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“My Body Belongs to Me” Children’s Book: Prevent The Unthinkable

Last updated on May 4th, 2020 at 11:49 am

As a former prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City for 22 years, I often encountered My Body Belongs to Me-small2children who were sexually abused for lengthy periods of time and suffered in silence. One case in particular had a profound impact on me and compelled me to write a children’s book called My Body Belongs to Me.

I prosecuted the case of a 9-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather since she was 6. She told no one. One day, the girl saw an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” about children who were physically abused. The episode, “Tortured Children,” empowered the girl with this simple message: If you are being abused, tell your parents. If you can’t tell your parents, go to school and tell your teacher. The girl got the message and the very next day went to school and told her teacher. I prosecuted the case for the District Attorney’s office. The defendant was convicted and is now serving a lengthy prison sentence.

I have thought often of that very sweet, very brave 9-year-old girl. It occurred to me that after three painful years, all it took to end her nightmare was a TV program encouraging her to “tell a teacher.” I wrote My Body Belongs to Me to continue that message. It endeavors to teach children that they don’t have to endure abuse in silence. Parents and educators can use it as a tool to facilitate an open dialogue with youngsters.

The story is a simple scenario involving a gender neutral child who is inappropriately touched by an uncle’s friend. The powerful message really comes through when the youngster tells on the offender and the parents praise the child’s bravery. The last page shows a proud, smiling child doing a “strong arm” pose. The text assures them that it wasn’t their fault and by speaking out the child will continue to grow big and strong. It is a compelling and uplifting message.

The “Suggestions for the Storyteller” section is an important, interactive feature that facilitates the discussion to follow. It will make any caregiver feel more comfortable talking about this important subject, thereby helping to PREVENT the unthinkable from happening to their child.  Research tells us that child sexual abuse does not discriminate. It is a problem that affects everyone.

  • In the United States, approx. 1 of 4 girls and 1 of 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • 47% of child sexual abuse victims wait 5 years or more to speak up, if they ever do.
  • 93% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they already know.

It is my sincere hope that by educating girls and boys about this taboo subject, My Body Belongs to Me will prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.

Editor’s Note: This powerful book is now available in bilingual English – Spanish; just in time for April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month.  My Body Belongs to Me/Mi cuerpo me pertenece

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • To keep your children safe:
    1. No secrets. Period. Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable. If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem. The way I effectuate this rule is as follows: If someone, even a grandparent, were to say something to my child such as “I’ll get you an ice cream later, but it will be our secret”, I firmly, but politely say “We don’t do secrets in our family.” Then I say to my child “Right? We don’t do secrets. We can tell each other everything.”
    2. Teach your child the correct terms for their body parts. This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable.
    3. Teach your child to tell a safe person if someone touches them in an inappropriate way. Discuss with children the importance of telling a parent, teacher or other trusted adult right away.
    4. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection. Children should not be forced to hug or kiss if they are uncomfortable. Even if they are your favorite aunt, uncle or cousin, your child should not be forced to be demonstrative in their affection. While this may displease you, by doing this, you will empower your child to say no to inappropriate touching.
  • If you choose to use My Body Belongs to Me as a tool for teaching your family about body safety, here are some suggestions:
    1. Read the book at least once for enjoyment before using it to get into a serious discussion.
    2. After reading the book, help lead an open-ended discussion by asking questions such as the following: What are your parts that are private, Why did the child get scared, What did the uncle’s friend do, What did he tell the little child, If someone touches your private parts, should it be a secret, Why did the uncle’s friend put his finger up to his lips, What did the child do when he did that, Were the mom and dad happy when the child told them what had happened, What did they do, If the child did not tell the parents, who else could be told, How does the child feel in the picture at the end?
    3. Find teachable moments with your child to reinforce the lessons learned in the book.

Senseez Pillows: Vibrational Therapy to Soothe Anxious Kids

senseez logo -smallMy name is Stephanie Mitelman. I am a Mom and I created the Senseez Pillows. The name Senseez means to ease the senses… Let me tell you the story of how Senseez was born…

When my son was 2, he was diagnosed with a special need. One of his difficulties was sitting in one place long enough to eat his meal, read a story, or sit for circle time.

