I awoke at 3am this morning to my 8 year old son babbling on and on about a dream he just had. For 15 minutes we listened to non-stop high energy chatter, the content of which I cannot even recall. It has been a year since our son has awoken us in the night. Waking up with him beside us is often an initial indicator that he is not well. My senses perked. I was no longer hearing the manic waterfall gushing out of his mouth; but was now in my own head assessing the situation. Why is he behaving so differently? Could it be the tick bite from 10 days ago? Is he not detoxed enough? He has been swimming in the pool everyday, maybe it’s the chlorine? Could it be herxing? He was pretty intense yesterday…
Running awful scenarios through my head is something I do well. But here’s the thing. My child’s brain becomes impacted by his environment. If my husband and I do not come up with the cause and the solution, he suffers, and the consequences can be rather dire.
In the moment at 3:30 in the morning, I decided to get my diffuser and essential oils. At first I wasn’t sure what to try. My son did not have night terrors (Juniper Berry), he was not experiencing multi-layered anxiety (Grounding Blend) nor was it even basic anxiety (Wild Orange or Lavender). We needed to stop the chatter in his head so he could stop the babbling coming out of his mouth.
I plugged in the diffuser and put in 2 drops of Cedarwood and 1 drop of Bergamot; the perfect recipe to stop internal chatter. As I turned on the diffuser, I asked my son to tell me when he could smell it. “Ok, mom” was the last thing I heard.
It would be nice if my story ended here. A happy ending where oils saved the day and stopped the madness. Parents of special needs children know it is rarely that simple. The next morning I weighed out the possibilities with my husband. Red food dye, gluten, chlorine, Lyme, the list of chemicals and substances and their reactions in his body can be endless. We decided. Our best line of defense is to stop- take a deep breath- watch and listen.
How difficult this can be. To give up a bit of control to sit back and wait. Wow. Not easy. Having a child with a chronic illness means my mommy ears and spidey senses are always on high alert. Looking, watching, piecing symptoms together with possible meanings and outcomes. The part I think I need to remind myself is to stop and breathe.
I feel blessed to have a husband who is such a good team player. As difficult as life can sometimes get, it is nice to know that when the road twists and turns and when it becomes impossible to see the end, I find peace in knowing that I do not have to walk it alone. Stop, breathe,watch and listen. Slowing down enough to breathe...great advice if I can take it.
As a therapist, I see a lot of trauma and as a result, many with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Although therapy can be a significant piece to the healing process, what to do at home can be just as important.
Calming the body and calming the mind are a must if one is to heal from trauma. When one suffers from PTSD, the body often stays in a state of hyperarousal with stress hormones being released into the blood stream at a frequent rate. This can be unsettling and creates panic, anxiety, sleeplessness etc. Helping the body routinely get to a place of calm can be a huge piece of the healing puzzle and essential oils can help do just that.
Essential Oil Blends to Help You Feel Grounded
Anxiety, panic and fear are a well known trio in trauma. Helping the body find a place of calm and feeling rooted and grounded again is foundational. Although Vetiver is a strong smelling oil, if blended well with other oils, it can be a wonderful calming, grounding tool. Ever diffuser is different. Use the guides below to help identify a nice ratio.
In a Cool Mist Diffuser Add...
Recipe #1 ...3 drops of Lavender AND 1 drop of Vetiver
Recipe #2 ...5 drops of Wild Orange AND 1 drop Vetiver
Recipe #3 ...1 drop Roman Chamomile, 2 drops Sandalwood AND 1-2 drop of Vetiver
Much of the research suggests that breathing in through the nose with the diffuser for 15 minutes is enough to get the essential oils into the limbic system to start to calm things down. Repeat as necessary.
Try this Rollerball Recipe. Apply to the Bottom of the Foot, Including the Big Toe.
15 drops Calming Blend*
15 drops Grounding Blend*
7 drops Geranium
7 drops Vetiver
Carrier Oil (fractionated coconut oil*, grape seed, etc)
10 ml RollerBall
Add oils to a rollerball. Shake and apply to the area effected, such as the heart, throat, shoulders, stomach, etc. Applying oils to the feet is a nice way to get the oils into the bloodstream and not just to an acute area of the body. Experiment to see which avenue works best. This blend is adult strength. Dilute for children by cutting the oil amount in half or if the child is very young, cut it half again...continue to fill the bottle with carrier oil.
Essential Oil Blends to Help With Sleep
In a Cool Mist Diffuser Add...
Recipe #1 ...3 drops of Bergamot, 3 drops of Juniper Berry AND 2 drop of Roman Chamomile
This blend is great for nightmares and panic before going to bed. Many moms use Juniper Berry to stop night terrors in children. Adding it to this nighttime blend is great for those whose trauma includes bad dreams and night time fear.
Recipe #2 ...4 drops Cedarwood AND 2 drops Bergamot
This blend is great for both unwinding and sleeping. Although it may not make you feel tired, it is GREAT at shutting down the tiring, non-stop thoughts that can accompany trauma and stress. Many find this very helpful for falling asleep.
