Mother with degenerative disk disease asks for guidance

November 22, 2000

Mother with degenerative disk disease asks for guidance

Teaching your child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

Kelli Mills of Big Pool called recently asking for some guidance.

Mills, 32, has degenerative disk disease, which causes chronic neck and back pain. She says it's difficult for her to care for her 2-year-old son, Ryder.

It's particularly difficult to lift him. He weighs 32 pounds.

"I feel like a bad mom," Mills says.

She wanted some advice for herself and other parents or grandparents in similar situations.

People with chronic pain often experience depression and sleep deprivation, decreasing their ability to manage stress, says Mills' doctor, Arthur H. Horn, who specializes in pain management in Hagerstown and Frederick.

"There are lots of people who are challenged to physically manage their child," says Mariam Hewitt, an early intervention infant/toddler teacher for Washington County Board of Education.


Between 18 and 24 months, toddlers who have been exploring their world will become clingy again and want more attention, says Hewitt, who has degrees in special education and infant mental health.

This desire for closeness may be intensifying Mills' situation, Hewitt says.

"All 2-year-olds - toddlers - are like this," says Emily Hobby, an early childhood development manager for Washington County Head Start. "It's not related to her physical condition."

The mother of 18-year-old twins, Hobby says she often felt there was not enough of her to go around. When they were toddlers, she couldn't hold them as often as they wanted, so she had to find alternatives so they would feel secure.

Hewitt, Hobby and Horn shared these recommendations:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A toddler learns through play. As you make dinner or wash dishes, let him stand on a stool beside you and pretend he is doing it too. As you are doing this, pat him on the shoulder or put your arm around him so his need for physical contact is satisfied.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Give verbal reinforcements. The child will learn that these are equal to a hug.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Be sensitive to your child's stress level. If you feel a tantrum brewing, sit down and ask your child to climb onto your lap. Break out the crayons and sit close while coloring. Give him a soothing massage or just hold him for a while.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Label how you feel so your child doesn't feel rejected: "I'm feeling sad that I can't pick you up, and I really want to right now."

Don't say: "When I pick you up, it hurts." This makes a child feel he is to blame for your pain.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Dramatize the situation with dolls or stuffed animals. Pretend that one is hurt and can't respond to the others in the way he wants.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Sing songs about the body - such as "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" - and touch the parts as you say them. This also will satisfy your child's need for physical contact.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make a "momma doll" with the child. Take an outfit that he has seen you wear, stuff it with other old clothing and let him carry it around and snuggle up with it. This will give him a sense of connectedness with you.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Don't reject your child when he approaches you. Take a minute to acknowledge his needs and respond in a way that is comfortable to you. If you don't respond to your child, he will either become more dramatic so you will be forced to show him attention or he will withdraw and stop asking for his needs to be met.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Think of your home as a learning center. Create silly songs for everyday tasks such as cleaning up and making beds. Talk about the colors of vegetables and fruits. Show him the difference between empty and full. Experiment with what floats and what sinks.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> If you go to church, talk to your pastor. Perhaps there are people in your congregation willing to assist you in the care of your child.

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