Category Archives: preschoolers

Teach Utensil Grasp and Control…Without the Food!

Therapro has just published my latest guest post! There are some situations that almost require occupational therapists to separate mealtime from utensil manipulation, at least at the earliest stages.  Check out my post Teaching Utensil Use Outside of the Mealtime Experience to find out if your child or client would benefit from this approach!

If you haven’t already read this very popular post I wrote earlier, make learning to use utensils an opportunity to bond emotionally,  take the pressure of self-feeding off the table and help an avoidant child engage in food play with Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child.

Therapro has been one of my go-to sources for quality therapy equipment for years.  Take the time to review their catalog online and explore their unique bowls, plates and utensils that can help children with developmental delays achieve independence in self-feeding.

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Why Gifted Preschoolers Should Be Taught Handwriting Early (And With The Best Strategies!)

 

 

guillaume-de-germain-329206Gifted children are identified by their asynchronous development.   The three year-old that can read, the two year-old that can play a song on the piano after hearing it once at music class, the four year-old that can complete his sister’s math homework…from second grade! These children have one or more advanced areas of skill that classify them as gifted.  One of the skills that rarely emerges early and advanced in the gifted population is handwriting.  More often, gifted children have problems with handwriting. Some are just sloppy, some produce illegible products even after trying their best.

A few theories exist to explain this phenomenon:  gifted children are more concerned with expression and ignore handwriting lessons, their typical motor development doesn’t keep up with their advanced cognitive skill progression and they give up, or perhaps a gifted student with poor handwriting has an undiagnosed motor and learning disabilities.

I am going to suggest an additional explanation:  gifted children are not given effective early pre-writing instruction and are often taught to write using strategies that create confusion, boredom or frustration, turning a fast learner into an underachiever.  Gifted kids like novelty, complexity and intensity.  Tracing a dotted-line “A” over and over isn’t any of those things.  Gifted children often remain so focused on their passions that it is easier to let them go and shine in their chosen areas than to make handwriting fun and appealing.

Yes, it is true that children with advanced cognitive skills could have average or below-average motor skills that don’t allow them to independently write a complex original story.  Writing details down may take too long for their quick minds, or they need to use letters they don’t yet have the skills to execute.  A child with an amazing imagination and vocabulary may find standard writing drills dull in comparison to the creative process.  Gifted children may even be averse to the unavoidable failure inherent in practice that leads to mastery.

What can be done?

  • Good pre-writing instruction is essential to build the foundational motor control and spatial skills.  This includes teaching grasp rather than waiting for it to develop, purposely building two-handed coordination and drawing into play,  and using other pre-writing tasks such as mazes, puzzles and tracing/dot-to-dot (not for letters, for drawing).  See Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility to understand why dots aren’t a great strategy for any child.  Learning to draw balloons, birthday cakes and Christmas trees is fun.  It is also a great way to practice writing the curves and intersecting angles that letters require.
  • Use multi-sensory, multi-media methods to develop pre-writing and handwriting skills.  Many gifted children love sensory-based experiences.  Their natural drive for intensity and complexity can be satisfied when letters are made from pretzel sticks or Play-Dough.
  • Create a fun, open environment for learning, in which challenge is expected and success is both celebrated and beside the point.  If children are taught that they are expected to know all the answers since they are gifted, exploration can be suppressed.  If they learn that failure is anticipated and shame-free, it allows them to try again and invent solutions to the problems they face.
  • Harness the skills a gifted child possesses to advance their handwriting development.  Children that have great spatial awareness notice letter formation similarities and proportion rules.  They transform an “F” into an “E” and chop two vertical lines in half to make an “H”.  Children in love with language can use fun mnemonic devices or little “stories” that help them form letters correctly.  When the letter “S” starts as a mini “C” and then “turns around and goes back home” they remember the formation of this tricky letter more easily than copying or tracing alone.

As an occupational therapist, I use the Learning Without Tears program (formerly Handwriting Without Tears).  The materials are high-quality, the learning progression is developmental and builds one skill on top of the previous skill, and the early levels are more sensory-based than most writing programs.  See Can HWT’s Flip Crayons Transform Pencil Grasp in Preschoolers? and Why Do You Start (Uppercase) Letters at the Top? Speed and Accuracy for some HWT strategies that really work.

If you are the parent of a gifted child, or if you teach gifted preschoolers, please share your best strategies to support handwriting here.!!!

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Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule

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Whining is a “fingernails on a chalkboard” experience for most adults.  We often give in to a whining child, just to avoid hearing that noise.  Or we explode and scare them (and ourselves) with the anger that whining can trigger.  What can you do?

What would you say if I told you that I use a technique that works more than 50% of the time, and it can work in mere seconds to halt a child in mid-whine? Well, read on and let me tell you the secrets that I learned from Dr. Harvey Karp and his Happiest Toddler on the Block book!

