How can I help my child experience success everyday?

All children can improve their motor skills

4y soil into bucket 2.jpg

All children, no matter what the underlying condition is, have the capacity for learning new skills and improving their ability to perform everyday activities. 

All it takes is regular opportunities to practice the task and the right sort of help and guidance.

This is especially true those with movement and attention difficulties, including autism. a very cautious nature, DCD, dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder, joint hypermobility, Down syndrome, low muscle tone, and cerebral palsy,

Where do I start?   

The challenge is to put aside 15 minutes a day for for  goal focused, fitness, coordination and attention training. 

Why 15 minutes a day?

Because most families can manage to find a small slot of time in their busy days and just 15 minutes of focused training is enough time to make a real difference. 

15 minutes of intensive exercise is enough to improve general fitness, strength and flexibility: fit children do better academically, have more stamina for the school day and are more confident. 

Why everyday?

  • So that your dedicated training program becomes part of the daily routine, like brushing your teeth.
  • So that your training session cannot be shifted to tomorrow. 

How 15 minutes a day of goal focused training will benefit you and your child 

  1. Working towards a specific goal provides a focus for a training session and allows you and your child to experience the heady pleasure of success.A good training program divides big goals into smaller easy to achieve  goals  that allow the child to succeed every day. 
  2. Parents and children learn the value of formulating achievable goals.
  3. Parents and children experience the pleasure of doing something together in a cooperative manner.
  4. Children get to feel the mental high that comes with achieving a goal and become more willing to participate in challenging tasks in future.  
  5. Children start to understand that skills can be improved with focused practice.
  6. Children make the shift from "I cannot do this" to "I cannot do this yet – but give me time and I  will get better."  Frequent experience of success improves self-confidence and the self-efficacy.
  7. Working hard at a difficult task teaches the value of persistence and trains attention skills.
  8. Busy parents learn to focus their attention on their children and switch off their mobiles
  9. Parents learn how to motivate their children
  10. Training improves fitness and fit children are more confident and more willing to participate.
  11. Fit children also do better academically.
  12. A short bout of effortful physical activity recharges the brain.

Why parents make the best coaches 

Getting fitter and learning new skills requires dedicated and regular practice. Parents have the motivation to find time and opportunities for fitting in a short dedicated practice session or making training part of the daily routine. 

Good coaching flips the child's I-can-do-this switch to ON.

Instead of avoidance and refusal the child knows that getting better at a task is possible and requires hard work and persistence. 

Good coaches know how to provide the best possible learning environment

They know how to motivate a child, provide the best learning environment and ensure that there are regular opportunities for practice that supports the child's learning needs. 

Thabo's story:  Thabo is having difficulties with handwriting - he is slow and the teacher is complaining about his pencil grip. He gets tired sitting and working at a table,  leans on his one arm and puts his head down on the desk when writing. The pediatrician has diagnosed "low muscle tone", but the physiotherapist using a routines and task based assessment has identified  that Thabo is unfit, has some tightness in the back and hip muscles, and that his grip suits his hypermobile hands. 

Together the PT, Thabo and his parents have worked out a range of different ways to increase Thabo's fitness levels and get him to be generally more active (including visits to the park and running up the stairs) and to improve his flexibility and endurance for sitting and for handwriting (10 minutes a day exercise program).

The PT also spoke to Thabo's teacher about the importance of allowing Thabo to adopt a grip that suits his hypermobile fingers and made suggestions for some graphic skills activities for the classroom to improve shoulder control for drawing and handwriting. .

Children with hypermobile hands adapt their pencil grip to suite their hands. 

Despite the pediatricians' diagnosis, low tone is not Thabo's problem - poor muscle flexibility, strength and endurance related to inactive lifestyle and avoidance of challenging task are the issue

Studies have as shown that  task based skills and fitness training approach is the most effective way to help children with movement difficulties.

Identify what is most important 

Most children with a developmental movement condition experience a range of difficulties in many aspects of their daily function and participation in family, school, play ground and sporting activities. The long list of things a child needs to learn can be overwhelming: where does one start?  

Fortunately with most children there are just a few that that stand out as being of particular concern.  These are the ones you need to tackle first, the one's your child will be motivated to work at, the one's that are going to make the most difference. 

A good place to start is by identifying your child's strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of all the activities that form part of your child's daily routine.  Mark the activities that your child can do well with a large tick and those that need improvement with a small circle. Now you are ready to select the ones you would like to work on. 

The interesting thing about making a list of strengths and weaknesses helps parents to gain some perspective: all the things that can be done well probably far outnumber those that are causing difficulties. 
This allows you as parent to devise a plan of action from a position of strength – and perhaps look for ways to draw on those strengths to help in other areas. 

How to identify your child's strengths and weaknesses

Sit down with your child and make a list of all the actions and tasks that form part of the child's day. Write down everything that happens between getting up in the morning and going to bed at night.   (Look here for a basic daily routines list to help you do this.)
Now put a big tick next to all the things that are done well and easily.
Put a little tick next to the things that can be improved or be done a little better, or faster or with less help. 
And lastly mark the things that are really hard and causing big problems  and perhaps need some serious work. 
The interesting thing is that you have already improved matters a great deal, because your list will have highlighted all the things that can be done well and these probably far outnumber those that are causing difficulties. 
Now you can start your plan of action from a position of strength – and perhaps look for ways to draw on those strengths to help in other areas. 

Choosing what to work on 

Now you are ready to choose one or two tasks or activities that  you and your child would like to work on and improve. 

Think about why your child is having difficulties with each task. What can be changed to make it easier for your child to accomplish the task? Can the task be adapted?  Will a some extra skills training with guided practice or fitness training be helpful?

Decide when and where 

Lastly decide when and how: You need to think about whether you want to incorporate the training into your daily routine or want to put aside some time in the day to work on the activity. 

Everyday family life  provides multiple opportunities for tweaking and improving basic skills. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Getting dressed in the morning - especially over the weekend when there is a little more time
  • Preparing and eating breakfast 
  • Getting ready to leave the house for school
  • Helping to prepare supper 
  • A walk in the park or around the block, a trip to the shop, 
  • Playing games indoors or out of doors 

When a child faces challenges in many daily activities, it is important to select just a few to work on at any time. 

Return to: Moving on from a low muscle tone diagnosis.
A handbook for parents and teachers