Check out this collection of caregiving hacks from Michelle, who cares for her young daughter with special needs. As always, these hacks can be used by caregivers of all ages, caring for people of all ages. And they’re especially relevant for all of us currently homebound caregivers!
Find fun and simple connections.
This handheld Simon game was a gift from my sister after my daughter had double hip surgery in 2016 at the age of five. At that time, we got a lot of gifts like this one—drawing pads, easy-to-do crafts, puzzles—because she was wheelchair-bound for a couple of months (and a wheelchair-bound five-year-old who had walked independently prior to surgery is a fairly terrifying thought to a parent).
But what I remember most about this tiny game from those bleary-eyed early post-op days? One afternoon, after a long couple of weeks at home, I took it out and showed it to her. She had never seen one before, and she was still limited in verbal communication at that time. But that was the beauty of this simple, timeless game: it didn’t need much explanation.
So we played it together, and every time it buzzed for pressing the wrong button, I’d make a silly face and she’d laugh hysterically. Before long, both of us were laughing so hard tears were running down our cheeks. What a powerful, deeply healing and joyful moment that was in the midst of a very strenuous time!
And that precious memory comes to mind every time her little hands hold that game. When we moved this past fall, I was grateful that the little Simon game was at the ready and hadn’t been packed away in boxes of barely used toys. I’m also grateful that despite my daughter’s destructive streak, the game still works (I don’t think we’ve ever changed the batteries in four years)!
Here’s the takeaway: Find something simple and fun that transcends time and age to connect you with your caree, especially for the times you need a good laugh. Let it be your own special thing: bubbles, balloons, a pad of paper to play tic-tac-toe. Maybe you can thumb wrestle together, or have a pillow/tickle fight. Just tap into your inner child and PLAY.
Have a shelf of easy access “go tos” in the room where you spend the most time.
My daughter struggles with transitions of any kind—anytime of the day, anywhere: the return from school to home, the moment when she’s done with her iPad but it isn’t dinner time yet, the time when a birthday party or play date is almost over (and before it begins).
It’s nice to have a number of small, sensory-friendly favorites to grab—putty, handheld games, art supplies, instruments—things that we know will calm or engage her. Because when transition time hits, preparedness is half the battle.
Choose an anchor item and take it wherever you go.
For my daughter, the item is currently her favorite Barbie, but in the past, it’s been everything from an eyeliner pencil to a harmonica.
Before the quarantine period, Barbie went to school in my daughter’s backpack, or—as shown in this picture—stayed safely in my purse while I waited for her to finish speech therapy.
Think of an anchor item as the special blankie or favorite binky toddlers carry around: something that reminds them of home or a safe place, something that comforts and soothes, something that grounds them when life feels confusing, anxiety strikes, or the world feels scary.
Another perk? Anchor items are an all ages thing. For loved ones with dementia, cancer, or depression. For caregivers of high-needs kids or of relatives who are hard to love. Find something small that brings you hope & help, and keep it close by. And these days, we could all use an anchor item, no?
Do some heavy work.
My daughter’s anxiety, agitation and aggression levels hit a peak around late afternoon, heading into sunset. This picture was from the fall, so we went outside to rake leaves at that tricky time of day.
But you can do “heavy work” (chores that involve big movements, efforts, and deep breathing) in every season and every type of weather. Heavy work can be done inside too (vacuuming, wall pushups, etc.), but whenever you can combine this type of activity with time outdoors, you’ll often get double the grounding, calming benefits.
Rainy day? Put on raincoats and go jump in puddles.
Snowy day? Get out and shovel together, or have a snowball fight.
In the spring and summer, get out in the garden and pull weeds, or spend time on a swing (our swing has gotten a lot of use lately).