Expert Advice

Expert Advice, Tips & Affirmations from Pediatric Therapists
  • ‘Tis the Season for Toy Making

    It is commonly
    known that the holiday shopping season is very important to the toy industry.
    Just last year U.S. retail sales of toys topped $18 billion. Interestingly, there is
    a trend that could save you money instead of having you spend it if you gift
    your child the opportunity to embrace his or her creativity. The biggest theme
    from this year’s Toy Fair in New York seemed to be maker toys, playthings that
    encourage children to create, innovate, and design which they make and modify
    with their own hands. These toys often consist of constructional pieces and may
    include initial instructions to start a project but also allow for a child to
    take on the challenge to create something new.

    image

    As an
    occupational therapist, I am in the position to play with children daily to
    prepare them for the responsibilities they face in school and at home. I
    consistently recommend to parents constructional toys and craft activities
    because the benefits are numerous. They improve the developmental skills of the
    hands, enhance thinking and strategy skills, keep a child engaged for long
    periods of time, increase self-confidence and self-esteem, and are fun and
    educational simultaneously. These benefits are not only good preparation for
    their childhood learning but for their future. Many businesses are now
    employing concepts like design thinking and prototyping to solve problems and
    improve products and services. In November, the city of Miami hosted Miami Make
    Week, where individuals signed up to join teams to make innovative solutions
    for the home that save resources. Participants also attended workshops and
    lectures on additional topics including robotics, 3D printing, software
    development, and traditional craftsmanship. It is great to see that this is how
    the future leaders of the world will be working, using creativity involving
    both the mind and the hands.

    For this year’s
    holiday season, I invite parents to think outside the traditional wrapped box
    and consider giving your child an open box full of items to create with
    including: cardboard, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, paper clips, construction
    paper, glue, markers, tape, scissors, and aluminium foil just to start. If this
    is too abstract or your child is too young, consider buying constructional toys
    or maker sets that give your child the chance to be creative and build. There
    are many brands like Lego, ThinkFun, WabaFun, and Funnybone Toys selling
    products that encourage the imagination and can turn your little ones into the hard-working,
    toy-making elves they are meant to be.

    I hope you find
    this tip helpful. If your child struggles with activities with that involve
    planning, creating, building, assembling, or completing age-appropriate tasks,
    talk to your pediatrician about consulting with an occupational therapist. Have
    a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational
    therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more
    information about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

     ***Check out this video for some inspiration.***

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  • Just Say No to Preschool Pressure

    Recently I was having a
    conversation with a mother of three children under the age of six. She explained
    to me that one of her current concerns is that the new preschool her
    three-year-old was attending sends him home with homework. She was initially
    shocked and confused considering her older child did not have this demand. Her
    resolution was to adopt the saying from the 1980’s war on drugs campaign and to
    “just say no” to the pressure this preschool was putting on her child. I
    applaud her and encourage others to do the same. 

    Over the past ten years I
    have seen as increase in the demands placed on preschoolers to perform tasks
    that used to be introduced in kindergarten. I have had countless conversations
    with parents explaining that one of the reasons their child cannot complete the
    work given is become it is not developmentally appropriate. My resolution also
    was to “just say no” to the caretaker because there is no rule that homework is
    mandatory. In fact, the National PTA and the National Education Association created
    a 10-minute Rule established after extensive research from Duke University. The
    rule recommends that 10 minutes of homework is suggested starting in 1st
    grade and adding another 10 minutes per grade. Therefore Kindergarten students
    should not be issued any homework. Other research has also shown that an
    overload of homework is associated with a decrement in performance. As a
    therapist, I have noted that some children also suffer from decreased self-esteem
    and stress on the small joints of their hands from too many expectations. Yet,
    despite this rule, the average Kindergartener was found to be completing 25
    minutes of homework daily.

    How should you handle the
    pressure to do homework in preschool? You can keep calm and politely let the
    teacher know that your child will not be completing any homework at this age.
    Instead you will spend the time playing. According to Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego,
    most kids younger than 7 or 8 are better suited for active exploration than
    informational or educational explanation. He states, “The trouble with
    over-structuring is that it discourages exploration.” Hence, parents should take the time after school to
    engage with their child by participating in playful exercise and activities
    that improve and encourage creative, social, and fine motor skills like
    building with toys, coloring, drawing, assembling, and even food preparation. 

    I hope you find this tip
    helpful. If your child is having difficulty with age-appropriate activities for
    a preschooler, talk with your pediatrician about consulting with an
    occupational therapist for help. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist,
    award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information
    about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
  • Start Smart this School Year

    Every morning millions of
    American children start their school day sitting down to eat a breakfast that
    will most likely cause them to feel relaxed, calm, and less worried. Sounds
    great! That same meal, however, may also cause them to feel less motivated. The
    standard American breakfast has been labeled as too sweet and unhealthy at
    times because it is full of simple carbohydrates such as those found in
    pancakes, waffles, muffins, bagels, cereal, and sugary drinks. These choices
    may seem convenient and innocent, but what if what you are feeding your
    child is causing more harm than good?  

