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Foster Independence with Memory Mantras

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Being an Occupational Therapist can also be a curse when it comes to parenting.  As an OT, the goals are always functional independence.  As a parent, I am no different.  I remember a video I watched in OT school.  This was of a boy (young adult) with cerebral palsy and he was putting his coat on.  The video was probably 20 minutes (or it felt that long).  As I watched this boy struggle with his coat for what seemed liked eternity, I wanted to jump through the TV to help him.  Clearly, with some help, this could be done faster and easier.  But in the end, it was not about that.  It was about independence.

As parents, it is often faster and easier to do things for our kids.  Or, we feel the need to continuously protect our kids from failure by ensuring that we are their second brain.  But is this the right choice when the goal is to create people that can manage on their own?

I have created two memory mantras that are used in our house to ensure my kids are seeing the big picture and are developing some executive functioning (note I also use these mantras with my clients who suffer from memory impairment):

  1. When leaving the house our mantra is:  WHERE AM I GOING AND WHAT DO I NEED?  When my children ask themselves this question, they need to stop and think “I am going to X and thus need Y (water, shoes, birthday present, tennis racquet, money)”.  This prevents them from showing up at X unprepared.
  2. When leaving a place in the community our mantra is:  WHAT DID I COME WITH AND WHAT DO I HAVE?  By asking themselves this question, they quickly realize that they came with X and thus need to bring X home (coat, shoes, water, bag, lunch).  This prevents them from leaving things behind.

The success is in hearing my children repeat this to themselves when on their way out the door.  Recently, at a sporting event, we heard a teenage boy blame his mother for forgetting his water.  She was profusely apologetic and rushed out to find him a drink.  My children (who were younger at the time) turned to me and said: “shouldn’t he remember his own water”?  My thoughts exactly.

Originally posted June 2013

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Get Back to Routine with These Helpful Resources

Summer vacation is coming to a close and the kids are heading back to school!  Due to vacations, sleepovers, and the unstructured nature of no school, daily routines are often disrupted over the summer months. A consistent daily routine for kids is critical to them learning responsibility, time management, and so they get a good sleep.

Therefore in September, it is important to re-establish what morning, after-school and bedtime time should look like.

While growing up, in our house, we had each of our girls “daily routines” typed, laminated and posted in the back hall. Though each differed slightly, they included:

Morning: 

  • wake up at 7:00 am
  • make beds
  • get dressed
  • eat a healthy breakfast
  • brush teeth and hair
  • pack lunch and backpack
  • out the door by 7:40


After-School: 

  • shoes and back-packs away
  • lunch boxes emptied
  • dry snacks and water bottle packed for the next day
  • paperwork from school in the “in box”
  • have a healthy snack
  • do any homework
  • then play (no technology)!


Before Bed:  

  • dinner dishes put away
  • play areas and bedroom are tidy
  • shower
  • healthy bedtime snack
  • reading time
  • lights out at 9:00 pm

Use our great free printable that can be customized for your children. This will help them to stay on track each day in the morning, after-school and before bed. Be sure to review this with the kids before implementing, confirm the expectations, and get their commitment.  You’ll be well on your way to creating a less stressful and more organized home!  

Check out more of our FREE printables for both children and adults, available on our website!

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Try Yoga for Improved Focus and Self-Regulation in Children

Guest Blogger Jana Maich, Occupational Therapist

Working as an occupational therapist in pediatrics, I am always on the lookout for simple strategies I can offer to parents and classroom teachers that can be easily be implemented. One of the main difficulties expressed to me by concerned parents or teachers is that a child is having difficulty controlling their activity level, focusing or attending, or controlling emotional outbursts. In other words, a child is having difficulty self-regulating.

