Oral Motor Exercises

Oral motor exercises and activities for kids

There are many reasons to incorporate oral motor exercises into your therapy plan. Here, we are covering the reasoning behind several oral motor exercises and strategies to work on mobility and functioning in the mouth, tongue, lips, and jaw.

These oral motor exercises are kid-friendly and improve coordination, strength, and mobility of the mouth to facilitate feeding, oral discrimination, or sensory needs.

Why Oral motor Exercises?

When we talk about oral motor exercises, it’s important to know why we are considering specific exercises. When it comes to oral motor exercises, we are striving to improve the functioning of the mouth, jaw, lips, cheeks, and tongue so that the child can demonstrate coordination needed for sound production and articulation. Other issues can arise in manipulation (chewing, movement of foods and liquids, tolerance of various textures, and swallowing food and liquids).

When it comes to feeding issues, there can be a question of whether the feeding problems are a result of sensory processing challenges and/or oral motor considerations. Check out this resource for more information on pediatric feeding and oral motor issues or sensory issues that impact feeding abilities.

Kids who struggle with feeding may be impacted by oral awareness and oral discrimination. These skills enable us to both be aware of the motions of the muscles and joints of the mouth to enable positioning for oral sound creation as well as movements to control and mobilize the chewing and manipulation of foods and drinks of various textures.

Oral discrimination is essential for safety, efficiency, and function when eating.  When oral discrimination is a challenge, children can have resulting food aversions, be unaware of food in their mouth, or not be able to tolerate certain types of food textures, tastes, or temperatures.  They may have difficulty with managing various textures and end up with messy eating during meals. Oral discrimination also effects skills like speech and tooth brushing.

Start here by reading more about the development of oral motor skills. Typical development of oral motor skills is an important consideration when it comes to self-feeding and movements of the mouth, tongue, and lips in tolerating new foods or textures in feeding.

Specific reasons for incorporating oral motor exercises into a therapy program may include issues with the following movements:

The oral motor exercises listed below can offer additional opportunities for strength and coordination of oral motor skills, as well as heavy work proprioception through the mouth as calming input to organize the body.

Oral Motor Exercises

These activities are not the only ones that can be done to address oral discrimination issues.  Additionally, it’s important to know that therapists understand that oral discrimination is just one piece of the feeding puzzle.  Considerations such as tone, sensory processing, and oral-sensory exploration as well as many other components make up feeding.

Tips for Oral Motor Exercises

  1. These specific oral motor exercises can be selected based on the specific needs of the child. Each exercise many not work for all individuals. And, the exercises should be modified as needed to grade up or down (make them easier or harder) based on the needs of the individual.
  2. For each exercise listed below, add a repetition to complete the task. Add in a specific number of repetitions.
  3. Add the number of days these exercises should be completed each week.
  4. Incorporate function whenever possible. Working on feeding? Add real foods of interest. Use utensils or cups when possible. Incorporate the occupation of play to make the exercises motivating and fun.
  5. Consult with a pediatric occupational therapist!

Oral Motor Exercise Ideas

Remember that not all of these exercises are needed for every child’s specific needs. Pick and choose the exercises that meet the needs of the child you are working with.

  • Bring their hands and fingers to his or her mouth and lips.
  • Play tongue Simon Says with a mirror.
  • Play the “hokey pokey” with your tongue and cheeks.
  • Try messy play with food.
  • Encourage tolerance of a spoon or other feeding utensil in different parts of the mouth.
  • Open and close your mouth.
  • Move your tongue from side to side.
  • Press your lips together and then smack your lips apart.
  • Explore different types of utensil textures (plastic, metal, plastic covered, etc.)
  • Hold and play with a toothbrush, bringing the brush to their mouth and face.
  • Encourage mirror play, identifying parts of the mouth.
  • Add rhythmical, whole- body play with therapy balls, uneven surfaces such as trampolines or crash pads to improve proprioceptive input. (Great for core strengthening and stability needed for feeding, teeth brushing, etc.)
  • Explore mouth play with teething toys and tools.
  • Explore use of teething toys and tools in different positioning (prone, supine, side lying, etc.)
  • Use rhythmical music along with tapping the cheeks or lips.
  • Offer frozen fruit on a tongue depressor. Try this recipe for frozen fruit skewers.
  • Chew a straw.
  • Pucker your lips in a pretend kiss.
  • Blow a party noise maker.
  • Blow a kazoo.
  • Use a straw to pick up squares of paper and drop them into a bowl.
  • Make fish lips.
  • Apply Chapstick (scented or unscented) and press your lips together as you move your lips from side to side.
  • Puff up your cheeks.
  • Smack your lips.
  • Whisper the sounds the letters of the alphabet make from A-Z. Notice how your mouth moves. Or, spell out your name or other words by whispering the sounds the letters make.
  • Blow bubbles
  • Blow through a straw to move a cotton ball or small craft pom pom along a line. Can you move it through a maze?
  • Freeze water to a popsicle stick and lick or suck until the ice melts.
  • Pour water into an ice cube tray. Add popsicle sticks to create a cube pop. Lick and suck until the ice melts.
  • Scoop peanut butter onto a spoon. Lick it off with the tip of your tongue.
  • Point your tongue to the end of your nose. Hold it there as long as you can.
  • Point your tongue to your chin. Hold it there as long as you can.
  • Push your tongue into your right cheek. Hold it there and then press the end of your tongue into your left cheek.
  • Count your teeth using your tongue. Touch each tooth with the tip of your tongue.
  • Chew gum. Can you blow a bubble?
  • Deep breathing mouth exercises. Use these printable deep breathing cards.

Themed Oral Motor Exercises

You may want to check out these themed oral motor exercises for development of motor skills in various points throughout the year. These themed exercise can be added to weekly therapy themes to increase motivation and carry through. Here are several themed oral motor exercises for kids:

Deep breathing exercise cards for oral motor skills and proprioceptive input through the mouth and lips

Want printable oral motor exercises? Grab the Deep Breathing Exercise Cards. The pack of deep breathing cards includes oral motor exercises for heavy proprioceptive input through the mouth, tongue, and lips, and oral motor activities using different themes, totaling 113 different exercises.

The Oral Motor Exercises can be done anytime, using just the mouth. These strategies offer exceptional proprioceptive input through the lips, tongue, and cheeks, making a calming heavy work activity that can be used in sensory diets to help children achieve a calm and ready state of regulation.

Click here to get your copy of the Deep Breathing Exercise Cards.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Sun Visual Perception Activity

sun visual perception activities

Working on visual perceptual skills with kids this summer? This sun visual perception activity is a fun way to build skills needed for handwriting and reading! It’s a free therapy slide deck that builds skills like visual discrimination, form constancy, and visual figure-ground.

Sun visual perception activity and free slide deck

Sun Visual Perception Activity

Summertime doesn’t have to mean not working on specific skills that help kids to improve functional hand writing and learning tasks. It also doesn’t mean building visual perceptual skills requires boring worksheets either.

This free visual perceptual activity has a sun and sunshine theme for summer days.

The visual perception sun activities include visual discrimination, form constancy, visual attention, and visual memory tasks.

Kids can work on form constancy as they recognize differences in the various sun images and activities.

You’ll love adding this these other visual perceptual activities too:

Sunshine Visual perceptual activities

There are several visual perceptual activities with the sun theme on the slide decks.

This is also great if kids are heading off to vacation or taking a break from therapy for a while. They can use the activity as a fun way to work on specific visual perceptual skills.

Want to access this free therapy slide deck? Enter your email address into the form below and to receive this activity.

FREE Sun Visual Perception Activity Slide Deck

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    Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

    Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

    Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

    This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

    This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

    • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
    • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

    The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

    Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

    Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

    Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Transportation Theme Activities for Therapy

    transportation theme activities

    If you’ve got a kiddo that loves all things trucks and construction vehicles, than this transportation theme is for you! Kids seem to gravitate toward trucks, trains, helicopters, airplanes, and all things with wheels, and these hand-picked transportation activities are perfect to help kids develop skills, experience fine motor and gross motor input, and learn through play. If you’re looking for transportation activities for toddlers or preschoolers (and older kids too!), then you are in the right place!

    Transportations theme activities for therapy, including movement, transportation crafts, and trucks and cars activities for kids.

    Transportation Theme Activities

    I wanted to pull together a trucks and transportation therapy theme that helps children develop essential motor skills…and this collection of transportation crafts, games, and activities do just that.

    Chug-chug, vroom-vroom, honk-honk…whatever transportation ideas you need for kiddo activities this is where you can find them! 

    Transportation activities that include airplanes, trains, cars, trucks, and boats can provide an engaging focus while working on important fine motor, gross motor, visual motor, and sensory skills. Kids always like to pretend with forms of transportation as they drive toy trains on tracks, cars on roads, fly planes in the air, and sail boats in the tub. Activities in this post will target some great skill areas for childhood development and be super fun all with a transportation theme! 

    Transportation Gross Motor Activities

    How about gross motor skills? Gross motor skills are essential foundational skills to help kids perform multiple daily functions. Adding a transportation theme can motivate and provide a play-based focus while addressing sensory, coordination, balance, and motor planning. 

    Construction Vehicle Brain Breaks– Working on core strength, coordination, balance, endurance, whole body movements, and stability? These brain break activities are great for position changes, movement in all planes, and mobility challenges.

    3 Fun Sensory Activities: Row Your Boat – try these activities as a way to work with a partner as well as provide fun activities that address core strengthening and calming vestibular input  

    Transportation Yoga – try these yoga moves or poses that work on gross motor and motor planning skills during a therapy session, as a brain break, or simply just to use in the classroom

    Gross-Motor Transportation Game for Preschoolers – try this fun game that is played similar to Follow the Leader and Simon Says that children will love and you can take outdoors

    Transportation Themed Gross Motor and Fine Motor Planning – try these activities that include a variety of body moves and some moves using equipment, such as a scooter board and a laundry basket, all have a transportation theme and address many foundational motor skills

    Row Your Boat Exercise – try this fun boat themed exercise as well as the other exercises while utilizing a Handee Band, which is similar to a therapy band, and combines strengthening, sensory, and kid-friendly fun all in one.

    Transportation Fine Motor Activities

    How about fine motor skills? These skills are important for children while performing multiple daily tasks to include self-care. Below you’ll find some great fine motor activities that include many forms of transportation such as a bus, a rocket, and a stoplight! These fun activities will help kiddos focus on important hand and finger strength, bilateral coordination, fine motor coordination, and fastener manipulation.

    Transportation Button Buddies – try making these DIY button buddies for kids using felt and buttons to work on fastener manipulation skills, a simple way to make them is provided 

    Car Wash Fine Motor Activity  – try this fun activity that uses shaving cream and a spray bottle to perform a car wash for matchbox cars essentially providing fine motor strengthening along with a tactile sensory experience

    Lazy 8 Handwriting Grand Prix Fine Motor Skill Builder – try this vertical lazy 8 pattern to work on crossing midline, directionality, pre-writing, and fine motor skills with the use of various tools, including a matchbox car

    Make Paper Planes – try creating these three paper airplane designs using step-by-step instructions with older kiddos and work on fine motor manipulation, visual planning, and sequencing skills

    Transportation Crafts

    How about visual motor skills? Visual motor skills coordinate what the eyes take in and perceive with hand, leg, and body actions. Children use these skills all day long and these activities will provide an opportunity for children to coordinate eyes and hands together while performing an activity, CRAFTS! Crafts are the perfect opportunity to work on eye-hand coordination as children use their eyes and hands together to create and design fun stuff! They also get to work on important fine motor skills while engaging in cutting, gluing, taping, and assembly. 

    Try some of these fun visual motor craft activities to work on these skills:  

    Salt Truck Craft – Work on scissor skills to cut simple shapes. Then address visual attention, sequencing, motor planning, and direction following to make a salt truck craft.

    Backhoe Craft – Work on scissor skills to cut simple shapes. Then address visual attention, sequencing, motor planning, and direction following to cut out and assemble a backhoe 

    Fire Truck Craft – Work on scissor skills to cut simple shapes. Then address visual attention, sequencing, motor planning, and direction following to cut out and assemble a fire truck

    Big Rig Craft – Work on scissor skills to cut simple shapes. Then address visual attention, sequencing, motor planning, and direction following to make a big rig craft.

    Bus Craft – Work on scissor skills to cut simple shapes. Then address visual attention, sequencing, motor planning, and direction following to cut out and assemble a bus.

    Cardboard Box Car– Have a box sitting around from a recent delivery? Grab a bunch of markers or paints and make a car! This is such a fun pretend play activity that the kids will LOVE. Then, take the cardboard car outdoors and slide it down a hill for vestibular input.

    Paper Plate Cars – uses paper plates and tissue paper to create cute cars

    Vehicle Cutting Activity for Kids – uses tape and paper to work on eye-hand coordination while cutting along the tape roads.

    Transportation Visual Processing Activities

    Try some fun games to work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills too!

    Make a train using blocks and work on visual perceptual skills, fine motor skills, and eye-hand coordination.

