It’s All About the Self-Care Skills

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Whenever I tell people what I do as an occupational therapist, I tell them I get to play with some of New York City’s coolest kids.  And while that is totally true, oftentimes, there is more to my job than just that.  One of the parts of my job that is almost more important than teaching them how to properly hold onto a writing instrument is to teach them to be more independent for self-care skills.

Having a child who is independent in feeding themselves, getting themselves dressed and to be comfortable/happy with their clothing, tying their shoes and all other aspects of self-care skills is something that us parents of typically developing children may take for granted.  The good thing is that there are a lot of smart and creative people, most often people who have once worked with children with disabilities or parents of those kids, who have created some really amazing products to help make life easier for families.

Below, you will find some of the products that I recommend to families, therapists, teachers, etc. to help make life easier.  And when I say easier, I also mean to help make kids feel more independent during these activities so they can build confidence and self-esteem.

Reflo Smart Cup-one of the things I am asked to work on with my kids is drinking from an open top cop.  As a parent, we love the idea of spill-proof sippy cups but as kids get older, they need to learn how to drink from a regular cup.  One of the biggest obstacles for the kids I work with is to learn how to grade their movements when drinking from a regular cup so that the water doesn’t spill all over their face.  One of the best training cups I have seen was one that was recommended by a friend who is also a speech therapist.  The Reflo Smart Cup is a simple plastic cup that has an insert you slip into the cup that slows down the flow of the liquid.  I have recommended this to lots of parents and other therapist friends over the years and everyone has loved them.  They have seen kids who refused to try a variety of cups become independent cup drinks after just a short amount of time practicing using the Reflo.  This cup is perfect for all kids, but especially great for children who may present with motor control/movement or other physical disabilities.  Best part, the cup is affordable and lightweight which makes it easy to throw in a big and take with you wherever you may go.

EZ Sox-I’ve been a huge fan of EZ Sox since I first learned about them.  EZ Sox are super cute and comfortable socks that have a loop on either side of the sock.  These loops serve a really important purpose:  they are there so kids can put their thumbs in them so they can easily pull a sock up over their heels.  Additionally, many of the socks are animals with the face on the front side and a tail on the back side.  It’s a great visual cue for kids to know that their socks are on the right way.
I can’t tell you how much time I have spent trying to teach kids how to put socks on their feet, but it’s a whole lot of time.  Several years ago, I was introduced to EZ Sox and they have made every Holiday Gift Guide of mine since and have been recommended to more people than I can count.  And to make it clear…I recommend the EZ Sox to all parents, not just the parents of the kids I work with, because we just want our kids to be able to help with the whole getting dressed process.  My nieces and daughter all learned how to put socks on their feet by using EZ Sox.
I haven’t personally used any of their other products, but I love how this company has evolved over the years.  They now have underpants/boxers and a whole line of adult products which is great because many of the kids I have and will work with have physical disabilities that may have a direct impact on the level of independence for dressing/undressing skills for their entire lives.

Zoo Sticks-meal time can be such a nightmare for parents.  Kids getting up and down from the table a hundred times is enough to make a parent crazy!  What drives me totally crazy is when I look over and see my 6 year old daughter using her hands to feed herself.  One of the things that I have used with her, and have suggested to a lot of the parents who have the same frustration, are using kid-friendly chopsticks.  Not only are the Zoo Sticks great for working on improving fine motor skills, grasp strength and coordination skills, they are super motivating for kids who seem to be reluctant to using forks and spoons.  Find an animal that your kid is really interested in and I promise you that you won’t see them using their fingers to feed themselves!
For younger kids, check out this awesome new product by Skip Hop.  Their Zoo Little Training Chopsticks were designed with little hands in mind!  As someone who has never learned how to properly use chopsticks, I am excited about these chopsticks that will introduce the littles to using them at a very early age!

