child development Archives | Play It Forward Therapy

How Occupational Therapy Helps Kids Reach Their Potential

Occupational Therapy can have a powerful influence on your child’s development in so many areas of every day life.   Learn how OT makes a positive impact and sets your child up for essential life skills.  CLICK HERE to watch the video

” When you start from a mindset of, “How can I focus on this child’s strengths to help them reach their potential?”  It gives you a whole different perspective for how to help them using a holistic and strengths based approach.  The children that I work with at Stepping Stones Therapy Network inspire me every day.

I believe that every child is unique and special in their own way!  The key is to leverage each child’s  individual strengths and interests so you can  equip them with the confidence and skills they need to learn and succeed every day.”

~ Jessica McMurdie OTR/L

How To Cultivate A Growth Mindset

How To Cultivate A Growth Mindset

Do you ever wonder….

  •  Why do some children shy away from challenges or crumble at the first signs of a struggle?
  •  Why do some children refuse to try a new activity or have a history of quitting various activities if they did not immediately excel?
  •  How to help kids who have low frustration tolerance and give up easily?
  • Why does my student have this tendency to be so perfectionistic and self-conscious that he/she paralyzes their own progress?

First of all, how a child takes on challenges goes beyond being motivated or resilient… a person’s ability to overcome setbacks is directly related to having a growth mindset.  But, before we talk about our kids, let’s take a moment to reflect upon this challenges and the triumphs of this past year from a therapeutic perspective.

Hindsight is 2020

Throughout this pandemic, most of us found ourselves in unanticipated circumstances that affected our families, jobs, overall health and well-being. Despite last year’s challenges, when the new year arrives, it never hurts to take some time to reflect on our past experiences, both professionally and personally, how they have shaped us and what we can learn from them.  This past year, there were many lessons to be learned not only on a global level, but on personal and professional levels too.

The truth is, there are always going to be circumstances beyond your control that will impact whether you are able to attain your goals regardless of how hard you try.  However, there are also times when you may surprise yourself at your own fortitude, resourcefulness, determination, and perseverance that enables you to come out on the other side even stronger and wiser.  The key is cultivating the right mindset which is the first step on the road to both personal and professional success.

You’ve probably come to realize that it is not always possible to control the circumstances around you.  However, you always have the choice of how you control your response to those challenges. It takes some effort, hard work and a mental flexibility or willingness to try a new approach or way of doing things.

In 2020. Quarantine presented a multitude of unprecedented challenges in how we could do our jobs, how we would typically run a business or participate in online learning.  The majority of us found ourselves in a situation of distance learning and/or working remotely, all while juggling multiple responsibilities simultaneously.

The Pivot From Therapy Onsite to Therapy Online

In the therapy world, most traditional pediatric occupational and physical therapists are most comfortable working hands-on and with children “in person”. The challenge of this past year was how to combine clinical expertise with technology to treat and evaluate children via telehealth.

Our openness to adapt to an online model of therapy greatly influenced our ability to continue helping children and families in the greatest need of our services. If kids were struggling prior to the pandemic, online school plus the disruption in familiar routines made situations even more challenging for parents at home.

As a private practice owner and an online OT educator, I have had the chance to interact with hundreds of therapy practitioners this past year.  It’s apparent that the therapists who had an open mindset to different model of service delivery, who could pivot quickly and who sought additional telehealth training were the most successful in being able to continue to deliver high quality, therapy services online. On the other hand, many practices struggled or were forced to shut down during this time resulting in unprecedented therapy layoffs.

Lesson learned: Your responsibility to your clients and students is to ensure that you are well trained, competent and effective with telehealth as a model of service delivery. 

The big lesson learned for our profession in 2020 is that it’s important for therapists to adopt a growth mindset to become more competent and confident with telemedicine.   It’s never too late to pivot, to learn and to adapt to a new way of doing therapy…because telehealth is here to stay.  And as a matter of fact, your license and future career opportunities may depend on it.

“Telehealth won’t work for my child.”

For parents and caregivers, it’s also equally important to keep an open mind to virtual therapy. Before you assume that telehealth won’t work for for your child, keep in mind that your involvement is a critical aspect to your child’s success whether in person or online.   The truth is, if you want to experience successful virtual sessions and faster progress, it’s not just about your therapist.   It’s about partnering with your therapist.  You know your child best.  And your therapist knows OT best.  You may be surprised with how effective telehealth sessions can be for helping your child reach their potential when you have the right partnership with your therapist.

Lesson learned:  Successful therapy sessions, whether in person or online, work best with parent involvement and partnering with your therapist on behalf of your child’s growth and development.

Growth Mindset Vs. Fixed Mindset

Do you know the difference between a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset”? People that have a fixed mindset tend to believe that they cannot do much to change their intelligence and their abilities. For example, have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just not a _________ person” or “That just won’t work.” before they’ve even tried.  With a fixed mindset, there’s an underlying sense of defeat or being stuck before they’ve even started.  Challenge yourself and honestly answer, “Is my inner coach is holding me back from reaching my potential?”

Believe it or not, another type of attitude that encourages a fixed mindset is if you already know everything. Have you ever met anyone that was a “Know It All”?  Adults and children alike, who are closed to listening to others input and ideas are stunting their own mental growth, not to mention the negative affects this type of attitude has on social connection.  Parents may inadvertently cultivate this type of fixed mindset when they praise their child indiscriminately and constantly throughout childhood.  I am not suggesting that we do not praise children, but rather for parents to be more mindful of when, how much and what we praise to instill the right kind of motivation and self-confidence in our children.

Lesson learned:  A lack of mental flexibility can be your own worst enemy when it comes to preventing you from reaching your potential or even helping others reach their potential.

Growth Mindset

On the other hand, when you have a growth mindset, you believe that your skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and persistence. Instead of avoiding challenges, people with a growth mindset persist through obstacles and often thrive in the face of a challenge. They also have a level of internal intuition and can learn from criticism and seek out inspiration in others success (1).

Modern psychology recognizes “how our belief systems about our own abilities and potential fuel our behavior and predict our success.” Much of this understanding stems from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who is known for the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”  As a clinician and coach, I find Dweck’s research to be remarkable when pondering why presence is more important than praise in teaching kids how to cultivate a healthy relationship with achievement as well as how these mindsets are formed. (2)

Lesson learned: Depending upon which mental framework you adopt, or what has been instilled in a child from an early age, significantly impacts your behavior, your relationship with success and failure in both your professional and your personal life.

The True Test…

Take a Moment to Ask Yourself…

• Do you believe that you can get better at something by putting in the effort, time, and energy?
• Do you think about how you can work on your own shortcomings or flaws to become the best version of yourself?
• Have you ever told yourself that your clients or students are not good candidates for telehealth, yet you have not pursued additional training or mentoring to improve your own competence and confidence with telehealth?
• Are you able to reflect upon your experiences and focus on the process and not just the outcome?

The ability to change your mindset will take some self-reflection along with inner work and a forward-thinking outlook.  As an OT with over 20 years of clinical experience, I always like to anchor how I practice, how I learn, and how I teach based upon the principles of neuroscience.   The good news for all of us is that recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that brain is truly malleable. This type of neuroplasticity and connectivity between neurons can change with experience, practice and the actions and strategies we take.

Lesson learned:  By changing your mindset from a fixed mindset to that of a growth mindset, you will be able to overcome setbacks and how you face certain obstacles in a more productive way. This type of growth mindset is applicable to ALL circumstances and situations… and it’s a practice that we can teach our own children and clients.

How can we cultivate a growth mindset in our children?

Here are 5 of my personal and professional tips for how to inspire a growth mindset in our kids.

  1. Encourage children to work through their challenges and teach them to persist even at the first signs of a struggle. In other words, don’t be so quick to let them accept defeat.
  2.  Focus on the process of an activity or task and not just the results.  This helps support your child’s efforts when trying a new activity.
  3.  Help them understand the value of hard work, effort, patience and set realistic expectations to help them stick with activities even if they do not immediately excel.
  4. Use social thinking strategies. behavior modification techniques, positive reinforcement and collaborative problem solving to help curb low frustration tolerance.
  5. Be aware of not inadvertently nurturing your child’s perfectionistic tendencies.  Focus less on the mistakes, but rather the lessons learned.