    Rush Hour Traffic Jam Game– (Amazon affiliate link) This visual perceptual skills game is a powerful way to work on specific skills like sequencing, logic, visual scanning, visual memory, visual attention, visual closure, visual discrimination, spatial awareness, and much more. Then, use the game to upgrade and downgrade specifically for OT. Rush Hour Traffic Jam Jr. Puzzle (affiliate link) is a great version of the transportation game for preschoolers.

    Transportation Seek and Find Jar – includes the use of Legos and Lego tires in an I Spy type jar activity which emphasizes important visual skills and more specifically, visual discrimination.

    Visual Tracking Cars– Work on fine motor skills to set up this car activity, but then use the power of wind and gravity to work on visual tracking skills and visual attention.

    Transportation Sensory Activities

    Sensory transportation themed activities are so fun to create and so fun for kiddos to do!  You can use a variety of materials to target sensory processing with children. Every sensory area can be addressed from tactile defensiveness to proprioception and everything in between. However, always be aware of any allergies when you do these types of activities. 

    Plastic Egg Boats – try this activity that uses oral motor input (proprioception to the mouth) provided when blowing the boat.

    Wikki Stix Race Track – try this activity that uses tactile input (texture tolerance) provided when building the race track with Wikki Stix, or “sticky sticks” as some children call them.

    Train Themed Sensory Ideas – try these activities that use a variety of senses, such as proprioception, vestibular, oral, auditory, and tactile.

    Construction Vehicle Brain Breaks– Kids that love all things trucks, backhoes, dump trucks, and diggers will get a kick out of these brain breaks. They can help with attention, self-regulation, and coping skills while adding much-needed vestibular and proprioceptive input.

    Train Self-Regulation Track – try this activity that uses a train track to address the “just right” body speed for being ready to learn.

    Freight Train Snack Idea – try this activity that uses a variety of colorful snacks, which are visually appealing and enticing to eat.

    Sensory Car Wash – try this fun sensory car wash where a child crawls on the floor to go through a car wash that hosts a variety of sensory experiences. It is built with PVC pipe and multiple sensory elements which are hung for the child to crawl through.

    Transportation Theme Sensory Table – try making this sensory construction site which includes oats as the sensory element to haul and move

    Car Themed Sensory Bin – try making this sensory bin which includes black beans as the sensory element for roads (other colorful car theme elements added)

    Airplane Sensory Bin – try making this sensory bin which includes shredded paper and cotton balls as the sensory element for airplanes.

    Regina Allen

    Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

    Weaving Projects for Kids

    weaving projects for kids

    Recently, I was looking into new ways to challenge fine motor skills for my clients – especially ones that did not require purchasing new materials. I wanted something that could challenge scissors use, problem solving, sequencing, attention, and could be used in prep for ADL skills, like buttoning. Then, it came to me: weaving!

    Weaving projects for kids including simple weaving and complex weaving activities to work on fine motor skills.

    Weaving Projects for Kids

    Weaving projects and craft are so simple, yet so effective – even the clients that I thought would be frustrated by this old-school craft were super proud of their work. Weaving is something you can do in many different ways, typically dependent on skill level and desired outcomes.

    Since we are talking about buttoning skills, I am offering two different options: an advanced one for the kiddos that are almost ready to button independently, and a
    beginner version for those who are not quite ready to button yet. I hope you adapt these crafts as needed to meet the “just-right” challenge!

    Related: Feathers and Burlap Weaving activity that builds bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, pinch, grip, and dexterity.

    Complex Weaving Instructions

    1. With two pieces of paper of different colors, cut strips of any thickness or length you’d like – just make sure you have an even number. The thinner and longer you cut them, the bigger the challenge. I like to use two different colors to make the task easier to understand and add visual interest.
    2. Cut holes for threading. Half of your strips (or all of one color) need holes for threading. Have your kiddos figure out how big the cuts need to be in order to fit the other strips of paper through.
    3. Fold the paper in order to cut two holes, side by side, throughout the strip of
      paper. This will be where you weave the other strips of paper through.
    4. Begin Weaving.
    5. Weave the remaining strips of paper (the ones without the holes) into the paper
      with the holes, making a basket-weave pattern.
    6. Here is where those buttoning skills come into play! The practice of moving the
      strip of paper through one hole and up and over through the next hole mimics the actions of buttoning and unbuttoning.

    If you are creating a specific craft, here is where you can make the weaved pattern into your kids’ desired shape! If you are unsure what you could offer, see the examples below.

    1. Draw the desired object on top of the weaved pattern OR use simple print out to guide the scissors.
    2. Cut the object out.
    3. Add extra paper or decorative objects with glue to seal the edges if you’d like!

    Does this sound a bit too challenging for one of your kids? You can lower the difficulty in a few different ways, but below is one idea that is particularly useful if your child demonstrates difficulty with visual motor or perception skills that are required for buttoning.

    Simple Weaving Instructions

    1. With two pieces of paper of different colors:
      a. Cut multiple, 1-inch thick straight lines to the edge of one piece of paper, leaving about an inch uncut on one edge to “hold” all the strips together.
      b. Cut 1-inch strips of the other piece of paper.
    2. Simply overlap the loose strips of paper onto the other cut paper, every other to make a checkerboard pattern.
    3. Maybe add a gluing or stapling component to challenge them in a different way!

    Weaving Projects for kids

    I know that it’s so much easier to motivate kids to complete a craft or activity if it is related to a season, holiday, or something that they are personally interested in. That’s one reason why I love weaving crafts – they are so simple at their base, that they can truly be used for anything!

    Fall Weaving Crafts- Plaid shirts, apple baskets, spider webs, or hay bales.
    Winter Weaving Crafts- Sweaters, holiday gifts, Christmas Stockings, or candy canes
    Spring Weaving Crafts- Easter baskets, Spring dresses, umbrellas, or raincoats
    Summer Weaving Crafts- Picnic blankets, picnic baskets, or beach towels.

    Or for the sporty kiddos in your life, make basketball hoops, soccer goals, tennis rackets, or hockey goalie helmets! The possibilities with weaving projects really are endless.

    Here are some additional weaving and buttoning crafts to get the ball rolling!

    More Fine Motor ideas to build skills:

    Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

    Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

    Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

    This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

    This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

    • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
    • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

    The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

    Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

    Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

    Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

    Sydney Rearick, OTS, is an occupational therapy graduate student at Concordia University Wisconsin. Her background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about meeting your family’s needs. After working as a nanny for the last decade, Sydney is prepared to handle just about anything an infant, toddler, or child could throw at her. She is also a newly established children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

    The Limbic System and Function

    fight, flight, fright, and function based on the limbic system

    Did you know that the limbic system plays an important role in everything we do? As occupational therapists, educators, and parents, understanding the role of the limbic system and function is not only practical information…it’s essential to understand when it comes to child development and day to day functioning as children learn, play, participate in household tasks, and interact with peers.

    Today I am sharing really interesting information on the brain, the limbic system, and emotional regulation. I’m hoping to make this explanation of neuroscience super easy to understand so you can take this info and run with it!

    Resources and tools for understanding the limbic system and functional tasks.

    Let’s do this! Recently, we covered emotional regulation and executive functioning skills. When it comes to emotions, regulating behaviors, and the mental skills of executive functioning, you can see how all of these areas play a role in everything we do on a day to day basis. Social emotional learning is part of this. The limbic system is an important brain structure involved in each of these areas.

    What is the Limbic System?

    The limbic system is an area of the brain including several brain structures. These include the amygdala, the hippocampus, the hypothalamus, thalamus, and olfactory bulb. There are some really important hormones associated with these structures and their responses as well.

    These structures and their hormones control functions such as emotions, behavior, motivation, sleep, appetite, olfaction, stress response. This is really interesting, because you may connect the dots with this list and see that social emotional skills, executive functioning, inner drives, and sensory processing (including the sense of smell and interoception) all centered in one place in the brain! (This is not to say that these are the only places in the brain that operate these functions as well.)

    Generally speaking, the limbic system is the emotional brain.

    It’s the space where survival behavior occurs. It’s the place in the brain that coordinated emotions, fear, aggression, basic inner drives, and episodic memories.

    You know how the smell of freshly baked chocolate cookies brings back cozy memories of baking with Grandma all those years ago? Now, when you smell that ooey, gooey chocolate baked into chewy dough you might feel calm and at peace and picture yourself in your grandmother’s sunny kitchen when you were young. That’s the limbic system at work!

    We all have limbic memories…maybe it’s the scent of vanilla that fosters a memory from childhood. Perhaps it’s the scent of glue that takes you back to peeling dried Elmers glue from the palm of your hand. Maybe it’s a certain scent that brings back scary or bad memories. Each one of us is unique in how those connections work in our brains!

    “The emotional brain, the limbic system, has the power to open or close access to learning, memory, and the ability to make novel connections,” (Vail, 2017).

    Fight, flight, fright, and function for behavioral regulation to get things done impacted by the limbic system.

    How the Limbic System and Function are connected

    When it comes to participating in daily tasks, emotional response, behavioral regulation, the limbic system plays a primary role.

    Here’s how this inner brain emotional powerhouse works when it comes to the limbic system and function:

    The Limbic System is a Fright, Flight, and Freeze Response Center

    The limbic system and function are connected by the fight, flight, freeze system of the brain.

    A stressful situation sends signals to activate the amygdala, which quickly processes that information. It activates the hypothalamus which tells the adrenal gland to send adrenaline into the blood stream. The hypothalamus also activates other hormones to alert the pituitary gland.

    Several hormones work together to keep the body on high alert, while suppressing other body systems. The adrenal glands release hormones such as epinephrine that work to raise blood pressure and heart rate, increase blood flow to muscles and organs, and elevate breathing rate. All of these systems keep you on high alert.

    When we are on that high alert state, it is difficult to accomplish everyday tasks.

    Think about being in an over-responsive state and trying to read a book, concentrate on completing complex math problems, solving difficult scenarios, or reading a research article. All of these tasks require attention, focus, and the ability to block out other sensory and environmental input. For children, accomplishing day-to-day tasks like getting dressed, completing the morning routine, interacting with peers, or learning can be a similar scenario. For some, that fight/flight/freeze state interrupts the ability to initiate a task or follow through to accomplish a task.

    Let’s look at this another way: Have you ever been startled by a deer jumping out in front of your car while driving? You probably recall that whole-body sense of alertness and maybe felt prickly sensation all over your arms and that JUMP of acute awareness. When the deer pranced away, your body probably settled and while you were still feeling that sense of alarm, your body was already settling down. That’s because after a stress response is over or dismissed, hypothalamus activates the parasympathetic nervous system and inhibits the stress response.

    Similarly, when in a flight/fright/freeze state, it’s impossible to accomplish routine, mundane, or novel tasks.

    The limbic system impacts emotions

    The limbic system and functioning are connected by our emotional response and behavioral regulation.

    As our “Emotional Center”, the limbic system impacts behavioral response and emotional regulation in everything we do. This inner area of the brain are also deeply associated with emotions. The amygdala and the hippocampus, in particular are the emotional centers. These two structures connect via the thalamus.

    Together, these connections play a role in emotional activities like friendship, affection, and mood. Regulation of emotions also occurs here: particularly emotions that have a role in survival such as aggression, love, fear, or anxiety.

    These brain organs also help the brain interpret the emotional content of memories. The amygdala assigns emotional meaning to memories and helps the brain form fear-based memories. The hippocampus helps form sensory memories, which are memories associated with sensory input.

    The limbic system regulates those automatic responses to emotional stimuli and plays an important role in behavior. Other places in the brain, such as the frontal regions (executive functioning center) are recruited for modulation of amygdala activity. This is when self-regulation happens.

    When it comes to self-regulation, many children have a difficult time learning and achieving without help. In any given moment, a child (and an adult) encounters multiple situations and circumstances that require an awareness of self and others as well as the ability to have or gain self-control.

    Generally speaking, a child should achieve an optimal level of self-awareness and mindfulness to identify their inner feelings and emotions and be ready to regulate themselves when the time comes. They need to learn strategies and techniques that work for them to assist them in leaving a less optimal level in order to get back to a “ready-to-go” level of regulation so they can accomplish tasks like brushing teeth, reading a book, interacting with a friend, crossing the street…the list can go on and on!

    Is this brain talk fascinating? Or are your eyes glazing over??

    How to facilitate the limbic system for function

    The main thing to remember is that we CAN help kids with regulation and modulation of those inner brain workings, so the can play, learn, interact with others, and complete day to day tasks.

    • We can teach them tools to help with the stress input and give them strategies so they are not in constant fright/flight/freeze mode.
    • We can offer sensory input that provides the movement that their body needs so the nervous system has what it needs.
    • We can give kids the words they can use so they can recognize their body’s emotions.
    • We can show them strategies to help regulate.
    • We can offer opportunities to connect with them.
    • we can help them build a personal toolbox of emotional regulation strategies.

    Fostering connections and providing the right kind of tools facilitates emotional regulation, behavioral regulation, and functioning skills.

    The Creating Connections Toolkit is powerful in working on the emotional regulation skills of kids. Not only does it offer resources to explain and better understand behaviors, but it offers solutions that kids want to use. It’s a goldmine in building social connections between friends, family, and social relationships…but also builds those essential brain connections, too!