I spend more than 75% of my treatment day as an occupational therapist with children under the age of 6.  That can add up to a lot of whining!  Why?  Not because I am inexperienced, or because I am a pushover.  Anyone that knows me knows that neither statement is true.  It’s because young children may be able to talk, but they aren’t very good communicators.  Being able to express their feelings effectively and negotiate their desires is just beyond their pay grade at this age.  Their default is whining.

Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule has made my job so much easier. It makes young children see me as a friend, not just another adult telling them what to do.  This one simple strategy lets kids know that I care about how they feel, but doesn’t suggest that they will get their way with me every time.  In fact, they often find themselves following my directions without fully knowing why they have stopped crying, begging, or pleading with me.

Here is what the FFR entails:

Part 1:  Repeating what you believe is your child’s complaint or desire, using simple words, short phrases and more emotional tone and gestures/facial expression than usual.  You may not know for sure what a very young child wants, but take your best guess.  If you are wrong, you can always give it another try.  The more upset or younger the child, the simpler the wording and the more expressive the tone and gestures.  Why?  Because emotional people don’t hear you well, but they will pick up on your non-verbal cues effectively.  You are trying to convey a simple message:  I understand you.

Part 2:  Only after you see that your child has calmed a bit with the knowledge that they are understood can you then begin to comfort, negotiate, or solve their problem.  Not before. We jump in very early in the interaction to tell them “It’s OK, honey” or “I can’t hear you when you speak to me like that”.  It’s only when they know you have heard THEM that they can listen to YOU.

The importance of being understood by another when you are upset cannot be overstated.  Children need this from us more than we know.  Even young toddlers are aware that they won’t always get what they want, but they need to know that we understand their point of view.  If you do not convey this message, a child will whine, wail or scream to make it clearer to you that they are upset.  That is why telling them that things are fine seems to throw oil on the fire.  They think you don’t get it.

So, help them pull it together by stating their situation (as you perceive it) out loud and using some non-verbal messaging:  I got it.  You want more cookies.  You don’t want to leave the park.  You want Logan’s truck.  Whatever it is, tell them that you understand before you offer a solution, an alternative, or explain why they aren’t getting what they want.  I promise you, it will work more often than it does not, and sometimes it will work so well that you almost cannot believe how simple it was to calm things down.

There is a secret benefit from using the FFR:  your child will gradually become less likely to break out in a whine even when things have gone badly.  After repeated experiences of being understood and treated with respect and firmness, a child will expect that you are the source of solutions instead of a dumping ground for agitation and anger.

 

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Potty Training Boys: Do You Teach Standing Up Or Sitting Down?

 

darran-shen-477150.jpgTraining children for bladder control before bowel control is often easier for quite a few reasons:  More frequent bathroom trips = more opportunities for success, digestion and diet issues don’t stall success,  and urination is usually a painless, phobia-free, and quick experience.  In general, families that hire me as a consultant are encouraged to consider bladder training to be the first mountain to conquer.

But should little boys sit or stand to do the deal?  After a child has been sitting on the potty, understands it’s use, and has consistent success, I will encourage parents to have their sons stand to urinate.  But it isn’t as simple as that.  There are pros and cons.

First, the pros of standing to urinate:

  • little boys have probably seen their brothers, cousins and dad use the toilet, and most children want to copy their same-gender parent.  This is often more motivation to become independent in the bathroom.
  • young children may be a little more mindful of why they are standing in front of the toilet.  Children that are sitting have a harder time seeing what is happening and can get distracted. I know, I know, even the “big boys” can have terrible aim.  But children need all the help they can get to stay focused.
  • improving aim is motivation to use the toilet.  I wrote a blog post on using targets to teach boys to improve their accuracy and build interest in toileting.Piddlers Make Potty Training Fun!  These really work!

And now the cons:

  • See the item about distractibility under “pros”.  Some boys are so distracted that sitting on an toilet seat insert with a splash guard is the only way to prevent spraying the bathroom and any supervising adult.
  • Some children will start out urinating and begin to have a bowel movement concurrently.  Oops!  These children often have issues with low tone or digestive problems, and cannot “hold it” long enough to finish urinating and then sit on the toilet to have a bowel movement.  If they have an accident, it could be very upsetting to them and make them less eager to be fully trained.
  • Children with low muscle tone or postural stability issues may need to sit to achieve a safe and stable position.  No one can eliminate when they are unsteady or fearful.

Some children are vocal and clearly tell you what they want to do and why.  Some cannot or will not communicate, but you can figure out what they are thinking.  Some need to be encouraged to give standing a try.  If your son was initially interested and now has lost some of his enthusiasm and is still sitting to urinate, try telling him that it is time to stand like the big guys and see if you can regain some of your momentum in toilet training!

For more information on toilet training children with low muscle tone, check out my other posts such as   Low Tone and Toilet Training: The 4 Types of Training Readiness   as well as my useful e-book.  Here is a post that explains why this unique book will help you move forward with training right away! The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived!

