Is your child currently working with a pediatric physical therapist or about to start soon?
As a parent it may be overwhelming at times, especially if you’re new to pediatric therapy, to know what questions to ask.
A good therapist-client relationship can be a huge blessing in a parent’s life. It can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of a child’s physical therapy program.
Certain questions will start conversations that are KEY:
- To positively impact your child’s therapy experience
- To help you get the most out of your child’s time in therapy
With that said, here are 5 questions to ask your PT to get the most out of your child’s physical therapy experience.
1. What can I do at home to help my child progress in the skills you are working on in today’s therapy session?
Whether you sit in the therapy session or not, each time your child sees their therapist, ask the following:
- What can we be doing at home that will help my child?
- What is the home program for this week?
It may be the same every week or it may vary.
Your child’s home program…
Is a critical piece of their therapy program.
What is done outside of their time in physical therapy makes an impact on their progress toward their therapy goals. As a parent or caregiver, your home program carry-over has a life-changing impact on your child.
As an experienced pediatric physical therapist…
I see my role in a child’s life as divided 50/50 between 2 crucial pieces:
50% is the work I do with the child during our time together and 50% is educating and equipping the parent or caregiver to empower their child through movement and intervention when we are not together.
I believe if I have not armed you with the necessary information and taught you how to work with your child when you leave my session, then I have not done my part in equipping you to help your child reach their maximum potential.
Your child’s home program may consist of defined pediatric physical therapy exercises, therapeutic play, or a combination of these two.
2. I am having trouble with my child’s home therapy program, what should I do?
If you are having difficulty with the home program your PT put together simply ask your physical therapist, “I am having trouble with this part of my child’s home therapy program [insert problem or aspect of the program you are having difficulty with here]. How can we modify it, what can you show me, and how can you help me so that it’s more easily accomplished at home?”
If these things are a factor during your child’s home therapy program…
- Execution of the exercises given
- Length of the therapy program
Or any other issues you are dealing with, invite your therapist to work together with you to make your child’s home therapy program doable.
Unintentionally, we as therapists may assume things…
Oftentimes as therapists, we relay information and assume parents are picking it up. Sometimes we may assume that just because something is easy for us as therapists, it will be easy for the parent/or caregiver to learn and do it at home.
Establishing a good home program that helps your child progress and is doable at home can take some tweaking and time. Your therapist is invested in your child’s progress and the home program piece is a vital part of that.
Lean into your therapist to get support and refine that program until it works for you and your child.
If your child’s home therapy program is still not working out…
Let your therapist know what’s not working.
We, as therapists, often underestimate how little time you have at home to do a home program and may give you more than you can reasonably do. You are first and foremost your child’s parent or caregiver, not their physical therapist. We understand your lives are already full of other responsibilities.
I am notorious for this and oftentimes have to forewarn my clients to tell me if the home program I am giving them is too much. It’s my responsibility at that point to modify it so it’s a doable program.
It is common for a child to work differently for a therapist than for their parent or caregiver.
Even if it’s behavioral, talk it over with your therapist to see if you can find a solution together. Your child’s PT may recommend tricks they use that work with other kiddos or may modify the program altogether to make it more manageable.
3. What tools, toys, or things do you suggest to benefit my child at home to reach their goals?
Ultimately, your child spends the vast majority of their childhood at home.
That being said, certain equipment and tools can significantly impact your and your child’s lives. An example of tools that may make a big difference in your child’s life and yours are a standing aid and everyday household objects.
Standers, sometimes called “standing frames” can be a crucial piece of pediatric physical therapy equipment for kids with physical limitations that prevent them from standing for long periods. They help children stand in an upright position easier, longer, and with better postural alignment.
For children who are unable to stand on their own, this multi-functional adaptive aid enhances their overall health and goals, positively impacting their posture, digestion, hip stability, cardio fitness, and much more.
Please note that standers are not recommended for babies and are only appropriate for certain children.