What does this mean? Self-regulation is our ability to monitor and control our body’s arousal level (in other words, our level of alertness) in order to remain in an optimal state that is appropriate for the current situation. Self-regulation is critical to being able to attend, focus, and learn (1). When our body’s arousal level gets too “high,” we may feel anxious, nervous, or stressed. When our body’s arousal level gets too “low,” we may feel lethargic, sluggish, or tired. Often unconsciously, adults participate in a variety of self-regulation strategies to remain in an optimum state throughout our day. For example, in a boring meeting where your level of alertness may be “low,” you may tap your pencil, shift in your chair, apply pressure to your mouth or chin with your hands, or drink water in order to bring your arousal level up. After an intense day of work when you may be feeling too “high,” you may take a bath, read a book, or participate in some other sort of relaxation promoting activity (1). There are many ways to regulate ourselves, and just as adults require self-regulation strategies, children do too. Yet, in today’s changing and fast-passed society, children are more stressed than ever before. School demands have increased, daily schedules are jam-packed, and they don’t have as much play or “down” time as kids once did. Unfortunately, unstructured play activities that are critical to a child’s innate self-regulation needs have been replaced by TV and electronics. All of this has ultimately stressed our young generations, resulting in disrupted self-regulation.

Yoga is one activity that has become recognized as a suitable and helpful regulation activity – for people of all ages. (2). For children, yoga offers many potential benefits – both physically and emotionally. Benefits include improved postural control, immune functioning, body awareness, strength and flexibility, emotional control, attention, sleep, and a decrease in stress and anxiety. Yoga is a simple strategy with a variety of exercises that can be completed anywhere including at home, when on vacation, while lying in bed, or as a group in the classroom. Depending on the current needs of the child, there are various poses and breathing exercises designed to bring arousal levels up or down as appropriate. Over time, children begin to develop an enhanced mind-body connection and an improved ability to monitor and manage their own levels of arousal (2).

In my personal experience, using simple breathing strategies and poses in my practice, has demonstrated firsthand how yoga can positively affect children with both physical and mental disabilities including autism, ADHD, emotional difficulties, mental health conditions, and motor coordination difficulties. In older children, learning how to control their own emotions and arousal levels empowers them and creates both self-esteem and self-control.

So what are you waiting for? Search out local yoga programs for you or your child. Try these links: www.yoga4classrooms.com or www.childlightyoga.com. Consider that many places will let you try a class without a commitment, or offer great starter incentives. Or, buy a CD or DVD, or check out some poses and breathing exercises via online videos to see if this might work for you or your family.

Originally posted July 2014

(1) Williams, M., & Shellenberger, S. (2012). “How does your engine run?” A leader’s guide to the Alert Program for self-regulation.” Albuquerque, NM: Therapy Works

(2) Flynn, L. (2010). Yoga 4 classrooms. Tools for learning, lessons for life. Dover, NH: Yoga 4 Classrooms.

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Recognizing Sensory Sensitivity in Children

In a previous post, Recognizing Sensory Seeking in Children, we discussed the “sensory seeking” child. On the other end of the spectrum is the sensory defensive child. Unlike sensory seekers who have high thresholds for sensory input, sensory sensitive children have very low sensory thresholds. Due to these low thresholds, they experience sensory input much more intensely or notice sensory input much more often than their peers. This means that sensory input that may not bother you and I may be very aversive, distracting, threatening, or even painful for that child.

Our OT-V episode (below), will help you to understand this sensitivity and provide you with the solutions an Occupational Therapist can recommend.

Summer Programming Note:

Summer vacation is here and we will be taking a break from our regular schedule.  We will be posting some of our popular seasonal blogs just once a week throughout the summer but will resume our regular three weekly posts in September, filled with new and exciting content including our popular O-Tip of Week series.

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How Kids Can Continue to Learn Over the Summer

How do we, as parents and caregivers, make sure our kids don’t suffer summer “brain drain,” while ensuring they get the break and vacation they need?  Check out the following infographic for ideas to keep kids brains sharp while having fun this summer vacation:

Summer Programming Note:

Summer vacation is here and we will be taking a break from our regular schedule.  We will be posting some of our popular seasonal blogs just once a week throughout the summer but will resume our regular three weekly posts in September, filled with new and exciting content including our popular O-Tip of Week series.

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Recognizing Sensory Seeking in Children

Issues with sensory processing are one of the most common reasons parents seek the services of an Occupational Therapist.  One of the most troubling sensory related concerns for parents is when their child is a “sensory seeker.” Sensory seekers are constantly “on the go” as they are attempting to obtain the sensory input that their bodies crave.

In our OT-V episode (below), we discuss how an Occupational Therapist can help if you are concerned that sensory seeking may be a problem for your child. 

