With this month playing host to Safer Internet Day we’ve some tips on helping our kids stay safe in the home, looking at both online and physical safety.
With an almost daily diet of stories about the negative impact of the internet and new technology on children and young people, it’s easy to forget the positive aspects: the ability to learn, to connect with others, to be creative.
Safer Internet Day (February 11th) offers an ideal opportunity for parents and carers to start a conversation with their children about online safety. By teaching children to understand and navigate the risks you can help them to have a safer and more positive experience online.
Start by reading these tips for parents from the UK Safer Internet Centre and explore the many other fantastic resources on the site.
This article from the Guardian takes a interesting look at how the internet can be a great learning tool and includes some really simple ideas for changing how we approach our children’s use of it.
Drawing up a family agreement that all the family sign up to is a useful way to help everyone make better decisions and display appropriate behaviour. Here’s a great example from Digizen.org.
You can also find a wealth of information and advice on the subject from CEOP’s ThinkuKnow website.
Safe at home
Of course, we’ve all been consciously protecting our children from harm from the moment they were born but we have a responsibility to teach them the skills to keep themselves safe too.
Talking about potential dangers as part of everyday conversation and using games to teach what to do will really help to prepare your child for emergency situations without scaring them.
Play the ‘What if’ game
What if … the smoke alarm sounded?
What if … you cut yourself badly?
What if … someone came to the house when no-one else was home?
You’ll get a feel for how your child would react in a real emergency and can guide them to how they might deal with it.
Using some of the blank stickers you’ll find in each TomTag sticker pack, draw or write a list of safety rules and apply each sticker to a blank button. Put the buttons into a TomTag holder and hang or stick it up (eg. on the fridge) where it will be seen every day.
Hold a scavenger hunt
Once you’ve played the What If game and discussed ideas about how to deal with different situations, does everyone in the house know where to find the things they might need to deal with an emergency? Where’s the first-aid kit, keys to open doors, fire blanket, emergency phone numbers? Give each child a TomTag with some items on it that they need to find and let them race to be the first to find everything on their list.
Teach your child how to use what’s in the first aid kit too to treat minor injuries. The British Red Cross have a great web resource to help children aged 6-11 learn life saving first aid.
Make an escape plan
Every household should have an emergency escape plan in case of fire. Hopefully you will never need to use it but having a plan will prevent delay and help you to escape faster if you need to. Anyone can ask for a free Home Fire Safety Check from their local fire service.
Don’t forget that a weekly test of your smoke alarm is the simplest and easiest way to help prevent fire emergencies.
Give your child a clip-board and pen and let them pretend to be a safety inspector. Ask them to look around the house for safety features and hazards and let them help you fix any deficiencies.
Know your numbers
Make sure everyone knows the number for emergency services and try role-playing a call so that they know what they might be asked.
Teach children their home address and telephone number so that they can give it if they need to call the emergency services (also useful if they get lost when out of the house!).
Keep a list of names and numbers of friends, neighbours, family doctor, etc. by the door or telephone in case of emergencies, particularly if your child is old enough to be left at home alone.
Does your child get anxious about school trips, days out or family holidays?
My son has autism and any trip away from home can be a challenging prospect. This is because like many children with autism, he struggles with routine changes, sensory issues and an intolerance of uncertainty.
However, over the years we’ve learnt that with planning and preparation, days out and holidays can be enjoyed rather than endured. We’d like to share our top tips in order to help other parents and carers facing similar issues.
Plan, plan and plan again!
- Try searching for ‘autism friendly’ holidays or days out. The National Autistic Society has a list of companies and organisations who hold an Autism Friendly Award.
- Contact hotels or venues to explain your circumstances and your child’s needs – if they don’t seem supportive then look elsewhere.
- Check out a destination or venue in advance. If possible make a pre-visit or get a map and consider any potential trigger areas and quiet zones you could head to in case of a meltdown.
- Practice unusual events such as packing and unpacking a suitcase. A packing checklist is a great way to involve your child in holiday preparations and encourages independence.
- Use visual schedules to show your child what to expect on the holiday, give structure to their day, and help with transitions between activities.
