fbpx
Back to School

Back to School Transition Strategies

Back to School Emotions

August means back to school is right around the corner!  Back to school means transitioning to new schools, new teachers, new peers, new expectations and new routines! Many kids are excited about the anticipation of a new school year, but for many kiddos “new” can be scary and worrisome. 

Children can communicate their emotions through a variety of behaviors. It’s important as parents and caregivers to be aware of these behaviors to help our kiddos manage their emotions and provide opportunity for a successful transition back to school!

The best way to help our kiddos with new tasks is by creating predictability and maintaining consistency in their routines.  This will help ease their worry and fear while building their confidence for success.

 Simple Strategies to Help Back to School Transition: 

Waking and Bedtime Schedule

We all fall into the summer slump of less structure and organization in the routine of our days. Beginning at least a month prior to the first day of school, begin  implementing a waking and bedtime schedule that will mirror your child’s school time routine.

Visual calendar count down

Time is a vague concept for young kids, so counting the “number of sleeps” until school starts is a meaningful way to incorporate how many days until the first day of school.

Social Stories

Read social stories and talk about expectations for the new school year.  Don’t forget to highlight important details that you know they are looking forward to (including a favorite teacher, familiar classmates, exciting activities they are looking forward to that year), but also recognize and discuss novel tasks that may cause stress (such as attending at a new building, bus rides, lunchtime, whatever it may be).

New Peer Playdates

Reach out to local parent/community groups to set-up park meet-ups/ playdates to become familiar with new peers.

Trial Run

Do a trial run before school starts. Drive by your child’s school to create familiarity.  Is there a park accessible to play at? Go play to create positive experiences associated with the school. This will help to see where you might have some bumps getting on the road and need to tweek parts of your morning routine.

Label feelings

Validate their feelings. Use visuals when you can. Provide your child with a ‘toolbox” of calming strategies to attain/maintain a feeling of calmness throughout their day.

Model Confidence

Model your confidence to make them feel confident (even if you have to fake it); kids feed off of our emotions. This includes talk enthusiastically about what a positive experience this will be, avoid lingering at drop-offs and encourage participation in new activities.

Back to School Mantra

Create a mantra to repeat out loud.  “I am safe” is one of my favorites!

List of Resources

Below are a list of resourceful links to provide more information about typical/atypical behaviors, countdown calendars, addressing feelings and visuals for calming strategies:

  1. Managing Behavior Strategies
  2. Social Story
  3. Journals
  4. Emotions for Kids
  5. Back to School Countdown

Don’t forget, what may seem like a minor problem to us as adults, feels like a BIG problem to our kiddos, especially when they are learning to recognize and handle their big emotions.  Make the experience easier for them by  remaining calm if things do not go as planned, or their reactions don’t meet our expectations. Don’t forget to model flexibility to bumps in routines.  Also,  remember that changes don’t happen overnight and give your child time to settle into their new routines! If things don’t get easier and you would like some additional strategies, please schedule a screening with one of our therapists to help find individualized strategies for you and your child.

Written by Jamie Blough

Mealtime Wiggles

So frequently do I hear “my kid takes a bite to eat then leaves the table” or “my kid can’t sit still throughout his entire meal” creating a lengthy meal time and impacting positive mealtime dynamics. Here’s come tips and tricks for getting your child to sit for longer durations:

  • LOTS of heavy work right before meal time!
    • Helps get extra energy out right before having to sit down
    • Bear walks, wheelbarrow walks, rolling child up in a blanket like a burrito and then unrolling MANY times, frog hops, running and crashing into pillows/ blankets over and over, crawling over pillows/ blankets/ couch cushions thrown unevenly onto floor, inchworms, belly on ball arm walkouts, lifting or pushing heavy baskets
  • Wiggle cushion
    • Round or inclined textured cushions can help provide movement even while seated (can be purchased  on Amazon)
    • Can also place cushion on floor for child to stand and move on while remaining at table.
  • Weighted blanket or lap pad while seated; weighted shoulder wrap (also available on Amazon )
  • Boundary to maintain near table, even if not sitting.
    • Try a chair with arms on it
    • Provide painters tape boundary on floor for child to remain in during meal. Start off bigger and make boundary smaller as the child displays readiness. Be strict on maintaining in boundary area throughout meal.
    • Can provide sensory movement items in this area.
  • Thera-band wrapped around chair leg
    • Child can push legs/feet to fidget on band while sitting
  • Allow child to stand and eat if that’s what is needed to remain near table
  • Wobble stool (available on Amazon)
    • Only use if child has enough core stability and safety awareness
    • Ensure table height matches with chair height
    • Better for older children
  • Stabilize those little feet!
    • Stabilizing the feet will help to stabilize the core. When our core is not stable, our attention is overall decreased and chewing can become a chore.
  • Textures or fidgets
    • Attach velcro textures under table or chairs
    • Special “meal only” fidgets to play with and only while sitting or standing right at table
  • List of discussion topics for family to engage in
    • Talk about feelings  throughout day, favorite/ worst moments
    • Distraction is a great way to enhance attention
  • Have child walk around with weighted backpack for up to x20 minutes prior to meal
    • Can wear while helping set table
  • Timer
    • See how long the child can tolerate sitting, then lengthen the timer just a bit longer. When sitting for timer duration is easily attainable for child, adjust timer for a slightly longer time frame.

*Strategies may take multiple attempts to see change. Keep trying and be consistent!

*Some strategies may work, and some may not. That is okay! Find what is right for your child.

If your child is having trouble sitting still during mealtimes, during free time playing at home, in the school setting, and overall seeking extra movement from same aged peers or siblings don’t hesitate to give us a call. BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy offers free screenings and consultations through Telehealth or at one of our child-friendly therapy gyms in Orland Park and Aurora, IL.

Written by: Rebecca MacKenzie, M.S., OTR/L

“I’m So Bored”

Movement and sensory experiences allow us to grow as an individual through problem solving, body awareness and creativity. Here are some great activities to get your child moving and ways to stay creative while the colder weather moves in!

Movement: Movement activities allow your child to get their energy out and move in a new way.

Make your own obstacle course

  • Find supplies around the house! Use pillows, chairs, a tunnel, baskets, blankets, painters tape, etc.
  • Add in some moves! Animal walks, hopping, walking backwards, jumping jacks, cross crawls, etc.

Tape pathways

  • Use some painters tape and make a variety of paths on the floor (zig zag, straight line, boxes, etc.)
  • Then have your child walk the path without losing their balance. OR have them push a toy car along the “road.”

Balloon tap

  • Blow up some balloons and let your child have fun!
  • Play keep it up, tap it back and forth, or even kick it!

Hide and seek

  • Hide a certain amount of objects around the house- this can be toys, pictures with different symbols, a deck of cards, etc.
  • Have your child scan the room to find the missing items!

Sensory Play: Sensory activities are also great for exploring new textures and being creative! 

Snow dough

  • Here is a link to the video and instructions!
  • Supplies needed: Hair conditioner and cornstarch
  • Once made, use cookie cutters, build a snowman, hide small items inside, etc.

 Ice cube painting

  • Use an ice cube tray and fill it with a mixture of water, koolaid or food coloring, then place a popsicle stick in each part and freeze it!
  • Once frozen, use them to paint

Sensory bins

  • Use a bin or even a ziploc bag to place various materials in. You can use:
    • cooked spaghetti, sand, crinkle paper, water, beans, rice, Pluffle, etc.
  • Hide some items within your chosen material and then find them! Examples of items:
    • Legos, action figures, cars, dinosaurs, puzzle pieces, blocks, animal toys, etc.

Shaving cream

  • Place shaving cream on a cookie tray with cars, legos, or any toy! And enjoy!

