Being a parent and an OT

Every kid has their own share of tantrums, emotional breakdowns, and fears, right?  And this is all part of normal child development… true?  I have been trying to tell myself this as we have had a particularly emotional month at home.  But, it is so hard to use my OT brain when I am STUCK right in the middle of parenting!  After another major meltdown over, hmmm… maybe — an invisible cut that just happened to start to hurt right at bedtime or a joke that I missed and now clearly she will never be able to make me laugh again — I was feeling totally lost on what to do.  But, I have finally realized that I give recommendations to families all of the time that are going through something similar, and often even more difficult, so I should really start taking my own advice.  And so, I am going to try…


Recommendation 1: Introduce strategies to encourage co-regulation

Before kids can calm themselves down independently, they needs some guidance and instruction.  Some of this comes naturally, when a baby is crying – we soothe, when your child is scared – we say everything will be okay.  BUT when your child gets upset over something that may seem really insignificant, it certainly takes patience to step up and help them out.  A co-worker recently shared this article – 10 Emotion-Coaching Phrases to Use When Your Child Is Upset, and, boy, did this put me in check!  It helped me take a step back and remember that emotional development does not happen over night, and I really need to help my kiddos to process any feelings they are feeling.


  1. One co-regulation technique that has been simple, but effective, is putting G or C onto my lap when they are upset and starting my own deep breathing.  As they feel my chest rise and fall and hear my breath sounds, they intuitively follow suit.
  2. When one of them is feeling really down and I see self-esteem plummeting, I ask, what are three things that you are good at or that make you feel proud.  Depending on mood/state, this can be challenging, but once they get started, and get some positive feedback, I find it turns the frown upside-down 😉  For example, G might say – I am good at drawing, so then I can say, yes you are and I love that drawing you made of you and C swinging.  Or C will say –  I am strong, and I will say, show me your muscles!  After they name their three, I have them repeat them, like affirmations.  “I am good at drawing”, “I am strong”, “I am a good friend”.
  3. Hands on deep pressure and proprioception can help with getting some quick regulating input.  We call it “squishes” and I provide joint compressions throughout the arms and shoulders.  For this one, you might need to get some advice from an occupational therapist, but if you are not trained to perform joint compressions, massaging helps too!

One last thing about co-regulation, when thinking about the kids you might work with rather than your own children.  For our youth that do not have a healthy attachment figure – that is someone that they can trust and rely on and that will be able to offer some co-regulation – these kids will need more teaching and more frequent co-regulation while in your care before they will be able to self-regulate.  They also often need stronger and more frequent sensory input.  So maybe it isn’t appropriate to put a child you are working with on your lap or provide massage, but you can model breathing techniques and offer sensory tools.

Remember as co-regulators, we should be looking for early warning signs.  It is important to think about the basic human needs – hunger, thirst, rest, warmth, etc.  When emotions are high, start there!  Is it close to lunch time?  How about starting lunch a little earlier before engaging in another power struggle?  This might have been me yesterday 😉

So now that I have written this, I have to put it into practice.  While we continue to work on co-regulation, we can also start to teach skills for self-regulation.  And that is recommendation number 2, coming your way asap!  Subscribe to get updated on my latest posts (orange box on the right!)

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One Reply to “Being a parent and an OT”

  1. This is a great reminder to use what we know in our lives! I think it applies to our interactions with everyone including adults. It is so easy to react and co regulate to the other person’s heightened emotional state. There are so many things we can do to calm our own reactions that will naturally invite co regulation and it is easy to lose sight of that with those we love the most. I love your suggestions.

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