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Self-help Skills for Kids

Self-help Skills for Kids

As the weather gets colder, we will all be putting on more layers of clothing. If you have children (or even just one little person), you know that the added time of dressing in boots, coats, hats, and mittens can make it even more stressful trying to get out of the house! As children age, they are able to assist more in their own self-care, especially dressing. Independence in dressing is not only great for helping busy parents, but it also fosters improved fine motor skills (button, snaps, zippers), cognitive skills (sequencing steps), visual-perception (front/back of clothing)…and self-confidence in children.

Here are some general age-level guidelines for what a child can (and should!) do for herself or himself:

10 MONTHS

  • Can assist by pulling leg or arm out of clothing

12 MONTHS

  • Can remove shoes when unfastened; May show interest in putting them on by raising foot
  • Assists by pushing arm and leg through clothing holes

18 MONTHS

  • Can take off mittens
  • Can put a hat on and take off
  • Can remove an unbuttoned shirt
  • Can unzip a coat

24 MONTHS

  • Able to pull off pants
  • Can unbutton large buttons
  • Can find arm holes in a tee-shirt
  • Can put on shoes with a little help

30 MONTHS

  • Puts on a front-button shirt (can’t button on own yet)
  • Puts on socks

3 YEARS OLD

  • Can undo snaps and laces
  • Learning the difference between the front and back of clothes
  • Can pull up pants independently
  • Able to button large buttons
  • Can put socks and shoes on, but may have trouble with heel placement of sock and which foot for shoes
  • Can dress self with some adult assistance

4 YEARS OLD

  • Can put on socks with correct heel placement
  • Can put shoes on the correct feet
  • Can buckle and unbuckle belts
  • Can dress with adult supervision only

5-6 YEARS OLD

  • Can tie shoes on own
  • Can put a belt through loops
  • Able to fully dress with more speed

 

SOME TIPS TO WORK ON DRESSING

  • Even when your child is an infant, try to describe what you are doing each time you dress your child.  Using phrases such as “give me your foot”, “over your head”, and “where’s your arm?” will help with his/her understanding later as he/she begins to work on this skill.
  • Buttons, snaps, and zippers are often easier to learn if your child is not wearing the clothing. Try having him/her button a shirt you are wearing or lay a shirt on a table in front of them. Dressing dolls is also great practice.
  • When teaching a new dressing skill, it’s best to give the child a sense of success.  You can do this by starting the task for him, but allowing him to finish.  By using a strategy called “backward chaining”, the parent completes all but the final step in a skill (i.e. parent puts child’s t-shirt over head and pulls arms through sleeves and asks the child to pull t-shirt down to waist). After the child has mastered this part, then stop your assistance with the previous step (putting arms through the holes).  Continue in this manner until the child performs the task independently.
  • When your child is old enough, engage her/him in the dressing process by allowing her/him to make a choice from two outfits (that you choose).
    This way, you are selecting what is appropriate for the activity and season, while giving your child a sense of independence.
  • Progress from dressing visual areas to non-visual areas (i.e. easier for child to put pants and socks, since he can clearly see what he is doing).

 

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Hand Strengthening Ideas

Hand Strengthening Ideas

If summer vacation means that your child has the summer off from Occupational Therapy ( or if you just think he/she could use a little work-out for those growing muscles), here are some of my favorite ways to improve grasp and hand strength.  Improved hand strength can translate to improved handwriting, better endurance while writing and cutting, and better fine motor and self-care skills.  These are fun ways to improve skills (without it feeling like “work”).

Playdoh, clay, or silly putty

  • A good clay is Crayola Model Magic.  Squeezing with the whole hand to soften the dough and increase hand over all hand strength. Be sure to switch back and forth between hands.  Hide “treasures” that the child has to find.
  • Roll the dough on a table to make snakes, using one hand and then the other, and then both together.
  • Practice pinching off pieces of the snake, using thumb and index finger.  Roll dough into a ball, then squish it flat like a pizza between fingers and thumb.  Poke holes in the dough using index finger.
  • Wrap a rubber band or silly putty around the student’s flexed fingers. As he straightens them, have him spread them apart against the resistance.

Movement Ideas

  • Doing gross motor play while weight-bearing the hands is great for strengthening the shoulder, wrists and hands.  Some suggestions are:  wheelbarrow walking, tug-o-war (with a towel or blanket), crawling through a tunnel,
  • Sustaining a grasp while hanging from monkey bars, climbing ladders/playground structures, rock climbing walls, and even biking and scooters can help with hand strength.

 Water Play

  • Squirt guns are great for strengthening fingers.
  • Plastic turkey basters are good for strengthening the whole hand.
  • Squeeze sponges or squeeze out a wet washcloth.

Games

  • Don’t Break the Ice
  • Lite Bright
  •  Whack-a-Mole

Paper Play

  • Tear paper into little pieces (as part of a craft project) and/or wad paper into balls.
  • Cut thick paper (cardboard, index cards, several sheets of construction paper).
  • Coloring in a confined space (the smaller the space, the harder it is and the more strengthening it is).
  • Color with small pieces of crayon (broken crayons are great for this).  Put the paper on a vertical or inclined surface (tape to a wall, use an easel, or attach to a large 3-ring binder to make a “slant desk”).  Together, the incline and the small crayons will encourage a child to use a finger grasp and hand muscles, instead of relying on using the whole arm to color.

Tennis ball “monkey”

Parents can use a knife to cut a 2″ slit in a tennis ball for the mouth and draw eyes with permanent marker.  Then, have the child use one hand to squeeze and hold the mouth open, and the other hand to feed monkey pennies, beads, small buttons, etc.

 

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