- Social stories are a useful way to explain what ‘going on holiday’ actually means. Depending on your child’s language ability, you can discuss what concerns they have about the holiday or trip and then work with them to come up with a list of possible solutions.
- If you’re travelling by plane, check the airport website to see if they offer any visual guides or booklets. Manchester and Gatwick have excellent guides and many UK airports now offer autism specific page on their websites. You may also be able to request a wristband or lanyard which entitles you to use the fast-track lanes at security or access quiet waiting rooms. Alternatively, you might want to make your own visual schedule for the airport to explain the process.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
However well you plan there’s no guarantee that unexpected events , such as delays won’t occur. It’s a good idea to have a ‘distraction’ pack to hand. A bag containing snacks, music or noise-cancelling headphones, games or entertainment devices to head off any potentially challenging behaviour.
Consider a form of identification such as a card or ID holder attached to your child’s clothing (such as a belt loop) just in case they wander off or become lost. This should give their name, your contact details and any medical requirements. Even if your child is capable of providing this information themselves, in a new and stressful setting this will be much harder.
We used the kit I know what to expect going away to make the checklists and schedules shown.
A really informative blog Autism and UK airports – improving assistance for passengers with autism has a brilliant summary of what’s available at UK airports.
If someone cannot tell you how they feel they will try to show you how they feel.
Language is one way to convey emotion, but of course it is not the only way: sign language and symbol communication systems such as TomTag feelings tags are equally as effective. People will express their feelings through their behaviour when they either 1) do not have a communication strategy to hand, or 2) when they themselves cannot identify the feelings they are experiencing.
You will have heard the phrase challenging behaviour. And you will have come across the common misconception that it should be stamped out. The behaviour is communication, we do not want to stamp that out.
Consider what the challenge actually is:
- The person exhibiting the behaviour is being challenged by a problem in their own life.
- The challenge they are setting you is to work out what that problem is and to help them solve it.
- Their behaviour is simply the communication tool they are using to alert you to the problem.
When faced with behaviours that challenge you, if all you do is try to prevent the behaviour you will not escape the challenge. Suppose the behaviour I am using to express my difficulty with the world as I find it is to hit my head against a wall, and you put a helmet on me to stop this from hurting me. Although my head is safe you have silenced my communication, so I will need to find a new way to express the difficulty, perhaps I will bite myself, or hurt you. I am not doing these things maliciously, I am just seeking to be understood.
Helping me to recognize and then express my emotions using communication strategies such as signs or symbols gives me a way to express my difficulties clearly to you without needing to resort to challenging behaviour. You need to ensure these communication methods are as effective as behaviour for me, I want to be sure that I get as much help when I point to the symbol for ‘sad’ as I used to get when I expressed ‘sad’ by hurting myself.
The word challenge is right. It is a challenge to work out what someone else is communicating to us, especially when we are trying to do that for someone who doesn’t communicate using traditional communication methods or for someone who experiences the world in a different way to us, due to sensory differences or neurodiversity.
On my course Exploring the Impact the Senses have on Behaviour, we do just that! When behaviours stem from sensory causes they require a different response from behaviours whose origins are elsewhere. Behaviour triggered by the senses can be low level niggly gripey grumpy type behaviour or it can be big explosive behaviours such as biting, kicking and lashing out.
When explosive sensory behaviours occur hormones flood the brain and a person loses access to their ordinary channels of communication; language, signs and symbols no longer work. On Exploring the Impact the Senses have on Behaviour we look at how we can communicate in a sensory way to support that person. We look at how practices such as externalizing emotional regulation and using symbol support (e.g. TomTag) to express emotion can help avoid crisis situations. We also do the sensory detective work to better understand the triggers for these behaviours and how we can avoid them.
Connect with Joanna to learn more about her remarkable work and brilliant, interactive, training courses.
Linkedin Joanna Grace
Emotional Intelligence – what is it?
Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to be aware of and recognise our emotions, understand and express them, and to realise how they affect those around us. Emotional intelligence is known to be a key factor in success in life, quality of relationships and overall happiness.
What type of emotions and feelings do we have?
