Expert Advice

Expert Advice, Tips & Affirmations from Pediatric Therapists
  • 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
  • Summertime Safety

    Summertime is a great opportunity for children to
    explore and challenge their growing bodies to reach new heights, but it is also
    a time when safety is of great importance. June is National Safety Month and the greatest concern parents have in the
    summertime is heat exposure. There are numerous articles that discuss hot car
    and water safety as well as the need for sunscreen and insect repellant when
    temperatures rise.  Many parents,
    however, are not aware that high temperatures and humidity indirectly can lead
    to accidents, the number one cause of childhood injury. According to a 2000
    journal article in the American Academy of Pediatrics, “exercising
    children do not adapt as effectively as adults when exposed to a high climatic
    heat stress. This may affect their performance and well-being, as well as
    increase the risk for heat-related illness.”

    With very hot weather and humidity, the body’s natural
    cooling system can fail and lead to issues like muscle cramps, exhaustion, and
    dehydration. Because children tend to ignore symptoms when they are having fun,
    they need reminders from caretakers to prevent injuries and accidents that can
    occur when their bodies are not functioning normally and are inclined to take
    more risks.

    In addition, time spent with water play and on outdoor
    equipment such as slides, swings, and obstacles courses can also affect the child’s
    vestibular system. This is located in the inner ear and provides a sense of
    balance and spatial orientation. With excessive movement or excessive water in
    the ear canals, this system can cause dizziness, loss of balance, and
    nausea.  

    What can you do to help?

    Step 1. Identify
    Symptoms. These can include: irritability, headaches, increased thirst or
    sweating, weakness, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, frequent falls, or cool/clammy
    skin.

    Step 2.  Provide Reminders. These can include: rest, removal
    of excess clothing, drinking water or sports drinks, and seeking cooler areas
    in shady or indoor, air-conditioned areas.

    Remember to consult with your child’s physician if
    symptoms appear to last for long periods of time. You can also see an
    occupational therapist if symptoms of an abnormal vestibular system appear
    regularly. I hope you find these tips helpful. 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’s publications, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
  • Why Writing Capital Letters 1st is Key

    Learning to write
    is a milestone in the childhood experience of almost all typically developing
    children. Still, it is achieved with great effort and struggle for many. Countless
    products sold in stores often complicate the task for parents by combining
    uppercase and lowercase letters and encouraging the printing of 112 letters in
    an alphabetical yet developmentally arbitrary fashion. This can be overwhelming
    for a small child, decrease their confidence, and create poor habits. Hence,
    specialists often teach uppercase letters prior to introducing lowercase. It
    may seem counter-intuitive to learn capitals first when mostly lowercase
    letters are used in writing. There, however, are several important reasons why
    this particular method is beneficial to a child in terms of ease and
    comprehension.

    Here are 5 helpful reasons why learning to write capital letters first is the key to success:

    1.     All uppercase letters start at the top.
    Lowercase letters vary and have different starting points.

    2.     All uppercase letters are the same height.
    Lowercase letters vary and have different heights with some tall and some
    short.

    3.     All uppercase letters use the same space.
    Lowercase letters vary with some letters ascending to the top line and some descending
    below the base line.

    4.     Uppercase letters are easier to recognize.
    Children have more exposure to capital letters in their environments on street
    signs, billboards, buildings, etc.

    5.     Uppercase letters encourage top to bottom
    and left to right eye and hand coordination fundamental for reading in addition
    to writing.

    It is also important to note it is not necessary to learn to write letters in alphabetical order.  Many handwriting programs are available with instructions to teach letters in groups according to how they are formed or in developmental stages. This helps a child to practice similar letters together and quickly become more successful.  Remember to consider if a child has the foundational skills of copying and connecting simple lines to form basic shapes before teaching letters. If your child is struggling with handwriting, consult with your doctor about seeing an occupational therapist for an evaluation or consultation. 

    I hope you find this tip helpful. 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’s publications, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
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