Cooking with kids, cooking and OT

Holiday Cookies & Motor Skills for your OT kid

cookiesfam

Making cookies can be a great way to work on OT skills with any child….

 

Holiday cookies are often the symbolic start of the holiday season…

When I was little the night that we made Christmas cookies was one of my favorite nights in the holiday season.  Even today, my brothers and sister and I crack up at certain songs or memories from when we were little.  Making cookies was an important tradition for my family.  In following that tradition, I had some bonding time with my nieces last night and we decided to start our holiday season by making some cookies.  I thought I’d use some examples from our night to give you all some tips and tricks….

What kid doesn’t like to make cookies?  

hmm, well a child with sensory issues might not.  And a child with poor motor skills who isn’t “good” at making cookies might not either.  Then there are the children who have dietary issues  or allergies that interfere with making and eating classic cookies.  Luckily there are a lot of ways to adapt “cookie making” to make it a holiday activity that the whole family can enjoy.

Sensory

For sensory children who exhibit tactile defensiveness, cookie making can be a “persuasive”  way to get their hands dirty.  Sensory issues are not black and white and every child is different.  As an OT,  I think it’s important to desensitize children as early as possible.  Often sensory issues can be confused with and/or turn into behaviors. As a parent you have to use your judgement in regards to knowing your child and how far you can “push”.  Also, you need to pick your battles. Cookie making should be fun, so you don’t want to end up in a fight or with a tantrumming kid.  However, if you just “let  it go”, the problem may not get better.  You also don’t want your child “watching” as you make cookies or even worse, playing in the other room because they don’t want to be involved in such a “gooey” task.

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Holding a cup and flipping it over is hard work for little forearm muscles…but great exercise!

Let your child pour, scoop or measure all the dry ingredients to start.  If your child is old enough, have them read the recipe and figure out which measuring spoon, cup, etc., that they need.  These are real life skills!  Kids don’t really get a chance to learn this kind of stuff in school.  (Many middle school programs have a class called Family and Consumer Sciences, or FACS, where kids will have a few opportunities to cook).   Dry ingredients are less “noxious” than wet sticky ones.  Your child will get a chance to participate but doesn’t have to get all uncomfortable right away.  You can start to push the envelope by having them pour or measure the “wet” ingredients into a measuring cup or bowl.  They  won’t mind touching the container, just the wet stuff inside.  Cracking an egg always seems to be exciting, no matter how old the child is. Obviously your chances of getting a “usable” egg with no shells, etc., will be slim, but plan accordingly and have your child attempt to crack an egg (or three) into a separate bowl.  When you crack an egg, you have no choice but to get “gooey”, so this is a good chance to work on defensiveness.

 

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My nieces were thrilled to be able to crack their first egg for our cookie making session…

Once your wet and dry ingredients are all in the same bowl, let your defensive child use a long handled spoon to mix them.  This is great exercise for the upper body, too.  If you feel like pushing a little further, use a regular spoon. Your child will not be able to help but get some of the batter on their fingers.  If they get upset, try to blow it off and make it “no big deal”.  If there is a “ruin the night” tantrum on its way, get the bigger spoon.  If even the long handled spoon isn’t working, let your child wear small kitchen gloves or even large zip lock bags over their hands.   The really “good” sensory work comes when you start to mix your cookie dough into one big ball. This requires a lot of sensory tolerance.  Again, if you need to offer your child zip lock bags or gloves, go ahead. If you can get away with it, try not to.

Hand Strength and Dexterity, and Bilateral Coordination 

Occupational Therapists often suggest using therapy putty or clay to work on hand strength, but why not cookie dough!? Cookie dough is softer than the usual putty materials, but there is also a much larger amount.   It is much harder to “knead” a giant ball of  dough than a little silly putty egg’s worth.  Little hands can get tired fast.  And for big kids, if they have weak hands, this is a lot of work.

 

For children of any age, cookie making is a great way to work on intrinsic hand strength.  Your intrinsic muscles are tiny muscles located in your palm and along your fingers that help you to grasp, release and manipulate small things.  When you move your fingers away from each other or toward each other, those are your intrinsic muscles.  Look at the palm of your hand where a “palm reader” would look.  These lines are formed from the arches in your hand.  You have groups of muscles that work together to get the hand to perform certain movements.  Many children do not have good intrinsic hand strength.

arches 2

A child with weak hands and underdeveloped muscles will have trouble making a “cup” with their hand like this

arches in your hand

 

intrinsics

Look how tiny they are! It takes a lot of work to get those little guys strong. So get baking!

