Weighted Blankets Offer Security to Kids with Trauma

by Kimberley A. Lee

VP Advancement for CHD

When I was three, I had a security blanket I called Mr. Softie. Actually, it wasn’t really a blanket all, but rather one of my father’s plain white T-shirts. I carried that Mr. Softie everywhere. Shortly after my mom died, my Softie was by my side. I am no child psychologist, but you don’t have to be one to make a connection between that traumatic event in my life and my need to carry that T-shirt with me. As a child, it gave me a sense of comfort. It calmed me. As an adult, I was often reminded by my Auntie Peggy of how I would wait next to the washing machine to make sure Mr. Softie was safe. Eventually, ripped and paper thin, Mr. Softie found his final resting place and I said my tearful good-byes.

I hadn’t thought about that “blanket” for years until just the other night when I was watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my husband, Kevin and our girls. (They’re in high school, but it’s still our family tradition!) As I watched Linus drag around his light blue security blanket, I was reminded of my own security blanket, or T-shirt and a recent conversation I had with a colleague about how weighted blankets are helping children in CHD’s residential programs who have witnessed or experienced trauma.

For children who have been severely abused, another person’s touch may have a negative association. As a result, they can’t seek the comfort of a hug. A weighted blanket provides a calming effect that works much like a hug, at two levels: deep pressure touch and proprioceptive input.  (Proprioceptive input is the sense of where the body and its parts are in space). Deep pressure touch is tactile force on skin and muscles. Proprioceptive input includes sensations from the relative position of joints and limbs that make you aware of your body. Physical contact at these two levels sends sensory messages to the brain that release serotonin, a neurotransmitter known as “the calming chemical,” that helps a child minimize anxiety and better regulate their feelings.

“When you’re a kid and you’re upset, typically you go get a hug from someone,” according to Stephanie K. Colella, OTR/L, an Occupational Therapist for CHD Caring Together Group Homes. “But some children being cared for in CHD residential programs, as a result of their tragic personal history of physical or sexual abuse, aren’t able to do that. A weighted blanket provides that. It can bring a child back into the moment, or give that little bit of extra comfort they need to fall asleep at night.”

Colella explains that research has proven the positive effects of weighted blankets. It’s easy to see why: the more information your body receives through deep pressure touch and proprioceptive inputs, the more your body feels calm and in control. That can help your ability to regulate your feelings. “Weighted blankets aren’t reinventing the wheel,” she said. “Rather, they provide the sensory input that a child has not been afforded due to the lack of loving, proper touch from their family or caregivers.”

The sense of calm that a weighted blanket provides can be so comforting to a child who has seen or experienced trauma, and just the thought of helping these vulnerable children gives me a comforting feeling, too.

Your contribution can help a child feel tranquility in a new and comforting way.

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