I spoke to an occupational therapist who recommended a vibrating mat to help with this.I bought one for my son, and he instantly loved the sensations!

But one day, I wanted to take him to our local library for story telling, and though the mat would help… it was large, black, heavy, and had to be plugged in. I was also concerned about my son looking different or standing out with this large mat.

So I went on a search to find a small, lightweight, portable pillow that would offer the same sensations that he could take with him. I couldn’t find one!

So Senseez was born!

Senseez are colorful, lightweight, fun shaped vinyl pillows that offer a gentle vibration when they are squeezed or sat on. They operate on batteries and have a small pouch inside that can vibrate to offer sensations to relax, calm or soothe the body. They’re small enough to take anywhere and are made just for little bums!

Painting on a Senseez pillow

Kids that have trouble sitting for meals, stories, car rides, shopping trips, school work, movies, or anything else will be comforted by the vibrations of Senseez. Kids that have trouble falling asleep will enjoy the relaxing sensations.

The original prototypes were sewn in the basement of our home! We made about 25 pillows by hand, and distributed them throughout schools and therapy centers in our area. Since Senseez was created to be taken everywhere and to be used by multiple children, we used a vinyl material, since it is considered to be the most hygienic and easiest to keep clean. The vinyl is also water resistant. We also created a Senseez furry option for children who would like more tactile input.

After we got some feedback, we hired an engineer to perfect the vibrating mechanism we needed. Once that was complete, we had the pillows tested by Canadian standards for lead, small parts and flammability.

We then connected with an importer who handled the production. Our first order was for 600 pillows. Once the word started getting out, we sold out within 9 months!

In April 2013, we were also invited to do a taping on the Dragon’s Den television show. Today, we have 14 different distributors across Canada and the US, and the pillows are now being used across schools, therapy centers and many homes! The feedback we get is so positive, and the ways in which the pillows are being used is so inspiring. Here is an example:

I wanted to share a positive story regarding your Senseez Pillows. I gave one of the pillows to my client who is part of our deaf blind program. Although she is very fluent in hand over hand sign language as well as Braille, she struggles a lot with expressive communication. We have been working closely with her to initiate requests, preferences, feelings…..communication in general. The pillow was introduced during a session as a sensory aid with vibration. She immediately started hugging the pillow and placing it behind her back ……all while signing the word “happy”.

While her expressive communication still remains a struggle, she is now on a regular basis asking for the “vibrating pillow”. She has created a sign that meshes together the words vibrate and pillow, which she independently will communicate to others!

It’s a huge break through!!!!!! It is the first time that she has communicated a want.

Needless to say, we will be needing some more pillows 🙂

Research shows that vibrational therapy has been used for many years in many different forms. Some children require the vibrations to help calm their bodies, while other children just enjoy the way it feels!

We are thrilled that our pillow is helping children, parents, teachers and therapists!

HEALTHFUL HINTS

Tips for working with children who have difficulty sitting in one place for any length of time:

  1. Some children do best with time limits. Let the child know how long they will have to sit for. A start and finish time can help. i.e: sit for 3 minutes to finish snack.
  2. Sometimes using a visual timer can help. Visual timers are available at most special needs stores.
  3. When training a child to sit for a period of time, start small and the build it up. One minute, goes to two, then five etc…
  4. It is okay to use outside reinforcers during this process. Children respond well to rewards, like their favorite treats. You want to build in a reward at the beginning and it won’t be long before long they won’t need it anymore.
  5. It is also okay to use other distractors like TV or iPad in the beginning. We want to calm the child during this hard task. For some children, TV and iPad can help reduce the anxiety of staying one place may cause. After a while, the distraction won’t be needed either.
  6. And you will need to verbally prompt at the beginning. Prompting is giving a gentle reminder about what the child is supposed to be doing, and reinforcing it when they do.
  7. It is always important to reinforce the good behavior (when they do sit in one place), and not only discuss when they don’t.
  8. And lastly, some children enjoy different sensations to help soothe their senses. Vibrations are helpful. Other sensations could be a weighted vest or blanket, or something that offers compression.

