10 Things Pediatric Therapists Wish Parents Knew

I asked my coworkers (occupational, physical, and speech therapists)…

What should every family should know about raising children?

Parents are the most influential teachers.parent teaching children

You are your child’s first teacher and their most influential teacher.  How you teach your child is more important than any formal “teacher” your child will ever have. You may not feel ready for this task, so take the time to enhance your skills.  Read a book from the library, go to parenting classes, ask for help from experienced parents.

Play is powerful.

Children naturally are curious and playful.  Play is how children learn (and some critical cognitive skills need play to flourish).  Play is intrinsically motivating to children, and most play comes from the freedom to explore and move.  Make time to let your kids just play.

What should families know about development?

Reaching milestones early is not necessarily better.crawling

Each part of normal development is important and kids need to spend time on each phase.  While it is exciting to see you child reach the next major milestone, try not to rush; allow them time to really master the phase they are in.

Little bodies and brains need limits, routines, and predictability.

Children love new things and excitement, but only in small doses.  For children to learn and grow, they need the stability of parents and an environment that are absolutely consistent and predictable.

How you talk to children matters, a lot.

Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Follow through is key.

Tell you child what to do, instead of what not to do.  (Try “Use your walking feet.”  Instead of “stop running.”)

How you talk to your child becomes how they talk to themselves- be a good role model.

Common misconceptions and what we want you to know

Misconception: I’ve tried all kinds of behavior programs, nothing works.

What we want you to know: Behavior almost always gets worse before it gets better.

As you work on changing your child’s behavior, the typical pattern is that the child realizes their behavior isn’t working, so they try harder and behavior appears to get worse, but then the behavior does taper off and stop.  Commitment and consistency is key.  Most behavior plans work, if you keep going long enough.

Misconception: I’ve tried all kinds of punishment, nothing works.

What we want you to know: Praising your child is more effective than punishment.

Use specific praise.  “I like how you helped to put away the dishes” rather than “good job”.  Praise specific attributes, such as “What a kind idea to make grandma a card.”  This helps your child know what specific positive thing they did (so they can learn and repeat it) and helps build self-esteem (they internalize being a “kind” person).

Misconception: He will grow out of it.

What we want you to know: “Wait and see” is not an evidence-based approach to development; early intervention is key.

Much of childhood is “just a phase” and children will “grow out of” most behaviors.  But when children are truly behind in development, these approaches are misleading.  Early intervention has been shown to be effective long-term.  It can be as simple as changing parenting strategies and finding community based activities, or as complex as specialized school and rehabilitation programs.

Misconception: To be ready for school, my child needs to know her letters and numbers.

What we want you to know: Variety of experiences is key to development and being ready for school.child playing

Academics are not as important in early years as variety of experiences to support development in all area, such as cognition, social, emotional regulation, language, activities of daily living, motor, and sensory skills.  Put away the ABC puzzles and flashcards and go outside on a nature walk and catch bugs.

Misconception: My pediatrician told me not to worry.

What we want you to know: Your pediatrician may not be the correct person to ask developmental questions.

Pediatricians are trained in health and illness, not necessarily in child development.  They are great at discussing the medical needs of your children.  However, if you have questions about whether your child’s development is normal, there are other people you should consider asking, such as experienced parents, teachers, and rehabilitation professionals (speech, occupational, and physical therapy).

This post is part of presentation I am available to give on the top things rehabilitation professionals wish parents knew about helping their children to be successful.  For more information, click here.

Paige Hays is an occupational therapist who provides in-home, pediatric occupational therapy services in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, MN. She is a mother of 2 girls, avid DIYer, and a highly skilled and experienced OT. She specializes in working in pediatrics, with diverse expertise ranging from cognition and sensory issues to working with children with neuromuscular disabilities or complex medical needs.