Occupational Therapy

  • Turn Tantrums into Tame Behavior

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    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.

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    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.

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  • 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
  • SPOTLIGHT ON OT’S

    April
    is the time of year when occupational therapists (OT’s) gets their time to
    shine in the national spotlight… and it is needed. The average person is not
    familiar with OT’s unless he/she or a family member has had a personal experience.
    It is even more unlikely that there is a true understanding of what an
    occupational therapist (OT) does when disability or disease it not involved. Below is a common scenario
    of what happens an OT is brought to light and introduced to a family with a
    young child.

    Johnny’s preschool teacher tells mom that
    she thinks he is having trouble holding a crayon and maybe needs to see a
    specialist. Mom does some research, learns about OT’s, and gets a doctor
    prescription. The OT completes an evaluation, which includes observing Johnny’s
    skills and conducting tests to see how he compares to children his age. The
    report written includes the results noting a delay, recommends therapy once a
    week for 30 minutes, and lists treatment strategies and measurable goals.
    Johnny sees the OT and participates in what looks like playtime. He completes
    exercises to build his strength in his hands as well as his large body muscles
    like walking around “like a bear.” He plays with toys that require him to push,
    pull, snap, or build using his hands differently or more efficiently. He colors
    with a special pencil grip to keep his fingers in place and decrease stress on
    the tiny joints of his young fingers. His OT creates a program for his parents
    to help him at home and measures his progress and creates more challenging
    activities for him until he is able to perform skills appropriate for his age
    level. Johnny’s becomes more independent at school and his confidence improves.

    OT’s
    can focus on many skill areas including dressing and feeding skills. Often a
    child that has trouble holding a crayon properly often also has difficulty
    holding other utensils and may require additional assistance with tasks like
    buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces. An OT can assist with these life skills
    as well. If your child is struggling with daily activities common for his or
    her age, consult with your pediatrician about seeing an occupational therapist
    for an evaluation. 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, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
  • Fidgeting May Be Beneficial for Children

    Did you know that fidgeting may actually be beneficial for kids? While fidgeting is mostly viewed negatively as restless movements including tapping a foot or fiddling with fingers, hair, clothing, or objects, it can also be purposeful and helpful.

    Some parents battle with their child to stop these restless behaviors, and sometimes it is necessary because the child may be harming him or herself. Yet, the fight to end fidgeting may be a battle better left unfought. Research conducted in the UK in 2005 by psychologists found that children that were allowed to fidget with their hands performed better in memory and learning tests. Researchers concluded that teachers should actually encourage fidgeting in class. This supports what pediatric occupational therapists have long recommended to teachers when suggesting fidget toys as tools for improved learning.

    Fidget toys provide sensory stimulation including tactile input and movement for a child’s hands. Together they help to improve focus and attention and can also facilitate language production and thinking overall. The improvement is attributed to how fidgeting can reduce stress or can arouse the body to function at an optimal level of performance. Without a fidget toy, a child could actually find it more difficult to maintain attention to a task, keep still in a seated position, or have difficulty formulating thoughts. Some examples of fidget toys can include small toy figurines, koosh balls, a pencil, or Tangle toys (pictured above).  Allowing a child to use a fidget toy may provide the needed stimulation for the brain and decrease negative behaviors like nail biting or picking at skin.

    A parent should consider having his or her child evaluated for an underlying cause of fidgetiness or poor focus in the classroom when the child’s progress is negatively affected or his or her behavior becomes a disruption to peers. A parent should also consider a professional opinion despite their own experience with fidgeting when they were younger. Parents sometimes feel that if they had the same issue as a child and survived without additional services that their child should be able to as well. However, schools are now more open to adapting environments for children and understand the benefit of addressing such behaviors from a developmental perspective.

    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, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading