Let’s Talk About Feelings!

As children grow and learn to navigate their worlds, their experiences will be coupled with a variety of feelings. When children are unable to express themselves, it may result in increased frustration and aggressive behaviors. Talking about feelings can be difficult for children, as for many adults, and it is our jobs as caregivers to help facilitate children’s process of expression.

Which feelings should I focus on with my child?

For either younger children who do not have the language to label their feelings or older children who do not understand their feelings, it is helpful to focus on the common emotions of happy, sad, mad, and scared. These four feelings are considered to be baseline and can be used in helping your child better describe and understand their specific experiences.

How can I practice these with my child?

In order to increase your child’s understanding of these feelings, it would be beneficial to create a feelings chart. This can be a fun art project that you do with your child! First, take pictures of your child making a happy, sad, mad, and scared face. If your child is having trouble making these faces, bring out a mirror and practice doing them together. Then, put the four pictures onto a paper and label the feelings underneath each picture. Keep the chart in sight throughout the day, such as posting it on the refrigerator or cabinet. Practice using the chart by asking your child how he/she feels throughout the day. If your child is unable to voice the feeling, have him/her point to the picture. It is important that caregivers acknowledge and praise the child for his/her efforts, such as responding, “You are telling me that you are mad. Thank you for telling me.” Caregivers are also encouraged to remind the child that feeling sad, mad, and scared is not wrong so your child feels comfortable continuing to accurately express himself/herself. With continued practice with the chart, your child will begin to move towards increased self-expression.

Can this be helpful at school too?

This feeling chart can be used in any setting! It is recommended that the child use this chart in the environment that poses the most difficulties. For example, if your child is having difficulties with feeling expression while interacting with his/her classroom peers, the teacher can use the chart to help your child better communicate (via words or pointing) feelings. Increased expression of emotions can also result in more appropriate social behaviors, as your child will have more confidence using his/her words.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s emotional recognition and identification, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439. Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LCSW, DT
Developmental Therapist
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Photo Credit: https://kids.lovetoknow.com/feelings-chart-children

What’s in Your House: DIY Activities for Language Development!

Due to all that’s available online and in stores, many parents feel inclined to buy the newest toys on the shelf to support their children’s development. Unfortunately, as a result, parents can overlook the valuable materials in their own homes! Tons of common household items can be converted into toys or activities that stimulate your child’s creativity, expand his or her play ideas, and facilitate language growth and development. Not to mention encouraging your child to play with common household items can reduce clutter, cut down costs, and help your child get creative with what they have! Here are some common household items that function as agents for language use during play. You might be surprised by all you can do with what you have!

Toilet Paper Rolls

Save your empty toilet paper rolls! Encourage vocal play by turning your empty toilet paper rolls into microphones! Taking turns saying sounds and words into your microphone helps to build your child’s imitation skills. You can also tape two rolls together to make a set of binoculars! Use your binoculars to target object naming and object identification, through fun games like I-Spy and hide-and-seek.

Pots, Pans, and Spoons

Channel your child’s inner musician by playing with pots and pans! You can sing familiar songs or model strings of single words or sounds, such as “tap tap tap” or “bang bang bang,” as you play with your culinary instruments. By imitating the things you say and do, your child is practicing a critical step in learning reciprocal communication.

Laundry Basket

Laundry baskets (or any other open container) can easily be transformed into cars, trains, boats, or planes with a little imagination. As your child drives the makeshift vehicle, model target phrases and environmental sounds, such as “drive,” “go car,” “choo choo,” “vroom,” “beep beep,” etc. After taking your laundry basket for a spin, try using it as a basketball hoop and ask your child to throw different objects inside. This is a great way to target object labels and following single-step directions within a fun routine!

Painter’s Tape

Tape a line on the floor to serve as a road or balance beam. To target verbal requests, rip bits of tape off at a time to verbal requests such as, “more road” or “tape on” or “need tape.” You can also take turns hopping, crawling, or tiptoeing on the tape to practice imitation of gross motor actions! Imitating gross motor actions is a great precursor to imitating gestures, sounds, and words!

Blanket

Aside from using blankets for pretend play (i.e., putting a baby doll to sleep), you can use blankets for a variety of social games. Peek-a-boo is a great game to target joint attention and verbal turn taking. After you lift the blanket up, say the phrase, “Peek-a….” and wait for your child to fill in, “Boo!” before lowering the blanket. This helps build anticipation and establishes a cause-effect relationship between your child’s words and your actions. Other social games include blanket swing, blanket train or magic carpet, and silly sneezes (i.e. Lifting the blanket and saying, “Ah, ah, choo!” as you lower it).