Summer Programming Note:

Summer vacation is here and we will be taking a break from our regular schedule.  We will be posting some of our popular seasonal blogs just once a week throughout the summer but will resume our regular three weekly posts in September, filled with new and exciting content including our popular O-Tip of Week series.

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So I Guess Your Kid Doesn’t Wear a Seat Belt Either?

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I get very confused when I see children riding bikes without helmets.  Over the last many years the safety benefits of a helmet for biking, skiing, skateboarding, ice skating (and many other sports) has been well studied.  Research shows that helmets can be extremely effective in preventing head injuries and ¾ of all cycling fatalities are the result of head trauma.  You don’t even have to hit a car or tree to sustain a head injury – the ground or even your handlebars are often enough.

The laws in Ontario are clear:  since October 1, 1995 anyone under the age of 18 is required to ride a helmet on a road or sidewalk (http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/safety/helmet/helmet_law.htm).  Based on an increasing number of adult cycling deaths by head injury, it is likely that this law will soon be extended to adults as it is in other provinces.

So, considering the laws and the well-publicized risks, why are children (including young children) still seen riding bikes without helmets?

As adults, I recognize that we were not raised to wear helmets.  Adopting this practice has been difficult as we find it unnatural, maybe uncomfortable, and probably uncool.  However, most of us likely wear seat belts when in a vehicle.  Why?  BECAUSE WE WERE RAISED THAT WAY.  Seat belt laws in Ontario were passed in 1976 and so many of us were raised in the era of this as mandatory.  Many of us probably don’t even have to think about our seat belt anymore as it is part of our regular “get-in-the-car” routine and we feel naked and exposed without it.  We need to apply the same concept of “normal” to our children regarding helmets. 

There are two main reasons why children need to wear helmets. 

1. They are safe and have been shown to save lives and reduce disability.

2.  IT IS THE LAW.

As a parent, by not requiring that your child wear a helmet on their bike you are not only putting them at risk, but are also teaching them that laws don’t matter.  And I am not talking about the diligent parents whose children leave the house with a helmet on, to later have this on their handlebars or undone on their head.   I am mostly talking about the young kids in my neighbourhood who are out on their bikes without helmets, often under the supervision of their parents, and are thus not being taught that helmets are law, mandatory, and safe.

I am going to hazard a guess that no parent would put their child in a car without a seat belt.  Heck, child seats are also law and until a certain age, these are five-point and offer more protection than the adult restraint.  So, for the same reasons you put your child in a seat belt (protection and law) you need to ensure they are wearing a helmet for biking (skating, skiing, skateboarding).  And lead by example – get a helmet for yourself and model the appropriate behavior.  And be firm: no helmet should equal no bike.  No discussion.

 

Previously posted June 2016

 

Summer Programming Note:

Summer vacation is here and we will be taking a break from our regular schedule.  We will be posting some of our popular seasonal blogs just once a week throughout the summer but will resume our regular three weekly posts in September, filled with new and exciting content including our popular O-Tip of Week series.

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Adaptive Physical Activity Guidelines for Children with Disabilities

Participaction and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, have created a fantastic resource for parents of children with disabilities.  The Ability Toolkit’s purpose is to ensure that all children are meeting daily movement requirements.  The toolkit helps to break down what a healthy day should look like for children and youth and provides ways to modify and adapt activities for many physical disabilities.  Take a look at the Ability Toolkit here and if you’re struggling to find adapted physical activities for your child consult an Occupational Therapist who are experts in providing solutions for living.

The Ability Toolkit

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Screen Time: How Much is Too Much and How to Change It

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I was enjoying a nice dinner with a friend (also an occupational therapist) and we started a great conversation about phone use with our children.  She asked me “how much screen time is too much”?  Of course, there isn’t really an academic answer, but we talked from a professional perspective about the behavior of phones, the social risks and benefits, and from the parent side of our fears and worries about how these have become a staple in the lives of our kids. Then, she changed my world by introducing me to the concept of screen time (more on that below).