Lessons Learned: By teaching kids and ourselves to adopt a growth mindset, it can help us change or prevent destructive thinking patterns.

From my experience as a parent and a therapist,  this mental framework of a growth mindset does not come naturally. As a matter of fact, it takes some specific teaching, guidance and coaching to help cultivate a growth mindset not only in ourselves, but also in our children.

Cultivating and nurturing a growth mindset is a skill for life that will help kids overcome obstacles and reach their fullest potential in all life areas. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be the best in everything, but it instills a resilience that will help kids to continue to progress and cope more effectively leading to a more grounded perspective and a healthy self-esteem. 

We all want for our children (and ourselves) to be able to lead happy, fulfilling lives and to help them reach their potential.  We are all role models for our children.

My challenge for you is to nurture a growth mindset in yourself and the children whom you love or work with.   Think about one word that can help you change your attitude and grow your own intelligence and skills through mindful effort so you can reach your potential… and help your children reach theirs.


First steps to cultivating a growth mindset

Instead of making a new year’s resolution this year, consider kicking off this new year by choosing a positive word or a phrase that will help guide your actions while nurturing and encouraging a growth mindset. Take a moment to offer yourself some grace and give yourself some credit for your resilience this past year.

What are the personal qualities you have that got you through the tough times? Remember, you are strong, resilient and have unique and special gifts that only you can offer.

I challenge you to think about the coming new year as a fresh start and looking at challenges that come your away as opportunities for growth and insight into yourself.

What word will you choose?

What one word or phrase will help you find a fresh perspective to inspire your growth mindset no matter what happens in the upcoming year?
If you can adopt a more holistic, positive, growth mindset you’ll set yourself up for success this year and for years to come. Your children, clients and students will see this quality in you.  When you believe your brain can grow, you will behave differently. 

Once you’ve decided on a word for yourself, talk about it with your own children or the students you work with.  Check out the additional resources at the end of the article.

Lesson learned: When you focus on one positive word or phrase to guide your thoughts and actions this year, you’re much more likely to follow through. Once you’ve learned to embrace a growth mindset and to truly become your best self, you will be poised to help others to be their best selves too.

By Jessica McMurdie OTR/L:  Jessica is the owner and clinical director of Stepping Stones Therapy Network clinic and also the founder of Play It Forward Therapy’s online continuing education courses and resources for parents and teachers.  Jessica is passionate about occupational therapy and helping kids and families through a holistic, realistic and practical approach to treatment.


Additional Resources
• Psychology Today Article: 15 Ways to Build a Growth Mindset Click here
• Helping Kids Develop a Growth Mindset Click Here
• T School Telehealth Training for Pediatric Therapists Click here

Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students

Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students

Happy Backpack Awareness Month!

The American Occupational Therapy Association provides some excellent tips for backpack wearing plus some bonus strategies for packing a purse.

Check out the links below with free handouts provided by AOTA.

The 1,2,3’s of Basic Backpack Wearing

Click Here

Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students

Click Here

Pointers for Packing a Purse

Click Here

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Back To School Party

Back To School Party

How are you feeling about going back to school?

Do you have the back to school blues?  Feeling nervous?  Excited?  Or perhaps “nerve-cited” as one of my little clients described how she felt about starting kindergarten.  However you feel,  going back to school after summer break is a BIG transition for both kids and parents.  Kids may be excited to see friends they’ve missed over the summer, but feel unsure about other aspects of school.Feelings of worry or even anxiety in kids can be expected during this transition time.  Questions like… Who will be in my class?  Are my friends in my class?  Will I like my teacher?  Who will I sit with at lunch?  Who can I play with at recess?  What if I miss the bus?  All of these concerns are valid ones, so be sure to reassure your child by telling them that everything is figureoutable!