Note: Each child is different and you will have to experiment with what works with your child!

Stop, Look & Paws: Teaching Kids How to Be Safe Around Dogs

We’ve all seen or heard about horrific instances of dog bites to children.  I think most of us believe it will never happen to us.  Until I became a dog trainer and was doing research on children and dogs, I didn’t realize the alarming statistics of dog bites to children.

According to the Humane Society of the United States:

  • Annually there are 4.7 million dogs bites in the U.S., with over half to children
  • 77% of the bites are from dogs that are familiar to the child
  • Children ages 5-9 have the highest rate of dog bites

In my role as a dog trainer, I work with families that have children and dogs.  When I meet with families, I often discover they are unaware of the potential risks when interacting with dogs, and, what dogs are trying to communicate. Specifically, almost without exception, the children really had no idea how to read their dog’s body language or the situations in which the dogs were engaged.  Depending on the child’s interpretation of the dog’s actions, they could easily put themselves in harm’s way. For example, let’s say a child sees a dog, and assumes that the dog looks “lonely”.  Many times people confuse cautiousness/fear with loneliness.  If the child tries to approach and pet the dog to comfort her, the dog may react with a nip to communicate “stay away.”  This is especially true when a dog is hiding under an object or piece of furniture.

To fill this critical gap, I searched for tools and activities that would help teach children about dog body language and safety.  As a former elementary school teacher, I knew the best way to help children learn is to use an interactive activity that is fun and simple to use. Unfortunately, after months of looking, I couldn’t find anything that had these elements for learning.  So, I decided to create my own learning activity called Stop, Look & Paws.

Stop, Look & Paws is a dog safety activity that children play by sorting stickers. Children look at images of dog stickers which either show a common situation (e.g., eating from a dog bowl), or exhibiting specific body language (e.g., tail tucked down between legs). The goal is to ask children to sort the stickers onto an activity board into either the “safe to pet” or “not safe to pet” categories.   Children love the hands on part and stickers.  A “Dog Sticker Guide” is included to assist parents with background knowledge on each dog sticker. There is productive dialogue between the child and adult while playing the activity.  This allows for understanding why the child chose the category they did, and how to correct their decision if needed.  Given the stickers are reusable, they can change their mind, and play the game more than once to benefit from repetitive learning.

Since 2017, when Stop, Look & Paws was introduced to the public, hundreds of parents have used this with overwhelmingly positive feedback.  In addition, veterinarians and educators have been extremely supportive of Stop, Look & Paws™ to effectively teach dog safety to children between the ages of 4 – 10.  While each comment I receive is slightly different, the message is the same: If kids can have fun while learning the all-important lessons about dog behavior and safety, there is a better chance of preventing future dog bites.

My hope is that families use Stop, Look & Paws to educate their children before a dog bite occurs.  Help your child understand that every dog is unique, and that it’s best to be thoughtful when interacting with them. I believe it’s very important to begin reducing the 4.7 million dog bites that happen each year.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

Educate yourself about dog body language and how dogs communicate so you can share this information with your child.

Here are the Top 6 Dog Safety Tips that every child should know:

  1. Ask permission of the owner before petting a dog, and pet calmly. Model this for your child.
  2. Try the 3 second rule. If you pet a dog, stop after 3 seconds and pull your hand away. If the dog then moves closer to you, you can continue to pet!
  3. Don’t approach an unfamiliar dog.
  4. No hugging. Hugging is a sign of love in the human world, but not in the dog world.
  5. Don’t pursue a dog that is trying to move away.
  6. If a dog is pursuing your child, have your child stand still, tuck their arms and hands and look away until the dog moves away. Then they can walk away slowly.