Parents have very polarized views on phones, so I get that how I manage this in my household may not fit with the values of others.  To recap, I have four teen daughters ages 14-18.  Our phone philosophy is that we provide our girls a phone for their 14th Birthday (Grade 9) and pay for this until their 18th Birthday.  After that, they are on their own to fund this expense (and can get as many gigs as they want).  On our plan, they have 2 gigs each and do not get an extension if they run out.  Their access to Wi-Fi at home is scheduled and is not limitless.  They are not allowed to have their devices in their bedrooms (concessions are made sometimes but they already have “old school alarm clocks” to negate the “I need it to wake up” argument) and they know that if this is beside their bed it needs to be in airplane mode to not disrupt their sleep.

Too strict?  Perhaps, but I see phones like every other “potentially harmful” thing I keep my kids from.  Sedentary time, junk food and pop consumption (tip – just don’t buy it!), and of course we do not serve them alcohol or buy them cigarettes.  I ensure they are all engaged in something active and encourage them to make decent food choices, even if they don’t.  Those things are easy for me to “parent about” because it is well established that “sitting disease” is a thing, “diabetes and obesity” are a problem, and alcohol and drugs are horrible for developing brains (not to mention illegal for my kids based on age).  But screen time?  How much is “too much”?  We don’t really know that yet.  We know that phones are highly addictive – more addictive than cocaine – and cause a whole host of behaviors that, like addictions, are hard to break.  They also promote highly sedentary behavior (they are typically used while sitting). So, here is how I handled this (and note this is for iPhones with a family plan, I don’t know how this works with any other devices):

  • Go to: “settings, screen time”.  To get to know how this works, the top shows your usage.  Push on that and you have the option to look at Today or the Last 7 Days.  Below that is a list of all the things you do on your phone and for how long.
  • Go back to “screen time” and you will see somethings below your usage:

o   Downtime (schedule time away from the screen)

o   App Limits (set time for apps)

o   Always Allowed (things you want to always have access to)

o   Content and Privacy (blocking inappropriate content

  • Then below that, you will see “Family” and a list of those “underage” as per your family plan.

Now for the cool parent stuff.  You can click on any one of your children’s devices and you can see for each of them what you can also see for yourself.  Patterns, usage behavior, time on certain things, and you can also put limits to the above (Downtime, Apps, Always Allowed and Content).  It asks you for a password so as a parent you can pick something that the kids won’t know.  They can’t change their limits on their own.

I don’t recommend arbitrarily just going in and setting limits as I think the best part of the “screen time” feature is the conversation that can happen around figuring out what is “reasonable”.  With my kids, I chatted with each of them about their usage pattern (something they never looked at).  We talked about the time on their Apps, and for some, questions like: “4 hours on Rodeo Stampede”?  This brought their awareness to their habits and allowed me to understand their insight into whether this was “good, bad or ugly”.  And honestly, it was a mix of all three.  After we understood their patterns, we decided on our “screen time limit” (for us three hours / day) and went through to give permission for all the “good” to continue, the “bad” to be limited, and the “ugly” to stop.  And the best thing is that these limits apply regardless of data or Wi-Fi – so even if they have unlimited Wi-Fi in public places, they can’t use their devices more than programmed.

Since implementing this several weeks ago, their screen time has dropped significantly, and they don’t even use their devices to their limits (which were set lower than their averages to start with).  In fact, three hours might be more than they need.

All of this brings me back to a popular concept in my profession of occupational therapy:  behavior change starts with being able to track and understand it in the first place.  Once you know where behavior is at, you can make a conscious and concerted effort to modify it to improve your own health.  Even if you drop your usage by 30 minutes a day and maintain that for several weeks, you just returned yourself 3.5 hours per week to do other (healthier?) things.

What’s next Apple?  An iFridge?

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What is Growth Mindset?

When it comes to “mindset” Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology, states that people have either a fixed or a growth mindset and states that:

  • With a fixed mindset, one believes their qualities and abilities are fixed and therefore cannot change even with practice.
  • With a growth mindset, one believes their qualities and abilities will continue to change with time, effort and experience.

The term “Growth Mindset” is used frequently when talking about children and youth pertaining to education, however, it is not just for kids.  As clinicians who work with people of all ages who have sustained life-altering injuries, we often come across fixed mindsets and work to help clients reframe their thoughts and form goals based on a growth mindset.   Learn more about growth mindset in this TedTalk featuring Carol Dweck.