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The Power of Yoga for Children

Yoga has become an increasingly popular form of exercise over the past few years. So much so that on every street corner there seems to be a new yoga studio advertising a variety of classes and programs. Yoga is practiced by people of all ages and skill level. The benefits of yoga, especially for children, are countless. Below are four of the reasons children should practice yoga.

1. Motor Planning

Yoga poses vary in complexity. While your child twists and turns their body to match the pose of the group, they are creating motor plans in their brain for these movement patterns. Creating and refining these plans are what help a child to improve their overall coordination. For children just learning the practice of yoga, try to practice poses where they hold the left and right sides of their body in the same position (down dog, cat, cobra). Once your child is able to efficiently assume these poses, try a few that require them to move the left side of their body differently than their right (triangle, tree, or warrior poses).

2. Strength and Endurance

Once your child has motor planned their way into a yoga pose, encourage them to freeze in that position for a predetermined duration of time without losing their balance or dramatically swaying from side to side. As their body endurance and balance improve, increase the duration they are required to sustain the position. Holding these static poses will help to improve your child’s muscle endurance.

3. Attention

Sustaining poses for predetermined durations can also help to improve your child’s attention. Holding the same pose with a steady and still body for even three seconds may prove to be a challenge. Try to choose a duration of time for your child to hold a pose that challenges their attention but that they also have a chance to be successful in completing. Once they master the ability to hold a pose for a shorter duration of time increase the challenge by a second or two to see if they can maintain a still and focused body.

4. Social Skills

Yoga can be a challenging form of exercise but it can also be a lot of fun. Working together with friends or classmates to practice and refine yoga skills offers vast opportunities for promoting social skills including flexibility of thought to participate group classes, active listening, turn-taking, imitating and replicating group dynamics, and identifying personal role in group activities.

In the coming weeks, especially while it’s still cold outside, look into kid-friendly yoga classes in your community. If you would rather, there are also some excellent videos and yoga cards that you can use in the comfort of your own home. “The Yoga Pretzel Cards” by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish are an excellent tool for practicing yoga with really colorful illustrations for kids to practice with. No matter the way or place you choose to do yoga, remember the cardinal rules for practice: breathe in, breathe out, and namaste.



 

6 Health Benefits of Basketball for Children

Ever wonder which team sport keeps boys and girls busy no matter their age, skill level, or the season? I recently had the opportunity to watch one of my clients play basketball with his middle school team, and it was so rewarding to see him transfer skills we worked on during physical therapy to the court.  Basketball is a high-intensity, high-agility activity that teaches children coordination, concentration, and cooperation.

6 Health Benefits of Basketball:

  1. Endurance: As with any high intensity sport, there are many cardiovascular benefits of basketball.  Between bouts of running, jumping, dribbling, and bouts of rests, kids are participating in total body interval training without even realizing it. Interval training boosts aerobic capacity, energy levels, and metabolism, which in turn helps kids concentrate more in school.
  2. Motor Control: The ability to control our limbs in space may come naturally, but being able to pass and shoot with precision during a basketball game takes special training and repetitive practice.  Performing drills on and off the court with a basketball enables children to grade their muscle forces, control the position of their bodies in response to an opponent or a pass, and plan out successful movement sequences.
  3. Ankle Stability: All the agility training, cutting back and forth, multidirectional running, pivoting, and turning within a basketball game are great ways to challenge our lower body muscles and joints, especially the structures surrounding our ankles.  Organized basketball teaches kids safe and successful ways to block, pass, steal, jump, and run without hurting themselves or others.  Ball sports such as basketball are great for reinforcing kids’ balance reactions and balance strategies and prevent future injury.
  4. Balance/Coordination: As with most team sports, basketball requires upper body coordination, total body coordination, and hand-eye coordination. Dribbling, catching, passing, and making baskets require planning, precision, and quick reactions. Walking backwards, turning, or running while dribbling a ball and at the same time paying attention to other players is a challenging but interesting exercise for coordination and body awareness.
  5. Agility: Basketball is a fast paced sport where athletes have to think fast on their feet and respond quickly to plays that could change momentum and direction at any minute.  Young athletes are working on mental drills in addition to physical techniques. Basketball enhances children’s agility due to the swiftness needed to dodge other players and make aggressive plays.
  6. Social Skills: The great thing about team sports is the level of discipline and communication needed for success at the games. Young athletes learn from an early age how to work in a team atmosphere, pay attention to others, and respond accordingly. An athlete needs discipline to attend practices and pay attention to the rules of any game.  Team sports prepare children for necessary social interactions later in life.  Through these sports, children understand shared responsibility, team work, how to deal with triumph and defeat, all of which are applicable throughout life.

