Helping Children Gain Independence
Ray Smith
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Helping Children Gain Independence

While it’s true that every child grows at their own pace, there are some fairly predictable patterns for developing fine motor skills. These skills involve controlling the muscles of the hands and fingers, toes, tongue, and eyes. Falling behind the typical age range for skill development doesn’t necessarily indicate a child is developmentally delayed, but it can be an indicator that an occupational therapy (OT) evaluation may be beneficial.

Some red flags to look for as your child grows include:

  1. Avoiding certain textures or surfaces
  2. Not using both hands together when playing  
  3. Struggling with self-care, including age-appropriate activities like feeding themselves, pulling off socks, brushing teeth, or getting dressed
  4. Difficulty calming themselves  
  5. Difficulty playing with and manipulation with age-appropriate toys

An OT evaluation, which includes an interview, observations of your child, standardized and non-standardized tests, as well as discussions about your child’s medical history, birth and development, and specific areas of concern, provides the framework for a plan of care .

Based on the findings of your child’s evaluation, OT sessions may be recommended. Typically lasting 30 to 60 minutes, sessions may focus on some, or even all, of the following areas:

  • Fine motor skills: to improve a child’s ability to grasp and release toys, utensils, crayons, and more 
  • Hand-eye coordination: to improve how the hand and eyes work together and improve play skills, such as stacking blocks, putting objects in a container, lacing, and more
  • Age-appropriate self-care: to help children become more independent in daily tasks, such as getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and feeding themselves
  • Focus: to improve their ability to engage with others and develop learning skills including reading
  • Self-regulation: to help with self-control issues and provide positive alternatives for expressing emotions or needs
  • Sensory processing: assisting your child's ability to receive and respond to the information coming through their senses

While these areas of focus may sound intimidating, the activities used to build skills are play-based. In most cases, children in OT are eager and ready to engage at each visit.

And, because OT isn’t a one-and-done type of treatment, parents are encouraged to observe each session so that the skill-building activities can be implemented at home and keep the child progressing between sessions.

In the same way that every child is different, so is every treatment plan. But the shared goal is to help each child achieve as much independence as possible and develop the skills needed to engage with same age peers and family and build meaningful connections.


Colleen Thorpe, OTR/L is an occupational therapist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, VT.


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