By Ingrid Kenron OTR/L, Integrated Pediatric Therapies at JCFS Chicago
The colder air and gloomy winter skies can sometimes cause children to be temperamental. An inconsistent schedule due to holidays, weather delays and school closings may also spike anxiety and onset challenging behaviors. Occupational therapists can help create tools such as social stories and visual supports to help children understand these changes. Here are some simple ways to keep your child happy and healthy this winter season.
It may be helpful for families to maintain a structured routine at home. On school days off, sometimes parents let their children sleep in, wear their pajamas all day, watch long periods of television or not have regular mealtimes. Sticking to routines may prevent battles in the long run when children are expected to resume a regular school schedule.
It can seem like there is less time to get things accomplished during the winter. Extra travel time is needed and daylight hours are short. Children can feel rushed and cranky when they are not allowed enough transition time. As parents want to head out the door, children often want to spend time looking for lost items. Organization is a process and should continue throughout the year. Labels, clear storage bags and clear pouches can help children find what they need quickly. Replace school supplies such as worn folders and lost pencils. A durable plastic, manila folder can make school papers safe from wet snow. Helping children stay organized can make transitions easier and faster for everyone.
Children can be fussy about winter clothes. With some brainstorming, you can keep your child warm and comfortable. Some children like loose layers, and others prefer tight clothing. A child may refuse a hat but be content with a hood or ear wrap. He or she may refuse a puffy coat but be fine with fleece. Occupational therapists can help children that have ongoing struggles. They can help improve tolerance to clothing textures as well as body awareness, balance, and fine motor skills that needed for dressing.
Children tend to be less active during the winter. Finding ways to incorporate movement and exercise is important to help maintain optimal arousal. Occupational therapists are experts in developing sensorimotor activities to meet a child’s unique sensory profile. Snow can provide a fantastic experience to play and get exercise. Children can build snowmen, igloos, forts, or castles. Provide buckets and small shovels to help with lifting and carrying. A sled or inner tube can be fun for sensory seekers. For others, a winter walk or scavenger hunt may be perfect. In addition to exercise, being outside can provide the additional benefit of sunlight exposure. Sunlight can help children’s circadian rhythm, which can improve their immune system, mood, and sleep.
On days that are just too cold to go outside, make items such as a trampoline, tunnel, pool noodles, hula hoops and an exercise mat available. Dancing to music or following a children’s exercise video is a great solution for small spaces. Gross motor contests are appealing to grade school children. See who can jump the farthest, jump rope the longest or tap a balloon up the air without it falling. Many schools and park districts have open gyms and indoor pools. Often children look forward to exercise when they can socialize or be in the company of other children.
It is extra important to concentrate on good nutrition. Children may have eaten sugary holiday treats and need to reset their taste buds. A lack of nutritious foods can cause decreased energy levels, bad moods, and lack of focus. Preparing meals together is a good way to expose children to healthier foods. It can help picky eaters try new things. If you are pressed for time, start with preparing a weekend breakfast or snacks together.
Many children become interested in cooking when they are toddlers. Two to five year olds can help wash fruits and vegetables in a colander. They can peel tangerines, bananas or oranges. Young children can help mixing with a spoon and pour ingredients. As children get older they can learn how to use other kitchen tools such as a knife for spreading, potato masher or spatula. Children eight years old may be ready to learn how to crack eggs, use a can opener and vegetable peeler.
All of the above tasks are great ways to improve children’s fine motor skills. Even if you need to provide hand-over-hand assistance, it is a valuable step in the learning process.
Routines, organization, dressing skills, movement and nutrition are common areas that children need some help with during the winter months. With some simple strategies, children can feel better, gain new skills and develop healthy habits. Celebrate success, no matter how big or small, with your child and have a wonderful New Year!