Click here to read about the health benefits of another fun winter sport: hockey!

What Is the Difference Between Occupational and Physical Therapy for Children?

Many of the parents I meet often ask why very few occupational therapist work with infants, or why an occupational therapist (OT) is seeing their child for toe-walking as opposed to a physical therapist (PT). They often wonder why one child who has balance or coordination issues would see a physical therapist while another with similar limitations would see an occupational therapist instead. Some parents think that occupational therapists only work on fine motor skills while physical therapists only work on gross motor skills.  Physical and occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, neonatal intensive care units, skilled nursing homes, outpatient clinics, schools, rehabilitation centers, and doctor’s offices.  Physical therapist and occupational therapist roles differ depending on the setting they work in and the medical diagnoses they work with.

In the outpatient clinic, some of these roles may overlap.  While there are some similarities between PTs and OTs in each setting, there are a few fundamental differences between OTs and PTs in the pediatric setting.

Pediatric Physical Therapy:

In the pediatric outpatient setting, physical therapists are often musculoskeletal and movement specialists. Parents can seek out evaluations when their babies are as young as 1 month old. Physical therapists have in-depth knowledge about human musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, integumentary, and cardiovascular systems. Based on our background in stages of development and biomechanics, we help children with mobility difficulties; whether they are behind on their gross motor milestones, recovering from injury/surgery, or not keeping up with other children.

Through all kinds of hands-on or play techniques, pediatric physical therapist work with children on the following:

  • Gross motor skills
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Balance and coordination
  • Motor control and motor planning
  • Body awareness
  • Pain relief
  • Flexibility
  • Gait mechanics
  • Orthotics training
  • Wound care

Our focus is for children to be as mobile and as independent as possible, while training their caregivers on all aspects of a child’s physical development. This includes anything that may affect a child’s quality of movement, posture, alignment, and safety.

Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Outpatient pediatric occupational therapists are trained to improve the quality of children’s participation in their daily functional tasks.  A child’s job is to play and take part in activities at school and at home. These include important endeavors such as paying attention in class, hand writing, dressing, feeding and grooming themselves, and being able to engage in age-appropriate games. Occupational therapists are also trained to help children organize and interpret information from the environment so that they can just be kids. This may include taste aversions that limit their food intake, or texture aversions that affect their clothing tolerance, or sound aversions that affect their mood.

OTs work with children on the following skills:

  • Sensory integration
  • Cognitive endurance
  • Fine motor skills
  • Hand function
  • Visual-spatial awareness
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Attention
  • Social skills
  • Body awareness

Occupational therapists often educate parents and teachers on the best techniques to ensure children participate in learning, self-care, and play tasks.

Why do some children need both disciplines and some only need one?

So many factors can affect a child’s ability to participate in her daily life. A child may be experiencing frequent falls or may have trouble jumping due to a number of reasons.  No matter the diagnosis or underlying medical condition, any child who is having a hard time keeping up with his peers can benefit from a comprehensive evaluation by a pediatric specialist.

How ADHD Impacts Your Child’s Social Skills and Friendships

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that can affect your child’s ability to regulate his behavior and observe, understand, and respond to his or her social environment.

Does your child…

  • Often have problems getting along with other children (i.e. sharing, cooperating, keeping promises)?
  • Struggle to make and keep friends?
  • Tend to play with kids younger than him?
  • Become upset, aggressive, or frustrated easily when they lose a game or things don’t go their way?
  • Have difficulty following directions and rules?

Peer relationship issues tend to be a common problem area in children with ADHD. Children with ADHD tend to act in a way that provokes negative reactions from peers, and can become a target for teasing.  The hallmark symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity, can be the main culprits to blame! These children tend to live in the NOW… meaning what they can achieve right now is what is important! The consequences, like losing friends and being left out the next time, are overlooked. Social skills (i.e. sharing, keeping promises, expressing interest in another person) have NO IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION. These kiddos then have difficulty understanding the concept of building friendships based on these learned skills.

What can you do to help?

  • Practice social skills at home and when you observe your child playing with other children.
  • Avoid activities that require complex rules for success and a lot of passive time (i.e. choosing an infield vs. outfield position in T-Ball). They can become bored and distracted easily.
  • Keep groups small.
  • Discourage play with aggressive peers.
  • Experts have found more positive social interactions when there is less competition – this causes emotional over arousal, increased disorganized behavior, and frustration.
  • Make sure you are modeling appropriate social behavior at home.
  • Encourage friendships – invite kids over to your house and keep the play structured and supervised
  • Work with your child’s teacher and involve her in the process.
  • Enroll in social skills training class or contact a professional if more help is needed.