Play Around With the Recipes...Make Them Yours
Finding the blend that works for you is SO important. You know your diffuser and the size of your room. Go ahead and play around with the number of drops, remembering that less is more with essential oils. Some diffusers are better than others and some are diffusing in a small space while others in a great room. Use these recipes as a wonderful ratio guide to help you understand what oils can help you the best. Comment below if you have found other blends to help!
* Use your favorite brand of essential oils but know that many brands are NOT pure. Do your homework. Most labels carry blends...the name of each blend is not listed, but the type of blend is.
When I first became a therapist, I worked in a handful of hospitals, day treatment centers and school settings that implemented behavior modification systems. I think it is just as important to notice what works as well as pick up on why a system might not be effective. In my experience, it is important to have a system that is balanced. One that looks at stopping negative behavior all the while shaping positive behavior that you want to see.
Systems that focus on praise alone will miss the opportunity of teaching a child self discipline and natural consequences. Reflectively, systems that focus on punishing negative behavior or discipline alone miss the chance to build up the child and help him strive for positive behavior. Avoiding punishment is not the same as an internalized locus of control. Click here to read part one of this blog that focuses on developing a level system for disruptive negative behaviors.
I Just Wish my Child Would...
All parents know that feeling. It is the exact moment when you look at your partner and say, "When did things get so out of control? I never thought I'd raise a child who..." In that moment you know...it is time for a change and it needs to happen NOW.
Every time my husband and I decide to do a behavior shaping plan we inevitably ask each other why we waited so long to do it. Shaping behavior really works, if there is already consistency with a good solid level system that tackles negative behavior AND if love and respect for the children are maintained at all times too.
The Art of Shaping Behavior
So what is behavior shaping anyway? Shaping takes a desired behavior and makes certain that it is practiced enough times over the course of a week or two to make it become a routine behavior. The best way to shape positive behavior is by first identifying ONE behavior at a time to shape.
Although you may get the urge to start all over with your children and overhaul your entire parenting plan, it is only recommended to pick one behavior at a time to shape and keep it POSITIVE!
Say the kids are not listening and argue too much. The behavior to aim for is not "stop sassing" a better goal might sound like, "follow directions the first time asked". Maybe you are tired of cleaning up after the children. A goal might be "find ways to be helpful. Each helpful task that you initiate earns you a link."
What is a Link & How Can it Change my Child's Behavior?
Remember those links you made out of construction paper as a child? I have memories of cutting colorful paper into strips, creating a link, connecting the links together and then wrapping them around my Christmas tree. Links are great because they are so visual. These are the same links that work for shaping behavior.
How Does it Work?
After you choose the desired behavior AND measurable one step goal, look for times your child is doing it and reward him with a link. Have your child be on the look out for these behaviors too. Having your child point out that he did the goal is a GREAT way for him to scan his environment and look for ways to behave.
Begin to hang these links from a low 8' ceiling. Link after link of good behavior begins to make it's way to the floor. When the entire chain touches the ground (make it happen in less than a week), something wonderful happens. Make sure you determine what this will be beforehand. It could be an outing to the neighborhood ice cream shop, a small toy or extra privilege. Make it enticing, but not expensive.
"What if my Child Does NOT Do it? Do I Take Away a Link?"
Nope. Never take away a link that has already been earned. This is why it is important to have a level system already in place AND to use your own creativity and parent coaching skills. Misbehavior gets the time out, etc, but positive behavior connects to links.
This approach is collaborative and takes you and your child working together to make this work. Let's say your child's link goal is to follow directions the first time time asked. It is now bedtime and you told her to brush her teeth. She whines about wanting to watch more tv and does not go upstairs. You remind her a second time with a calm, sincere, "Stink. You could have earned a link. Maybe you will remember when it is time to put on your jammies."
Working together is key here. If all of your re-directing tools are punitively based, and you do not try to cheer her on, like a parent coach, chances are the plan will not work. It takes your child, but it also takes you wanting her to succeed and do a good job. Reminding your child that she can earn more links another time will help her not give up and sit in failure.
Nobody Likes to Fail...Not You & Not Your Child
When children reach the failure stage and feel like a really bad kid, they usually quit. If your child has quit, he will probably sabotage the good things, rip down the links, swear and say means things when you try to reward. Failure is tough to fight against. This is why I say NEVER pull down a link once it is earned. Do not take away stars from a star chart. These things they did well...these things do not need to be discounted. Finding a way to creativity get your child to want to behave is key. Making them feel like you are a team and that you WANT them to succeed is huge.
Remember: Disciplining a Child is Not Easy!
It takes tweaking and tweaking and tweaking yet again...and all of the time. Children develop and change at a rapid rate. The older they get, the more they are exposed to the world. When your children are stuck in rut of bad behavior, it is not necessary for you to go to that place of failure either. Realizing that children are supposed to get stuck and misbehave and that it is normal for any parent to feel overwhelmed can help empower you to find your path and to maybe even start cutting out links.
Gabrielle Anderson is the owner of and therapist at the Family Center if Northern Virginia, llc. She sees children as young as three through adulthood.
Have a special needs child? Click here to read a blog that just might speak to you.
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