By Janis D. Gioia, MAEd.
Jennifer Morgan rushes in the door at 6:30 pm on an early night, hoping the new nanny remembered to start dinner. She hasn’t stopped for twelve hours, but the Starbucks Venti in her left hand will propel her through this second shift, the best part of her day.
Three little bodies scamper down the hall and wrap around her legs. In a unison chorus they proclaim, “Mommy’s home!”
After setting her briefcase and coffee on the hall table Jennifer gathers her children into a warm, giggly and rather sticky group hug.
Somebody just had a jelly sandwich.
Less than two hours later the house is quiet again. Jennifer picks up a research report then pauses.
Between the morning rush, a hurried meal, dishes, baths and a quick bedtime story, did she even connect with her kids?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor there are 25.1 million working women with children under the age of 18 in the U.S. workforce. While this number has increased, so has the proportion of working women who are the sole or primary breadwinner in their family.
Whether you’re in a C-Suite on Wall Street, or somewhere in between, maintaining a work-life balance is like walking a tightrope day after day.
For Jennifer, and working moms everywhere, there is good news.
Borrowing ideas from special education teachers and occupational therapists (multisensory engagement, embedding and immersion in nature) allows you to turn everyday moments into compassionate connections.
Susan Bazyk, PHD, OTR/L, FAOTA is a professor of occupational therapy at Cleveland State University and the Project Director of Every Moment Counts, a children’s mental health initiative.
Dr. Bazyk emphasizes, “It’s more about the quality of time than the quantity. If time with children is limited because of a mother’s busy work schedule, having moments of quality time is important for family bonding.”
Adding multisensory elements to the time you have makes experiences more memorable, resulting in a deeper connection.
“Engage your children’s senses, but don’t overstimulate them,” Dr. Bazyk suggests.
Add multisensory moments into your day
Mornings are usually hectic in most families. You cook breakfast, pack lunches and hustle everyone out the door.
Jackrabbit starts are stressful for everyone.
Try these calming morning makeovers:
-Waking your child with gentle cuddles or an alarm that plays their favorite song.
-Playing some of your child’s favorite music softly as they get ready for school.
-Using an essential oil diffuser with a wake-up scent like orange or lemon.
-Giving your child a teddy or comfort object to cuddle on the way to school (Try a stress ball for older kids.)
You will still be wiping up spilled milk and tying shoes. But the addition of sensory elements creates calming connections in the midst of morning chaos.
Rushing your kids from school to soccer practice while dialing into a phone conference isn’t relaxing.
Once you are home, add multisensory elements to harmonize the hectic.
Consider these easy options:
-Stream relaxing music on speakers throughout your home.
-Use a warm weighted blanket or lap pad to calm and focus children as they transition from school into home routines.
-Offer sensory products like PinchMe Therapy Dough (lightly scented with essential oils) so kids can squeeze the stress away. (You’ll like it, too.)
-Diffuse an essential oil with a calming scent like lavender or vanilla.
-Color with your children. Coloring, which engages visual, kinesthetic and tactile modalities, has been proven to reduce stress in children and adults.
-Take a few minutes to stretch, take a walk or do yoga with your kids
According to Dr. Bazyk, meals are one of the best ways to develop strong parent child relationships that deepen family bonding.
“There is a lot of research on the importance of family meals on children and youth’s mental health,” she explains.
“Family rituals are important and help make families unique.”
-Light candles on the dinner table.
-Play soft background music.
Make meals festive and fun, even if you’re serving leftovers or macaroni and cheese.
For kids it’s not about what they eat, but rather the way they feel while they are eating that makes mealtimes special.
-Celebrate birthdays or accomplishments with decorative plates and a balloon bouquet.
-Cook as a family whenever possible.
If your child’s bedtime routine feels like a Spinning class, racing through baths, pajamas, teeth brushing and bed, turn it down a few notches.
Create a soothing atmosphere in your home and your child’s room.
-Use soft ambient lighting for baths or showers, and a gentle light for bedtime stories.
-Brush your child’s hair, give a backrub or a manicure…little one-on-one sensory experiences deepen connections.
-Choose lotions or bath products with soothing scents to relax little minds and encourage restful sleep and better mornings.
-Make story time multisensory by cuddling under a super-soft or warm weighted blanket.
-Diffuse a calming essential oil in your child’s room or in the main living area.
-Play soft classical or spa music on a speaker while you read a bedtime story.
With multisensory moments, you are often doing the same things (eating dinner, reading a story, etc.) but you are adding in sensory components which enrich the experience.
In addition to utilizing multisensory strategies, special education teachers and occupational therapists teach skills throughout the day, a process called embedding.
For working moms embedding means finding ways to insert moments of compassionate connection whenever and wherever we are with our kids.
Embed moments of connection throughout the day.
-Play I-Spy at the grocery store.
-Take your child’s hand when you walk.
-Have a spontaneous dance party.
-Hug them as often as they’ll let you.
-Get down at their eye level.
-Bake cookies, even if they are from a refrigerated tube.
(Baking involves almost every sense: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing, if you play music or count the oven alarm.)
Many adults say baking is their favorite childhood memory.
-Read a book inside a blanket-and-sofa-cushions fort.
-Talk less and listen more.
Connect with your child by spending time together in nature.
Nature, quite simply, is the best way to nurture mind, body and spirit.
Angela Hanscom, MOT, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist and the author of Balanced and Barefoot. Her book details how unrestricted outdoor play is imperative for children’s sensory, social, emotional, cognitive and mental health.
Hanscom is also the founder of Timbernook an award-winning nature-based program gaining popularity in the US and abroad.
“Spending quality time with your children outdoors, sends the message that they matter and are important to you,” Hanscom says.
“The sensory stimuli found in nature like bird sounds, crashing waves, wind, etc. is calming to the mind and body,” says Hanscom. “It is the ideal setting to slow down and pay attention to the things that matter in your life — your family.”
How do you fit spending time in nature into your day?
It’s easy, according to Hanscom. “Simple activities such as enjoying a picnic in the backyard, ice skating on a pond, fishing, or even simply enjoying a stroll through the park are all that is needed,” she explains.
“We often think we need to spend a lot of money or go on grand vacations with our children to bring happiness to the family; however, it is actually the little things that matter most to them and create memories to last a lifetime.”
Ideally, Hanscom says, we will give our children uninterrupted time to play in nature. But when that isn’t possible, a little time spent outdoors is better than none at all.
Easy ways to nurture your connections with your child in nature:
- Go outside and watch a sunset or sunrise, the moon, the stars or a rainbow.
- Roast marshmallows over a fire pit.
- Have a nature scavenger hunt.
- Collect leaves or rocks to make a craft.
- Get or make a bird feeder.
- Blow bubbles into a sapphire sky.
- Jump in a pile of leaves.
- Splash in a mud puddle.
- Read a book by a lake, in the woods, near a stream, or with a flashlight under the stars.
- Pick apples or blueberries from a local farm.
- Listen to the rain from under a blanket on your front porch.
Even if you can’t take your kids on a nature walk at 7:00 o’clock on a school night, you can easily whisk them outside to wish on stars while breathing in the crisp night air.
Your older kids will enjoy it too…fresh air calms homework stress and electronic overload.
These star wishes, special birthday dishes, a home where a soothing soundtrack plays turn everyday moments into memorable days.
Use multisensory practices, embedding and spending time in nature to create compassionate connections with your children.