Loli-O’s and Kids: Puts the Treat in Breathing Treatments

Last updated on September 21st, 2018 at 10:49 am

Have you ever received a breathing treatment, either in an ambulance or in the hospital?  It can be uncomfortable and you might be a little hesitant if you haven’t done one before.  Now imagine you’re a child…

A lot of children in the pre-hospital setting as well as clinics, offices, homes and urgent care facilities tend to become very anxious and uneasy when you try and place a mask over their face or get them to hold a tasteless plastic mouthpiece in their mouth to receive breathing medications. Anxiety causes symptoms to increase and that is certainly where you do not want to go.  Loli-O’s helps children from the ages of 3+ receive breathing treatments while enjoying a sugar free and dental friendly lollipop. Using Loli-O’s allows the child to focus on something that is comforting and enjoyable other than “I’m getting medicine”.  And if used as directed, it delivers the medication at nearly the same equivalence as a mouthpiece nebulizer with ZERO anxiety and a happy kiddo in the process because let’s face it…… kids love lollipops!

I came up with the concept that is now Loli-O’s while transporting a 4 year old girl from a rural hospital to a metropolitan hospital in Nashville, TN.  I am a 23 year veteran paramedic and have run across this scenario many times in my career.  The child was ordered by the physician to receive continuous breathing medication during the over 1 hour transport.  The child was already very anxious because I was a stranger and she was scared not knowing what was going to happen.  During the transport, she would become more excited and upset during the treatment attempts, which in turn caused the shortness of breath to increase, her heart rate to increase and the oxygen level to decrease – the exact opposite of where we wanted to be. Despite many attempts to administer the treatments as ordered, I was unable to effectively give the treatment.

After arriving at the receiving hospital, care was released to the staff and the report was given.  The staff was attempting to give the breathing treatment as we were leaving but were having the same problems I had faced in the back of the ambulance.  After leaving the hospital we stopped at a convenience store to get a soft drink for the ride back home.  While standing in line to pay, I noticed an older gentleman with what I assumed was his grandson standing at the counter.  The little boy was about the same age as the little girl I had just transported.  While at the counter, the little boy grabbed a whole handful of lollipops and put them on the counter.  The grandfather asked him “so you want a lollipop huh?” The boy jumped up and down and said “yes yes yes!”  That was it!  Kids love candy, especially lollipops!  There is something comforting to a child about having a sweet treat that I knew could work with helping receive breathing treatments.

I jotted down some rough drawings and came up with a plan.  I bought a candy kit at Hobby Lobby and some cpvc fittings from Lowe’s and went to work.  In just a couple of hours I had a working prototype right there in my kitchen.  I shared this idea and prototype of mine with a long time physician friend and he was just as convinced as I that we had something worth pursuing here.  3 years later, our team consists of 4 top physicians as well as an accomplished ACNP (acute care nurse practitioner). Loli-O’s is ready to help children get that treatment they need with a little less anxiety and a whole lot more fun.  We like to say that with Loli-O’s we put the “treat” in treatment.  Loli-O’s uses lollipops that are sugar free, gluten free, dairy free, have no added dyes and are manufactured in a peanut free facility.  In fact, the lollipops are considered “dental friendly” and the best part is they taste amazing and come in 5 different flavors.

Until Loli-O’s, there have basically only been 2 delivery methods for breathing medications.  One being a mask that is strapped to the child’s face and the other is a plastic mouthpiece that the child has to hold in their mouth while they are breathing the medication. Loli-O’s is not trying to replace these devices because they are very effective for children who are already used to receiving treatments or are old enough to understand the reasoning behind that particular treatment device.  But for the child who has to have a breathing treatment for the first time, or who might be scared and anxious, or who is younger, or for any reason at all, Loli-O’s is here to help the child, the parent and the provider.  We have spoken with countless EMS professionals, ER physicians, pediatricians, nurses and respiratory therapists and have all concluded what we have thought from the beginning…….  Loli-O’s can help!