    Many of you have already purchased the Creating Connections toolkit. So many of you have reached out to get your copy of my added bonus after purchase. A lot of you have told me that the toolkit looks amazing and that you are exited to get started with it’s use in your practice, classroom, or home.

    Creating Connections toolkit

    Others have reached out with questions on the toolkit. I wanted to take a minute to answer some of those frequently asked questions in one place:

    1 || What is included in the Creating Connections Toolkit?

    There are 20+ amazing digital products included in this toolkit. Plus, we have some extra bonuses you will receive when you purchase. Here is a list of all the products included in this toolkit. To read a detailed description of each, you can click HERE to read more.

    EMOTIONAL REGULATION ITEMS

    • Breathing Exercise Cards for Kids
    • Emotional Regulation Activities Pack
    • Sammy the Golden Dog Games
    • Emotional Regulation Bundle for Teens
    • Social Emotional Learning at Home
    • How to Teach Your Child Emotions and Increase Frustration Tolerance Through Play
    • Social Stories Shadow Puppet Kit

    SENSORY PROCESSING ITEMS

    • Sensory Processing Explained: A Handbook for Parents and Educators
    • My Senses Day Camp Program
    • Sensory Regulation “I Feel” and “I Need” Tools Board
    • The Newbie’s Guide to Sensory Processing
    • Play2Learn Sensory Bins eBook
    • Heavy Work Exercise Cards
    • Rewiring the Brain Handbook (Intermediate Guide)
    • Outdoor Visual Schedule and Supports for Kids Printable Pack

    Growth Mindset & Affirmations Resources

    • Growth Mindset & Affirmations Journal for Kids
    • Growth Mindset & Affirmations Journal for Teens
    • Rainbow Mindfulness & Movement Packet
    • Teen Mindset Challenge
    • Superhero Affirmation Cards

    Family Connection Tools and Resources

    • Family Game Night Social Skills Pack Family Connections eBook
    • Our Family Journal
    • Family Scavenger Hunts
    • Town Mouse, Country Mouse Activity Unit

    BONUS ITEMS

    • Creating Connections Toolkit User Guide & Video
    • Special coupon codes totaling over $70 in value 
    • Collection of printable resources

    THE OT TOOLBOX BONUS ITEMS

    • 20 Video Modeling Emotions Videos
    • Stop and Think Cards
    • Sensory Processing Handbook
    • Sensory Processing Handbook (Spanish Translation)
    • Sensory Diet Strategy Tools

    2. What ages of kids will I be able to use these resources with?

    The toolkit includes tools and strategies that can be used with toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged children through middle and high school. 

    Some products are recommended for specific ages and this will be included in the description of each product and also in the user guide.

    3. Why is this only available for a limited time?

    This digital toolkit is filled with 20+ products from many different authors and contributors. They have agreed to offer their products for this limited time at the special price of $19. After the sale is over, you won’t be able to get all these digital products again in one place or at this low price.

    4. How will I be able to access the products?

    All of the products in the toolkit will be digital downloads. Upon completion of your purchase, you will receive an email with links to download each of the products.

    5. I work with children. Am I able to use the products for virtual classrooms?

    Yes! All of the authors have graciously allowed this exception to their terms of use in light of the pandemic and distance learning. However, they ask that items are only uploaded for your own classroom use and not used in a school-wide or district wide capacity.

    Are you ready to create meaningful connections and navigate big emotions together?

    CLICK HERE TO BUY NOW.

    Navigate big emotions together with the Creating Connections Toolkit. You’ll save 90% and just pay $19 for 20+ digital products that will give you “quick wins” for addressing emotional regulation, mindset, regulation, sibling and family connection and so much more! Get yours here before it’s gone!

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Emotional Regulation and Executive Function

    executive function and emotional regulation skills

    Emotional regulation and executive function are connected in more ways than one. Development of social emotional skills includes an awareness of self and self-monitoring skills, among other areas. The regulation of those emotions is critical for executive functioning cognitive tasks. When we regulate behavior, the frontal lobe is at work with it’s impulse control, initiation, self-monitoring, and other cognitive skills. Furthermore, emotional skill development includes the ability to self-regulate. These skills mature and develop throughout childhood and into adulthood.

    Executive function and emotional regulation is deeply connected. This article includes resources on executive functioning skills and emotions.

    Emotional Regulation and Executive Function

    In a previous blog post, shared a little background information on social emotional learning and regulation. We’ll go more into this relationship below. We’ll also cover social emotional learning and occupations that our kids participate in each day…and how executive functioning skills and regulation impacts functioning at home, work, and school. You will also want to check out these social skills activities for interventions to build areas related to social-emotional skills.

    Here is a social emotional learning worksheet that can help kids identify emotions and begin to address emotional regulation needs.

    Emotional regulation is essentially a person’s ability to manage stress. This is not a skill we are born with.

    For children, particularly those who have anxiety, autism, ADHD, ASD, early childhood trauma, Sensory Processing Disorder, and other special needs, it can be especially challenging.

    Poor emotional regulation can lead to social issues, meltdowns, problems at home and school, negative behavior, anxiety, and later in life, even addictions and difficulty with relationships. 

    Sometimes, emotions become intense and out of control. They become dysregulated and impact the ability to manage behaviors and cognitive thought processes, or the executive functioning skills. Emotional dysregulation requires mental skills like focusing, following directions extremely difficult. When the emotions take over, our brain has trouble communicating between the limbic system and the frontal lobe.

    Social emotional learning is defined as a process for helping children gain critical skills for life effectiveness, such as developing positive relationships, behaving ethically, and handling challenging situations effectively. The specific skills that allow kids to function and complete daily occupations (such as play, learning, participating in social situations, rest, dressing, writing, riding a bike, interacting with others…) are those social emotional skills that help children to recognize and manage emotions, interact with others, think about their feelings and how they should act, and regulate behavior based on thoughtful decision making.

    One piece of addressing underlying needs in kids is the fact that the behaviors that we see have an underlying cause that can be found as a result of regulation of emotions, making decisions, and acting on impulses. Social emotional skills are not always a cut and dry aspect of development.

    Today, I wanted to expand on that idea. So many times, we run into children on our therapy caseloads or in our classroom (or hey, even in our own homes!) who struggle with one area…or several. Remembering that beneath the behaviors, troubles with transitions, acting out, irritability, sleep issues, inflexible thoughts, frustrations, etc…can be emotional regulation components.