If your child has difficulty completing any of these gross motor tasks or tolerating any of these sensory related activities, schedule a free screen with BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy through the office or the website at  https://bdiplayhouse.com/free-screenings/.

Written By: Kiersten Robertson, MOT, OTR/L

reading

Reading Difficulties in Children

The Orton-Gillingham Approach

The path to reading for some children is not often an easy one. It is assumed that children will begin to read and spell naturally.  However, some children may persistently struggle with learning the process of how to read fluently.

Children who demonstrate challenges early on with word recognition, poor spelling, weakened decoding skills, and difficulty with their handwriting may continue to present with deficits within the areas of listening, reading, writing, and speaking, if intervention is not received.

There are numerous reading programs geared toward helping emergent readers as well as older children who are struggling using a more traditional approach to reading.  The Orton-Gillingham Approach was established to help provide a more systematic approach to reading, specifically for children with dyslexia. Research has shown that children without specific learning disabilities could also benefit from this approach in order to help them overcome their specific challenges. 

What is the Orton-Gillingham Approach?

The Orton-Gillingham Approach focuses on the five critical areas of reading:

  1. Phonemic Awareness
  2. Phonics
  3. Fluency
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Comprehension

The approach implements a multi-sensory approach by integrating the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways to more efficiently teach children the rules and sequence of reading.

The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading follows a specific format to help teach these language skills and patterns in a systematic way. Orton-Gillingham begins with teaching the individual sounds.  Then it focuses on building words. By doing so, the child visually sees the letters, hears the sounds, then writes the letters.  Thereby, using a multisensory technique that includes these three sensory pathways.  This is referred to as the “language triangle”.

The specific lessons are flexible based upon the child’s level of functioning. They continue to build from simple to complex, as the children are taught the specific rules of language, such as spelling and decoding certain patterns in text. This ultimately helps to build upon their mastery. It leads to automaticity when reading, since there is a continual review of previously learned material during the sessions. The children cannot progress to the next level until they master certain lessons and drills. 

Early Indicators of Reading Difficulties

Teachers and parents will often recognize challenges with pre-reading skills in kindergarten, though some children may not demonstrate weaknesses with reading until after the second grade. Some early indicators of reading difficulties may include:

  • Family history of dyslexia or reading difficulty 
  • Weakened phonemic awareness skills
  • Decreased skill blending sounds and reduced comprehension of rhymes
  • Difficulty with letter and sound recognition 
  • Letter reversals (b-d) and inversions (w-m)
  • Lack of interest or avoidance of reading 
  • Dysfluent speech
  • Articulation errors: substitutions, omissions, cluster reduction  
  • Word retrieval difficulties
  • Frequent spelling errors 
  • Omitting words when reading 
  • Decreased processing speed when verbally responding 
  • Inconsistent memory and recall  
  • Poor executive functioning skills 
  • Weak handwriting skills 
  • Reduced auditory and/or reading comprehension 

Later Indicators of Reading Difficulties

Older children may present with language processing difficulties, as well as persistent challenges regarding their reading fluency, comprehension, handwriting, grammar, and spelling. Additionally, these children may have progressed with reading but continue to demonstrate deficits with clearly expressing their thoughts and ideas, therefore writing, vocabulary, and conversational skills may continue to be weak even years after they have acquired adequate reading skills.

Therefore, a more customized approach is warranted for these children to help them better succeed using strategies that will compliment the specific way they learn. By implementing the specific strategies using the Orton-Gillingham approach, children will continue to build upon their confidence and interest in reading by providing them with the skills they need in order to become more successful and proficient readers.  Does your child struggle?  Schedule a free screening with our Orton-Gillingham trained SLP.

Written by Meghan Grant, M.S. CCC-SLP

Sleeping in crib

Sleeping Safe Baby

It’s getting chilly out there! Are you wondering how to keep your baby warm and safe while sleeping? Here is a quick guide on how to keep your baby safe while sleeping in warm and cold weather!