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to noise, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Jill Teitelbaum, MS, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Michal Bar Haim on Unsplash.com

The ABCs: Strategies for Handwriting

Despite our ever changing world of technology, handwriting remains an essential part of school curriculums and mode of daily communication. Legible and efficient handwriting allows your child to participate in school tasks and keep up with their homework load. Your child may be reluctant to participate in handwriting tasks if it is difficult or if it takes him or her extra time to complete the task. Handwriting doesn’t have to be only copying letters or sentences. Let’s learn how to make handwriting more motivating for your child, so it is less like “work” and more like “play!”

What are the underlying components of handwriting?

  • Fine motor coordination: Handwriting requires the coordination of our small hand muscles and the ability to use both hands for two separate tasks (i.e. holding the pencil and stabilizing the paper).
  • Visual motor and visual perceptual skills: Copying or creating letters requires hand-eye coordination, or using visual input to guide hand movements. Visual perceptual skills also include our ability to discriminate between letters, as well as remember the letters written on the board in order to copy them to our paper.
  • Motor planning: Our ability to use the information in our environment to create, execute, and carry out the motor action of creating letters or sentences. If your child has motor planning difficulties, they may have difficulty with letter formation and legibility.
  • In-hand manipulation: The skill of “shifting” consists of moving the pencil up and down, using your fingers to make small adjustments to your pencil grasp. In order to erase with a pencil, “rotation” is utilized by rotating the pencil to use the eraser and then back to resume writing.
  • Proprioception: The sense of knowing where his/her body is in space allows your child to use the appropriate force on writing utensils.

What can I do to help promote handwriting skills with my child?

  • Promote visual perceptual skills:
    • Mazes
    • Dot-to-dots
    • Word finds
    • Scavenger hunts
  • Do the “Wet-Dry-Try” method:
    • Write a letter on a chalkboard
    • Provide your child with a small wet sponge and a small dry sponge
    • Have your child write the letter using a wet sponge, then using a dry sponge
    • Finally, have your child use chalk to create the letter themselves
  • For older children, try these functional handwriting activities:
    • Write a letter to Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc.
    • Write a grocery list
    • Help create the family calendar by writing down events
    • Write out a packing list for a trip
  • Promote fingertip grasping patterns by breaking crayons in half. This makes it difficult for your child to grasp the crayon with their whole hand, facilitating a more age-appropriate grasp with fingertips.
  • Facilitate grasping with hand-strengthening activities:
    • Hide beads or coins in Theraputty or PlayDoh and have your child retrieve the small items by pulling apart and pinching the putty
    • Have your child pick up items with a tweezer such as cotton balls, pom poms, or beads. You can also have your child place these items into an egg carton or cut-up foam pool noodles to address fine motor precision
    • Have your child place different sized clothespins on a picture or board
    • Make a 2-inch slit in a tennis ball. Place small items (beads, coins) inside of the tennis ball and have your child retrieve the small items by using their whole hand to squeeze the ball and retrieving items with the opposite hand.

Ways to encourage sensory-based learning with handwriting:

  • Practice forming letters in shaving cream! You can also use food coloring to die the shaving cream.
  • Try sensory bags: You will need a gallon freezer bag. Fill the freezer bag with clear hair gel, then add a few drops of food coloring. Feel free to add glitter! Mix the contents and apply tape over the top of the Ziploc bag. Have your child practice letter formations by tracing over the sensory bag, you can also place a piece of white paper underneath the bag to increase their visual feedback.
  • Write letters on foam sheets for increased sensory input by requiring your child to firmly press their writing utensil into the foam.
  • Encourage letter formation with motivating sensory media: Create letters with Wikki Stix, PlayDoh, beads, or pipe cleaners.
  • Use motivating visual input: Practice letters with a Lite Brite game or using rainbow scratch paper.
  • Turn out the lights and practice forming letters in the dark with a flashlight.
  • Use sidewalk chalk or washable window chalk.
  • For a movement break, have your child attempt to form letters with their body.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to noise, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Robyn Geist, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Feder, K.P. & Majnemer, A. (2007). Handwriting development, competency, and intervention. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 49, 312-317.

Photo Credit: Robin Brenner via brooklinelibrary.org

Social Work: Destigmatized and Unfiltered

When you first hear that a social worker is going to be making weekly home visits, what is the first thing that comes to mind? DCFS? Domestic violence? Child abuse? There are many misconceptions about what social work actuallyisand what social workers actually do.This blog will help provide some information to understand the differences between what social work is and how it can help.

What is social work?

The term social work can be a very broad and general term, so what do social worker’s actually do? They help people in need. Social workers work in a variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. As a pediatric therapist, sessions can occur in any and all types of environments that are best suited to address your child’s goals of the session.

Early Intervention:

Most Early Intervention social work sessions occur in the home and a social worker will work collaboratively with the family to target specific goals for the sessions. A social worker can facilitate and locate resources as needed within the community, such as food pantries and daycares. Sessions can focus on specific challenging behaviors/daily routines that your child may be struggling with. A social worker will provide parent education and implement strategies when working with challenging behaviors. Counseling services are frequently provided to all families and referrals are made as needed.

Private Therapy:

Social workers directly work with your child and family to focus on any area that your child is experiencing difficulty with i.e., difficulty in school, aggressive behaviors, emotional regulation, and mental health concerns. Social workers also provide counseling services to address topics of grief and loss, difficulty with family transitions, and facing peer pressure. Families are active participants in the child’s therapy through interventions and strategies that are learned and implemented at home.

How can social work help my child?

Social work services help children and families by providing education and interventions specific to each family. Working with a social worker can help create essential age-appropriate disciplinary techniques and establish boundaries within the home. Increasing your child’s social-emotional and regulation skills will help children communicate and become cognizant of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Counseling services create a safe environment for your child to express their feelings while understanding how to self-regulate through everyday stressors.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s social emotional development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kelly Scafidi, MSW, LCSW, DT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Developmental Therapist

Photo Credit:Andrew Branch via StockSnap.io

Sitting Up Straight: The Importance and Impact of Postural Stability

Whether sitting at a desk at school, eating at the dinner table, or simply playing with toys on the floor, seated activities are an integral part of your child’s life. While we may not think of sitting as a complex task, it provides your child with a stable base to develop essential fine motor, visual-motor, and self-care skills. If you notice your child slouching frequently, propping his or her body against a desk or table, or fatiguing easily during seated activities, your child may be struggling with postural stability.

What is Postural Stability?

Postural stability refers to your child’s ability to achieve and maintain an upright and unsupported sitting posture against gravity. While seemingly simple, unsupported and stable sitting is dependent on a variety of factors, including muscle strength and tone, joint range of motion, the alignment of the body against gravity, and the support your child’s body receives from contact with surface they are sitting on. Core and trunk strength are essential for postural stability. If your child has a weaker core, you may notice slouching, propping of his or her head in the hands, heavy leaning against the back of a chair or the top of the desk, or sliding/falling out of chairs.

Why Does Postural Stability Matter?

While children are often on the move, a majority of their learning time takes place in a seated position. When children have to devote an excessive amount of energy to merely sitting up, the resulting fatigue can affect their ability to focus on classroom learning. Moreover, a strong and stable core allows your child to reach the arms away from his or her body in order to use the hands. Therefore, handwriting, scissor use, table-top crafts, self-feeding, and toileting tasks can all be negatively impacted by poor postural stability.

What Does Poor Postural Stability Look Like?

Some common signs of postural instability include:

  • Extreme or exaggerated slouching when sitting in a chair.
  • Leaning heavily or laying torso on the table or desk.
  • Frequently falling or sliding out of chairs.
  • Sitting in a “W” position.
  • Walking with a wide-legged stance.
  • Leaning against walls or holding onto rails for increased support.
  • Excessive fatigue following prolonged sitting (e.g. after school).

What Can I Do?

You can try to help improve your child’s postural stability through the following activities:

  • Knee walking: Try walking, playing catch, or playing “keep it up” with a balloon with your child standing on his or her needs. This helps to build the trunk muscles necessary for sitting balance.
  • Wheelbarrow walking: Encouraging your child to wheelbarrow walk helps him or her to engage their core and trunk, as well as build upper body strength. If provide support further from the core (e.g. holding the knees instead of the hips), your child will get a more intense core workout!
  • Animal walks or yoga poses: Encouraging your child to bear walk, crab walk, or perform other animal walks promotes core and trunk strengthening. Additionally, a variety of yoga poses (e.g. plank, boat, candlestick, etc.) promote overall strengthening which is great for postural stability!
  • Set your child up for success: Observe your child’s sitting environment. If your child’s feet are dangling in the air when sitting in chair, try providing a step stool or even a pile of books to rest his or her feet on. This will provide your child with a more stable base of support from the sitting surface.
  • Wedges or inflatable discs: There are a variety of tools available to help develop your child’s sitting posture. Sitting on a wedge or inflatable disc encourages your child to engage his or her core and prevents some slouching from occurring.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s postural stability, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference:

Case-Smith, J., & Clifford O’Brien, J. (2015). Occupational therapy for children and adolescents (7th ed.). Canada: Mosby, Inc.

Photo Credit:

Anissa Thompson via freeimages.com

Developmental Therapy: Destigmatized

What is developmental therapy?

Developmental therapy focuses on your child as a whole. Therapists look at a child globally (i.e. cognition, social-emotional development, speech and language development, fine motor, gross motor, and self-help skills). Developmental therapy typically begins during your child’s most significant time of development, between ages birth to three. During this time, your child is creating the foundation for their developmental track. A developmental therapist will focus their sessions on your family’s needs and your child’s needs.

What does a developmental therapist do?

Developmental therapists (DT) assess a child globally to determine their areas of strength and need. A DT also looks at your child’s home and/or school environments and their daily routine to see how their surroundings attribute to their development. DTs then service your child as needed using a combination of play and parent education. Children use their cognitive processing, memory, and attention span to regulate themselves and to help them understand their environment. DTs provide your child and your family with the tools to help them develop in their natural environment. A DT’s ultimate goal is to empower your family in understanding and navigating their child’s learning process.

What are the benefits to developmental therapy?

Developmental therapists look at how a child is developing in every area of development. Sessions may focus on joint attention, engagement, play skills (functional and symbolic), attention span, following directions, frustration tolerance, cognition, social sills, preschool readiness, etc. DTs can also provide support for your family’s daily routine goals (i.e. sleeping, meal time, going to the park). Your child’s developmental therapy may include a combination of these areas based on your family’s needs.

Common misconceptions:

Although your child may benefit from developmental therapy services as a young child, this does not mean they will always be in a special education program. Many children who benefit from developmental services are provided the tools that will help them succeed when they enter school. Developmental therapists are trained to provide the children and the families that they service with the resources to help children succeed throughout their development.

If your child is demonstrating difficulty in one or more of the areas discussed above, consider contacting one of our developmental therapists.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.comor at (773) 332-9439.

Rachel Weiser, MS, DT
Developmental Therapist

Reference: EB Pediatric Resources, Inc. (Chicago, IL). What is Developmental Therapy? Retrieved from: http://pediatricresources.org/developmental.html.

Photo credit: Tanaphong Toochinda via unslaps.com

Why OT?: Destigmatizing the Need for Therapy

“Why was my child recommended for occupational therapy, they don’t have a job!” You might have many questions if your child has completed an occupational therapy evaluation and was recommended to receive occupational therapy services. What does this mean, exactly?

What is occupational therapy?

The term “occupational” does not refer to one’s employment, in this instance. Occupationscan be defined as activities that support the health, well-being, and development of an individual (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2014). An occupational therapist’s job is to increase the engagement and participation in meaningful daily activities that support your child’s learning, growing, and most of all, fun! There are a wide variety of circumstances that may affect your child’s optimal engagement in day-to-day activities at home, at school, or in the community.

How is occupational therapy going to help my child?

The benefit of occupational therapy is that practitioners are equipped for focusing therapy on a widevariety of skills required in your child’s daily life, such as:

  • Fine motor skills
    • Your child uses fine motor skills to write their name on their school work and to tie their shoes before heading out to play!
  • Visual motor skills
    • Your child utilizes visual motor skills when playing catch in the park and to copy written work from the chalkboard in the classroom.
  • Self-help skills
    • Self-help skills help get your child out the door in the morning! Your child needs to eat, get dressed, and use the bathroom to start their day.
  • Gross motor skills
    • Gross motor skills are required to walk to the front door and down the stairs safely to begin your child’s commute to school.
  • Sensory processing and regulation
    • Your child’s body is constantly processing sensory information in their environment to attend to and enjoy their world.
  • Executive functioning skills
    • When recalling the steps of their favorite family board game and following their teacher’s instructions, they are using their executive functioning skills, i.e., working memory, sequencing, and problem solving.
  • Social interaction skills
    • Your child utilizes their social interaction skills to make new friends and keep familiar ones.

What does it mean if my child was recommended occupational therapy?

Receiving a recommendation for therapy can be difficult and may bring about many questions and concerns regarding your child. Common concerns after receiving a recommendation for your child to receive therapy are “Will my child be singled-out from their peers?” or “Will my child always need therapy?”  When your child receives a recommendation for therapy, it does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong. A recommendation for occupational therapy does mean that a trained therapist has noted suspected concerns that warrant further evaluation. As an occupational therapist, many times I am asked, “Do you work with children with disabilities?” and my answer is, “Yes I do, but not exclusively!” Just as pediatric occupational therapists work on a wide variety of skills, we also work with a wide variety within the pediatric population. An occupational therapist will utilize a holistic approach to empower your child and your family so they can live their life to the fullest in their daily routines, school activities, and excitement within the community.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s engagement in meaningful daily activities, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Reagan Lockwood, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference: American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain & process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

Photo Credit: Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on Unsplash

Co-Treatment 101: What is it? And is it right for my child?

Co-treatment, or sometimes referred to as a co-treat, refers to when two different disciplines provide treatment for one child at the same time. For example, the speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist work together to implement both of their goals into one therapy session. Co-treating can be any combination of therapists, including developmental therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, social workers, nutritionists, or any of the other members on your child’s therapy team.

When it comes to therapy, doesn’t more equal better?

Not necessarily. There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for therapy frequency and is entirely dependent on the needs of your child. Some children benefit from multiple sessions of the same discipline to provide intense focus on specific goals, while others may benefit from a combined therapeutic approach. When an increase in therapy is recommended, it is best to consider both individual and co-treatment sessions.

What are the benefits of a co-treatment session?

There are many reasons why your team of therapists may recommend a co-treatment for your child. Below are just a few:

  • Co-treatments with OT or PT
    • When sensory regulation support is needed in order to attend to therapy activities
    • Gross motor activities may increase your child’s verbal output
    • Postural support may increase your child’s success in various therapy activities
  • Co-treatments with DT or SW
    • Behavioral strategies may be easier implemented with two trained therapists to support your child’s needs
    • Your child requires additional support to establish early developmental milestones prior to focusing on more complex therapy tasks
  • Co-treatments with SLP
    • When your child demonstrates a receptive language (comprehension) delay and benefits from modified cues for therapy directions
    • Appropriate language models can be implemented into structured tasks to increase verbalizations
  • General benefits
    • Therapists are able to brainstorm new therapeutic strategies and modify approaches in real-timeto see what works best for your child
    • Your child is already receiving multiple therapies per week and may become fatigued with additional sessions

How do I know if a co-treatment session is right for my child?

The first step is to talk to your current team of therapists to review your child’s individual goals. Depending on their needs, you and your team will be able to decide if a co-treatment session would be beneficial for your child. If you do decide upon a co-treatment, discuss the therapy plan prior to implementation to make sure that your child is not being placed under too many demands. A successful co-treatment will use basic principles of resource allocation to guide therapy – basically, your child only has so many resources to spend on one difficult task at a time, so they should not be challenged in both discipline areas during the same task (i.e. working on both speech therapy and occupational therapy goals while playing with one toy). This most likely will be asking too much of your child and will often cause them to be unsuccessful with both goals.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about implementing a co-treatment session for your child, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP
Director of Speech-Language Services

Photo Credit:rawpixel.com

What Toys Are Best For My Child?

As a walk down any toy aisle will tell you, there are many types of toys for all ages of children.  Most will indicate on the packaging what age they are geared toward (“for ages 2+”), but how do you know which toys will provide the best developmental opportunities for your child?

Choose toys that are open-ended.

Get the most bang for your buck by choosing toys that can be adapted as your child grows. For example, blocks are great for infants to bang together to practice cause and effect, as well as bringing their hands to the midline, a great exercise for the brain. Toddlers can begin to stack blocks for fine motor development. They can also use blocks to encourage imaginative play by pretending they are cars driving across the floor or as a telephone to call a loved one! Preschool children can use blocks to build more elaborate structures with playmates to encourage social skills and negotiating conflict. Blocks also enhance dramatic play and can be used to create a house for stuffed animals, a storefront for a restaurant, or bridge to connect people, things, and ideas.

Adapt “toys” you already have.

Parents joke that children often prefer the box the toy came in to the actual toy. Go with it! Let your creativity loose and find new purpose for items in your house. What about that mesh loofa? It makes a great sensory experience for infants, and it is easy for them to grasp as their hand-eye coordination is developing. It also makes a safe option for toddlers to throw and kick around the house. What about using it in paint for a unique texture on paper? Or add it your play with a doll or stuffed animal and practice the bath time routine.  The possibilities are endless!