Loli-O’s is set to hit the consumer market in July 2017.  It already has commitments from EMS agencies and emergency departments in our area and will eventually make its way to ambulances, emergency departments, acute care clinics and pediatrician offices all over the US.  In time, our goal is to see Lolio’s become a go-to among the already established nebulizer options.  Another tool in the toolbox is always a good thing.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • Anxiety with children during doctor visits is all too common. Children, especially at a younger age have certain “comforts”.  A parent/guardian is of course a big one but there are other comforts that can help make that trip to the doctor a little easier on the child as well as mom and dad.
    • First start off simple and if possible bring that stuffed animal or action figure that your child loves to play with. You would be surprised what a little “toy time” can do to alleviate some of that anxiety.
    • Next, let the child hold the stethoscope and let them hear their own breathing and heartbeat! I’ve seen more smiles from kids who hear their own ticker working than you could imagine.
    • Unfortunately, sometimes at the doctor the child has to get a treatment or injection that is either frightening or painful. In these circumstances, I’ve found that a little soft talking and explanation of why they are receiving it is very helpful.
  • There are many respiratory conditions that effect children. From simple occasional allergies, to bronchitis, to asthma, to cystic fibrosis and etc., not every child will have the same symptoms or the same diagnosis which only proves that just 1 treatment device/medication is not the answer. Pay attention to your doctor and more importantly your child.  Children have the ability to compensate very well when it comes to illness and injury but when their compensating mechanisms have run their course, children can and will become severely ill very quickly. When it comes to respiratory problems, there are a few tell-tale signs that let you know that your child is getting worse.
    • The first would be to watch your child’s posture. If you find your child setting uncharacteristically straight or in a position known as “tripod” where the hands are propped on the knees and leaning forward, then this would indicate a more severe respiratory distress.
    • Also watch for flaring of the nostrils. This indicates a forceful respiratory pattern that the child involuntarily does in order to move air in and out of the lungs.
    • You can also see what is referred to as “retractions”. This is where the child is having so much difficulty that the muscles between the ribs and other areas of the chest are sucking inward with inspiration.  This is usually a sign of severe respiratory distress.
  • As proactive parents and guardians, it’s a good idea to be prepared for health situations that could arise.
    • Have your child’s general and medical information written down on an index card and kept in a safe location.
    • Include your child’s name, date of birth, any allergies to medications, any current prescription medications they are taking and a thorough medical history. Having this card on hand will help so much if you should have to call an ambulance or if your child is being taken by someone other than yourself to receive medical treatment. When your child is severely ill is not the time you want to have to remember these important details.

Kids Can Fidget in a Vidget: Seats that Inspire Natural Movement

Last updated on July 18th, 2017 at 12:56 am

Healthy movement. Healthy learning. Healthy minds. Healthy spaces.

As I explored many different topics for my MFA Thesis in Industrial Design at RIT back in 2009, my mind and soul kept taking me back to my childhood experiences and how connected I was to the mystery of nature. Living in a rental property in an urban area, I didn’t grow up around fields of green grass but what I did have, I treasured. My backyard was cement but in the front of our house, there was a narrow bed of dirt with bushes, probably about 3 feet wide. This narrow bed of dirt became my haven for exploration and inspiration. As I explored my feelings of nature, I was directed by one of my advisors to read the book, Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv.

While in nature, Louv points out that children will “use more fantasy play, and their social standing became based less on physical abilities and more on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness” (Louv, 2008, p. 88). As I thought about this, I thought what better place to impact children than the classroom environment.

Do you remember sitting in chairs like this as a child?  When you look at this picture does it bring back memories of cold, hard and uncomfortable chairs that were too small or too large?

As a student, I remember feeling confined, trapped and limited. I had so many ideas, questions, and my imagination was wild, yet I was told to “sit down, be quiet and not to move.” I remember being very distracted, frustrated and, what teachers called back then, a “satisfactory & fidgety” student. Who wants to be “satisfactory? I wanted to be great, express myself and share my ideas and imagination; I instinctively needed to be creative, but the classroom demands took precedence over mine. I felt like I was different because my body needed to naturally move.

Not much has changed from this picture in today’s classrooms until recently. Reflecting on this time of my life, I remember wondering… could the classroom objects take on a “life” – that inspired natural movement we find in nature?