Sources:
Taking Charge of ADHD, Revised Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents  By Russell A. Barkley




Health Benefits of Hockey for Kids

Many parents often ask me about the best sport to enroll their children in during the winter time. Hockeythe health benefits of hockey always comes high on my list of recommendations. Children as young as 5 years old can participate and benefit from this total body work out.

Health Benefits of Hockey:

Endurance

Hockey is a high-intensity sport that has many cardiovascular benefits. Between bouts of running, skating, and bouts of rests, kids are participating in interval training without even realizing it. High-intensity interval training has been known to boost aerobic capacity, energy levels, and metabolism. Read more

Tips for Improving Your Child’s Social Skills

Why don’t they just get it? When it comes to appropriate social interactions, it can be surprising when a child does not innately posses the tools and skills to foster successful conversations and peer relationships. This should not be alarming, as social skills can be acquired like any other skill; we all go to school to learn math and science, and without assistance one might not understand these concepts. Social skills function the same way – without education and practice, children may struggle in social situations.

It is important for children to understand the rules of language (e.g., using language, changing language, and following rules) in order to succeed in various social environments. Using language comprises greeting (“Hello”), informing (“I am watching TV.”), and requesting (“Can I watch TV?”). Children also need to learn to change language, depending on the environment. Children will adjust their message depending on their needs, the needs of their communicative partner, the age of their partner (e.g., talking to a baby differently than talking to your principal), and based on their environment (e.g., yelling on the playground is acceptable, however yelling in the classroom is not). Children will learn to follow the rules of conversation as well, including taking turns, staying on topic, reading verbal and non-verbal cues, and understanding personal space boundaries. If your child is struggling with any aspect of social language, the tips below can help!

Tips for Improving Your Child’s Social Skills:

  • Ask questions: Model how to ask peers or adults questions. Examples may include the following: asking how someone’s day is going, asking likes/dislikes, or asking communicative partners to elaborate or repeat phrasing in order to aid in listener understanding. Utilizing these strategies will help children better interact in social situations.
  • Answering questions: Talk with your child to help him learn that answering questions can help further a conversation and will allow for the back-and-forth flow of an interaction.
  • Topic maintenance: Children will often change the topic to something of interest to them. Help your child practice topic maintenance skills by each taking turns picking the topic and see if you can each make 5 questions/comments for a non-preferred topic.
  • Role playing: Pretend that you and your child are in different social situations and adjust your tone of voice, volume, and message based on each scenario. Different scenarios include talking to a teacher, explaining a favorite game to an adult, asking a peer for help with homework, ordering in a restaurant, and not getting your way.
  • Non-verbal skills: Alter your non-verbal skills when your child is telling you a story. This will help your child to pick up on signs of confusion, frustration, boredom, and anger. Explaining that non-verbal skills are integral parts of social interactions can help children to learn to maintain eye contact and use whole-body listening.

For further information, please read Social Skills: Improving Social Skills to Enhance Socio-Emotional Health or click here for more information from a licensed speech-language pathologist or a licensed clinical social worker.

Co-written by Ali Wein

Social Thinking: Improving Social Skills to Enhance Socio-Emotional Health

What is social thinking?

Social thinking is what we do when we interact with people. For successful social interactions, it is important that the individual take in and process information embedded in both verbal and non-verbal cues and process how to effectively respond based on the context and topic of presented material. Joint attention, knowledge of expectations regarding behavior, and mental flexibility are all key components for appropriate social relationships.

What happens when social skills are impaired?

When a child has difficulty with focus, understanding the context of the environment around them, and lacks knowledge of how their behaviors make others feel, social thinking may be impaired. Social skills deficits can have profound effects on your child’s academic performance, feelings about self, ability to connect with others, and ability to achieve desired wants and needs. Read more

Breaking the Ice: Go-To Conversation Starters for Kids

Many children find it difficult to approach new friends. They often learn how, by watching others and trying things out. While they mayClassmates talking outdoors be able to do this on their own, they will be even more effective if they have an adult to provide guidance, appropriate phrases, and opportunities to practice.

Having  “go-to” phrases can really help children be prepared for social opportunities and lower anxiety about the unexpected.  Here are some ideas to share with your kids.

