This page goes out to all of those wonderful parents who text me and ask the questions that they should definitely ask…and then some! Also, The American Speech and Hearing Association has some amazing resources especially if you know where to look, so I will be sharing those as well.
Family Game Time with Small Children & Toddlers: Bridging the Gap
Who has two little children and finds it hard to navigate ways to play with them together? I’m going to give you some activities using two toys that I find a lot of families have! They are also two toys I have used in therapy sessions for a range of ages by adapting them! Because, as most parents know, we make plans…and then our 4 or 5-year-old wants to play with a “baby” toy their younger sibling is using (it’s not a baby toy!). These activities are developmentally beneficial for 1-2 years old, as well as siblings 4-6 years old! It is important to recognize that Theory of Mind (our ability to share another’s perspectives and thoughts) doesn’t emerge/develop until around five years of age. “Terrible Twos” should really be called “Thinking of only ME Twos” because that “we” mindset just hasn’t developed yet! However, there are great ways to introduce them to it, and reinforce those “thinking of others” moments when they occur! Here are some ways to bring everyone together, with just one toy, and 5-10 minutes!
Coin Piggy Bank OR Shape Sorter: These toys are great for fine motor skills, color identification, number identification, shape identification, requesting help, turn taking, following directions, and so much more. Honestly, you really don’t even NEED to turn on the Piggy Bank. Here are my ideas if you have siblings in the age ranges of one child age 1-2 years and another child age 3-6 years of age.
- First things first! It can be really helpful to talk about a “group plan”. I use this in sessions from Social Thinking, and it helps keep things on track! Explain how excited you are to play all together as a “group” and that together you are going to set up the game, play (with each person’s roles), and clean up. Talk about how part of the group plan is taking turns and OFFERING to help each other. Another part is “activating your waiting systems” when it is someone else’s turn (this is specifically for your older kiddo!) I like to have children pretend they have a button on their “brain” or top of their head that they press to “activate the waiting system”. Demonstrate what waiting looks like if you have to.
- Take the shapes and/or coins and “hide” them around the room. Think of location concepts or clues you could give your older child. For example: “in”, “on top”, “under”, “above”, “next to”, “in front of”. You can do this part in different ways.
- Have them find the shapes/coins on their own, and then give them to the younger sibling to put in the box. Teamwork makes the dream work!
- Have them wait and say, “I’m thinking of a red shape with four sides that is in front of the couch” and have them find that specific shape. Still have them give that shape to the younger sibling to put in. Complimenting turn taking, and sharing is a great way to build those behaviors during this activity!
- For your little one you can work on modeling language for: “put in”, “thank you”, labeling colors, labeling shapes, etc.
- The “Just Right Road” was introduced to me by an amazing Occupational Therapist and I will encourage parents to even use it to get homework done on those days where their child has excess energy and little motivation to sit down and put pen to paper.
- Put the shapes/coins at one end of the room and the piggy bank or shape sorter on the other end. Give your older child directions on HOW to move to the shapes/coins, and which ones to get. For example: skipping, jumping, bear walk, inch worm, hop scotch, roll, etc. If your younger child wants to imitate that is great! Again, focus on having your younger child put in the shape and model language!
If you start to notice the wheels coming off for either child, it is a GREAT time to switch to free play for that little one and explain that it’s ok to “be flexible” in a group! These activities might only last 5 minutes, but that’s five minutes of learning rich play for the whole family!
MY LEVELS OF LIKE: BREAKING THROUGH RIGID THINKING & ENCOURAGING PROBLEM SOLVING
Let’s be honest, all of us have used “I hate…” before. We have all become so stuck in a specific mindset about an activity, person, problem, that we cannot see it any other way. It’s black or white and it’s never going to change. The issue with this is it stifles our ability to make positive change, seek support, or set a boundary. One tool I was introduced to via Social Thinking is the “Level of Like Scale”. It has become one of my favorite tools in working with clients who present difficulties with flexible thinking, social cognition, and executive functioning. Moreover, it has also become a tool I utilize for myself, and once my daughter is older, I will utilize as a parent.