 

(If you ask a child to roll a die and they can’t; they just throw it or drop it; it is usually because they can’t make a “cup” with their hand to keep the die in place.  This is because the arches in their hands aren’t developed enough to make or keep the cup.)

Many, many children have poor bilateral skills.  They want to leave their non-dominant hand hanging useless at their side while the dominant hand attempts to do the work.  Alright, they don’t really want to leave it, they can’t help it or they don’t even realize they are doing it.  Sometimes, due to poor strength or stability, a child tries to compensate by using their other hand to support a different body part.  An example would be the child who always leans into their left arm on the chair while the right arm is writing or coloring.  If the child has poor stability or postural control, they are relying on that arm to kind of “prop” their body.   The child who always uses their hand to hold up their head probably has difficulty poor postural control.  Cookie making really involves both hands – pouring, stirring and holding the bowl, using a rolling pin, etc.   And that is before you even start working with the doh.

Rolling-Pin-pic

 

So enough of the technical stuff.  But I am going to tell you a few ways to “modify” your cookie making activity so that you can get both of those hands as well as those intrinsic muscles involved.

1.  Kneading dough into a giant ball – this works on both arm and hand strength.  It increases endurance and builds the small muscles in the hands.

2.  Scooping a round of dough – using utensils requires skilled movements with the forearms.  The child with mature motor skills should be able to hold a spoon (like a shovel) dig into the dough, and get a nice scoop.  Many children who do not have mature motor skills will hold the spoon incorrectly, which makes the whole task difficult.  If you see your child doing this, just change the position of the spoon for them.  Practice of good positioning can help form the habit.

3.  Making a “Snake” – Don’t be afraid to ask your child to roll the whole ball into a snake (even if you don’t need a roll, they probably don’t know that).  Get as much exercise as you can with this dough! Rolling with both hands can be tricky because they both have to roll at the same time, while pressing with the same force. So you are working on bilateral coordination and force modulation.  (The child with poor sense of force is the one who always accidentally squeezes all the juice out of the juice box before getting a sip.  They also squeeze an enormous blob of glue out of the container when they only need a dot.)

4. Cutting the snake with a knife – Children should start being exposed to using a butter knife or a plastic knife by at least the age of five.  Most children aren’t, for obvious reasons.  But if mom or dad is right there, it should be fine. Plus, using a knife (like a spoon) requires good forearm and hand skills.  It can be very awkward the first time a kid tries to use a knife.  Cookie dough is nice and soft, and all they really have to do is press down. If you are really looking to increase the hand strength, show your child this grasp below.  This grasp strengthens the small muscles of the hands and the arches.

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My sweet little niece having a great time slicing up her “snake”. This is a great grasp for increasing hand strength.

 

You may notice that your child switches back to a “fisted” grasp.  This is normal.  Those little intrinsic muscles get tired quickly.

5. Rolling out the dough – Using a rolling pin is great for bilateral skills and force modulation too.  Plus ,it’s oh-so-fun!

6.  Rolling the dough into small balls – this is a great activity or building the arches in the hands and for using two hands together.  If your child tries to make a ball against the table, show them how to do it in two hands.  This provides double the exercise, plus it reinforces those bilateral skills.

7.  Isolating one finger at a time – Certain cookies (lindser tarts are my favorite) require a “hole” or “imprint” in the middle for jam or whatever.  Many children with poor motor skills have difficulty using one finger at a time.  Using the thumb by itself is the easiest, and then the index. The rest of the fingers are pretty hard. This is a great time to work on remembering the names of each finger for your little guys.

8.  Decorating or adding chips – Depending on what you want to work on with your child, you can adapt your decorating a million ways.

Pincer Grasp -If you want to work on using a pincer grasp (thumb and index only), have your child decorate the roll, (aka, the snake) by placing “spikes”, (aka chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, etc.) down the snakes back.  Yes, they will blend in later when you make another giant ball, unless you decide to work on knife skills to cut the snake into rounds instead of using a spoon.  You can also get crafty by using chips or sprinkles to decorate and make eyes, buttons, etc.