Transition Warnings

To address your child’s concerns, it helps to talk about it and come up with a plan if certain situations arise.  Your child may not be able to verbally express what his or her specific worries are, however most kids will benefit from knowing what to expect in new situations.  It’s extremely helpful to give them your child some advance notice of any changes in routine.  These are called “transition warnings”.

How to start the year calm and confident

Talk about an upcoming event or activity.   Or look at the calendar together to help prepare your child for what to expect.  For example, talk about the morning routine, practice walking to the bus stop, visit the campus before school starts etc…  Practice talking deep breaths to help keep a calm body and calm mind. Transition warnings and reassuring your child will help him or her feel more secure and confident at the start of a new school year.  

Keep on reading to learn how to host your own Back to School Party or play date with one or more friends!


Back to School Party

As a kid growing up, my brothers and sister and I would always be so sad when summer break came to an end.  It was a tough transition for all of us, yet always inevitable.  My mom had a tradition of hosting a Back to School Party to help us four kids welcome the school year with some fun and positivity.  We could invite all of our friends which was perfect for reuniting with friends before classes started.  Sometimes we hosted a party mid September which was a great way to see close friends who ended up in different classroom.

Looking back, I see this was a genius way to start the school year and my sister and I have carried on this annual Back To School Party tradition with our own children.  It’s a special event to help with the transition of summer ending and welcoming the fall.

Click here for your FREE Back to School Party Shopping List

Party Activities

All of these “party activities” are therapeutic and address key areas of development such as social skills, drawing, writing, listening, paying attention, memory, self-regulation, time saving tips for packing lunches and inspiration for making and keeping friends! 

Show and Tell Activity

This activity is great for social skills practice, listening to others, introducing yourself and speaking in a group.

Supplies:  markers, crayons, paper bag, tape

Directions:  Ask the kids to draw a picture of their favorite summer memory or activity.  Tape or staple the picture to the bag (which will be used to take home party favors and snacks). Ask each child to introduce him or herself and take a turn to “show and tell” about their picture.  Some questions to ask the children: What did you do?  Who were you with?  What was your favorite part?  Another idea for younger children is to decorate a colored folder with stickers.





Memory Game

This game addresses visual memory skills, sustained attention, focus and hand writing.

Supplies:  Tray or Cookie sheet, random small household items and school supplies

Directions:  Practice your concentration and memory skills by studying a tray of objects such as school supplies or other small items for about 30 seconds.  When the tray is taken away, write down as many objects as you can remember.  When all the kids are done writing down their answers, have them count them up and write the total down on their paper.  Ask them to raise their hand if they found 1 item, then 2 items, etc.  The last person raising their hand has remembered the most and wins the game.




Lunch Time Notes

Surprise your child by writing an upbeat message on a fun napkin!

Supplies:  Different colored napkins or cute napkins with fun designs, colored sharpies or markers

Directions:  Give each child the same set of napkins for the total number of kids.  For example, if there are 6 kids at the party, then give each child 6 napkins.   Each child writes down a positive message on each of their napkins.  Once everyone has written a message on their napkin set, each kid gives one of their napkins to the other kids.  When packing lunches, put one of these special napkins in your child’s lunch box to brighten their day.

Sensory Science

Use your taste buds to make a hypothesis?  What flavor jelly bean do you think you have?

Supplies:  Jelly Belly candy, paper and pencil

A hypothesis is an educated guess!  In this game use your sense of smell and taste to guess what flavor jelly bean you have.  Each child gets 4-5 jelly beans and writes down on a piece of paper what flavor they think they have.  Once everyone has completed their hypotheses, look on the back of the package to see if you were correct!

Making and Keeping Friends

Time at school is the perfect opportunity to meet new friends and to learn how to be a good friend.  Kids enjoy story time which is a great time to introduce social skills concepts and talking about feelings.  Social skills and empathy are two skills that will help your child be successful at school too!  One of my favorite series are the Bucket Filling Books by Carol McCloud.  The lessons teach kids about caring, sharing and being kind.  This positive behavior is rewarding and brings happiness to the giver and receiver!