Everyday Household Objects
Oftentimes, therapists are pros at using everyday objects to motivate kids and to help them to reach their goals. They can help you turn common household items into powerful therapy tools without spending a penny.
For example, let’s say your child is working on balance while walking…wrapping paper tubes that are in abundance at Christmas can be a great tool to use to help improve your child’s walking balance. They are also fun to use to make obstacle courses to help your child’s motor planning skills.
Is your child working on lower extremity strength and /or learning to jump? Wrapping paper tubes to the rescue!
4. Is there any equipment I have at home that may negatively impact my child’s development?
This question alone could lead to a whole separate article. It is an especially important one for parents of infants.
Most parents of babies and small children are being sold equipment that is being marketed as ‘helpful’ for the baby’s development, when in fact it’s just the opposite.
Baby containers and equipment have a role to play in the life of an infant…
Such as when caregivers need to have their hands free and do not have a safe space or a way to occupy the baby. At times, these containers/baby equipment can be helpful.
It is important to note, however, that it is recommended that this equipment be used sparingly and only for brief periods of time as too much time in containers/ baby equipment has been shown to be detrimental to babies, at times leading to developmental delays and causing injury. Ideally, it is best for babies developmentally to be given safe spaces where they are free to play so that they can develop the muscle strength and movement patterns necessary to meet developmental milestones.
For this reason, I often suggest parents opt to invest in a Pack and play, play yard, or baby gates, instead of something that will contain their babies such as a baby walker, exersaucer, jumper, bouncy seat, or a swing.
Here are a couple of my top recommendations for a baby playpen and play yard…
When I am treating a baby with developmental delay, torticollis, or plagiocephaly, I ask the parents to significantly limit the use of this equipment because it works against the goals we are working on in therapy.
One example of a baby container or equipment that can be detrimental rather than beneficial is the Bumbo seat.
The Bumbo seat is marketed as a beautiful tool to help a child sit up on their own but it is actually not recommended by most PTs.
Because it puts the baby in very poor postural alignment that actually inhibits the activation of the postural muscles necessary for independent sitting.
Instead, allowing the baby to lie on a blanket or mat on the floor in a safe space or in a pack n play would be better. When a baby is playing on their belly or back, they are developing the muscle strength necessary to eventually sit up, crawl, stand, and walk independently.
Numerous articles and research have been done on the detriment of placing babies in things like…
Walkers can be dangerous and are the leading cause of injuries in babies. Babies can walk into pools, heaters, and fall down steps which is why safety experts strongly discourage their use. Furthermore, research has shown that baby walkers actually lead to delayed walking.
An exersaucer is similar to a walker but without wheels. It’s a stationary play space that’s a safer option than a baby walker.
But it should not be used until a baby knows how to naturally stand on their own. The reason is, that their small bones, muscles, and ligaments are not meant to bear weight for long periods until they know how to stand independently.
While Exersaucer’s can be used for brief periods to contain a baby while their caregiver their hands-free, the baby will actually get stronger and meet milestones more quickly when they are allowed to play in safe spaces outside of equipment.
Jumpers are not safe for babies’ developing bones and joints. They are not equipped to take the impact that is placed on them when the baby is in a jumper. This can cause hip issues and problems in development.
Swings and Bouncy Seats.
When a baby is awake and alert and mom or dad needs their hands free for a few minutes, a swing or bouncer can be a way to entertain the baby for short periods of time. Placing babies in bouncy seats and swings too often, however, can lead to Plagiocephaly, flattening on one side of the skull. They also prevent babies from being able to move around to strengthen their muscles and work on development.
Keep in mind these items should be used very sparingly. There is a time and a place for children to be put in them like when Mom needs to be hands-free for a minute. It is perfectly OK to use these baby containers for brief periods, but floor time is usually the best thing for babies developmentally.
5. What happened in therapy today and why did you do what you did?
If you can, be present with your child during the therapy session.