Pencil Grip – 1) Grab your tweezers (clean, please) and have your child sort the colored sprinkles.  Depending on your child’s age and level of skill this could be fun or it could be torture.  See how it goes.

 

2) Give your child a toothpick and let them “poke” a letter into the cookie.  “S for Santa, M for Mommy, etc.”)

9. Force modulation – use squeeze icing to let your child decorate.  The smaller icings usually come in “gel” and they don’t really look great after you bake the cookies, but the kids have fun creating. Plus, it works on hand strength and force modulation to get the pressure right on the tube.

10. Bilateral Coordination -Using cookie cutters is great for working on two hands.  Resist the urge to “clean the edges” away from the cutter for your child.  Show them how!  If they mess it up, oh well, roll it back into a ball, flatten it out, and try again!

11.  Visual Motor Skills and Visual Perception – Try making a design on a cookie and then having your child copy it.  Get them to draw it on paper after or before.  You can make letters, shapes, or pictures.  You can make faces, too.  You can also help your child to make a design by creating a “connect-the dot” by poking the holes with toothpicks for them.  I did this with my nieces and they followed the design using our “color-sorted” sprinkles to make these cookies.

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imageHoliday cookies & OT, fine motor & cookies

Any recipe can be modified and adapted to work on hand skills!  Use these tips to guide you in helping your child work on areas that are hard for them while still having fun!

And have a great holiday!

~Miss Jaime, O.T.

 

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Happy Cookie making!
 ~Miss Jaime, O.T.

 

 


 

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Why you should teach your child clapping games…

Clapping games are an awesome way to work on motor skills…

Remember all the clapping games you used to play when you were little?  Nowadays, kids have a hard time playing with nothing.  Meaning, if they don’t have a toy or an Iphone to keep them occupied, they don’t really know what to do with themselves.  As a little kid, my friends and I spent hours playing clapping games during recess.  We thought they were so fun and loved all the silly lyrics that went along with the clap sequences.  What we didn’t know is that we were also developing foundational motor skills that would benefit us for years to come.

As a school-based OT, I use clapping games often with individual children, small groups, and whole classes.  The things that I can learn about a child from watching them learn a clapping game are amazing.  I thought I would break it down for the rest of the world so I can spread the love of clapping games!

Motor Planning

Motor planning is a prerequisite to learning any new skill.  A difficulty with motor planning, also known as dyspraxia, can interfere with a child’s ability to learn everyday tasks such as getting dressed, writing, and playing games with other children.  In order to motor plan, a child has to come up with an idea, figure out how to do it, and then actually physically complete the task.

For example, a child unfamiliar with a playground slide decides he wants to try it.  Now he has to get himself to the ladder, hold onto the railings, get himself up the steps, and then coordinate his body from standing at the top step to sitting at the top of the slide.  Then he has to shift his weight to actually slide downward.    Who knew there was so much involved?  Clapping games involve a lot of motor planning, too.  The child has to practice the movements over and over before they become automatic.

hopscotch, motor planning, playing, playground

Crossing Midline

The midline is an imaginary line down the center of your body (picture through your nose to your belly button).   As an infant, a child starts to bring his hands to midline (usually to put something in their mouth).  Then they start to develop the ability to cross over the midline.  Once a child begins to develop a hand dominance, they should be able to cross over the midline to get a preferred toy, a crayon, etc.   If they don’t cross the midline, they will use their left hand to pick up something on their left side, and their right hand to pick up something on their right side.  This can interfere with a child’s ability to develop a “strong” side because they are using both sides equally.  I have had a few parents say to me “I think he’s ambidextrous!”.   Ambidexterity is rare.  Usually, it’s a midline deficit.

I swear that the original clapping game “Patty-cake” was invented by an OT. Okay…, maybe not, they didn’t have OT back then.

BUT – the very simple clap hands together, hit both your hands to your babies hands was designed to work on getting a baby to bring their hands together in the midline, then take them apart.   It’s very “OT-esque”.

clapping5_picmonkeyed

 

Sequencing

When a child sequences, they put events, ideas, and/or objects in a order.  Many children’s songs involve a particular sequence.  The Wheels on the Bus, Old MacDonald,  The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, Head-Shoulder-Knees, and Toes, etc.    Most clapping games tell a story in a particular sequence, which helps a child to remember the lyrics.  Miss Mary Mack has to ask her mother for 15 cents before she can see the elephants jump over the fence.  

