A few quick tips to help your little one sit in a chair for table time or meal time without falling out of the chair, knocking over the chair, climbing on the table…..sound familiar! Better sitting means better focus.
First of all, make sure that the chair is appropriate. Optimally, his feet should be on the floor with his legs at a 90 degree angle. I know this may be hard at your dinner table, but at least make sure that the table and chair that are used for homework or other table work are sized for your child. At an adult table, a box or stool can be used to stabilize feet. Also, a chair with arms provides boundaries and support, especially for those who struggle with proprioceptive awareness.
A cushion can also prove to be useful. You can purchase chair wedges and discs in therapy catalogs that can be very effective. I use a foam cushion that is actually a gardening knee pad purchased at a Five Below store. It works wonders!
Make a “foot figit”. Tie a piece of Thera-Band (Amazon.com, thera-band.com) to the legs of the chair. The child can put his feet behind or in the middle of the resistant material and lightly kick. This meets the need for motion and provides proprioceptive feedback. The result is a calmer, more relaxed body that can attend better.
I have had some children who responded well to holding a medicine ball in their laps while working. The weight of the ball provides enough support to help them stay put and focus. Kids who tend to respond to holding a medicine ball are those with a decrease in upper body control….flapping, grabbing, hands everywhere but where they need to be.
There are some children who do well while sitting on a large therapy ball or yoga ball. Working on a ball gives proprioceptive feedback and requires the child to use their core while sitting. If they are busy engaging their core, they can’t wiggle. I have found this especially effective when working on labeling tasks, counting syllables in words, working on rhyming words, counting, spelling, listening to a story…anything that doesn’t really require them to use their hands. The key for using a ball as a chair is “little bounces”. “Big bounces” lead to falling down, bouncing away or getting overstimulated. Using a Hippity Hop (a ball with a handle) or placing the ball in an inner tube helps with stabilization. For older children who work well on a ball, consider a ball chair.
When sitting on the floor, use a carpet square or something else to mark boundaries. Many kids benefit from a Howda chair (www.howda.com), a genius seat that is flexible and provides a little squeeze on the sized as the child reclines.
An lastly, don’t forget that ALL children, and especially children with SPD, need to move. Many tasks can be completed while standing. Homework can be done while standing at the kitchen counter. Spelling can be practiced while jumping on a trampoline or bounding down the stairs. Tape that math worksheet to the wall and have your child complete it while standing. You could even have them work on it while standing on a stool which would provide boundaries and the need for more focus.
Make sure you vary sitting tasks with movement tasks. Do something active in between table work and sitting for dinner. Park far away from the restaurant to provide the opportunity for maximum movement between the car ride and the sitting through the meal. Watch TV or play video games while bouncing on a ball. Encourage your child to read while rocking in a rocking chair.
Keep exploring ways to help your child control their bodies while “getting the job done”. Providing external supports may be the key success. And, a kid who feels successful ultimately improves the function of the whole family.