In most cases, I strongly prefer to have a parent or caregiver present while I am treating their child.
If the child’s behavior diminishes when the parent is there to the point of impacting therapy, I will have the parent watch from around the corner or only have them present for part of the session.
You may be wondering why I do this?
It benefits you, as the parent, to see what’s happening during therapy for a few reasons…
- To understand more of what we do
- To become more engaged in the therapy process
- To become a partner with the therapist
Being present during therapy, helps you learn about your child’s progress, ask questions, and develop a relationship with the physical therapist. Ultimately, it brings more clarity and a better experience for you when it’s time to implement your child’s home program one-on-one.
From my experience as a PT…
I aim to provide a home program that suits both you and your child’s needs.
I want my home program to align with your vision for your child. My goal is to make sure you know exactly what to do during your one-on-one sessions with your kiddo. I want you to experience those beautiful moments, the “aha! I just helped my child move toward their goal!”.
That joy from helping a child make progress is what keeps me going as a therapist! I want you to experience that same feeling.
If you aren’t able to attend your child’s physical therapy session…
Let your therapist know you would like to review what happened during the session and get an updated home program.
Here are some tips to follow when communicating with your child’s PT:
- Each week, ask your PTwhat they did in the session and for updates to the home program
- Share with your PT what you’ve been doing at home (your PT may not ask, but they truly want to know)
- Ask your PT if they can call you during the last five minutes of the session and talk to you about it or text you.
To Wrap It Up – Two Critical Elements
Good communication and an effective home program are both critical elements in the success of the overall therapy program.
Good communication is key...
Open up the lines of communication to let your PT know your concerns. Speak truthfully and kindly, but frankly. This gives them the opportunity to address those concerns and will help your family and child thrive in their therapy life.
Home program follow through is essential…
A good home program makes a world of difference for kids who attend physical therapy.
I think it’s fairly analogous to someone taking piano lessons. The person who goes home and practices develop the skills needed to effectively play the piano more than someone who takes a piano lesson once a week and practices little or none between lessons.
Your child’s therapist got into the business of physical therapy because they love helping little ones reach their potential!
As a therapist, it’s been a blessing and privilege to develop relationships with my patients, parents, and caregivers. The common goal we share of helping their child reach their greatest potential forms a beautiful bond that often lasts years after that child is discharged from physical therapy.
Open communication is a vital part of that relationship development and ends up benefiting the child the most!
About the Author
Molly is a pediatric physical therapist and owner of Kids PT by the Sea, which is located in sunny Sarasota Florida.
Molly loves the joy of seeing her patients make huge strides in their development. She is a mom and a lover of the sun and the sea.
Her practice specializes in Intensives By The Sea, where she incorporates outings to the beach, playgrounds, parks, and cool destinations that the beautiful Sarasota area has to offer. She has been treating for over 25 years and loves it more every day.
Her intensives have an emphasis on handling and Molly specializes in Dynamic Movement Intervention (DMI), Neurodevelopmental Treatment (NDT), Total Motion Release (TMR), and Sensory Integration(SI). She loves collaborating with other therapists.
Her patients become like family to her and she is passionate about them getting the best care so that they reach their greatest potential. She loves to empower children and their parents through movement.
You can follow her at Kids PT by the Sea on Instagram.
Molly also provides traditional home-based physical therapy to families who are local to the greater Sarasota area.
In addition, Molly loves providing tips on development and rehabilitation for children with varying abilities on her Instagram page and Youtube channel. She believes each child has beautiful gifts and loves to help empower them through movement to reach their greatest potential and help them share their gifts with the world. When Molly is not doing her dream job or making social media content, you can find her hanging out with her husband and children, hopefully near the water, soaking in the sunshine, and reading or listening to the Bible.
We want to wrap up by extending our gratitude to thank you for stopping by today!
What other questions do you recommend sharing with your pediatric physical therapist?
Let us know in the comments below. ♥
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