February 7, 2024

How to get your Child to do PT Exercise without Feeling like “The Bad Guy”

Tips to encourage your child to do their physical therapy exercises at home. You are the expert on your child, and you are their primary influence. So it is essential that parents and clinicians work together to fully facilitate the homework program and maintain consistency with the exercises.

Wow, you are sitting down to read this. You are lucky to take the minute between gift shopping, cleaning for your relatives to visit, packing for your own vacation to get away from your relatives, and the 13th version of the Nutcracker ballet that you have seen since January. I say that you are in luck, as I have hidden the winning lottery numbers in the text of this blog.

With the excitement of the holidays, and the variety of directions that children and parents are pulled these days, I have a lot of parents looking to advocate for their children and wanting strategies on how to best support their child’s growth towards his physical therapy goals. In that vein, I reached out to Beth Chung, MSMFT, AMFT, one of North Shore Pediatric Therapy’s brilliant Marriage and Family Therapists. I asked her several of the questions I am frequently asked:

“My child won’t do their PT ‘homework'”

“Work towards a goal.”  Beth answers.  You can help motivate your child by creating a star chart. These charts work for behavior as well as exercises. This chart can track your child’s progress with his/her exercises, and gives you something physical you can use to motivate him/her throughout the week (“Let’s look at your star chart. Look! You did such a wonderful job yesterday of doing all your leg exercises. I know you can do it again today!”). It can also allow your child to work toward a goal (ex. 5 days of completed exercises can lead to a reward.) Some of the best rewards for this can involve spending time with the family, and possibly something physically active. You can find active family-friendly places here. But don’t forget that walking through the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, any of these museums, or even through a park near home can be just as entertaining.

“Break it down.” You utilize immediate rewards. This works great for privileges the kids already get, such as time on the computer (for non-homework activities) or time with video games. For example, 15 minutes of a PT exercise can correlate to a certain amount of time with electronics.

“Dive in with them.” Most of the exercises you can do right along-side them. [Quick note, as long as you do not have a condition that would worsen if you performed them.]

“My child doesn’t believe me when I say that it’s important”

“Go to the source.” Set up a meeting with your child and the clinician she is working with. That clinician has experience, education, and research to back-up the activities she suggests. When the child can see that her parents and PT or OT are a team, it reinforces what they each say.

“Encourage your child’s questions.” Getting your child to “buy-in” to her exercise routine is essential, or it will be a struggle every day. Use what you know is important to your child (ex. Playing on the soccer team next year or feeling physically strong). Explain to your child how engaging in homework exercises can meet these goals, and praise your child throughout the process (ex. “I noticed that you ran faster today than I’ve ever seen you run! Those exercises must really be helping!”).

“Can’t we just take a couple of weeks off of exercise?”

“No.” This time of year is stressful for almost everyone. Finding creative ways to incorporate exercises into your routine is the key to success. Taking just a few days off of exercises can be a big set-back, and slow progress towards your goals. Here is a link to some fun movement activities.

“Explore your own feelings and thoughts as parents.” It may feel tempting to allow your child to take time off from the exercise, especially during the busy holiday season. Something to keep in mind, however, is that PT or OT occurs one hour out of your week and that, as clinicians, we rely on parents to continue to encourage your children to practice various exercises during the week. One way to think about it is that your PT or OT is your consultant, who can give you strategies and exercises, and that you are the coach to empower your child in his daily life!

To reiterate Beth’s point, we as clinicians see your kids for 1/168th of the week, or approximately 0.6% of the week. You are the expert on your child, and you are her primary influence. So it is essential that parents and clinicians work together to fully facilitate the homework program and maintain consistency with the exercises.

Enjoy your time with your kids and, when you win the lottery, remember who provided you with those numbers.

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