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Occupational Therapy and Your Child

This article can help you find the right therapist for your child's needs.

Occupational Therapy and Your Child

While you may be a little bit anxious about how your child will handle therapy, rest assured: most kids adore OT. Even older kids who don't want to do anything their friends aren't doing usually enjoy the sessions and the way they make them feel.

Many parents are a little intimidated by their child's OT or other therapists at first. After all, she's supposed to be the expert on what's troubling your child, right? Actually, you, the parent, are the one true expert on your child: what makes him tick; his likes, loves, and hates; the experiences that really turn him on; and the situations and tasks that he just can't handle. No one knows him better than you, even if some of the things he does are really confusing. So think of your OT as a resource for invaluable information and someone who is your partner.

What to Look for in a Therapist

The therapist you want working with your child...

  • treats you like a member of the treatment team, and works with you to develop and prioritize goals for your child;
  • smiles when she greets you and your child;
  • laughs with your child (and you) when things are amusing;
  • thinks your child is interesting and appreciates what is delightful about your child;
  • shares techniques, tips, and activities with you, teaching you how to follow through on interventions;
  • individualizes sessions to your child's interests – if your child is crazy about trains, she incorporates trains into play;
  • never forces your child to do something or pushes your child too far past his comfort zone;
  • is flexible and respects your family's needs and values;
  • returns your phone calls promptly;
  • does not make you or your child feel stupid, lazy, or bad.
Your Responsibilities
  • Work with therapists to develop clear, consistent goals for your child. Is it important to you that he be able to dress himself? Do you want him to take a bath with less fussing? Think about your own goals for your child and be willing to carry through on recommendations to meet those goals.
  • Respect your therapist's time and personal needs. Do not call her every other day with minor questions that can wait until the next session. Do not call her at home late at night, very early in the morning, or on weekends unless absolutely necessary.
  • Reschedule your session if your child is ill or has a contagious condition such as conjunctivitis, even if you think your child might enjoy the session. No therapist wants to get sick or pass your child's germs to other children.
  • Follow through on recommendations. A therapist can't work magic in just a few hours a week. If you don't agree with or understand a recommendation, or don't feel you can follow through for any reason, discuss it with her.
  • Remember that your therapist has in-depth training and expertise. What she does may seem like child's play, but it is artfully structured play with a therapeutic purpose. If you are curious, ask her to explain how the toys and techniques she is using help meet goals, and how you can support her work with your child. You can do this in a way that's not nosy – and learn a lot.
  • Don't engage in tangential conversation while she is working with your child; it might distract either the OT or your child.
  • If you need to speak with the therapist at length, let her know before the session starts. A therapist plans sessions carefully and often has to move quickly from session to session. If you need more time to talk than usual, she must schedule it in.
  • Let your therapist know what you find works and what doesn't. You may have a special way you help your child calm down that your therapist could use too.
  • Give your therapist feedback – both positive and constructive. Let her know when you are pleased with how things are going and when you aren't. Let her know about special situations that are hard for your child, such as that every time your child goes to church or synagogue, she gets rambunctious and uncontrollable. Therapists aren't mind readers, and they are all committed to doing the very best for you and your child. Thank her when she deserves a thank you!
  • Provide a clean, safe environment for your therapist to work in. Reschedule the session if that's the only time the exterminator can come (avoid subjecting your child, too, to these toxic chemicals!). Make sure there's soap available for the therapist to wash her hands with at the end of the session.

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