The more challenging clapping games involve different motor movements at a particular part of the song.  This would be for older children; who are capable of remembering the words, singing them in the correct order, using their body to clap in a rhythm, and motor planning to do the right moves at the right time.   Whew! Who knew there was so much involved?  But there is…  

clapping games, motor planning, bilateral coordination

 Bilateral Coordination

The ability to use the two sides of your body together in a coordinated manner to complete a task is a foundational skill that we use every day.  We need to use our two hands together for everyday tasks like opening a bottle, putting on an earring, or tying our shoes.  It is even harder when the two hands have two separate jobs.  Clapping games help children to develop solid bilateral coordination skills because they consistently require the two sides of the body to perform the same task over and over.  Plus, the two hands have to meet in the middle (working in midline) and cross over the middle (crossing midline).   This practice is great for kids who have trouble with everyday bilateral activities in their lives such as using scissors,  opening snack, holding the paper while they write, sharpening a pencil, pulling their pants down in the bathroom, etc.   Using your hands to do the same thing at the same time is easier than using both hands to do something different.  But first thing is first!  Learn the easy way and then make it more challenging.

bilateral coordination, holding the paper

Visual tracking

Many children with learning disabilities have a hard time with visual tracking activities.  Attention problems, sensory issues, developmental delays and weak eye musculature can all interfere with a child’s ability to track appropriately from left to right.  This of course affects their ability to read, write, and copy from the board down the road.  Children who have difficulty crossing midline with their arms and hands usually have difficulty tracking across midline.  An example would be if you held your finger ten inches to the left of their face and asked them to keep their eyes on your finger and then you slowly moved your finger straight across to the right side.  Their eyes may not be able to  follow your finger after the midline.   Sometimes it’s just a quick glance away at midline and sometimes it’s a “shoot-ahead” movement all the way to the right. But either way you can see when they lose their visual attention on your finger.  Children should be able to easily move their eyes without moving their head by the third grade without losing place and without faltering at midline.  However, by kindergarten, children should beginning to move their eyes without complete head movement.   During a clapping game, the child’s eyes continually move from their left hand  to the right hand, to left, to right. It’s great practice for tracking in school.  Plus, because there is a rhythm, they are learning to track smoothly and rhythmically, like they need to when they are reading.

Rhythm and Beat

The ability to keep a beat and understand a rhythm is a skill that will impact a child’s life for years to come.  A beat is a repetitive hit or pulse (think of a heart beat).  A rhythm is a pattern of music and movement through time.  My favorite music teacher at school (Shout out – Mrs. Wade!) often helps me to problem solve how to plan activities for my kids who to her have no “rhythm” and to me have no “coordination”.   I find it helps to add music because 1) it’s more fun and 2) somehow they seem to “get it” when there is music involved.  She taught me that the beat is like marching “left, right, left, right” and the rhythm  is the call and response song that the soldiers sing while marching to the beat.  The ability to hear a beat is important in social activities like singing, dancing, and clapping, in unison.  Keeping the rhythm of motor movements are important in learning new repetitive movements to learn a dance or other gross motor skills like hopscotch (feet in, out, in, out).   This is why music can be such an amazing teaching tool.  Clapping games require the rhythm and beat skills because the child is singing (rhythm) as well as keeping performing their motor movement “clap, cross, clap, cross” (beat).  So clapping games can help your child by building the foundational skills that they will need later to learn a dance, play an instrument, etc.   A child needs to keep the beat when singing the lyrics to the song (Miss MARY, Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in BLACK, black, black, etc.).  They also need to keep the rhythm with the words of the song (clap, cross right, clap, cross left, clap). This seems so simple until we try to teach it a child.  Rhythm and Beat can be very hard work!  Kids start to develop the ability to hear beat very early- My good friend who is both a Kindergarten teacher and a Dance instructor (shout out- Miss Smith!)   told me that even her Kindergarten dance kids learn to count the beat pretty quickly.

children dancing

 