4 simple steps

1. Place your baby on their BACK during naps and at night.

2. Use a firm mattress in a safety approved crib.
3. No bedding, pillows, bumpers, toys, and stuffed animals in the crib.

4. Baby can share your room but NOT your bed.

sleep arrangement

These simple steps are recommended for any season and time of the year by the CDC and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Always remember! BACK to sleep & TUMMY to play! Click here for more information about the importance of Tummy Time!

Can my baby sleep in a swing or car seat?

Consumer Reports states, “car seats are safe for travel, not prolonged sleep. Parents and caregivers should feel confident that using an infant car seat is essential in a car, but a baby shouldn’t be left unattended in a car seat, it shouldn’t be your baby’s primary sleep space.”
If your baby falls asleep in their car seat, swing, bouncer or any other place that is not a flat firm surface, it is recommended to gently remove your baby from the “container” and place them in a safe sleep space. This allows your baby to move naturally which is essential to typical development. “Container” sleeping is not only unsafe for prolonged sleeping but linked to primitive reflex integration deficits, torticollis, visual deficits, plagiocephaly, toe walking, and delayed milestones.
 

Is my baby warm enough?

To determine if your baby is too warm or cold, feel their chest or back of their neck. They should be warm, not hot, clammy or sweaty. Babies have poor circulation so hands, feet, cheeks, and ears can be cool to the touch during sleep and does not necessarily mean they need more layers. The ideal temperature for a baby’s room to sleep in is between 68-72F (20-22C).

Can my baby wear a hat, socks or mittens?

No, it is not recommended for baby to have any clothing that can come loose to avoid suffocation. Hats are not necessary if baby is dressed appropriately for temperature. Mittens should be avoided as babies use their touch to learn and self soothe. You can clip or file nails often to avoid scratches. Footy PJ’s are a great alternative to keeping baby toes warm.

Can my baby have a blanket?

No. To reduce risk of suffocation avoid using blankets or ANY soft items in the crib. Instead use a sleepsack which is a blanket that baby wears. Be sure to look at the TOG rating of the garment to assess which sleepsack should be used depending on the room temperature. Remember to dress baby for the room temperature and not the temperature outside. It is suggested that you get a room thermometer because baby monitor temperatures can be inconsistent. What is a TOG rating? Thermal Overall Grade (TOG) is a standardized unit of measurement that calculates the thermal insulation of warmth of a textile. Keep in mind every baby is different and always check your baby for warmth with touch as described above. This chart is a general reference of how to dress baby with a sleepsack depending on the temperature.

According to the CDC, In 2019, there were approximately 1,250 deaths due to SIDS, approximately 1,180 deaths due to unknown causes, and approximately 960 deaths due to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.  Take these simple steps are the best known ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and allow baby to sleep safely and comfortably.  If you are concerned about your baby’s sleep, tummy time, feeding or any other infant development reach out to your pediatrician and your local pediatric therapists. Have questions?  Schedule an appointment with a pediatric therapist for a free infant screening at BDI playhouse!
Written by: Dana Bukala, PTA
Potty Accidents

Potty Accidents

Why is my child having potty accidents?

Potty accidents aren’t fun for anyone. It can impact a child’s relationships with their family and friends.  Here are 5 common reasons children have accidents

Constipation 

Chronic constipation is the main cause of pee and poop accidents in children that have been potty trained. This is a great handout to see if your child has any of the main signs of constipation. Did you know that pooping every day doesn’t mean they aren’t constipated? “The Poo in You” is a video with a great explanation of what happens inside the body. 

Lack of Awareness 

Many kids may not have any idea that they have to go. They may not realize that they have to use the bathroom until it’s too late, or until they’ve already gone. Knowing what is happening inside the body can be a hard concept for kids with difficulty with sensory awareness. 

Poor Potty Posture 

Poor potty posture makes it hard to clear out the bladder and bowels. The Squatty Potty  or other step stool helps support the feet which lets the pelvic floor muscles relax. Therapists can also help with postural awareness and strength to help with the proper potty posture for successful toileting.