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Automoblox: For the Discriminating Preschool Gearhead

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These cars and trucks are so well crafted and have such sophisticated styling that they even impress adults.  They certainly have made me a big fan!

Automoblox are small vehicles that your 3-6 year-old child assembles by themselves or with some initial help.  They have small pieces, so they are not for children that casually put objects in their mouths.  They are harder than Duplo LEGOs to assemble, but easier than those standard and tiny LEGO pieces, and require far fewer parts to complete a vehicle.  So many younger kids want to be able to make a LEGO set by themselves, but get discouraged when they need so much help. They are in tears when their car falls apart because they didn’t have the ability to hold and manipulate the delicate LEGO vehicle with the necessary control.  Enter automoblox!

As a pediatric OT, I am often asked for advice on toys for holidays and birthdays.  These beautiful cars and trucks make terrific (if somewhat pricey) gifts for kids that may not be into arts-and-crafts but need to spend some time building visual-motor integration.  To assemble each vehicle, a child is required to use both hands in a skilled manner and use a refined grasp pattern.  Children don’t need significant strength for assembly, and most will learn the basic construction sequence quickly.

The pieces are mostly interchangeable between vehicles, meaning that although some wheels will only fit the car bases in their specific collection,  they do allow creative builders to experiment with new designs.

Parents who want to minimize the amount of plastic in their homes will be happy to know that the chassis are wood and some of the components are metal as well.  These cars roll very smoothly, and they stick together even after being crashed into walls, furniture and each other.  They can handle the rough play the average preschooler will dish out.

Take a look at automoblox this holiday season.  Your little gearhead (and probably dads and older siblings) will be thrilled to play with them!

 

Holidays Hints For Sensitive Kids

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The stores are full, your inbox is too, and you are wondering how to handle your sensitive child’s reactions to family and school events.  You are not alone.

Everyone knows about the “holiday blues”, where our dreams and expectations come up against real life:  awkward family relationships, conflicting demands on our time and finances, etc.  But for kids with sensory and emotional sensitivity (I don’t see these as always separate issues, by the way), surviving the holiday season can be very difficult indeed.  The excitement and the novelty of the holidays affect them more intensely and are not always welcome additions to their days.   Here are some suggestions to make things better:

  • Think about an event before you commit to it.  The hour of the day, the size and the activity, the duration of the event are all considerations.  You know your child, so you can identify what factors will be the most challenging and what will be easier to handle.  In general, sensitive kids do best with smaller, shorter, quieter and earlier events.
  • Create your own event around your child, and invite others to join in.  When you get to design it, you have more control over how things play out.  Some suggestions would be cookie decorating, visiting a nursery or outdoor holiday display, making wrapping paper with crayons and stickers, and watching a holiday video party.
  • Get your sensory diet activities all set up for an event that you can’t or won’t cancel. Your OT should be able to help you craft a plan to reduce your child’s overall sensitivity with input such as deep pressure, breath control, tactile input, etc.  Just ask.  Most of us would be happy to help you.
  • Do not forget the basics of keeping any child calm at an event:  enough sleep, enough to eat and drink, and being healthy enough to participate.  If your child is ill, tired, or hungry, you need to think carefully about how well he will manage, and make the decision to cancel or alter your plans.   Sometimes the situation isn’t going to be fixed with a few bounces on a therapy ball and some joint compression.  In these situations, your child isn’t any different from any other child.

 

If you are looking for ideas about how to decrease sensitivity, take a look at How to Help Sensitive Kids Handle Greeting People (Including Their Own Parents!) and Sensory Sensitivity In Toddlers: Why Responding Differently to “Yucky!” Will Help Your Child

Holidays can be fun for everyone, including sensitive children.  Plan well, be flexible, and make thoughtful choices that work for your family!

OT and Non-Disabled Gifted Children

I was asked to write another guest post for Therapro, the fantastic OT equipment and materials company that I have been using for clinic and home items for years.  This time the subject is gifted children:  Do Gifted But Non-Disabled Children Need Occupational Therapy?.

The first time you encounter a young gifted child, you may not know that their advanced skills could be contributing to their behavior.  Giftedness is more than advanced intellectual ability, it is a whole-brain difference.  The fMRI studies done in the last decades have proved that to be true.  Gifted kids can have sensory and behavioral responses that suggest they have ADHD, oppositional disorder, or sensory processing disorder.  Some are conclusively “twice-exceptional” , but many are just responding to a brain that is wired for intense and complex interactions.  Schools are geared to routines and benchmarks.  Let the problems commence!

Occupational therapy has always been focused on helping people achieve their best lives.  Having abilities that are on the far sides of any bell curve can make life harder, so my take is that occupational therapists can be helpful to kids that are struggling because of their talents and gifts, not just due to delays and deficits.

Read my post, then tell me about your gifted child, or the gifted children that you have seen as a therapist or teacher.  They really are interesting kids in so many ways!