 Socialization

Most clapping games involve just two children, but many can be done with a whole class.  Part of my job as a school based OT is to work with the self contained classes.  I love to use clapping games with them because they have no idea that they are working on so many important skills!  No matter how old they are, they all laugh and have fun.  They consider it a “break” from school work, but as the OT, I am satisfied that I am addressing many important skills at once.  When working with one other child, you have to develop a “rhythm” with your partner in order to keep going.  Often, one child will be more advanced than the other.  No matter!  When the one child is “off” a bit, the other always reaches a little faster, or crosses a little farther in order to keep up with the class.  We try to sing the songs all at the same time.  Usually in the beginning it’s a big mess, but after a few tries, they do much better. A few of the girls may know a song or two, and they help to teach the kids who are unfamiliar.  Plus all the staff, it all comes together!  It’s hard not to laugh and have fun as you make eye contact with your partner, sing silly words, and have a grand old time for a few minutes.  Even us teachers end up giggling and having fun.  The kids need that movement and the “break”, but they also need the socialization and “playtime”. (Even though it’s a very therapeutic task!)

Sometimes I will get the whole class in a big circle and we play “quack-didly-oso”.  The kids have to put one hand on top of their friends (on the left) hand and the other under the other friend hand (on the right).  This concept alone takes a few minutes as we have to go over left, right, under, over (spatial language and awareness!).  Once we get started playing, I can see who has difficulty with focus, with motor planning, directionality, etc. And meanwhile the kids love it!

 How to Modify a Clapping Game

No game is fun if it’s way above your level.  But all clapping games can be simplified by slowing down the movements and the words.  The motor movements can also be simplified.

Here are a few examples from easiest to hardest

1) Simple patty cake motions – clap your own hands together, then use both hands to clap both your partners hands.  Then back to your own clap.  A simple 1,2,1,2  pattern.

2) More complex patty cake motions –  clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand.  1,2,1,3,1,2,1,3

3) Getting harder – adding more motor movements make it even more challenging. Clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand. Next, form an “X” over your chest by crossing your two arms to touch your shoulders.  Then, clap your hands together and start again.

4)  Really hard – Clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand. Next, form an “X” over your chest by crossing your two arms to touch your shoulders.  Then, clap both hands to both your lap. Then start again.

* If you have a child who just can’t seem to “get it”, or they keep confusing their left and right sides, you can try putting a colored sticker on each child’s right hand.  This way you are providing a visual cue as to which hands need to hit.

Here are some links to some of the most common clapping games if you need a refresher.

Miss Mary Mack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-Xcw3T-vQs
Miss Mary Mack- Just music and lyrics – you can use whatever motor pattern you want https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ESAj1fVruY
Quack Didli-Oso – Great for a group or partners https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnxqOH3nam8
“Slide” – Very Complex! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXJsX7T8fYM
“Down Down Baby” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCyBMztWUFk
“Sally Was  Baby” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSOxq1eovtw
Patty Cake  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yULp0Vnzblc

logo                                                                           Get Clapping!

~  Miss Jaime, OT


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Book Review- Books To Read To Your Sensory Kid…

I am very excited to share that I have decided to add a “book review” category to my blog because I totally love books, AND I think that everyone else should, too!  I will periodically be adding book reviews to my blog for either your kids/and or you.

They will pertain to special ed and childhood development in some way.   As a child, I read constantly until it got to the point where when I was in trouble I was not allowed to read.  Not only was I a bit of a “book worm”, I also ended up with glasses because I was the kid sneaking a flashlight under the covers.  What can I say?  Nancy Drew was that good.  Also, as the youngest of five and seven years after the rest of the kids, my parents were too tired to stop such an innocent habit.  The rest is history….

Not only was I a bit of a “book worm”, I also ended up with glasses because I was the kid sneaking a flashlight under the covers.  What can I say?

Nancy Drew was that good. 

Also, as the youngest of five and seven years after the rest of the kids, my parents were too tired to stop such an innocent habit.  The rest is history….

Books To Read To Your Sensory Kid

There are many challenges facing the parents and teachers of children with sensory processing issues.   One of them is finding the right way to talk to their kids/students about what they are feeling or why their body reacts differently than other kids.  Children with sensory processing issues often suffer from self-esteem problems because they feel alone.  These books really try to explain it from the “kids” point of view.

This post contains affiliate links.