    Let’s consider some of the ways our kids may struggle with social and emotional competencies. We might see kids with difficulty in some of these occupational performance areas (occupational performance = the things we do…the tasks we perform):

    • Academics/learning
    • Management of stress in learning/chores/daily tasks
    • Creating of personal goals in school work or personal interests and following through
    • Making decisions based on ethical and social norms in play, learning, or work
    • Understanding/Engaging in social expectations (social norms) in dressing, bathing, grooming, etc.
    • Social participation
    • Conflict resolution with friends
    • Empathizing with others
    • Responding to feedback in school, home, or work tasks
    • Making good judgement and safety decisions in the community
    • Showing manners
    • Understanding subtle social norms in the community or play
    • Transitions in tasks in school or at home
    • Ability to screen out input during tasks
    • Cooperation in play and in group learning
    • Considering context in communication
    • Emotional control during games

    Wow! That list puts into perspective how our kids with sensory processing concerns really may be struggling. And, when you look at it from the flip-side, perhaps some of our children who struggle with, say, fine motor issues may have sensory concerns in the mix too.

    Break it down

    Let’s break this down even further. There is a connection between social emotional skills and executive functioning skills. When you read through that list of occupations, many of the areas of struggle have a component related to impulse control, working memory, attention, focus, metacognition, and persistence, etc. This chart explains more:

    Executive function and social and emotional learning relationship in behavioral regulation and emotional regulation skills.

    Image from here.

    And, that is just one aspect of friendship/social participation. Consider the connection of social/emotional skills and executive functioning skills in activities of daily living, social participation, learning, play, or chores!

    Emotional regulation is a topic that can get hairy, and fast. Emotional regulation is essentially a person’s ability to manage stress. This is not a skill we are born with. For children, particularly those who have anxiety, autism, ADHD, FASD, early childhood trauma, Sensory Processing Disorder, and other special needs, it can be especially challenging. Poor emotional regulation can lead to social issues, meltdowns, problems at home and school, negative behavior, anxiety, and later in life, even addictions and difficulty with relationships.

    >>When you’re a parent or teacher watching a child you care about struggle, it can be a helpless feeling. Some kids just don’t know what to do with their big emotions.

    >>Perhaps you’ve tried everything you can think of and you’re still being held hostage by your child’s emotional outbursts.

    >>Or, maybe you are a therapist working with dysregulated children having emotional meltdowns and a fixed mindset who really need the tools to manage overwhelming emotions.

    What we do know is that more and more research is showing that emotional regulation and learning are linked.

    • In 2007, researchers stated, “Our findings suggest that children who have difficulty regulating their emotions have trouble learning in the classroom and are less productive and accurate when completing assignments,” (Graziano, Reavis, Keane, & Calkins, 2007).
    • “The ability to regulate emotions is an essential prerequisite for adaptive development and behavior” (Sousa Machado & Pardal, 2013).
    Emotional regulation and executive functioning are deeply connected and critical of each other in completion of most every task and childhood occupation.

    Social Emotional Learning Strategies

    When we equip our students with tools to identify their emotions and self-regulate, we are giving them tools for life and promoting a positive environment for learning.

    What might this look like at home, in online schooling, or in a classroom setting?

    1. Connect emotions to behavior- Children may not have the language knowledge or understand how to explain what they are feeling. They may need concrete examples or scenarios to help them understand how their emotions are tied to their behavior. Does a storm make them feel nervous or scared? How do they react when they feel anxious about a test or quiz? When they argue with a sibling, how do they react? Once they are able to understand their emotions and how they are feeling, they can start using emotional regulation tools and strategies, like in the Creating Connections Toolkit (more on that in a minute!).

    2. Be flexible and patient- Flexibility is something we have all been thrown into more than usual lately. But working with children on emotional regulation and understanding their emotions takes patience and being flexible. You may need to change up how you introduce emotions, or maybe a strategy you thought would work isn’t.

    3. Set the tone and share your own feelings- This may feel uncomfortable for some of us, but sharing our own feelings with our students and clients and modeling the responses and strategies we are encouraging them to use will have a huge impact.

    …it’s ALL connected!

    A Sensory Strategy Guide

    Having a toolkit of ideas to pull from so you can change things as needed is why we created the Creating Connections Toolkit.

    This collection of products is a huge resource of printable activities, movement cards, breathing information sheets, games, play mats, journals, and so much more. It’s a resource that covers all of the areas listed above…the areas that our kids struggle in!

    Myself along with other professionals have created this bundle of social emotional products. The Creating Connections Toolkit includes over 20 incredible social emotional and emotional regulation products that you can use every day in your therapy practice, in the classroom, and at home…for $19.

    The guides in this bundle will help to teach your child breathing exercises and help you tame tantrums. You’ll get a routine planner and visual chore chart. The resources will help you understand sensory in a whole new way, and have a wealth of sensory play ideas right at your fingertips!

    Get the Creating Connections social-emotional skills bundle here.

    Executive Function and Emotions

    Let’s break this down even further. There is a connection between social emotional skills and executive functioning skills. Critical thinking is a huge part of this. When you consider the daily occupations of kids, many of the areas of struggle have a component related to impulse control, working memory, attention, focus, metacognition, and persistence, etc. Big emotions can impact task performance in each of these areas in different ways.

    • Play
    • Cleaning up after oneself
    • Social/family relationships
    • Learning
    • Chores
    • Homework
    • Schooling at home
    • Reading
    • Grooming/Hygiene
    • Dressing/Bathing
    • Caring for materials

    And, that is just some of the daily jobs that occupy a child or teen’s day. When we consider the connection of social/emotional skills and executive functioning skills in activities of daily living, social participation, learning, play, or chores, there is a lot going on!

    Self-regulation skills of both sensory regulation and emotional regulation depends on various subcategories of executive functioning skills, including inhibition/impulse control, task initiation, working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. We know that all of these mental skills are deeply inter-connected and that executive functioning is like the air traffic control center of the brain…it keeps us operating as we should.

    Impulse Control– Attention and impulses are another set of executive functioning skills that are very closely related.  When the distracted child can not focus on a specific task or conversation, or situation, then the tendency to impulsively respond is quite likely.  A great tool for assessing and monitoring impulses in the child with attention struggles is the impulse control journal.

    Working memory– This executive functioning skill is the ability to act on past memories and manipulating the information in a new situation. Processing short term memories and using it allows us to respond in new situations. 

    Attention– Executive functions are heavily dependent on attention. Distractions can come in many forms. The child who is overly sensitive to sensory input may over respond to the slightest sounds, textures, sights, scents, tastes, or motions.  Children who are excessively distracted by their sensory needs will struggle to attend to simple commands. Other children are able to “keep it together” in a classroom or home setting yet their concentration is challenged. 