Scary Bathrooms

The bathroom can be a scary place for kids! Sitting with dangling feet, the noise, and the smell can all make kids avoid the potty. Many children avoid public bathrooms because of these fears. 

Medical Reasons

There could be a medical reason your child is having accidents. If you have concerns about your child’s accidents talk to your pediatrician. They can help decide if a referral to gastroenterology or urology is needed.

 

Who can help my child?

If you think your child might have constipation or is struggling with accidents, please reach out for a free screening! Sometimes, you may need the help of a physical, speech, or occupational therapist to help identify the reasons for your child’s accidents and/or constipation. 

Pediatric Therapists

Therapists trained in pediatric incontinence can provide treatment with:

    • Core strengthening
    • Biofeedback
    • Bladder re-training
    • Behavior and diet strategies
    • Body awareness to help realize the urge to go 
    • Posture training
    • Increasing fiber rich food intake 
    • Increasing variety of foods
w sit example

W Sitting Alternatives

W Sitting.  Why do children W sit? Simply, because it’s easy! Kids like W sitting because it creates a large base of support like a pyramid. 

Why do we want to correct the W sitting? 

  • W sitting allows kids to sit and play by using very little core muscles.
  • It prevents trunk rotation. Trunk rotation strengthens the muscles necessary for typical movement. 
  • This posture discourages the use of midline hand crossing with play.  Movements that cross our midline improves communication with both sides of the brain and eventually help develop a dominant hand. 
  • If your child has a diagnosis that causes high or low tone it is important to discourage W sitting to improve their postural control and prevent muscle inbalances.  

5 alternative ways to sit on the floor!

criss cross sitting

  1. Criss Cross. Sometimes referred to criss cross applesauce.  While W sitting discourages trunk rotation and midline crossing, criss cross legs do just the opposite! The legs are crossed through midline and does not restrict trunk rotation. 
  2. Side SittingEncourage side sitting on both the left and right side to stretch and strengthen their core muscles. 
  3. Kneeling and Tall kneeling.  Children who kneel will also move in and out of tall kneeling or standing on their knees. Try putting legos on the floor next to a coffee table to encourage kneeling to tall kneeling to improve leg, hip and core strength!
  4. Tummy Time.  Tummy time is not just for infants. We should always encourage our kids and to get back to our bellies to improve our back strength and head posture. 
  5. Wiggle seats.  Balance pads are great for kids to sit on for added cushion and improve trunk stability. It also helps with our sensory kids who love to move. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=child%27s+wiggle+seat&i=sporting&ref=nb_sb_noss

 

Sitting in a variety of positions is helpful to strengthen different muscles that support our child’s whole body. Poor posture can limit our child’s attention, dexterity, vision, digestion, participation, and so much more! So fix those legs!

If you notice your child is resistant to moving out of W sitting or has other postural deficits that you are concerned about, BDI Playhouse offers free screenings https://bdiplayhouse.com/physical-therapy/ and we can help with strategies for core strength, postural alignment and trunk stability.  

 

Written by Dana Bukala, PTA

 

play games

Learning to Play Games

Does your child struggle to play simple games, take turns, or is a sore loser? I often work with children who hate losing games or do not have the attention to wait for their turn. This blog will highlight some strategies I use to help children learn to play a board game with the whole family. I’ll break down the steps in how to take turns, select an appropriate game, and dealing with sore losers. 