I recently had a client who insisted to me that they hated ALL MATH. Which is why they were bored and decided to “opt out” their attention. Now, there’s multiple issues with this, some of which are now embedded in our culture. In a changing social world where everything is instant gratification or entertainment boredom has practically become extinct! Working through things (or a bored moment) has almost become irrelevant. Why spend time researching online or in a book when you can simply ask Alexa? Who is guilty of scrolling through their phones while “watching” a show or movie? Our minds literally have whatever distraction they want AT THEIR FINGER TIPS. So, we are in a time where it’s becoming increasingly important to TEACH bored moments, problem solving, and flexible mindset.
When my client said they hated all Math I knew it was a great opportunity to work with “The Levels of Like”. We laid the cards out in a line from “Hate It…Really Dislike It…Dislike It…Like It…Really Like It…Love It”. Before broaching the topic of Math, I wanted to direct them to the variations of these levels. So, we started with foods. At first, they either hated or loved them, and nothing in between. But, with discussion about which foods they could eat all day, which foods they could tolerate, which foods might make them vomit (for me Jello!) We worked out how most things in life fall on a scale, and it’s pretty much never fixed!
Next, we got into it. MATH. However, we used Math as the UMBRELLA CONCEPT! Math is a subject that can be broken into many components. For example, using a calculator is a PART of Math. We found out that my client actually “liked” using a calculator. They also “really liked” manipulatives in Math. They really disliked “math lecture” and “math word problems”. The greatest thing about this information was that it gave us VALUABLE information into the client’s learning style and struggles. So now instead of just trying to help them work through not “hating math” we could target tangible areas. Making math lectures more interactive for them. Finding appropriate times where calculators could be used. Requesting help from a teacher or peer or requesting more time with manipulatives. Targeting how to best work through word problems. In short, IT OPENS DOORS IN THE MIND TO SOLVING PROBLEMS RATHER THAN LIVING IN THEM!
As an adult I have used the scale as a reflection tool for:
- Partner communication styles
- Household Chores
- Parenting Boundaries
- Household Schedules/ To Do Lists
- Expectations of Myself and Others
- Work and Home Relationships
- Self-Care Strategies
For example, if I am consistently thinking I feel overwhelmed by household chores. How can I break this down? Which do I “hate”? “Which do I “like”? Where could I find support? Which could I “let go” of every now and again? What invokes balance within me in this area? What are some potential solutions or strategies I could attempt?
Finding fault on external factors consistently only robs me of the opportunities to grow. If I can’t look within myself or REACH OUT to try to find balance, resilience, or solutions I am really only limiting opportunities and remaining FIXED…in a mindset…that keeps me bored and unhappy. I would personally rather live elsewhere.
Where can you practice your levels? Where can you teach them as well?
I absolutely LOVE Make Social Learning Stick! Check out her website and blog for great teaching tools!
For any parent, especially those with children who have or will benefit from fun fitness; and local to the NYC or North Jersey Areas this interview is a GREAT read! Coach Mike is the owner of Empowered Sports and Fitness. His energy is super contagious, and his focus and philosophy for building children up, and helping them learn through exercise is inspiring. Coach Mike was kind enough to do a Q & A with me! For more information please visit his website!
Happiest Toddler On the Block Book Review From ME to YOU!
A great Mom (and AMAZING pediatrician) recommended The Happiest Toddler on the Block to me when my daughter turned one. It’s a book I have really enjoyed reading, and I have ACTUALLY used a lot of Dr. Karp’s strategies! I am by no means an excellent book “reviewer”, but I thought I would share some of my favorite take home points, and how I love them not only as a Mom, but as a Speech-Language Pathologist as well!
Toddlers: Normal Development can make them misbehave. It is basically a toddler’s job to push boundaries. Their brain is growing at a rapid pace, so it is part of learning! Dr. Karp brings up that toddlers can be especially rigid and yet also unpredictable! You can think of this as “battle of the brain”! The “logical” left brain can often lose control to the “emotional” right brain and leave them spinning! Here are some strategies I took from the book, as well as some speech and language/social development ideas mixed in (in italics)!
