available to help other people)
You can have him practice on a play phone and teach him how to do it if your phone is locked.
The best age to begin this depends on the child. Trust your instincts! If it is too soon, you will know because he will not be able to do it when you practice. Then you wait a few months and try again!
Thank you for your question; keep processing with those babies!
How to Get Kids to Talk About Their Day
How can I get my daughter to talk more about what she did at school? Whenever I ask her she says I don’t know. She is 4 and has autism but is high-functioning and communicates.
A: I love this question, and I do not think it is a struggle that is unique to children with autism. All kids have a hard time knowing what to say when asked how their day was. I can see it being even more of a challenge with your daughter, but many of us moms can relate to this!
One tip I use is being available in the car when I first pick them up. “Being available” means removing distractions and dialing-in. Music is off and our phones are away on our ride home. This allows their brains to rest and begin processing their day, naturally. It also helps to ask them direct questions instead of the wide open question of: how was your day? As you learn and connect with your child, you begin to know more specific questions to ask as well. Specific questions are always easier for them to engage in because it gives them a place to start. For example:
“How did lunch go today? How was Sarah today; is she still upset about her dance class?”
“Who did you play with at recess today? Is Billy still acting like he doesn’t want to play with you? How are you feeling about that?”
One of our favorite ways to engage our kids is to do “highs and lows”:
“What was your high today (best part of their day)? What was your low today (worst part of their day)?”
We do these as a family quite often and it gets the conversation going. A good time to do this is at the dinner table.
Keep engaging and being available when they decide to talk and your child will begin to open up more. One more tip: when they share, hold back on advice giving or teasing. This will shut them down and make them not want to engage with you!
Best of luck and I hope the conversations begin to flow a little better!
Any Tips for Creating Stress-Free Mornings?
Other than the obvious of getting kids to bed at a good time and having clothes ready in the morning, what are some key tips for having a non-stressful morning to get out of the house on time to get to school?
A: This question made me laugh because I thought, “Well, isn’t this the question of every mom!!”
I think you are correct; getting as much done the night before is always the best tip for a less-stress morning. That includes packing backpacks, making lunches, and yes, picking out clothes. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to not have last minute things to do. Make lists, if this helps, of everything that needs to be done in the evenings before they go to bed. My boys do this themselves at their ages; they pack their lunches, backpacks, and pick out their clothes before bed. My son (I am not suggesting this but it is hilarious) goes to bed wearing the clothes he is going to wear the next day down to sleeping with his socks and shoes on!
In addition to planning ahead the night before, make sure everyone has enough margin in the morning. Meaning, make sure everyone is getting up early enough to get ready and out the door without a sense of panic. I enjoy sitting and having a cup of coffee before I do much of anything, so I wake up earlier to give myself time for that. Make sure everyone has ample time to get breakfast, get dressed (if they wait until morning like normal people), and get backpacks in the car.
Lastly and probably most importantly, realize that you set the mood for your kids. If Mom and Dad are calm and pleasant in the morning, it will help the kids feel less stressed as they get going. Watch your stress level and figure out ways to reduce your own stress in the morning, and I bet your people will have a much better start to their day.
Wishing you peace this school year!