Taking Turns

The first skill that is important for any type of game is taking turns. While some kids might have the patience to wait their turn, others may think it is life-shattering to watch their sibling move a game piece. Here are some ideas you can use to help your child understand to wait their turn: 

    1. Carpet Squares: have your child sit on something like a piece of carpet, towel, or piece of paper. This is their spot to keep their body for the game. 
    2. Sit at the Table: if your child has trouble sitting still on the floor, then move to the table. Have a firm chair that allows their feet to rest on the floor or footrest.
    3. Take a Break: playing a 5-minute game may be too long for your child to handle at first. Simply take play 1 or 2 rounds of turn-taking then take a break! Then go back to the game where you left off or end the game. If your child successfully takes a couple turns without becoming upset or distracted, then you can always end the game. 
    4. Use your Words: To help a child understand turn-taking, use your voice to label “my turn” and “your turn”. At the beginning of each turn, the child can say whose turn it is. This will help them understand that there are times when they have to wait. 
    5. Change the Rules: Some games involve stealing pieces, losing a turn, or more complex rules. Make the rules easier by eliminating complex rules or make up your own rules to allow for simple turn-taking.  
  • Work in Teams: Use the buddy system to have your child play with an adult or an older sibling who can help them follow the rules.

Selecting a Game

Choose a game appropriate for your child’s physical and cognitive level. If you find that age level games are too difficult, then move to easier games! This is not a one size fits all. First, start with a simple cause and effect game that your child is motivated to play. As you read down the list the games will become harder. 

Cause and Effect Games (Pop Up Pirate)

If you are just starting out teaching your child to play a game, choose simple cause and effect games. Cause and effect games offer quick responses to the child’s action and often do not require a lot of skill. There are simple games that involve quick turn-taking and moving pieces.

Simple Games (Candy Land, Pete the Cat Groovy Button Game, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel)

Now that your child has mastered taking turns, can count 1-10, and knows their colors, you can start with simple board games. 

Medium Difficulty Games (Guess Who, Don’t Break the Ice, Spot It

Here your child is learning to use strategy skills to win a game. The games may involve more rules to follow than before.

Strategy Games (Connect 4, Uno)

Finally, you are ready to play games with complex strategies or require more time to complete. 

Card Games (Phase 10, Go Fish, Games for Standard Deck of Cards)  

There are several varieties of card games available that range in difficulty from easy to complex. Card games are a great way to work on matching, fine motor manipulation skills to move the cards, and executive functioning skills to use strategy to win.

Sore Losers

One major barrier to family game night is that no one wants to play with a sore loser. We’ve all played a game with a child, or even an adult, who is a sore loser- it’s not fun for anyone! Here are some ideas: 

  • Practice What to Say: Before the game even starts, role-play what everyone would say if they lost or won a game. “Good game!” “Better luck next time!” “Maybe next time I will win!” “That’s ok, I tried my best”. You also need to practice letting your child lose! Do not let them win every game. 
  • Be the Role Model: If you win against a sore loser, so those phrases above that you practiced during the game. Do not have the winner have a big party. The winner can be excited but does not need to be over the top to hurt other’s feelings. 
  • Team Games: Play in teams so a child that has trouble playing a game can win every once in a while. 
  • Stop: If your child is becoming out of hand- stop the game and start later when they are calm. 

If you find that your child continues to have difficulty with fine motor skills to operate pieces, understand steps and sequencing to play games, or continue to have tantrums over losing, then we invite you to request a free consultation to discuss how occupational therapy, speech therapy, or physical therapy may help your child want to play games. 

Written by: Megan Wilkison, Occupational Therapist

 

Gift Guide

BDI Playhouse is thrilled to share its 2020 gift guide.  This list is compiled by BDI Playhouse’s therapists specifically for children of all abilities.  The toys are shown through an Amazon Idea List but shopping around and shopping second-hand is highly encouraged!  A variation of each one of these toys can be found at BDI Playhouse’s clinics and are used on a daily basis.  The first list contains items that can be bought at the store or sent straight to your house.  The second list contains experience based gifts.  Both are intended to help your child grow in many areas!

Gifts for Growing Minds and Bodies

Amazon Gift Guide

Gifts that Keep on Giving

  1. Season passes: zoo, museum, aquarium
  2. One-time passes: movies, bowling, swimming, theatre performance, Disney on ice, circus, ice skating, roller skating
  3. Subscriptions: KiwiCo, National Geographic Kids Magazine, Little Passports
  4. Class/Season of Lessons: swimming, sports, gymnastics, dance, karate, musical instrument, pottery class, art class, craft class, horseback riding lessons

Thanks for stopping by!  If you have any questions on the best way to use these toys, check out one of BDI Playhouse classes where we demonstrate how to use these materials or schedule a free screening to talk to one of our therapists!