- Give them control where you can: Whether it is picking out their own clothes, teaching them some simple sign-language so they can advocate for help, more, etc., scheduling “special time” (5 minutes) where they direct all the play!
- Routines: It’s not possible to ALWAYS stay on routine, but if you can keep some simple portions in place, even on hectic days it helps your toddler to regulate. Safety blankets/animals, songs, familiar toys, snacks, they aren’t obsessions. They are “tools” in your little one’s developing “tool belt” for self-regulation!
- Narrating Play & Pretending with Emotions: During pretend play engage in pretending to be “mad”, “sad’, “excited”, “tired”. Describe how your body is feeling, what you’re thinking, what you need! For small children use simple sentence structures so they get the main points! (ex: narrating in 2-5 word sentences).
- The Fast Food Rule: I have been using this with my daughter and 90% of the time it is REALLY helpful with diffusing frustration! “In a nutshell, the Fast-Food Rule says: Whenever you talk to someone who’s upset, always repeat his/her feelings first…before offering your own comments or advice.”-Dr. Karp (Did I also mention this works well with my husband…) Dr. Karp goes on to state that for younger toddlers it helps to repeat using an emotional tone similar to the one they are expressing (make yourself sound mad, with similar tone of voice to them). As your child gets a little older scale it back, or gauge based on your child’s personality. Make sure to use very simple language (ex: I mad, mad, mad, mad!) Once your child calms you can then talk to them using simple language and try to re-direct. From a speech and language perspective I LOVE this because it incorporates: building emotional vocabulary, narrates language for expressing problems/emotions, models active listening skills. As a mom it has really helped to diffuse some tantrums or just straight stop them in their tracks!
- Gossip Praise: This one is pretty impressive! It’s crazy how quick and effective it can be! When you witness your child doing something you want to reinforce you “gossip” about it to a stuffed animal, other parent, sibling, pet, etc! “Wow doggie I LOVE how…put away her toys. She did such an amazing job cleaning up today!” You cover your mouth or whisper like it’s a secret. It’s amazing how quickly you get the toddler’s attention, and a big smile! It’s also important to note that the more you point out/compliment/draw attention to these behaviors that you want to see, the more you will see them! Your child pays attention to what you pay attention to…and what gets the largest emotional response from you! You are also modeling TONS of language/labeling for your child’s actions!
- Bedtime Sweet Talk and Positive Thinking: This has become hands down one of my FAVORITE things to add to our bedtime rituals! It honestly puts me in such an amazing mindset before bedtime as well, since frankly some days are harder than others. Karp talks about “sweet talk” before bed. Putting out your hand/fingers and telling your little one about specific things that you loved doing with them, or loved seeing them do, or hearing about them doing throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but it’s so special! “I had so much fun playing at the park today. It was fun watching how brave you were going down the slide! You tried a new food today and really enjoyed it!” This is also an amazing way to help build self-narrative skills! Having children recall parts of their day using salient details, emotional responses, thoughts, and actions is a huge stepping stone to building narrative language skills, as well as theory of mind and perspective taking! Not to mention a fantastic way to start boosting your child’s positive self-dialogue and inner coach/voice!
This book has SO much more to offer including: increasing “green light” behaviors, “time ins”, tips for limit setting, and tips for eliminating “red light” behaviors! As with everything else every child is different! These are just some of the tools from this book that have worked for me! If you decide to read I really hope you enjoy! Also, this isn’t just a book I would recommend for parents! Fellow therapists it’s a fun resource to look through!
Bath Time Benefitting Speech, Language, Sensory, & Motor Development
For children that enjoy bath time it can be an amazing area to practice wellness, speech, language, motor, sensory, self-regulation, and social developmental skills to name a few! Below are some tips, tricks, and benefits from an Occupational Therapist and Speech Therapist for simple ways to make tub time a totally amazing form of quality learning time!