Angry, irritated, mad, furious, upset
We can get angry for lots of different reasons. It can happen when we feel threatened or offended or when we can’t have something that we really want. Our children will often display anger and challenging behaviour when they are finding something difficult, confusing or uncomfortable but are unable to communicate the problem to us in other ways.
Sad, unhappy, disappointed, depressed, hurt
Emotions themselves are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Everyone will, and should, experience being unhappy, down or disappointed at times. Learning how to recognise and respond to feelings of sadness in a positive way is good for our emotional health.
Fear & anxiety
Anxious, nervous, frightened, scared, tense
Fear can be a useful emotion when it stops us doing things that might be dangerous or bad for us. It works against us when it stops us doing important things that we need to do or when we are unnecessarily worried or fearful about what might happen to us. Being overly anxious affects our ability to focus, learn, and achieve things.
Calm, satisfied, happy, relaxed, glad
When a child is happy, calm and relaxed they will be more able and willing to focus, listen, learn and communicate. We can help them by learning what they need and would benefit from in their physical and social environments in order to achieve that status.
Excited, antsy, energetic, bouncy, aroused
When children have difficulties communicating, it’s easy to misinterpret their behaviour and wrongly identify the cause. For example, a child with autism may display repetitive motor behaviour such as flapping or spinning but they may need this sensory stimulation to deal with extremes of excitement and arousal as much as they do when overwhelmed by other emotions.
Tips and tricks when using TomTag
We know that one of the things you really appreciate about TomTag is it’s simplicity and easy of use.
That means that sometimes we forget to shout about some of the more subtle design features we included. We’ve also picked up some interesting ideas along the way from our own experience and that of our customers and we’d love to share them with you.
So, here goes!
Ever noticed those ridges at the top and bottom on the reverse of each tag but never been sure what they’re for? That’s our tag lock feature!
Simply line up the back of one tag with the front of another and squeeze together, making sure that the raised ridges on the back sit inside the rectangular areas at the front as you do so. Repeat with the rest of your tags.
Particularly helpful when used with our I can do it pack my bag for school set to prevent tags flapping or moving around too much when being carried on a school bag.
No need for Google – just turn over a tag.
Heads or tails
The natural and obvious way to place TomTag buttons in a buttonholder/tag is with the flat, stickered side facing upwards. After all, we want to see those symbols, don’t we? What about once the task or activity shown in the symbol has been completed?
A very visual strategy can be achieved by popping out each button, turning it over and placing it back in the same space in the holder to indicate that the task has been done before moving onto the next item on the list.
Use a tag, some blank buttons and star stickers to encourage positive behaviour or to incentivise a reluctant child. Give a star button to pop in their tag each time they display the required behaviour or complete a set task and perhaps agree a treat they will receive once their tag is full.
Take it away
You can make TomTag even more portable by using that small hole to attach a keyring, belt clip or lanyard to one or more tags so that they can be carried on the person. This is a really useful idea when using TomTag to promote good behaviour at home or school – handy for teachers or parents to carry with them so they can quickly show the relevant symbol or list as a reminder.
Here’s a picture one of our customers sent to us – she’s a very busy bee and likes to know she can always check what’s happening next during the day, wherever she is.
We’ve been thinking for some time about introducing lanyards with our TomTag logo – what do you think? Would this interest you?
Over to you
What would you add to this list? Have a novel way for using TomTag? Let us know and we’ll share your ideas too.
With winter now well and truly on it’s way, we’re going to be spending a lot more time indoors.
What can you do to keep the kids entertained without the whole day turning into a tech fest? Simple…..
Just choose something that’s fun, makes kids think and gives them a tangible reward at the end of their endeavours. You probably already have one of these boredom busters lurking somewhere in the house! On a recent wet weekend when helping my autistic son complete a 500 piece puzzle of the London Underground map, we re-discovered the joy of jigsaws.
The joy of jigsaws – 5 great benefits
Doing a jigsaw puzzle uses a number of cognitive skills including reasoning and problem solving. Even the simplest puzzle requires planning and thinking about where and how the pieces fit together which leads to a commitment to solving the problem and completing the task.