As part of my user research, I started observing classrooms from kindergarten – 6th. I found the teachers inviting and interested in my thesis topic, especially how to provide children with a way to move without too much disruption in class, finding that balance between control and natural movement.  I observed classrooms using all traditional type chairs and alternative chairs that move like the exercise ball.  While the ball provides proven benefits such as core muscle strengthening and better posture control, it is dangerous, disruptive and difficult for classroom management.  Teachers were very reluctant to bring the ball into classrooms but at this time, it was the only “dynamic” seating device on the market.

Research proves that sitting for more than 10 minutes at a stretch reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue. Playing, running, jumping and feeling a sense of freedom is not only a desire but a human need.

When children are locked indoors all day within a controlled environment, stress and tension build, and learning suffers.

I wanted to provide a seating device that allowed kids to move but in a discreet way so that it didn’t stigmatize the child with special needs.  ALL children need to move, but some kids with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder need more movement.  I needed to design something for the inclusive classroom or environment as a way to allow for more integration.

In July 2010, the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a research report, The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance, to better understand the changing needs of students and teachers. Children’s’ bodies are meant to move, even if it is just standing.

As the ideas for the Vidget® started to take shape, I decided on the following design elements:

  • children feel safe to be free & explore (both physically and cognitively safe)
  • modular system that inspires natural movement.
  • fun yet functional with many possibilities
  • reduce feeling of confinement
  • inspire children & teachers to build their own environment based on individual and group changing needs
  • simple, inviting, flexible, and intuitive
  • organic, flowing

I used clay as a way to start building the form of the Vidget®.

As I played with the shape, I had the “aha” moment that if the bottom surface could be shaped like an arc, it would rock side-to-side, similar to the stability ball.  I turned it over and realized the cut-out for the feet could be used as a stool and turned the other way, the child could use it as a desk! Now I was on to something very special and it met my design elements – safety as the first goal!

After several more full scale models and user testing – taking about 3 years and additional design expertise – we finalized the dimensions of the 5 sizes (toddler – teen/adult).  We took our prototypes and started sharing with local school districts and parents for feedback and more user testing, especially parents with special needs children like ADHD and Autism who had a much higher sensory need.  During this process, we learned that Special Education Teachers and Occupational Therapists put Velcro underneath tables and chairs for kids who have more sensory needs.  We thought, how can we add this type of feature into the Vidget®?  Another “aha” moment was to add recessed handles in the sides with sensory bumps on the top surface – kids fidgety fingers naturally find the bumps which provide a temporary sensory input some children need to promote calmness and focus.

I also wanted children to embrace the idea that a chair doesn’t have to be just a chair and inspire them to use their imagination. Parents and teachers are focused today on how to create “innovative thinkers” but they are still using the same old chairs and desks that are more of an obstacle vs. adding a benefit to the learning process.

In 2012, we were fortunate to meet the Chairman of our Board, Dick Kaplan, who invested in our company allowing the manufacturing of the Vidget® to begin. Since launching the design in 4th quarter 2015, we’ve sold more than 2,000 to parents, educators, health care providers and many more users across the country.  We’ve attended 10 conferences in education and healthcare and received a number of positive reviews about how it is helping students in so many ways:

  • “My oldest son is on the spectrum (ASD, high functioning) and has ADHD. The rocking feature helps him stay seated but allows him to rock & move when needed. His OT even ordered two for her office!  Great product!”
    Trisha, ​Mom
  • “Since incorporating the Vidget in our classroom, I have noticed an improvement in attention span, participation, and regulation in my students. They are happy and engaging in classroom routines and activities. The Vidget’s bright colors make it fun and attractive to use, and the kids love the versatility of the seat.”
    Tara, PreK Teacher & Occupational Therapist
  • “After only having the Vidget chairs in my room for less than a week, I have observed a noticeable increase in on-task behavior from students who use them. Students who sit in the chairs participate more and demonstrate greater self-management. I am extremely excited and grateful to have these “tools” as part of my classroom.”
    Dan, 6th Grade Teacher (integrated classroom)

Fidgeting improves focus, releases energy, and promotes calmness. Vidgets create a healthier environment by providing a safe and quiet way to release some of the endless energy kids, teens, and adults have. Teachers who have incorporated flexible seating in their classrooms have noticed positive results such as longer attention spans, less disruptive behavior, and higher quality work. And for special needs, fidgeting and movement helps children with ADHD focus and problem solve. So rather than tell students to sit still, teachers are encouraging quiet fidgeting to help students learn.