 

Twas’ The Night Before… Let’s Go to Sleep

Twas’ the night before… anything (Christmas, Halloween, going to DisneyWorld, birthday, or for me, Great America for the first time). I remember how hard it was for me to fall asleep when I got to do something super fun the next day or stay asleep at night. With holiday season here, we may see increased sleep issues in our kiddos. However, many kiddos (and adults) have a difficult time with sleep, not just at the holidays, but every night.   This will detail sleep for both the holidays and every night sleep.

Let’s start with the basics…

What does a sleep deprived child look like?

  • Babies sleeping less than 14-16 hours in a 24 hour period

  • Toddlers sleeping less than 13 hours

  • Preschoolers sleeping less than 12 hours

  • School age kids sleeping less than 10 hours

  • Teenagers sleeping less than 9.25 hours

 

What do a sleep deprived child’s behaviors say?

  • Difficulties controlling their body and impulses

  • Difficulties getting a long with others

  • Hard time managing emotions

  • Inability to stay focused and perform well

  • “Wired” at bedtime: The need to stay awake is so strong in some children that instead of getting drowsy many get ‘wired’. They appear to have ‘wild’ behavior as long as they have stimulation levels high enough to keep them awake. Once the stimulation decreases they create their own commotion to keep themselves awake.

What do kids need to sleep?

  • In order to sleep a child must feel SAFE. If a child does not feel safe they will have more anxious emotions and a rise in stress hormones which will make falling  asleep even more difficult.

    • What can make a child feel unsafe? – Sleeping in a new environment, changes to their nighlty routine, new or unfamiliar people in the house, unfamiliar lights or sounds.

  • Children need CALM to sleep.  Anything that upsets your child’s sense of well-being will raise their arousal and pull her system in the opposite direction of sleep.

    • What impact’s children’s well being? Parental stress, separation, major life changes, upsetting events, lack of sleep, overstimulation, overscheduled days, anticipation, growth spurts, pressures to perform.

  • Children need to DROP THEIR BODY TEMPERATURE to sleep.

    • Humans need to drop their core body temperature 2-3 degrees in order to initiate sleep. When kids are physically active after 6pm it raises their body temperature, making it harder to initiate sleep.

  • Children need consistent ROUTINE to sleep

    • They need a transition to indicate it’s time to get ready to sleep. This is something that happens every night. (ie: snack, dimming lights, picking up toys)

    • They need a connecting and calming activity. This can be reading together, drawing together, giving your child a massage.

    • They need a cue activity..something that happens every night before bed while the child is in bed. This can be a song, a prayer, turning off the light, or turning on the fan which signals it’s time to sleep.

 

How do we unintentionally disrupt sleep in our kids?

  • Irregular schedules: If there is more than a 30-60 minute difference between when a child woke up/went to sleep it can throw our kids into jet lag. Even changes in meal time can affect their circadian rhythms.

  • Light: Strong morning light is very important to a child’s body clock keeping a consistent rhythm. If a child is exposed to too much light at the wrong time of the day it sends the wrong signals to the brain about when to sleep. Too many lights on in the house and too much LED screen time before bed is incredibly stimulating to child’s brain and reduces signals for the body to prepare for sleep.

  • Exercise: Not enough or exercise at the wrong time of the day. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity during the day. Too much exercise too late at night overheats the body when body temperature should be dropping.

  • Stimulants: One can of soda is the equivalent of an adult drinking 4 cups of coffee. It takes a long time for caffeine to leave a child’s body.

