8 Tips for Parents from Big PLANS Occupational Therapists

October is national occupational therapy month in Canada, and at Big PLANS we are celebrating by sharing some valuable tips from our very own OT’s!

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a type of health care that helps to solve the problems that interfere with a person’s ability to do the things that are important to them. Occupational Therapists assist children to efficiently perform the many day-to-day tasks of self-care, productivity, and leisure to enjoy their childhood.

Here are 8 tips from our Big PLANS OT’s to you:

  1. Try a Multi-Sensory Approach to Drawing – When parents find out their child qualifies for OT support, many respond with, “I’ve tried, but they just don’t seem to be interested in sitting down and drawing.” My response to that is to put away the markers and paper and have fun! Learning to draw can happen with all sorts of materials. Use a multisensory approach – build or draw pictures with items they are interested in like lego, cars, playdoh, items gathered from outside (like sticks, leaves, and rocks), sand, or surprise them with unexpected items like wikki stix, shaving foam, paint bags, flour or sugar on baking trays.  Draw or create together while having fun.

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2. Use Dry Erase Crayons for Letter Practice – Use dry erase crayons on a whiteboard (broken in half or in 1 to 2 ” pieces) for letter practice or drawing. These will provide more resistance and feedback, strengthen grasp and help the child to slow down and control his/her tool far more than using a slippery marker.


3. Include Your Child in Meal Preparation – Mixing, scooping, pouring, and measuring all help your child with fine motor strength and precision, plus it’s fun!


4. Try New Strategies with Picky Eaters – If you have a picky eater, there are two strategies you can try, to shift pressure off the child and yourself as a parent to “get” the child to eat, and instead put trust back into your child and “let” them eat.  (from “Responsive Feeding Approach” Rowell & McGlothin):

African American Family Eating Meal At Home Together

  • “Division of Responsibility” – Parents Responsibility is to choose when mealtimes and snacks will take place and what will be served. Child’s Responsibility is to choose what and how much they will eat.
  • Try serving food Family-Style vs. Pre-Plating Food to take the pressure off of you as a parent to make individual meals for the family. Serving Family-Style means that all food is on the table and family members can help themselves put food on their own plates.  It also means that you have some of the child’s preferred foods planned into the meal but are also then consistently presenting the opportunity and exposure of new foods on the table for all family mealtimes and snacks. Setting up the mealtime as “Family Style” also gives a sense of control back to the child.

Helping-Your-Child-With-Extreme-Picky-Eating-A-Step-by-step-Guide-For-Overcoming-Selective-Eating-Food-Aversion-And...For families with children with stronger food aversions and extremely selective eating, I recommend the book, ” Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating. A Step by Step

 Guide for Overcoming Selective Eating, Food Aversions, and Feeding Disorders.”  Rowell & McGlothlin


5. Allow your Child to Be Bored – Don’t be afraid of letting your child be bored. It is essential for children to learn to create their own entertainment. As a parent, it is our job to provide a safe and nurturing environment; not to be our child’s entertainment. Before giving your child an iPad or screen when they say they are bored, give them some play options. Better yet, sit down with your child and write a list of play tasks they enjoy and when they are bored, tell them to look at their list of activities. The list can be broken into categories:

  • Create something: make a bracelet, make figurines from clay, draw a picture…
  • Learn something: read a book, look at pictures in a book, listen to an audiobook…
  • Do something: play soccer, make a fort, collect sticks that look like the letters…
  • Help someone: make your sibling’s bed, put away your laundry, pick up toys…


6. Foster Independence We have several tips to help your child become more independent:

  • Ask your child: “What is your job right now?”, rather than reminding them of what to do
  • Create consistent expectations. Place less preferred activities before naturally occurring preferred-activities so that your child is more motivated. For example, ask them to clean up their toys before going to the park. Try to use naturally occurring positive activities (like a snack, going for a playdate, reading books) rather than rewards such as TV time.
  • Create a consistent routine. Completing the same tasks in the same order every day (like a morning routine) provides your child with predictability and better helps them understand their role and expectations.
  • Allow your child to have lots of unstructured, sensory play…a great way to accomplish this is outdoor play. Let your children take off their shoes and play in the grass or squish mud through their fingers while looking for rock ‘treasures’. Unstructured play fosters creative imaginations and allows children to make and negotiate their own rules of play, which are critical skills to learn in our social world.

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7. Find Age-Appropriate Chores for your Preschooler: Allow your child to be independent. Find everyday tasks that your child can do for themselves. Initially, it will take them longer and might be more work for you to help with cleaning up spills, but eventually, if the expectation is there and your child keeps practicing, it will save you time. Store bowls, a small carton of milk and cereal on a low shelf and let your child get their own breakfast or snack. Don’t get upset when they spill! They need practice and will eventually be able to do it themselves. Not only will they be proud of themselves for getting their own breakfast, but this will also free up time in your morning. Age-appropriate chores/tasks for preschoolers can include:

  • matching socks when folding laundry
  • folding tea towels/dishcloths
  • wiping the table
  • clearing their plate from the table
  • watering plants (expect spills…remember everyone needs practice at new tasks)
  • feeding the family pet
  • picking up their toys
  • putting dirty laundry in the hamper
  • putting the plastic dishes/Tupperware away
  • remove a few sections from your Swiffer, so it is shorter and easier for your child to maneuver. Challenge them to make the Swiffer cloth as dirty as they can by cleaning the floors. Kids will quickly find where the dust-bunnies hide!
  • Give your child a damp cloth with natural cleaner and ask them to run up and down the halls with the cloth in their hands on the floor. Not only is this helpful with cleaning, but it is also a great full-body ‘heavy work’ task that can help a child be more calm and regulated.


8. Use Visuals: This chart helps to explain the importance of using visuals:

OT tips


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