With the Vidget®, we are not just moving our bodies, we are changing the way we look at the learning environment.  Creating healthy and flexible spaces that inspire collaboration, creative and critical thinking, is what builds innovative spirits and ideas. The Vidget® is just one tool that helps in the process.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • If you are looking at seating devices that move for your special needs child, consider your child’s typical movement needs and ask the following questions: (Note: there are several seating options that provide movement, some with a lot of movement and others with less; Wobble Seat, Stability Ball, ergoErgo, and Vidget). 
    • Does my child require sensory input
    • Does my child have issues with tipping back in their chair
    • Does my child benefit from being allowed to move naturally
    • Does my child have balance or mobility challenges
  • If you are purchasing a seating device for a school environment:
    • Consider getting a couple different models to try. For schools, we encourage a universal design approach by offering several options to let the student decide based on needs.
    • When having students choose their seats, be sure that legs are 90 degrees when seated and feet are flat on the ground.  It’s estimated that 83% of students are sitting in chairs that are not the correct height leading to increased fatigue, poor posture, and loss of attention.
    • When possible, have different sizes in the classroom to accommodate all students as they grow throughout the year.

The WarmMe: The Safe Car Seat Winter Coat Alternative

Last updated on May 21st, 2017 at 11:04 pm

Just over four and a half years ago (Winter 2012), I found myself as a first time mom of a beautiful 6 month old baby girl and I had a problem. We had moved my daughter out of her infant car seat and into a convertible car seat, she was just too heavy to carry around in the infant seat. The problem was it was winter and I didn’t know how to keep her warm while also keeping her safe in her new seat. I had read many articles and seen many graphics online about the dangers of using a winter coat under the straps of car seat harness.

A winter coat is too bulky to safely and securely use under a car seat harness. We did the quick test suggested in multiple articles, put the child in their coat and secure the harness straps, tightening them until they feel snug, then take the child out of the seat and remove their coat, put them back in and buckle the straps. We were shocked by the results, we were certain the straps had been tight when the coat was one, but once the coat was removed there was so much slack in the straps! In the case of a car accident, the force from the accident would cause the child’s winter coat to compress against the straps and the result would be gaping, loose straps that a child could slip through. More recently (February 25, 2016), Consumer Report issued a report and video on this exact danger. They suggest removing the child’s coat and putting it over them like a blanket once they are secured in the car seat, or using a blanket to cover the child.

So, how would we keep our little girl warm throughout a cold Michigan winter? We tried multiple options including putting her coat or snowsuit on in the house and removing in the car then putting it over her once she was buckled. We tried layering blankets over her once she was buckled. We tried lightweight sweatshirts under the straps. None of these options were convenient or warm, taking the coat on and off was probably the most time consuming, the blankets didn’t stay on, and the sweatshirts just weren’t warm enough. That’s when I knew there had to be a warm and safe alternative to the winter coat. I decided to make something as warm as a blanket that would stay on without the need for removing in the car. I thought that something like a poncho would work the best, and so the first version of the The WarmMe was born.

The first version of The WarmMe was very basic, it kept my daughter warm and safe in the car, so it served it’s purpose but I felt there were improvements that could be made. The WarmMe had a single button on the front to secure it and made opening the front simple and easy for securing the car seat harness underneath. The first WarmMe was made of a fleece lined sherpa material that was cute and cuddly, but pricey plus very limited on color selection. The WarmMe worked well that first winter, so the next winter I made an identical one that was just a bit larger to fit my quickly growing daughter.