    Self-Monitoring– This executive functioning skill goes hand in hand with attention and focus. Self monitoring allows us to keep ourselves in check in a situation.  We need to stay on task and focus on that a person is saying and respond in appropriate ways.  If the child with attention issues can not focus on what a person is saying for more than a few minutes, than the ability to respond appropriately can be a real issue.

    Emotional Control- Kids with attention issues may not be able to attend for extended periods of time on a situation that enables them to control their emotions.  They can perseverate on the emotions of a specific situation or may not be “up to speed” on the situation at hand or be able to process their emotions as they attend to a different situation.  Issues with emotional control can then lead to behavioral responses as they struggle to keep their emotions in check.

    Prioritizing- Planning out and picking the most important tasks of a project can be a struggle for the child with attention issues.  It can be easy to become overwhelmed and distracted by the options for importance.

    Processing Speed- Processing speed refers to the ability to receive, understand, and process information in order to make a decision or response.  It also involves using working memory in a situation or experience.  Children who experience attention struggles may experience difficulty in retrieval of information (using working memory) and responding using that information (initiation). This carries over to missed information, difficulty keeping up with a conversation or lesson in school, or a fast-moving game or activity. 

    Task Initiation– Children with attention difficulties can be challenged to start tasks.  It can be difficult to pull out the starting point or the most important parts of a multi-step project so that just starting is a real struggle.

    Task Completion- Similar to the initiation of specific tasks, completing a task or project can be a real challenge for the child who is limited in attention.  Reading a multiple chapter book can seem overwhelming and quite difficult and just never is finished.  Cleaning a room can be a big challenge when there are visual, auditory, or other sensory-related distractions that make up the project.

    Emotional regulation is a topic that can get hairy, and fast. Emotional regulation is essentially a person’s ability to manage stress. This is not a skill we are born with. For children, particularly those who have anxiety, autism, ADHD, FASD, early childhood trauma, Sensory Processing Disorder, and other special needs, it can be especially challenging. Poor emotional regulation can lead to social issues, meltdowns, problems at home and school, negative behavior, anxiety, and later in life, even addictions and difficulty with relationships.

    Executive function and emotional regulation activities for kids

    Further development of executive functioning and emotional regulation can be fostered by the methods described here, as well as by some basic strategies:

    • Routines
    • Modeling behavior
    • Establishing a support system
    • Creative play
    • Emotional regulation strategies
    • Opportunities for movement and motor skill development
    • Practicing wellness, healthy habits, and wellbeing
    • Family Connection
    • Mindfulness and Growth Mindset
    • Social networks and interactive play
    • Coping tools for worries, stress, or changes to routines

    All of these areas are covered in the 2021 Creating Connections Resources Bundle!

    Emotional Regulation and Executive Function Strategies

    Having a toolkit of ideas to pull from so you can change things as needed is why we created the Creating Connections Toolkit.

    This collection of products is a huge resource of printable activities, movement cards, breathing information sheets, games, play mats, journals, and so much more. It’s a resource that covers all of the areas listed above…the areas that our kids struggle in!

    Myself along with other professionals have created this bundle of social emotional products. The Creating Connections Toolkit includes over 20 incredible social emotional and emotional regulation products that you can use every day in your therapy practice, in the classroom, and at home…for $19.

    The guides in this bundle will help to teach your child breathing exercises and help you tame tantrums. You’ll get a routine planner and visual chore chart. The resources will help you understand sensory in a whole new way, and have a wealth of sensory play ideas right at your fingertips!

    Get the Creating Connections social-emotional skills bundle here.

    P.S. This sale only goes from 7-8-21 through 7-13-21!

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Types of Child Therapy

    therapists for children

    There are many types of child therapy healthcare professionals that work with children, and so many of them are considered “therapists”. What is the difference between a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist? Or how about a child therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist? We will break down the roles of these professions, why they may be recommended for your child, and discuss the main differences between them that make them unique.

    Information on different therapists for children.

    Types of Child Therapy

    Before we get to talking about these fantastic professions and the different types of child therapy that helps kids develop into the best version of themselves, let’s talk about stigma. No type of therapy, whether it be for physical or mental needs, should come with feelings of guilt or embarrassment. Therapy should be celebrated! You are improving as an individual – whoo!

    We hope that parents and caregivers of children receiving therapy understand this, and are able to let go of any negative connotations that used to come along with receiving services.

    PHYSICAL, OCCUPATIONAL, AND SPEECH THERAPISTS

    You are most likely to come across these three therapists when your child has a
    developmental disability, a physical injury or deficit, or a diagnosis that makes it harder for them to develop skills independently.

    Often, the OT, PT, or ST professionals work as a team to improve the independence of the children they work with.

    Does my child need a physical therapist?

    A physical therapist works with the physical body. They work to make sure that all the muscles, tendons, joints, and moving parts of the body are working properly.

    Kids that have muscle weakness, joint stiffness or contractures, or an irregular walking pattern may be recommended physical therapy. Interested in hearing more? Head over to here for some great information.

    Does my child need an Occupational therapist?

    An occupational therapist helps people function through their occupations (activities). This article dives deeper into pediatric occupational therapy, but here is the just of it: if your child needs help with their daily activities, like dressing, eating, playing, or writing, an occupational therapist can work to improve their functional abilities.

    While physical therapists work with the physical body only, occupational therapists work with physical as well as cognitive, social, and
    emotional needs.

    Does my child need a speech therapist?

    A speech therapist, or a speech-language pathologist (SLP), is pretty much what it
    sounds like – they help children with their communication abilities. More than that, however, is the way that they work with cognition, as all speech and language skills come from the cognitive abilities of the brain.

    A child may be referred to a speech therapist if they have a physical speech impairment (originating in the mouth, tongue, face, jaw, etc.) or a cognitive delay or disability that impairs their ability to speak, to understand spoken language, or any other kind of communication barrier. Children with slurred speech or stutters often receive speech therapy. Learn more about speech therapy here.

    MENTAL HEALTH THERAPISTS

    Mental health therapists usually hold a master’s degree from a field like social work, marriage and family therapy, or counseling. Therapists can diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral issues in a counseling, play-based, or group therapy format.

    Does my child need a child therapist?

    A child may be referred to a child therapist because of their health history, for example, experiences of trauma, divorcing parents, losses of loved ones, etc.

    Children with big feelings like anxiety, depression, or overwhelming fear may be recommended therapy. Therapists are not able to prescribe medication but may be the right choice for non-pharmaceutical interventions for a child’s mental
    well-being. Other reasons for pursuing a mental health therapist may include:

    • Big personality changes
    • Social or emotional difficulties such as having trouble making and keeping friends
    • Challenges that get worse with age rather than better, including participating in activities, dropping out of school or school activities, and hobbies
    • Difficult situations such as bullying, divorce, moving, health problems, death of a family member or friend, etc.
    • Consistent behavior or mood changes
    • Anxiety, attention issues, worries, depression, etc.

    CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS & PSYCHIATRISTS

    Child psychologists hold doctorate degrees and may work clinically, with patients, or complete research for the field. A clinical child psychologist is able to provide counseling and traditional methods of therapy for children and their families much like a therapist, but can also provide more thorough testing and diagnosis for children.

    Does my child need to see a Child Psychologist?

    A child psychologist may be the right route for you if your child needs accommodations in school for a psychological or neurological issue.
    These professionals are not medical doctors, so they cannot prescribe medication.
    Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are able to prescribe medication for mental health.

    Does my child need to see a psychatrist?

    Child psychiatrists may treat a patient for traditional therapy services, but most often they only see their patients occasionally to manage medications. A child may be referred to a psychiatrist if non-pharmaceutical methods of therapy are not providing the results that are necessary for their participation in activities.

    The Center for Mental Wellness offers great information on the specific types of treatment therapies that a child psychologist may offer. If you are looking for more information on the differences in mental health providers for children, this webpage is a great resource!

    While this is not an exhaustive list of therapists and their abilities, we hope to have provided you with some new information on these wonderful professions.

    Remember: therapy is not always necessary but often life-changing, mental health is just as important as physical health, and all of the professionals on your child’s health care team are there for you and your family.

    Sydney Rearick, OTS, is an occupational therapy graduate student at Concordia University Wisconsin. Her background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about meeting your family’s needs. After working as a nanny for the last decade, Sydney is prepared to handle just about anything an infant, toddler, or child could throw at her. She is also a newly established children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

    Executive Function Tests

    executive function tests

    Many times, parents and educators ask about testing children for executive functioning skills. Today, we’re covering executive function tests that cover a range of cognitive skills as part of an executive functioning assessment. Let’s get started!

    Executive function tests for therapists, including formal and informal executive functioning assessments.

    Executive Function Tests

    These executive functioning assessment tools can be used as part of a formal assessment, or used in part as an informal executive function assessment. These testing tools can also be included in a full OT assessment.

    When determining a child’s need for skilled occupational therapy services, it is important to collect data through an occupational profile, formal and informal assessment tools, observation, and client/caregiver interview. However, there are a lot of different executive functioning assessment tools available, so it can be hard to determine the best one for you!

    There are a multitude of different executive functioning assessment tools that vary in their applicable ages, administration type (questionnaire vs. participation-based), and standardization. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but check out a few favorites to see if one might fit your needs!

    The Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA)

    The Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA) is a fantastic non-standardized assessment of executive functioning skills. The CKTA is geared toward children ages 8-12. Let’s dissect this particular executive functioning assessment.

    The CKTA asks children to make play dough from a recipe with both words and pictures. The CKTA itself is free, though you do need to make a kit of materials out of common household items. Children are rated based on the level of assistance they require, rather than their quality of performance.

    Prior to starting the activity, the child is asked to respond to a few questions, including predicting how much help they will need to perform the activity. The child also responds to questions after participating, including their perceived level of assistance and performance, as well as how they could have done better. This is a great opportunity to develop self-reflection!

    Try this executive function assessment using kitchen tasks: Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment.

    The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT)

    The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT) is another non-standardized assessment of executive functioning skills. The EFPT does not have a specified age range, though with the nature of the tasks, it is best suited for use with ages 14 and up.

    During the EFPT, participants are asked to cook stovetop oatmeal, make a phone call, take a pretend medication, and pay pretend bills. Much like the CKTA, the participant is rated on their level of assistance and the participant also completes self-reflection components. Executive functioning skills become even more critical as a child grows up—executive functioning is critical in adulthood!

    Try this executive function assessment, the Executive Function Performance Test.

    Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning- 2nd Edition (BREIF-2)

    The BRIEF-2 is a standardized, questionnaire-based executive functioning assessment. There are multiple options for the BRIEF-2: teacher report, parent report, and self-report (ages 11+). The general BRIEF-2 is for ages 5-18, though preschool and adult versions are available for an additional cost.

    In completing the BRIEF-2, raters are asked to respond to statements relating to a wide variety of executive functioning skills. In order to increase validity, there are 3 subscales to determine any responses that would decrease validity: infrequency, inconsistency, and negativity.

    To view or purchase: BRIEF-2.

    Informal Executive Function Tests

    There are several nontraditional and informal assessment methods for testing executive function skills. Executive functioning is important for nearly every task we complete each day. As a result, it can have an enormous impact on a child’s ability to participate in age-appropriate activities. However, these skills can also be easily assessed through many everyday activities!

    Daily tasks such as self-care routines, learning tasks, chores, kitchen tasks, games, or problem-solving tasks, consider these aspects of executive function listed below. These are informal executive performance tests in a very functional strategy, taking into consideration the environment in which the task actually is performed.

    • Forming ideas to do an action (planning)
    • Starting an action (task initiation)
    • Using organization of tools and materials
    • Maintaining an action until the step is finished and knowing when a step is done (task completion, processing speed, impulse control, attention)
    • Switching behaviors or strategies to do the next step needed (prioritization, foresight)
    • Regulating, controlling, and adjusting body actions to deal with changes and new information along the way (working memory, strategizing)
    • Planning a tactic down the road to deal with a new issue or new direction (planning, cognitive flexibility)
    • Holding details in the working memory (working memory)
    • Controlling emotions (self-monitoring, emotional control, emotional regulation)
    • Thinking abstractly (problem solving, persistence, shift)
    • Knowing when the whole task is finished, stopping that task, and moving onto a different task or activity (hindsight)

    Some simple tasks to assess these skills can be cooking a simple recipe, completing a chore, making a daily “to-do” list, preparing for a party or event, or other tasks that require several steps and a process of planning out tasks.

    When in doubt, select an activity and see if you can assess multiple executive functioning skills within the activity! Whether an obstacle course, board game, or a craft, there are so many options to gather “real-time” data on how these skills are impacting a child!  

    Executive Function Activities

    Looking for applicable resources to informally test executive functioning skills as well as incorporate executive function activities into daily tasks? The Impulse Control Journal is your printable guide to working through tasks, multi-step activities, and daily issues that impact executive function. Not only does it address impulse control, the journal is a resource in organization, establishing habits and mindset, working through goals, and getting things accomplished.

    Click here to access the Impulse Control Journal.

    Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

    The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

    When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

    When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

    When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

    When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

    Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.