Suction Cup Plates and Bowls-some of the kids I work with have a really difficult time with bilateral coordination, the ability to use two hands at the same time during activities.  So that can make them being independent during mealtime challenging.  To go back to the fact that we can take for granted that our kids are independent, imagine having a kid who doesn’t really have the ability to use two hands at the same time.  Whether it be because of a physical disability, decreased strength or coordination, there are some kids who just don’t use two hands at the same time.  When you are eating, being able to use two hands is important….you need one hand to hold a fork or a spoon and the other to hold the plate or bowl.  The good news is that if you happen to have a kid who may be struggling with this, there are options.  There are a lot of great suction cup options out there that will help encourage independence.  The thing with suction cup plates and bowls is that if your child is struggling with feeding, they will take away some of the work.  Here are a few
Beary Hungry Suction Placemats-this placemat not only sticks snuggly to a tabletop surface, it is broken into sections so if you happen to have a kid who doesn’t like foods to touch, this is your thing.  For the more difficult food to scoop up, you can place them in a spot where there is a lip and they can scoop their food up easier.
Tomy Toddler Suction Plate-this 3-section plate will stick to a high-chair or any flat surface.  I love that it has a lipped surface which makes it easier for kids who struggle with scooping food off of a plate a little bit easier.

Soft Clothing (clothing and accessories for kids with tactile sensitivity)-one of the biggest struggles that my kids with sensory processing difficulties have is finding clothing that they feel comfortable in.  Some kids don’t like the feeling of buttons/snaps/elastics/etc. against their skin.  Jeans or pants are too stiff and uncomfortable.  The seams in socks and underpants can send a kid to place of such discomfort that parents end up letting their kids go without them to avoid a complete meltdown.

Super soft t-shirt from Pickybunny

When I first began practicing years ago, parents felt like their only option was sweatpants and t-shirts.  Now, there are a lot of different options that are both sensory friendly and fashionable.  I love that there are options for parents and kids when it comes to clothing because I know just how big of an impact not feeling comfortable in your clothing can have on whether or not you have a good day.
Here are a few places you should check out if on the lookout to help make dressing time less stressful for everyone:
SmartKnit Kids-they have a large selection of seamless products for those super-sensitive kids who always seem to feel a bump or wrinkle.  Their socks, underwear, undershirts and bralettes are made out of a very soft fabric that reduces wrinkles.
Pickybunny Clothes-this line of girls clothing and pajamas are not only really cute, but have 3 different levels of softness to choose from depending on how sensitive your child is:  soft, super soft and heavenly soft.  I kinda wish some of their stuff came in my size!
Lucky and Me-another company that took picky and sensitive kids into consideration when they designed their girls and boys underwear collection.  Made of super soft, organic cotton, these tagless undergarments are an affordable and stylish option for your sensitive child.
Jorgensons-this family run company knows the importance of knowing that when kids are comfortable in their clothing, they will have increased confidence, self-esteem and be able to function better during their day.  Their clothes are not only soft and seamless and tagless, they are really cool too!  The hole for the head to go through is larger than typical shirts so there is no struggle or worry about their heads getting stuck while dressing.
Independence Day Clothing-this line of clothing which was recommended by my colleague Lindsey Biel.  There are no seams and it doesn’t matter what way they are put on.  Kids will be able to dress themselves independently and comfortably.  There are no tags, there are no buttons, snaps or zippers and all clothes can be worn inside or out.

U-Lace-one thing I have found in my years as an occupational therapist is that kids are learning how to tie shoes much later than we were younger. There are so many slip-on, zipper and velcro options when it comes to shoes that kids just don’t need to learn this skill.  For some of the kids I work with, those with significant fine motor, motor planning and executive functioning delays, learning how to tie shoes is almost impossible and not something that I find should be a priority when looking at the bigger picture.  When it really comes down to it, some kids will never learn to tie their shoes and that’s okay.  They will learn a million other things that are far more important and will allow them to be independent.
As kids get older though, they will need more than just slip-on shoes and velcro just doesn’t look right after a certain age.  U-Lace turns any sneaker into a slip on shoe.  Simply put, they are elastic bands that you put into your shoes.  Due to the nature of the fabrics/fibers that they have used, they don’t stretch out and will keep your feet securely in place.  They come in a variety of colors and patterns and can be used in sneakers or dress shoes.

I will probably repeat myself, but I do feel like this encouraging and promoting independence in kids is one of the most important parts of my job.  When a person is able to take care of themselves and feel comfortable in their skin (or clothing), they are way more likely to live a more successful life.  I’ve shared my favorite products but I know there are a lot more out there.  If you are a creator or an admirer of some kind of amazing product that promotes independence for self-care skills, please share them.  I am sure that many of my readers would love to hear what kinds of things you are using at home or in practice to foster independence for self-care skills.  I am always a click and love hearing from you all!

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