This second winter my daughter was becoming more independent and always wanting to walk rather than be carried, even on cold and windy winter days. I noticed that on a windy day her WarmMe would blow open when she was walking around outside. I decided to add something special that sets The WarmMe apart from other ponchos and kept my little girl warm even on windy days-by a special feature, interior pockets. The pockets on the inside allowed my daughter to keep her hands warm and also wrap The WarmMe around herself when she was wearing it outside of the car. Her second winter, my daughter loved her new and improved WarmMe with the added pockets. This was also when I decided to change the material from the sherpa to fleece. Fleece is much easier to work with especially when adding the pockets, has endless color and print combinations available, and is easily washable (a definite bonus when creating something for little kids!).

People stopped us all the time asking where were got The WarmMe and when I said I made it they started encouraging me to sell them. At this point in time I had two young children and was working part time as a school social worker, adding to a small business to my already full and busy life didn’t seem to make sense to me. Plus, my whole goal was to keep my daughters safe in the car, how could I put a price on that?

In October 2015 my life changed. I suffered a traumatic miscarriage. As our dream of adding a 3rd baby to our family was crushed and I was left in the most physical and emotional pain I have ever experienced, I found myself needing something I was passionate about to get me out of the dark place I was stuck in. At this point I had made a couple WarmMes as gifts for friends and family and the feedback was great, they loved how much easier it made everyday life. That’s when I went for it, I decided to take a chance and put them up for sale, as I realized I could reach a lot of parents and caregivers who were looking for a safe way to keep their little ones warm. The business started very small, just a couple postings on my personal Facebook page that were then shared by my family and friends.

Each WarmMe has always been custom made based on the child’s clothing size and the print or color preference, so I just focused on completing each order as it came in. People soon started asking for added features such as an attached hood. After asking around and doing a little experimenting I decided a hood is just too bulky to be comfortable behind a child’s head and neck while riding in the car. I decided to start offering matching hats and they’ve been a hit! The next request was for matching scarves for the mom or dad and that option was quickly added in what I like to call the “Mommy and Me Set.”

In February 2016, The WarmMe was featured on a segment called “Moms a Genius” on WXYZ Detroit and the business picked up from there. I could no longer keep up with orders on my own, so my wonderful and supportive husband stepped in to help. This year The WarmMe made the news again on my local news station WLNS 6 out of Lansing, MI and has been picked up by other stations in states such as South Carolina, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, and Virginia. This holiday season The WarmMe has been sent to cold states all over the map. The best part of the increased business has been the feedback from happy customers. Almost daily I receive messages stating how much parents and children alike love The WarmMe and how it has made life easier by keeping little ones safe and warm! It is amazing knowing that my product is making life a little easier for parents, while keeping their precious little ones safe! I’m very happy to say that both The WarmMe business and our family are growing as we are expecting the newest addition to our family in January 2017!

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  1. While the WarmMe is designed to young children safe and warm in their car seats, there are also products designed to fit safely over infant seats while not interfering with the ability to securely buckle the harness. These products are ones that do not go between the child and the car seat or buckles, but go over the seat similar to a shower cap.
  2. If taking a long road trip or traveling far from home when road or weather conditions are really bad (remember, I’m talking Michigan winters!) take along coats, snowpants, or snowsuits. If something were to happen and you ended up stranded these items would definitely help keep your little one warm until help arrived.
  3. Remember safe sleep precautions when using The WarmMe, similar products, or blankets to keep your child warm in the car seat. Always be sure the fabric is away from their face allowing for an open airway. If transferring a sleeping child from the car into their bed always remove The WarmMe.
  4. Here is the official Consumer Reports recommended “simple way to check if your child’s coat is too big and bulky to wear under their harness”
  • Put the coat on your child, sit them in the child seat and fasten the harness. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger.
  • Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat.
  • Take the coat off, and put your child back in the child seat and buckle the harness straps, which are still adjusted as they were when he was wearing the coat.
  • If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness.