Danielle wanted me to assess the fine motor skills of her five year old Jeremy several months before he was about to enter Kindergarten.
From the moment they arrived at the clinic, I noticed that the child appeared physically younger and shorter than expected for his age. He tended to be quiet and shy, which is quite common in this situation, but I also observed that the mother spoke with him in a babyish tone and did what appeared to be everything for him: She took off his jacket and hanged it; she took off his shoes and later on when the session was over, put them back on his feet. Even when I asked the child some questions the mother tended to answer. At one point during the session a toy fell on the floor and the mother told him that he needn't worry about it as she would pick it up for him instantly.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, the observation starts from the very first moment I meet the child. Not only the physical appearance and various elements of his movement, but also his mood, behavior and the initial interaction with me are assessed. Similarly, his interaction with those accompanying him is important. While occupational therapy directly deals with the sensory-motor aspects, the emotional state and social aspects of the child provide an extremely important context that supports or hinders their development.
I use this story to illustrate the difference between supporting a child and spoiling him and to highlight how in some cases as parents, what we think is the right thing to do yields the opposite results. By "spoiling" I am referring to actions that we do on behalf of the child while the child can actually do those without assistance. Whatever the reasons are, whether these are rooted in a unique family situation or as a method to show love and affection towards our children, it will not make them happier. On the contrary, by doing things for the child we interfere with developing his abilities, independence, self-confidence and self-esteem. When parents do everything for their child, the child doesn't learn how to invest effort, how to face and overcome challenges, deal with frustrations or enjoy his accomplishments. These children can develop dependency on others and may feel impotent, unable or helpless.
We tend to make life easier for children with special needs. Jeremy was not ready for school emotionally or with his fine motor skills. Pre-writing skills, manipulation of scisors, in-hand manipulation and activities of daily living were poorly performed in this 5 year old and were age-equivalent to a three year old. Jeremy’s gap in development was not only due to a physical and sensory developmental delay in motor skills, but also a result of not being encouraged to be independent and not being given ample opportunities to develop day-to-day life skills.
When preparing a child for challenges at school - here are 8 Top Tips for medschoolforparents.com parents from Ronit Kabazo :
1. Promote confidence in your child's body and gross motor abilities, by providing them with opportunities to explore different types of playground equipment. Those experiences will enrich their motor abilities and are important in providing physical and emotional confidence.
2. If a child finds a task challenging, gently provide encouragement to try it and provide a praise to each little effort or progress displayed.
3. Encourage your child to be independent in dressing up, including doing up buttons and zipping up the jacket. Teach how to manage difficult fasteners when you have more time and patience (e.g., on the weekend or during the summer) rather than when you are pressured to get out the door.
4. Parents can employ a ‘backward chaining’ technique, meaning the child will do the last step of the task first and gradually will be taught the previous steps, until the skill is mastered.
5. Help establishing a mature tripod grasp of the writing tool by providing one inch chalks/crayons or small markers for drawing and coloring. Other activities can include: Sorting small objects by using tweezers or small tongs, Lego mosaic, and peg board.
6. Encourage pre-writing skills: Practicing drawing lines and shapes on a vertical surface (e.g. a chalkboard, white board, or a mirror): short lines, long lines, railways, curved lines (a rainbow), well- closed circles and gradually progressing to drawing a square in sequenced strokes, a cross and diagonal lines. Many kids will enjoy different textures to draw in, such as Jelly, shaving cream and finger paint.
7. Promote eye-hand coordination by having your child trace inside a path or connect dots. Increase the level of challenge gradually (a larger distance, a narrower path etc.).
8. Teach efficient cutting with scissors: Use hand-over-hand strategy. Add verbal cues to skill teaching while providing your child with the correct sensory feedback (e.g. open, close almost completely, move on and open). Kids will enjoy snipping plastic straws and cutting pieces out of play dough.
Consult with a pediatric occupational therapist when at the age of four your child:
- Shows hesitance using playground equipment such as slides, ladders and swings.
- Tends to frequently fall or bump into objects.
- Displays poor posture while sitting and tends to get tired easily.
- Has not yet established a dominant hand.
- Has not yet established a mature tripod grasp.
- Requires many repetitions to learn novel motor tasks.
- Displays difficulty drawing, playing with small objects and manipulating tools such as scissors.
- Is easily frustrated and tries to avoid certain motor tasks.