Tips and Tricks from Occupational Therapist You Young Min OTRL and Sarah A Ott M.S. CCC-SLP
- Bath time is great for kids for sensory integration. For example, it gives them both tactile and auditory feedback when splashing with water. (*When working on speech and language skills, especially those that are difficult, having the sensory system integrated and calm can greatly increase quality practice of skills. The systems are not competing!)
- Kids can scoop water and pour into another bucket which is great for developing play skills and coordination. And there is great tactile input with bubbles and warm water. Bubbles are great for sensory input, much like shaving cream.
- They can receive a gentle massage on their arms for tactile input using the bubbles. (*Adding Speech and Language to this you could label body parts as you massage with the bubbles.)
- They can draw on the wall for motor planning, coordination, fine motor skills using shaving cream or dry erase markers.
- Grabbing and popping bubbles are good for coordination and fine motor skills.
- Scented bubbles are also great for aromatherapy. They can explore different scents so their brain can interpret how it makes them feel: calm/alert. (*Adding Speech, Language, and Social/Emotional Communication to this you can talk about how the body physically feels like and looks like when it is calm vs. alert. Have them tense and release their legs, arms, face, etc.)
- Warm water also helps most children to regulate (calming effect for our sensory systems, think about how great a warm shower feels as an adult!). Bathing also gives them a safe environment for them to put items in their mouth if they’re still in the mouthing stage since the toys are clean.
- Reading, Writing, Turn Taking! YES! Practice writing in shaving cream on a tub wall or white board, bring measuring cups, bowls, and other items that could encourage pretend play into the tub and practice turn taking, imaginative play schemas, location concepts, and so much more!
- Articulation Practice! Bath time is a GREAT time to get this in if your child is in Speech Therapy, or you notice certain sounds are emerging or need assistance emerging. You don’t need to buy new toys to target sounds, and you do NOT need flashcards!
- EXAMPLE: If the sound is /k/ or /g/ put bubbles on their neck and say this is where the sound comes from, have them kick their feet and use auditory bombardment by saying “kick, kick, kick” (with your finger tapping your neck) now you try! Make up a silly “k” song and sign it in the tub!5 minutes of articulation practice each day is really all you need!
- Social and Emotional Story Telling! This is a great time to have “story time” maybe about a lesson you want them to learn about sharing, calming down, expressing emotions! It is an environment where they are already calm and happy, so these lessons are much easier to talk about and retain!
Let’s Chat Phonological Processes…what they are, when they should no longer be present in your child’s speech, when you should consult a speech therapist, and how you can help your child!
Phonological Processes are speech errors in your child’s speech that are typical in their development up to a certain age range. In most cases these speech errors will resolve themselves as your child sort of grows into their little articulators! There are a lot of things to coordinate when talking…think of it sort of like your child learning to walk. They slowly gain their balance and coordination as they practice.
This chart is an excellent source for parents to glance at to check on their child’s speech development. Really look at the examples. These will help to guide you. The ages listed are the ages you should see these processes or distortions resolve or disappear. If your child is 6 months to a year past, and you have concerns with their intelligibility you should consult your pediatrician or school teacher for an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist and Speech referral. I am a huge proponent of an audiological evaluation as well, just to rule out any hearing issues.
If you or your family members are concerned that you understand less than 60% of what your child says talk to your pediatrician. Early detection and intervention are so helpful!
You are your child’s greatest advocate, you’re AMAZING!
This is from ASHA’s official page. An amazing resource for parents!
Remember: Children develop at their own rate. Your child might not have all skills until the end of the age range.
Age 1-2 Years
What should my child be able to do?
|Hearing and Understanding||Talking|
Ages 2-3 Years
What should my child be able to do?
|Hearing and Understanding||Talking|
Lazy 8 Breathing
This visual can be a GAME CHANGER for helping kids to calm down or just plain focus. It also requires them to cross midline on their bodies so helps to integrate both sides of their brains…which if they are having an emotional moment can be really helpful! Plus deep, slow breathing is SO regulating! I suggest laminating the visual and placing it on a wall. Your child can either stand and trace it with their finger or you can get a dry erase marker, and they can trace.