My son is diagnosed with sensory issues so getting dressed is a daily challenge for all the family.
One morning, I wanted to take the kids out for a walk, so we could have some quality time. My daughter was dressed and ready, but my son was not.
He was bare naked, and he was screaming that his shirt itched and that his underpants were small, and that he did not want to leave the house. Unless naked.
My daughter was nervous already, so I asked my husband to go outside with her and they went to play hide-and-seek.
The Captain Underpants Game or Fighting Sensory Issues with Fun!
I stayed with my little, naked boy. He was sobbing and sneaking just quick looks at me. I wanted him to have fun, so I realized that fun…had to come into play.
It was time for some playlistening. This parenting tool relies on fun and play to shift whatever emotions were holding my son up around getting dressed and going out. The tool, effectively play that lets a child lead, is remarkably simple to set up, yet has proved time and time again a good way to get my son in better spirits.
It's true that it can take some creativity on the part of the parents to get things going. Luckily, looking at him there, I got an idea almost straight away.
I started to speak using a dramatic, theatrical voice: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the greatest of the greatest is here. Can we welcome him?” I called his name a few times.
My son looked at me with big eyes.
“Let’s welcome the greatest captain, Captain Underpants! Everyone who loves Captain Underpants must wear silly underpants and ONLY underpants. No clothes! No, no, no! The ones who choose to wear something other than underpants will receive the biggest vigorous snuggle of all time!”
How Play Has the Power to Shift Blocking Emotions
As I said these words I undressed myself. He was looking at me and laughing because I had on silly underpants.
“How do you dare to laugh at me, young sir? I shall give you a thousand kisses on your cheek,” I said.
I ran over playfully, wanting to kiss him. He ran, and he escaped!
He was laughing so hard!
This was great because not only was he laughing, he was now taking charge of the game. The power had shifted and he was happy to be in command.
“I need my power, sir, please have mercy! I need my power!” I said. “I can’t run without my clothes.”
“Hmmm.” I said, pretending to have an idea. “Can I dress myself? I hope I’ll get my powers back if I do,” I said as I put my clothes on.
This was a way to show him that getting dressed didn't have to be a big deal – and that it could also give a person powers! Whoopee!
Then I gave chase again. “I’m going to get you because I will be stronger!” I said.
He escaped every time I tried to catch him, thrilled that he was outsmarting me. And then he ran right away and when he came back he was fully dressed.
Taa-Daa! A Shift in Power Turns My Son Into The Comforter
I pretended to be distressed. I said “My powers are gone! What can I do? What can I do?”
“I know, mommy, I know. You need a big ice cream!” he said, jumped into my arms and giving me a big, strong hug. (I love his hugs!). All of a sudden, he was the one solving my “problems.”
And so, out we went, straight to the zoo, where we bought the biggest ice creams ever. He played, his sister ran and enjoyed the day. We all enjoyed a wonderful day outside.
Accepting Sensory Issues Help's Me Accept My Son's Behaviors
Using the Hand in Hand tools I have realized how to see my family's whole picture.
That my son, is my son, and that his sensory issues are part of him and not the problem.
I can see now that my son isn't acting up just to act up. Whether I know what it is upsetting him or not, what matters is that something is upsetting him.
Laughing and running for 2-5 minutes is, sometimes, the best medicine for him. He loves to lead the game and always takes the leading role.
Somedays there are days I do have to hold the limit, and he will cry and get upset. I'm learning that's ok too. When he recovers, he is bright and companionable again. But on days like this one, play can save the day, and laughter shifts the tension just as tears do at other times.
And after all the times we ended up staying at home, changing the game has added flexibility and fun. We play his game now. We are happy to.
And I have to say, it's one funny way to get my kids outside. Ice creams are a must.
Ana Maria Porumbaceanu is a Hand in Hand instructor in training and lives in Romania. Read more about Hand in Hand's certification programme.
Respond to distracting behavior with good humor: Read Playful Parenting: The Vigorous Snuggle
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