Pack a Snack

Supplies:  Variety of snacks and baggies.  Pro tip:  Use reusable snack bags and containers which are environmentally friendly to reduce, reuse or recycle.

Make packing lunches less of a chore by recruiting lunch helpers!  At the start of the week, put out snack options along with sandwich bags/containers.  We tend to buy big bags or containers of snacks, which are often more economical and less packaging is better for the environment.  Each child packs their own snack and drinks for the week and puts it into a container or bag labeled with their name.  Packing little snacks in advance turns out to be a big time saver on those busy mornings when you’re rushing out the door!



Personal Packs

It always helps to have a little comfort and clean in your backpack!  One area of occupational therapy is self-care and teaching kids the basics of grooming and hygiene.  These personal care packs work great in a pinch. As party favors, each child receives a pencil pouch filled with hand sanitizer, a small tissue pack, cute bandaids and a few pieces of emergency candy to share with a friend or to cheer them up. Other Personal Care Pack item ideas: hair rubber band, nail file, face or hand wipes, gum or breath mints.

Pack it light, wear it right!

If you enjoyed these Back to School Ideas, be sure to check out how to choose the best backpack for your child!  Does your child ever complain his or her backpack is too heavy?  How much does it weigh?  How can you lighten the load?  Learn more about the American Occupational Therapy’s Recommendations for the best and most ergonomic ways to carry a back pack.  Plus a bonus handout for moms on how to best hold a purse to prevent discomfort and avoid injury.  Click here to read more.

P.S.  If you’re looking for more party activities or treatment ideas check out the Activities section on our blog.

Click here to download your FREE Back to School Party Shopping List

Sensory Travel Tips:  How To Prevent Meltdowns in Fantasy Land and Any Other Destination

Sensory Travel Tips: How To Prevent Meltdowns in Fantasy Land and Any Other Destination

Vacations are definitely something to look forward to this summer!  Exploring new cities, discovering the national parks, relaxing at the beach or enjoying amusement parks are just some of the wonderful adventures that will create lasting memories for years to come.  It’s a special time for young families.

However, traveling with children can be an adventure in itself, regardless or where you’re going.  For busy parents, at times it can even feel like a ton of work to take a break from the everyday routine.   

It can be especially challenging if you have a child with sensory processing challenges or one who finds it difficult to adapt to changes in routine.

One of my favorite places of all time is Disneyland!  One of the best memories I have is a care-free trip to Disneyland with my husband Josh, pre-kids.  It was smooth sailing all the way from Pirates of the Caribbean to jetting over to Space Mountain.  The only true mishaps we had were when our jeep broke down, but wait…. that was supposed to happen when traveling with Indiana Jones.  So the next trip to Disneyland was after kids.  This is when we traveled with my toddler and preschool daughter.  This trip opened up a “whole new world” when it came to traveling with small children.

Traveling with small children opens up a “whole new world”

Let me tell what I learned from that trip which is inspired by a memory of my toddler daughter having a major meltdown in Fantasy land (screaming, crying and lying on the castle drawbridge).  She definitely looked the part of a princess in her shimmery, yet scratchy princess gown.  The moments that followed the spinning tea cup ride was when her bucket for sensory stimulation spilleth over.  She had had enough!  Looking back, I could have done several things differently to have made our excursion a more pleasant experience for everyone!

The Best Sensory  Strategies When Traveling

Here’s a list of strategies to help you and your child make the most of your travel experiences. These are my best tips, parent to parent along with some expert OT advice to help your travels go as smoothly as possible.

I’ve created a convenient packing list for the best Sensory Tools to take on your next trip.  Look for the blue suitcase at the end of the post.

Sensory Strategies & Tools for Travel

  • Try to schedule activities during the times when your child is at his/her best.  Avoid traveling during times that your child typically struggles with.
  • Keep little bodies fueled, well rested and avoid sensory triggers.
  • Pack healthy snack options, protein for energy and limit overly processed foods.
  • Stay well hydrated and always pack a water bottle with a straw or spout.
  • Stay healthy and bring hand sanitizer and wipes to clean table surfaces, hotel room handles and your kids face and hands.
  • Dress for comfort, bring a change of clothes. Pack Pajamas.  Invest in quality walking shoes.
  • Pack your child’s preferred toiletries.
  • Consider getting an ID bracelet for your child if your child has trouble communicating or tends to wander.