 

Are there certain times we should expect more difficulties sleeping?:

  • 2 to 3 days before and after holidays

  • Time surrounding growth spurts

    • Growth spurts happen every 6 months in 2+ year olds, much more frequently from birth to 2

  • Troubling events

    • Sometimes it can take up to 6 months for a child whom you otherwise thought was able to cope with a difficult situation to show their stress. Big life changes due to COVID are a perfect example!

  • Vacations

    • The anticipation of, disruption of routine, new environment can all cause difficulties sleeping.

When you know what to expect you can better respond to and care for your child when they are having difficulties sleeping.

How can you help your child sleep?

Sleeping girl

It starts during the day!

 

  • A rushed or stressful wake up in the morning (well all know how short tempered we can be when running late!)can leave your child feeling stressed and disorganized throughout the day.

  • Keep a consistent wake up time in the morning, and predictable timing for naps

  • Schedule meals an hour or two before bedtime and keep consistent meal times during the day. Research shows it’s best to not have a heavy meal right before bed.

    • In your child’s diet include complex carbs; this includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains

    • Reduce simple carbs like candy, cakes, cookies, soda and fruit juices.

  • Provide exposure to morning and daytime light.

  • Make sure your child gets exercise during the day! During the cold long winter months there are many indoors activities you can do with your child to meet their need for movement. Our Occupational Therapists have some great ideas including;

    • Heavy work; this includes pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, anything that puts those muscles to use.

    • Playing hide and seek.

    • Creating an indoor obstacle course.

    • Pretending the floor is ‘lava’ and your child has to jump on pillows/couch cushions to get from one side to another.

    • Jumping on a small trampoline.

Night time tips to promote sweet slumber:

  • Eliminate screen time at least after dinner- blue light shuts down sleep and suppresses natural melatonin production. If a night light is needed make sure the light is indirect and use a pink light, or warm yellow colors. Turn off the light when the child is asleep.

  • Dim lights around your home after 6pm to signal to your child’s brain that the time to sleep is approaching.

  • Keep a consistent bedtime. Cortisol (stress hormone) increases when a child goes to bed past the appropriate time. This impacts sleep due to increased stress of fight or flight phenomenon.

    • Give your kiddo a hot bath before bed then have child in bed no more than 30 minutes after bath, right after bath is most beneficial. The warm water from the bath helps to draw heat away from your child’s core, lowering their body temperature and signaling to their brain’s it’s time to sleep.

  • Towel dry with firm pressure to give your child sensory input.

  • Provide comfy pj’s and the coldest room possible. Listen to your child, if they tell you a tag is bothering them or their PJ’s feel scratchy find something that will make them feel comfortable. We all know how annoying a scratchy tag can be!

  • Ideal placement of bed is in a corner or against wall looking towards the door. Think about how your child’s bed can become a safe ‘nest’. A bed that sits on the floor with no distinction between the floor can feel to open and vulnerable to a child.

  • Try lavender or vanilla essential oils (therapeutic grade) to assist with sleep.

  • Use a white noise machine to block out distracting noises.

  • Keep the bed away from window so your child isn’t exposed to lights or noises from outside.

  • Use blanket rolls to make  canoe or nest for increased input in the bed. Most of the time when a child crawls into bed with mom or dad they are seeking the pressure they feel from mom and dad’s body against theirs.

  • Consider a weighted blanket or bean bag on child to increase the pressure and sensory input on your child during the night.

  • A massage before bed can help your child feel connection to you their parent and helps their body to calm and meet needs for touch and sensory input.

  • Use a visual schedule. This helps to set expectations for your child and reduces the stress than can occur when your child does not know what will happen next.

We have learned a lot through education, clinical experience, and through reading! A great book full of resources for childhood sleeping strategies that we found invaluable in learning about sleep for this blog is “Sleepless in America” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka ; “Sleepless in America” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.  If you would like more information or need help with implementing these strategies, please schedule a free screening with one of our skilled pediatric Occupational Therapists.

Written by Jessica Frederick COTA/L and Amy Stumpf, M.S., CCC-SLP/L, CLEC