#1  The Good Enoughs Get in Sync series 

 by Carol Stock Kranowitz

These are the first books that I’ve encountered that are geared toward older children ages 8 to 12 years old.  It could be helpful for younger children, too.  However, it may need to be read to them to have certain words or sections simplified.  I also think it would be helpful for those family members who”just don’t get it”…

By the same author as “The Out of Sync Child”, these books are about a family full of sensory issues. It features a sensory seeker, an avoider, and a dyspraxic. Mom and Dad also have sensory issues, as well as the dog.  In my research as a therapist, I’ve found that most books about sensory processing are geared toward preschool age children. It’s nice that the book is more “grown-up”, featuring chapters and identifiable characters.  It would be a great book for other family members to read to help increase awareness about how the child with sensory issues experiences different everyday situations.

The Goodenoughs Get In Sync by Carol Stock Kranowitz

A great sensory book for kids eight to twelve.

One thing I like about these books is that they explain the different kinds of sensory processing issues  (there are so many!) from each character’s viewpoint.  Although the author uses a lot of clinical terminology (sensory under-responsivity, proprioceptive sense, etc) which may be difficult for little kids to understand, it explains what they mean in simple language.  This will help older children to learn what their sensory issues are and how they impact their lives.

I also think that it would explain a lot to parents who have sensory issues themselves.  As they say,  apples don’t fall far from the tree… You have brown hair, your kid has brown hair, you hate the smell of oranges (sensory issue), so does your kid, etc…. I would suggest it for any family with a sensory kid!

Sensory Kids Want To Feel Like Everyone Else.

Children need to know that they are not alone in the way they feel.  I would also highly suggest it for therapists who work with children or teachers of children with sensory issues.  It’s a good resource to have in your “bag of tricks”.

#2  Arnie and his School Tools  by Jennifer Veenendall

I have a lot of kids with sensory diets, sensory issues, etc.  I have had a lot of parents ask me for good sensory books that they could read with their sensory kids about what is going on in their lives.  When I started researching it, I realized; there are a million potty training books, a ton of “I don’t like strangers”, or ” I don’t want to sleep” type books, etc.  But for the kids who really feel different from everyone else, there aren’t many to choose from.  SO… I came across this book and the reviews were so great that I ordered it for myself.  I like how it talks about specific things that might be provided to a kid like fidgets, crunchy snacks, heavy work jobs, etc.  It explains (like I have had to explain to lots of kids) that just because “Johnny” needs a special seat, that doesn’t mean we all need one.

 

I  have found some teachers hesitant to provide sensory kids with sensory tools because of what the rest of the class may think. This sensory book is the perfect way to explain it to them!    There is one sentence at the end about how “Mommy says I may not be an accountant like Daddy because he has to sit still all day”.  Any poor review of this book has to do with that sentence.  I think it’s silly- the author was just trying to say- the kid is energetic, he’ll probably just have a “movey” job when he grows up!  Maybe he’ll end up an OT. Regardless, I think it’s a great book and I’m happy to add it to my personal and professional library.

 sensory diet at school.

Arnie and his school tools… a great book about having a sensory diet at school.

  Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions That Build Success

What are your favorite books that deal with sensory issues or sensory processing?  Please share!

sensory processing

Sensory Processing 101 is a vital resource for parents, therapists, and caregivers who work with children with Sensory Processing Difficulties.

~ Miss Jaime, O.T.

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Take that out of your mouth!

 

What to do when a child is still mouthing everything…

So, I am addressing this issue this week because it is only the first week of school and already a bunch of teachers and some friends have asked for advice about their student or their own child in regards to kids putting inedible objects in their mouth.  Here is what I told them:

During infancy, children go through a developmental phase of putting things in their mouth.  Toys, feet, clothing and everything else goes right in the mouth.  This continues throughout  the toddler years, and then they eventually outgrow it.  At least, you hope they do!

 

Some kids continue to put inedible objects in their mouths into their preschool and school-age years. Although it is normal for kids to want to explore the world around them using all of their senses, it can also become a hygeine & safety issue.  Additionally, for some children it can become a social problem when other children take notice of the habit.  Children in Kindergarten should not be sucking on their sleeves or the neck of their shirt in class.  Of course some kids may occasionally bite the end of their pencil or bite their fingernails, but when it becomes a safety or social issue, it should be addressed.

Chewing on the neck of a shirt is a common form of oral input for kids who are sensory seekers

Chewing on the neck of a shirt is a common form of oral input for kids who are sensory seekers

So why are they  doing it? 

