Strategies to Challenge Your Child Without Them Feeling Like It’s “More Therapy”

As a physical therapist, whether it is home care, outpatient, or the school setting…our job is to provide parents with strategies to help your child at home to reach their goals. To be honest, follow through with home exercise programs is rare. Your schedules are busy, you were cooking dinner, you were trying to manage the other 1,000 things you have on your plate…we get it. Exercises just slowly drop down on the priority list. That is exactly why I am writing this for you.

For the parents who feel that there is not even just an extra 15 minutes in the day to try exercises with your loved one…

or the parents with children that become more fussy when trying with you versus a therapist…

Here are some strategies to help you integrate it into your every day routine:

*Working it into an every day functional task*

Does your child have difficulty navigating different surfaces while walking? While they are playing outside let them walk across the different textures (i.e grass, sand, pavement) and let them experience those aspects of their home or community environment to challenge them and help them grow. Beach day with the family? GREAT. If they need a hand give it to them, but let them try walking across the sand instead of using a device or carrying them!

Difficulty with transfers? Have them practice EXACTLY what transfer they need when it is happening in your daily routine, such as getting up out of bed by themselves. We know it is your auto pilot just coming into their room, helping them up and get ready for the day, but imagine what it could do for them if you made them try to do it or did it partially with your help? I am certain it would not only help their strength, but it would also help their confidence too!

Practicing independence for a functional activity is just as important to them as it is to you! You obviously want what is best for your child. Encouraging them to do things by themselves is so vital for their day to day activity.

We know as therapists you want to just help them, you hate to see them struggle. So do we. They will not get past their barriers if they get help with things they can try on their own. So of course, if they need help…help them, but let them try it on their own first. They might surprise you with what they are able to achieve!

*Therapeutic play time*

I cannot stress enough how beneficial making play time more therapeutic can help! Placing toys or objects in strategic areas can motivate them to do things instead of just asking or making them do it. For example, your child working on sit to stand transitions. Place the toy just out of reach and overhead to allow them to perform the transition with motivation of the toy. Say they are working on rolling….during play time strategically place toys to facilitate the rolling motion to allow them to work on it but making it fun!

Another way to make play time therapeutic is by encouraging a position that may be challenging for them (i.e. sitting, kneeling, standing) and have them play with their toys while maintaining the position with or without your assistance. Use every opportunity to work on making them stronger and more independent that you can.

Encouragement is key! Challenge them as much as possible and try to make it fun. It is worth it in the long run.

*Distract them with something they normally do*

ANY therapist will tell you distraction is KEY to working with ANY population. Have you ever been working out and tried thinking of something else to distract you from the discomfort of an exercise? Well, its the same concept for them. For example, if sitting up on their own is hard and your therapist wants you to work on it at home, do it during movie night with the family! Sit with them, support them as needed or sit them against the couch but allow them to work on it while they are doing something that they enjoy

A simple suggestion such as “Hey let’s sit on the ball while you play your video games” can go a long way. You’ll get the quality time with them, while assisting as they need, but they’ll also be doing something that they do everyday anyway while working towards their goals!


So your therapist asked you to stretch your child…SHOCKER. We do this because it really is SO important for them, and wouldn’t tell you to do it if we did not think it was for the best interest of your child. We know its not easy finding the time and it often can be easy to forget but if you add it into your daily routine in little amounts it really isn’t so bad.

Let’s see…you gave your child a bath and now it’s time to dry them off and help them get ready for bed. How about in this instance you take just 5 minutes to stretch their muscles. It is an ideal concept because their muscles are already warm and relaxed from the bath and will be SO much easier for you to perform. The more you do it, the more routine it becomes and the more benefits your child gets out of it!

So, there are some strategies to helping you incorporate your therapist’s recommendations to make it easier for all parties involved! I hope I have changed your outlook on the dreaded home exercise program. It is vital to your child’s independence and for your help to allow both them and you a better quality of life. Ask your therapists other strategies they can tell you to help you integrate it into your everyday routine so it’s less of a task to get done and more of a part of your every day!

Questions? E-mail me!!

Christine 🙂

Christine Astarita