    In the book Healing ADD, best-selling author and
    psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen describes
    how to control the mind and mood with food. He explains how sugary meals are
    known to increase serotonin and rapidly increase insulin, which then causes low
    blood-sugar levels in a short amount of time. Therefore, by the time your child
    arrives at school, he or she could be feeling tired, confused, or inattentive
    or even possibly be too happy and relaxed to get any work done. What if instead
    they ate something different that led to feeling more motivated, driven, and
    focused? Wouldn’t that be a smarter way to start the day? Smart carbohydrates
    are known to slowly increase serotonin and include foods like sweet potatoes, apples,
    blueberries, carrots, quinoa, and chickpeas. In addition, protein-based meals
    tend to increase dopamine levels in the brain and create energy and help
    children to focus. These foods include beef, poultry, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts,
    and cheese. Additional smart foods include avocados, lima beans, liver, salmon,
    and shrimp.

    I invite you to consider being
    creative and thinking outside of a boxed breakfast by introducing your child to
    a non-traditional selection. Children all over the world eat items that may
    seem foreign to American youth, but they still enjoy the meal just the same. In
    Turkey, they eat olives. In Jamaica, they eat mushed plantains. In Korea, they
    eat fermented cabbage. In fact, most countries eat a breakfast that is more
    savory than sweet. Perhaps a smart start to your child’s morning can make all
    the difference in his or her world.

    I hope you find this tip
    helpful. If your child is having difficulty with attention and focus despite
    changing to a smarter diet, talk with your pediatrician about consulting with
    an occupational therapist for help. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist,
    award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information
    about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
  • Tips for a Pain-free Back-to-School

    The summer is quickly coming to an end, and soon
    children all across the United States will start complaining about something
    more painful than homework when they head back to school. According
    to one study of American students ages 11 to 15 years, 64% reported complaints
    of back pain related to heavy backpacks. In fact more than half of students
    carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guideline of 10% of the
    student’s total body weight and thousands of backpack-related injuries are treated
    at hospital emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics each year.
    Thankfully, a study published in 2002 on the effect of backpack education on
    student behavior and health showed
    nearly 8 out of 10 middle school students who changed how they loaded and wore
    their backpacks reported less pain and strain in their backs, necks, and
    shoulders. Hence, the American Occupational Therapy Association created the
    annual School Backpack Awareness Day and will celebrate it on September 16th.
    Here are some tips they provide for a pain-free back-to-school for your child. 

    Warning signs of
    a backpack that’s too heavy:

    · Difficulty
    picking up or taking off the backpack

    · Tingling
    or numbing of legs or arms

    · Pain
    when wearing the backpack

    · Red
    strap marks on the front of the shoulders 

    Ways to improve
    backpack wearing:
     

    · Pack
    heavier items in the back and center and lighter items in the front

    · Load
    with no more than 10% of child’s weight to prevent spinal damage or falls

    · Carry
    with both straps in use at all times and snug to the back

    · Put on
    by bending and lifting using the knees instead of at the waist

    · Adjust
    to keep it below the shoulders and up to the top of the hipbones 

    I hope you find these tips helpful. If your child has pain
    or shows weakness from carrying his or her school load after making adjustments,
    consider consulting with your pediatrician about the possible need of
    occupational or physical therapy services. Have a playful day! 

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist,
    award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information
    about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.  

    Continue reading
  • Turn Tantrums into Tame Behavior

    image

    It’s summer, and it’s no big
    surprise that tempers can rise just as easily as the temperature when children
    are hot, tired, and exhausted from the heat. Parents can find themselves in
    situations when they feel their blood boiling as well. So it helps to be
    mentally prepared for those special moments when your child tests your tolerance.
    As a therapist, I have worked with hundreds of children, and I have found that
    5 main strategies are most effective when I need to turn a tantrum moment into
    something more tolerable. Here are my suggestions:

    #1 Ignore it. It is
    often best to not draw attention to negative behaviors. For example, if a child
    throws a toy, continue the current task but also make sure that the child picks
    up the toy later. If the child is abusive, you may need to restrain them for a
    few seconds to prevent any harm, but resist lecturing in the moment.

    #2 Change the scene.
    Sometimes, drawing attention to something else will distract a child enough to
    create a shift in their emotional state. This can include changing locations,
    suggesting another option, or introducing something novel like a new phone app
    they haven’t seen. Keep in mind, using technology as a strategy is not advised for extended periods of time.

    #3 Keep calm. If you
    raise your voice and heighten your stress level, the child’s behavior may
    escalate to match yours. Remember to use a soft voice, breathe slowly, and if
    possible offer your child a firm hug to give them a sense of security.

    #4 Find the source…and
    remove it. Just like adults, children want to be understood. Try to get your
    child to communicate what is causing them stress. Removing the person or object
    temporarily can decrease the tension momentarily.

    #5 Provide incentives.
    Call it bribery or creative strategizing or motivation, but children will do
    amazing and challenging things for a “treat” they find valuable. The trick is
    to determine if it’s a sticker, free play, food, rest, toys, money, quality
    time, or something else. Figure out what motivates them, and follow through
    with the delivery of it but only if its not what has caused the tantrum.

    image

    I hope you find these tips helpful. If your child consistently has tantrums you are unable to tame, consider consulting with your pediatrician about the possible need of occupational therapy services. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist,
    award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information
    about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
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