It is possible that your child is seeking oral sensory input.  This means that they crave the sensations of having things in their mouth and may feel pleasure from the sensations of sucking, chewing, or licking.  It might provide them comfort when they are upset or make them comfortable when they are relaxed and playing.  Sometimes it even helps them to focus and pay attention.  It depends on the kid!

A child wearing a chewable necklace

Chewing inedible objects can be bad for your teeth, too!

So what can you do as a parent or a teacher?

As a teacher you should speak to the child privately about it.  Tell them that you have noticed this habit and you are concerned because of germs, they are ruining their nice clothing, etc.  Tell them that you would like to help them break this habit.  With the child’s help, decide on a non-verbal signal that you will use to remind the child not to put things in their mouth.  An example could be tapping his desk as you walk by, making direct eye contact and nodding at him, etc.   The purpose is to alert the child of the behavior, not to alert his classmates or embarrass him.

Also, talk to the parent.  Inform them what you are seeing and why you are concerned. They may have not noticed or they may not realize that the mouthing is developmentally inappropriate.  Or, they may have some background info in regards to why it is happening (dental issues, speech therapy issues, sensory issues, etc.) .   Tell the parent that you are open to helping the child to break the habit and let them know about the system you came up with (like the nod or the tap).  If you are open to it and the school allows it, tell the parent to send in sugar-free chewing gum.  If the child is craving oral input, chewing gum once or twice a day may be enough input to wean them from the habit.   Don’t worry about what other kids will say if one child gets to chew gum.  Explain that it is simply a tool that “Johnnie” needs in order to focus and do his work.  Point out that some kids have a pencil grip and some kids don’t.  Some kids have a cushion seat and some kids have a visual calendar on their desk.  Gum is just another “school tool” that some kids use, and some kids don’t.  End of story.

kid-chewing-gum2

Gum can be sensory “tool” at school

 

As a parent, there are more options.  You can purposely give your child things to eat that are crunchy, chewy, or require hard work (aka heavy work) to eat.  Here are some examples:

  • Really crunchy pretzels (Miss Jaime prefers Synders large pretzels)
  • Carrot sticks
  • Pickles
  • Dried Fruit (big ones like apricots or prunes, not raisins –too small)
  • Sugar Free Fruit roll ups
  • Sugar Free Lemon Drops
  • Sugar Free gummy worms
  • Sugar Free Licorice Sticks
  • Slim Jim
  • Jerky
Crunchy snacks can help!

Crunchy snacks can help!

These are all options to send in for snack so your child can receive extra oral input throughout the day.  You can also give them things that require hard sucking through a straw, such as drinkable yogurt – the thicker the better. Make sure you give them a straw!  Notice that I wrote “sugar-free” for the candy objects.  Sour is great, but sugar can lead to increased hyperactivity and a consequential crash when the sugar high is done.   Try to give them  really crunchy cereal for breakfast before they go to school.

 

For drinks at school, send in water bottles with a sports cap.  Ask the teacher if the child can keep the bottle on the desk.  These tops are chewable, and they are much more socially appropriate.  Try to use a thermos with a plastic straw. If possible, put a regular straw inside the short straw of the thermos.  This will encourage your child to suck up their drink, rather than to tip the spout into their mouth, which does not provide as much sensory input.   At home, use a silly straw for regular drinks, because they require more sucking.

621-pink-water-bottle-with-straw-oxo-good-grips               500-deer-park-water

 

After school, provide your child with non-food sensory input items.  Teach them how to blow up balloons and to blow bubbles of all different sizes.  Try to spend some time every day giving your child sensory input through their mouth.  This will help them to learn how to self-regulate the amount of sensory input that they need.  Use a vibrating toothbrush instead of a regular one.  Set a timer or sing the ABC song and use the toothbrush for a little longer than usual.   If  they like it, brush more often.  It can’t hurt!

blowing straw

 

Some objects are available through therapy catalogues that are specifically geared for kids who crave oral sensory input.  Chewelry, Chewy tubes, and Pencil Toppers are just a few.  You can try these out and see if they help at all.

Blow Bubbles

Blowing bubbles is hard work for little mouths!

Sucking is harder than just drinking

Sucking is harder than just drinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These suggestions are simple solutions to help a common problem.  If your child continues to persist in putting inedible objects in their mouth, see your physician or contact an Occupational Therapist or Speech Therapist for help.

 

Do you have any other techniques that have worked?  Please share with us!

~ Miss Jaime, O.T.

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