My children are both complicated individuals. Since birth, TigerWolf has tended to pick up on anyone's fear, anger or depression far too easily. She then acts out the emotions. The Boy is a risk-taker and requires frequent comforting with a light touch.
('Too rambunctious for extended cuddles :( you know.)
Both kids are bright but obsessive (hmm, wonder why) and will work on a task to the point of meltdown.
Consequently, I've put in my share of hours with the parenting books. I've also journaled my way to several useful techniques. I am not a parenting expert; just ask my kids . . . or my mother (exasperated grin). Still, I'd like to share some ideas that have worked for me.
General Environmental Guidelines
We'll get to the all-important "little stuff" in a moment. Please, take a moment to read the following suggestions. Yes, they take time and planning. Still, they will make providing comfort-on-the-spot easier. If given a wish, I might ask that all children grow up in an environment that provides these anchors.
Develop routines. They are your best friends when your kids need comforting. Routines also head off or smooth over many situations that overwhelm children.
Have a feel-better-blanket. I don't think we ever outgrow the need for a blanky. Don't you curl up under your favorite blanket when you feel ill? Either choose a special blanket for each member of the family, (don't forget one for yourself) or choose one blanket that serves the whole crew. Either way, make sure the blanket is:
- big enough for two or three to cuddle under: queen sized or better
- gently colored and patterned: nothing vivid or frantic
- thin and flexible enough to wrap around body contours and to use in all weather
- made from something soft: flannel, polar fleece, or the like
- accessible: preferably stored in the room that the family uses most often.
For thoughts on crafting or blessing a feel-better-blanket
Use the blanket often, it should not be reserved for mourning and sadness.
Stock the pantry. Like it or not, one of the easiest and most instinctive ways to comfort is to provide food. If you are just starting out with a babe, you may be able to associate healthy food with warmth and security. For most of us though, comfort foods are full of fat, processed flour and sugar. Assuming your children aren't in need of pampering every night, such food will cause no lasting harm. During my coming-out-of-depression year, I discovered that carbohydrates actually increase the production of seratonin. So now we have a medical reason for indulging or spoiling (winsome smile).
Pay attention to the senses. Make sure you have access to tools that soothe. Consider lighting, textures, scents, sounds, flavors and scale. Your family will respond best to techniques you develop with their personalities in mind. Don't fall into the trap of trying to recreate beautiful magazine spreads . . . or get hung up on the specifics of what MY family likes. Each member of your family will have his or her own set of associations for anything that you provide. (To this day, the sight of Gatorade makes me nauseous because that's the beverage I was given as a child when I was ill.)
Specific Comfort-Giving Acts
As you read through the list of specific suggestions below, remember to mentally assign each item that appeals to a particular family member. Doing so will prevent you from wasting time and money on something that just won't help. (Is your eight year old son REALLY going to take comfort in a scented bubble bath? If so, good for him . . . and you.)
- Whiny kids are often dehydrating; especially when they beg for food yet refuse to eat. Start by giving them water to drink.
- A bath often helps a child transition; especially from active to quiet or from tense to relaxed.
- A basin of warm water and an assortment of measuring cups and spoons seems like a game. The warm water, scented if you like, will soothe without the child even being aware. (Yes, this can cause a mess, spread a towel and stay nearby.)
- Baths and basins of water can be personalized even further. Scent with lavender, chamomile or rose to encourage relaxation. The scent of Ivory soap is a little sharp but it directs the child's concentration toward the bath. (The floating thing doesn't hurt either!) Johnson's makes a great bubble bath specifically designed to ease congestion.
- The sound of moving water is relaxing. If you can afford it, invest in a fountain, (tabletop or outside). Alternatively, take your child to a river, public fountain or other body of water.
- Teach your child to breathe: through pain, through anger, through fear and through excitement. We learn the skill when we give birth to them and then we never use it. Remember cleansing breaths? Show your child how to close his eyes, fill his whole torso with air inhaled through his nose, part his lips and blow the air out slowly.
- Get her outside. Even colicky infants often stop crying when exposed to a breeze of fresh air. Don't stop to bundle; a blanket wrapped around both of you will suffice in most weather.
- Sing. Recite. Chant. Make an effort to learn some repetitive, rhyming words. It doesn't matter if you have a good voice. A wide repertoire is unnecessary. My husband recites Jabberwocky. My song for TigerWolf was You Are My Sunshine; she sings it to her brother now. The Boy loves Twinkle, Twinkle. My father, used to recite The Cremation of Sam McGee when he was in a good mood. I don't remember it, he died when I was young, but my sister told me about it.
- Whisper. To attract the attention of an over stimulated, crying, child, whisper.
- Record your child's favorite stories on tape. If the child is old enough to understand, make "dings" at the page turning points. This is great when you are away or just can't do anymore trips up the stairs.
- Don't forget: music boxes, wind chimes, natural sounds audio tapes, Vivaldi, folk and celtic music, fish tank bubblers, or an open window that lets in cricketsong and traffic whooshing by.
- If you child is fussy, consider changing clothes--his or yours. Some kids in particular are sensitive to raspy seams, tags, mended spots, crooked sock-seams, crispy textures, wool or fabrics that feel cold. Worn by him, such materials are constant and nagging irritants. Worn by you, these materials may neutralize your cuddles.
- If you are a cloth crafter, concentrate on making comfortable items. With stuffed animals, blankets and childrens clothes, visual appeal is secondary to comfort and touchability.
- loaning her one of your tee-shirts
- applying powder with or without a fluffy brush
- instead of ice and heating pads, using a damp washcloth--not so shocking and totally portable
- getting an old fashioned hot water bottle and making a soft cover
- back rubs
- brushing her hair
- washing his feet in that basin of water, make sure he soaks for a while
Mother Crowe's Magical Meadow