When working on a jigsaw puzzle we’re using memory, critical thinking and usually a lot of patience! We need to remember the shape of pieces we’ve already tried, use strategies for sorting pieces into similar types, shapes or colours and keep trying until we find exactly where every piece fits. That all requires a great deal of concentration.
Picking up pieces and having to slot them together without breaking up the rest of the puzzle can be a complex task. Puzzles require intricate coordination of hand and eye movements and can also help improve children’s understanding of colours and shapes.
The subject of the puzzle can spark conversation around the topic. A number or alphabet puzzle can reinforce learning about letters and numbers. My son is very keen on all forms of transport so the Underground puzzle prompted him to talk about related topics.
Tackling a jigsaw together is also a great social activity and gives the chance to talk and spend time together. Keeping a puzzle on the go in the living room or kitchen is a great idea and the whole family can do a little bit whenever they fancy. Especially good for keeping the channels of communication open with teenagers!
Solving a jigsaw puzzle gives a real sense of satisfaction. You will have practised goal-setting and patience as well as a number of different problem-solving strategies. Your brain will have had a fantastic work-out so it deserves to celebrate! It’s just a shame our puzzle had a few pieces missing. Still, another valuable lesson learnt – life doesn’t always fall neatly into place!
TOP TIP: Charity shops and car boot sales are both fantastic places to look for good value jigsaws. Return them to a charity shop for someone else to enjoy once you’re finished and the charity benefits again too.
Between us this year we have completed a triathlon and a 100k (10 x 10k) challenge.
We’re not athletes, gym addicts or super-women. It all started a few years ago when we challenged each other to enter a Race for Life 5k run. It was hard to get started but several months and lots of huffing and puffing later, we did it. The physical benefits of the exercise were obvious – we’d gone from barely managing a 10 minute jog to completing a full 5k though we weren’t going to break any land-speed records!
As busy parents we’d previously found it difficult to slot in any sort of regular exercise into our days, putting the needs of our children and families first rather than our own physical health. Although it was great to see the physical changes, what really got us both hooked were the powerful psychological benefits.
Exercise really does help to clear the mind – it gives us time away from other distractions to think more clearly and order our thoughts. If I’ve been struggling to get my head round a particular issue, heading out for a jog will often prompt new ideas to flow as well as blowing a few cobwebs away.
Setting a goal or signing up for a challenge is a great way to force yourself to keep to a regular regime and gives you a reason to take time for yourself. It’s essential for our mental health and self-esteem to remember that we are important too. Making a commitment to exercise commits us to some ‘me’ time – time away from children, housework and work worries.
I often hear people say “Well done, I couldn’t do it”. I tell them that’s what I used to say too. Go on – challenge yourself today!
Most of us parents will remember walking to primary school on our own at some point but it’s an increasingly rare sight these days.
There are actually no laws or official guidelines around age or distance of walking to school so it’s down to each of us to decide when our children are ready.
As well as the obvious health benefits, walking to school can help build independence, responsibility, safety awareness and social skills.
The biggest fears amongst parents about letting their children walk to school alone are of traffic and stranger danger. The Living Streets campaign tries to help parents understand the reality of these risks and explains that by protecting children from them they could be unwittingly harming their long-term health and well-being in other ways.
This Living Streets and Parentline Plus Walk to School report states that “Giving children the opportunity to walk to school not only reduces the risk of obesity but helps them develop independence and teaches them important life skills such as road safety and route finding”.
Build up to walking all the way by accompanying your child most of the way and letting them go the last bit by themselves. Gradually start making that last bit longer whilst they (and you!) gain in confidence until they’re doing it all themselves.
Safety in numbers
Try pairing up with other parents and taking it in turns to walk with the children to school first and then build up to the children walking together without any of you.
Use this transition time to give reminders and tips about crossing roads and traffic awareness. If you always make the decision when it’s safe to cross, your children won’t learn what to look for to make safe decisions themselves. Talking through likely scenarios will help build their confidence to know what to do when they’re on their own. Do you know your green cross code?
Agree an easily remembered code word or phrase to use in the event that someone else has to pick up or meet your children. Tell them to ask for this code word if anyone approaches them offering a lift, whether it’s someone they know or not.
October is International Walk to School Month