Don’t forget your child’s favorite toy: You!

Playtime is not necessarily about the type of toy, but how it is used in relation with the caregiver. As caregivers, our schedules are packed, but even just a few moments of playing peek-a-boo your infants or singing a rousing rendition of “Wheels on the Bus,” with your toddler, complete with motions, will help your child’s brain develop synapse connections as they learn about the world around them. Point out your eyes, nose, etc.during bath time with your little one or try playing I-Spy in the car on the way to the store with your preschooler. Your child learns best in the context of a loving relationship with you, so go ahead, have a tickle-fest in the middle of that toy aisle and take advantage of the most priceless toy your child could have! You!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about developmentally appropriate toys, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Becky Clark, MS, DT
Developmental Therapist

Reference: Cook, R. E., Sparks, S. N. (2008).  The art and practice of home visiting. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.

Photo by Susan Holt Simpsonon unsplash.com

What to Choose? Self-Feeding Tools for Babies and Toddlers

If you’ve ever browsed the grocery store aisles looking for the perfect cup or utensil set for your child, you may have quickly found yourself overwhelmed with all of the options. With the wide variety of choices available nowadays, it’s hard to determine the best item to for your child. There is no “one size fits all” approach to finding a transition cup and/or feeding utensil that is right for your child, and it may take some trial and error to determine the best fit. However, throughout my time as a speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist, I’ve found some tools to be particularly useful as a child develops his or her eating and drinking skills.

I’ve heard sippy cups are bad? What cup should I choose?

I’ve had many parents tell me that they’ve heard that sippy cups are “bad” and that they’d like a better option for their child. While I don’t label all sippy cups as “bad” (and feel that they are a necessary option for some children with specific feeding needs), research has proven that use of sippy cups can lead to tooth decay, oral motor delays, and speech and swallowing delays. For more information, please see a recent blog post by one of PlayWorks Therapy’s speech language pathologists: http://playworkschi.wpengine.com/blog/page/3/

Straw cups and free flow cups are a great alternative to sippy cups. Here are some cups that I have found particularly beneficial for children from all feeding backgrounds:

  • Straw cups: There are a wide variety of straw cups on the market that are specific to babies and toddlers. Some of my favorites include the Nuby No-Spill Sports Sipper(a great option for transitioning from bottles to cups!) and Phillips Avent Straw Cup; however, there are several similar options on the market that work just as well. If your child hasn’t quite grasped the concept of straws yet, the Honey Bear Straw Cupis a great introduction to straw drinking.
  • Spoutless sippy cups: Commonly referred to as the 360 Cup, this no-spill cup is a great tool to teach the oral motor and swallowing skills necessary for drinking from an open cup. Munchin Miracle 360 Trainerand Playtex Spoutless 360 Cupare both great options.

I want my child to use utensils, but he can’t quite grasp a spoon or fork yet. What should I do?

Children learn to eat with their hands, and this is a goodthing! It’s important for children to be exposed to the sensory properties of food, and eating with their hands is the best way to do so. However, there comes a time when it’s appropriate for a child to use a utensil to feed himself. When children aren’t able to successfully use a fork or spoon, I like to incorporate some of the following:

  • Dippers: Dippers are similar to a spoon, except they have no spoon bowl. Children use dippers by dipping the utensil in a thick puree and bringing the dipper to their mouth. This teaches the motor skills necessary for using utensils without requiring as much coordination. Some of my favorite dippers include Numnum Pre-Spoon Goo-tensilsand ChooMee Starter Spoons.
  • Curved spoons: Curved spoons are another good option for children who have difficulty handling typical spoons. Curved spoons are made to match a baby’s natural grasp. Many have shorter, thicker handles which make the spoons easier to maneuver. Playtex Curve Infant Spoonsare a great option!
  • Child size spoons and forks: While I don’t have any particular brand of spoons and forks that I prefer, children learning to self-feed will have more control when using small utensils. Additionally, utensils with a wider handle will be easier for children to grip.

What can I do if my child is demonstrating feeding difficulties?

If your child is demonstrating difficulties transitioning away from the bottle and/or tolerating an age-appropriate diet, consider contacting one of our feeding therapists, who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to increase your child’s independence as they transition to the world of self-feeding.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s feeding skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Sarah Lydon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Hal Gatewood via unsplash.com

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