Occupational therapy gives children tools to grow

Brother and sister reading book together.
Brother and sister reading a book together.

Children learn and grow by doing. The occupation of a child is made up of regular, daily activities such as playing, learning, sleeping, interacting with family and friends, getting dressed, feeding themselves, and so much more.

Does my child need occupational therapy?

A child may need occupational therapy at any point when his or her psychological, physical, emotional, sensory, cognitive or social makeup interferes with participating in daily routines.

Who are occupational therapists?

Occupational therapists (OTs), like those at Rehabilitation Services at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, are skilled professionals who serve infants, children, young adults and their families by promoting participation in daily activities. OTs offer opportunities for children and their families to overcome barriers and achieve their goals. Specifically, OTs offer interventions and education in the areas of fine motor, visual motor, sensory processing, coordination, strengthening, self-help and upper extremity splinting/casting.

How can I help as a parent?

It is recommended that families grow children with a sensory rich environment. Establishing healthy routines and encouraging your child to participate in them is a great way to help your child grow. Simple activities such as dressing himself or herself independently or helping prepare a meal can help your child develop lifelong habits and manners.

Here are a few other tips for establishing routines:

Promote participation and independence

It may be faster and easier to dress children or do their hair, but it is important for them to practice and learn to engage in a morning routine independently. Allow children to dress independently on weekends and then progress to weekdays as they become more skilled. Start with a certain aspect of dressing, like putting on socks, then add more complicated clothing, like shirts with buttons. It is okay to let them go to school with a unique outfit or hairdo.

Promote healthy habits

Mealtimes sitting at a table with no TV on or electronics can send the message that mealtimes are for eating and talking. Distracted eating may encourage overeating and decreases socialization because the focus is not on the family members or the meal itself. Giving children assigned seats at the table with a place mat can help them identify their space for eating. Encourage each child to take one bite of a new food, and remember that it will probably take several tries before the food will be accepted or liked. The expectation to try new things will help children learn to do this on their own and will encourage a balanced diet.

Offer steps to help your family learn a positive routine

Learning to toilet may take time, and it is important not to rush a child. Children may need to sit for a bit to be successful. They may benefit from:

  • Running the sink water to initiate pottying
  • Singing a song or two to relax
  • Looking at a book while on the toilet

If a child cannot remember all the steps in the process of toileting, a series of pictures of each step posted by the toilet may help. Remember, children need to practice, and toileting has a lot of steps. Bathrooms are also different, so a child may need additional time when in a new bathroom.

Help your child feel comfortable

If a child expresses fear of the dark, make checking the closet or under the bed part of the bedtime routine. A nightlight can also help reduce this fear. Dim the lights while getting ready for bed to help the child prepare for the dark and to reinforce that nighttime is for sleeping. Support the child by saying things like, “I believe in you,” or “I know you can do it” in response to anxieties or fears that interfere with sleep. Overcoming a fear in a safe, supported environment can help the child gain confidence.


Source: The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., aota.org