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An Occupational Therapist’s Christmas list

December 7, 2017

As my daughter and I emerged relatively unscathed from our morning’s Christmas shopping, I finally settled on my blog topic for this month - “An OT’s Christmas List”. During sessions, families often ask about what helpful gifts they can get children for Christmas. The specifics depend upon your child’s age and interests, but here are a few thoughts.

Stocking fillers: AKA Fine motor activities

There are lots of fun ways to strengthen fingers and build dexterity. Wind-up toys are fantastic for pincer grip, whilst stamps and other craft supplies help develop finger strength.

For younger children, playdough scissors are a safe way to introduce cutting skills, and  novelty pens and pavement chalk are helpful for children who may need a little more encouragement to draw.

Outdoor play: AKA Gross motor activities

These purchases depend a lot on your space and budget and can include a safe trampoline (see guide), monkey bars, trikes and bikes (with helmet), balls, bats and skipping ropes. Playing with all of these is a lot more fun with adult involvement, so if you feel these items aren’t being used as much as you hoped...join in the fun!

‘Old fashioned’ board games: AKA Social skills development

Board games are making a come-back as families realise they are a fantastic way of building skills such as turn taking, frustration tolerance (think ‘learning to lose in the safety of the home’), social confidence, and concentration. There’s plenty of choice out there, from classics  such as Snakes and Ladders, Connect 4, and Pictionary through to strategy games such as Catan and Carcassone. Depending on what you choose, these games can add numeracy, literacy or perceptual skills without your kids even noticing! Keep an eye on the recommended age; if it is too easy or complicated, your child is likely to lose interest.

Construction: AKA Fine motor meets perceptual skills.

Blocks, bricks, bolts and screws. The open ended play these provide helps encourage creativity whilst assisting with the development of  hand-eye coordination.

Props for Pretend Play: AKA emotional and language development (and so much more)

Make believe is how children learn about the adult world, and is critical to their emotional and language development. Many toys which promote make believe play can be homemade or purchased. This can include items such such as  dress ups, kitchen sets, cubbies,dolls and tools sets.

Regulation tools: AKA regulation of energy levels

These assist children in regulating their emotions and energy levels, but can also be fun when introduced as a gift. Squeeze balls, bean bags for sitting in, chew toys and fidget toys are a great place to start. Lava lamps can also be helpful for children who are anxious about bedtime.

End of Year Generosity

Some families have shared with me that they use these weeks before Christmas to give away toys to charity or refuges. This not only helps in making room for new items, but also teaches children about generosity and thinking about others. What could be more appropriate at this time of year?

Time together and rituals

 More than any of the above, Christmas is a time to spend together with loved ones and create traditions and rituals that will become part of your children’s memories. These memories last longer than nearly any physical gift and will help develop your child’s emotional and spiritual well-being. Families come in all shapes and sizes, most with their tensions and griefs. It is how we manage these that can help develop compassion and resilience. For example, when a gift is not quite right (“But I wanted a RED bike “) or when a special Uncle will no longer be coming for Christmas day, acknowledging your child’s disappointment and providing support can help them learn to manage big emotions. “I can hear you’re really disappointed” can go a long way to help your child feel they have been  heard and understood. Some ideas for how to manage big emotions within the family in ways that support your child’s emotional development can be found at Kidsmatter.

At this time, I remind myself that more than the turkey, toys, shopping or decorations, the heart of Christmas began with a poor family dealing with the unexpected, and bringing peace, hope and joy. It is these things I wish for you this Christmas.

As an Occupational Therapist, I am dedicated to helping my clients develop the skills and strategies they need to overcome life’s everyday challenges. Based in Perth’s Northern suburbs, I provide individualised occupational therapy services for families, children and adults. To find out more about my Perth occupational therapy services, visit my website or book a consultation today.