Transition Strategies

  • Help your child transition:  Give them a verbal warning of what’s going to happen.  If your child has trouble transitioning away from a preferred activity, give them a time limit, set a timer or mention a preferred activity that will be coming later. ” You have 5 more minutes, when the timer dings it will be time to …” Or “First we’re going to see _, Next we will go to _”
  • For toddlers and preschoolers, say “Goodbye” to the activity. For example:  “Bye Bye train, I’ll see you next time!”
  • Transition from Point A to Point B.  “Bye Bye train!  Now it’s time to….”
  • Give controlled choices.  Offer your child a choice of 2 things that you would like them to do.
  • Create and review a social story ahead of time.  The Disney Cruise line has an amazing E-Book about what to expect getting ready to go on a cruise and the many transitions that come with the boarding process.
  • Remember to pace yourselves.  It’s not necessary to see EVERYTHING, take the pressure off rather than having to push to see everything. Don’t push to the point of exhaustion.
  • Don’t overbook, schedule in some down time or quiet time for you and the kids.

Tools to Help Prevent Sensory Overload

  • Understand that sensory triggers may be exacerbated.  Avoid activities that your child is sensitive too (e.g. rides that spin may be too much for some children with movement sensitivities) or loud echoing auditoriums may be overwhelming for a child with auditory sensitivities.
  • Bring noise cancelling ear buds or earphones if your child becomes overwhelmed or frightened by loud noises.
  • Keep post-it notes in your bag to cover the sensors on automatic flushers in bathrooms.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses.
  • Bring a sleep mask or a night light.
  • Don’t forget the goggles.
  • Take Deep breath in through your nose for a count of 3 and deep breath out through your mouth.
  • Teach deep breathing techniques in advance.  Deep breathing is the most portable and easiest tool to use to calm the nervous system.  Practice with your child at times when you’re not stressed.

Tools for the Road:  What to bring on road trips, planes & trains

  • Use a car organizer or hang a shoe organizer on the back of seat in front of your child to easily access snacks, games, fidgets or books.
  • Let your child pick out their own backpack to fill with sensory tools such as the ones listed below.
  • Tactile fidget toys that entertain:  Rubiks cube, Perplexus, Tricky Fingers
  • Keep them busy:  reusable water activity coloring pads, wikki stix, LEGOS, Look and find books or hidden picture books, travel tangram, card games (UNO, Spot it) See and search for travel toys
  • Imaginary play:  small figures or dolls, stuffed animal
  • Attach exercise tubing onto the arm rest or car ceiling grab bars to pull and stretch while seated.  It’ll help keep your hands to yourself.
  • Neck pillow, blanket or pillow.

Snacks for Energy and Calming Oral Motor Input

  • Provide a variety of chewy and crunchy snacks. Chewing gum helps calm.   Chewy snacks such as dried fruit or jerky not only provide calming oral motor input they also  prevent “hangry” episodes.
  • Sipping from a straw, sippy cup or spout water bottle is also calming due to the sucking motion while drinking.
  • Extra sugary or overly processed snack foods with artificial colors and flavors can also negatively impact your child’s activity level and mood.  Be observant if you notice any behavioral changes after eating certain types of foods.


  • Play games such as “I spy” or the Travel ABC Game where each person thinks of something that starts with that letter.  “I’m going on a trip and I’m gonna take A= apple, B=backpack” or use other easy categories such as animals or foods.
  • Entertainment:  Toca Boca Apps (preschool and young children), predownload airplane video players, movies and apps in advance
  • Bring headphones with books on tape and calming music.

P.S.  Don’t forget to download this convenient and handy packing list.  These sensory tools really work when it comes to preventing meltdowns in Disneyland or wherever else you may be traveling! ? ?

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