Conversation Starters For Children:

Help them pick out 2-3 of their favorite “go-to’s” and practice in role play with each-other  toys/figurines or new children (when ready).

Just introduce yourself!

Example: “Hi! I’m Alex.”

Ask a question about what they’re doing.

Example: “Are you playing the new Angry Birds game?”

Show that you’re interested in them.

Example: “I think I want to read that book. Do you like it?”

Give a compliment.

Example: “I like your backpack!”

Ask for their opinion.

Example: “Which video game do you like the best?”

Share a little about yourself.

Example: “I moved once too, so I know it’s really hard at first.”

Offer to help.

Example: “I can show you where that classroom is!”

Offer an invitation.

Example: “Want to sit together at lunch?”

Guide your child by talking about each idea and asking them which ones they prefer. This is a great conversation to have with your child as school just begins, to help lower that back to school anxiety!

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Organization, Social Skills, Puberty, oh my, Junior High! Get your teen ready!

The jump into middle school is a big one for many children and families!  So many unknowns! Higher demands from teachers for time management and organization, more pressure from kids socially, and puberty hitting, all at the same time!Girl in Junior High

Here are some Junior High tips!

Executive Functioning/ Organization

  • Make a daily written schedule and include wake up time, workout time, screen time and leave the house time.  Be very specific.
  • Buy an organization file binder versus the 8 separate folders your child may have had or been asked to bring.  This keeps them much more organized.
  • Ask the school for a locker in a preplanned place so your child does not have to run from one end of school to another if he has a tendency to be late.
  •  Think hard now if your child is struggling and ask for an IEP or 504 plan to get additional time or support.  This will be so helpful and his plan also follow him when he may need it on standardized exams.
  • Use a timer.

Social Skills

  • Get your child into youth groups or sports.  They can be through school clubs, park district, or religious organizations.  Youth groups are wonderful ways to find friends that are similar to your child.
  • Make plans with children that will be in his grade all summer.   He should not walk into school not knowing too many people, especially if he is timid or has any trouble socially.
  • Find a social group for teens at a local clinic or school so that he can practice his social skills with a trained professional.
  • Have your child read over the summer.  This makes them smarter and more confident.  An extra tip: they can also read about all kinds of junior high experiences.

Puberty

  • Read this great book mom and dad: “But I’m Almost 13!” by Kenneth Ginsburg.  It will help you understand and avoid so many struggles!
  • Don’t forget to talk with your child, give eye contact, and hold his hand when you are walking.   Just because he is growing up, does not mean he isn’t still your baby!
  • Kids who go out and start over-prioritizing their peers socially, physically, emotionally, may be looking for attention! Give your teens attention!  (See bullet above) and also, laugh with them, watch tv with them, take them out for an ice cream, don’t disengage!

Good luck!

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Get your Child Ready for 1st Grade

For many children going to 1st grade is a huge milestone.  More hours spent in school, higher expectations for academic, behavior,  social skills, and more peer pressure.Child in First Grade

Here are some tips to parent these kids as “right” as you can before 1st grade:

Academics

  • Prepare your child with some online fun academics, flash cards, or any workbook for 1st grade readiness;  but make it fun!  10 minutes per day is enough! You can even try KUMON math and reading to get them strong in basics for math and reading.  This will also prepare them with homework.
  • Strengthen up any weaknesses your child may have in academics. If they need a little reading help, use the following tips in this blog. If they need some number work, try flashcards, or try a tutor, but even just 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference in their self esteem about academics.
  • Get your child tested now if you detect any challenges. Don’t wait for the teacher to say something at conferences!  Go get a good neuropsychological exam and you will know what strengths and challenges your child has and have an opportunity to grow them.
  • Use a daily schedule even in first grade for time management and learning appropriate skills.

Behavior

  • Make sure your child knows how to follow rules, understands boundaries, and knows the expectations of first grade children.  This includes raising hands, taking turns, staying quiet and getting involved/participation, etc.
  • Get your child some support if behavior is an issue.  There are social groups, social workers, books, all kinds of tools to help out there!
  • Your child needs to know what YOU expect of him and what your consequences  are at home.
  • Make sure your family gets proper sleep and food daily.

Social skills/Peer Pressure

  • Make play dates for your child and help model proper 1st grade skills.
  • Join a community playgroup/social group at a local clinic, park district or religious organization.
  • If you suspect something is still off about his social skills, get him evaluated and he can practice his skills with the right support.
  • Make sure to keep your child engaged and talkative with you so you can help him through the tough and great times of 1st grade.

Good luck!

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