What to Do When Your Kid is a Klutz

Try these tips from an occupational therapist aimed at helping parents help clumsy children improve their coordination skills.

Does your child trip over his own two feet or drop things and not even realize it? If you’ve noticed your school-aged child isn’t quite up to snuff in the coordination department, take the advice of Magda Girao, clinical director of Kids in Motion, which has locations in Highland, Waterford and Commerce Township.

With 28 years of pediatric occupational therapy under her belt, she has tips to keep your topsy-turvy child upright and stable.

Understand the problem

Problems with coordination could stem from a lack of spatial awareness, issues with processing movement or challenges dealing with gravity. These issues are unlikely to go away on their own and could cause a lack of self-confidence, Girao explains.

“Parents should always work with their child,” she says. “When a child has all the components of movement in place he can do anything, but if a child is uncoordinated, he may stop himself from doing certain things. It could be the difference between being on the sidelines versus being a player.”

Watch for red flags

Hand-eye coordination starts to develop when a child is around 2 or 3 months old, but parents don’t often notice coordination issues until the child is 3 or 4 years old, Girao notes.

Switching hands, dropping things, avoiding playground equipment or acting like a clown might be signs that junior is having issues.

“Some kids will be going down the hall and they will trip into other people,” she says. “It’s embarrassing, so kids will make a joke about it. But it’s really a coordination problem.”

Try a sport

A child must repeat a motor skill 2,000 times in order to learn it – and that increases to 3,000-5,000 times for uncoordinated kids. “Clumsy kids don’t need to be playing their iPad or (Ninetnedo) DS all the time,” Girao explains. “The more they move, the more coordinated they get.”

Doing an activity like swimming, cheerleading or dancing, where the body moves different ways, can improve general skills. Soccer can help with spatial awareness.

And sports with pads – like football or hockey – help teach a child where their body is, she explains.

Have them help at home

If your child isn’t the sporty type, a few extra chores could do the trick. Vacuuming, bringing in groceries, cleaning windows and other household activities in which kids push, pull, carry and lift can be beneficial.

“The more you get the muscles to elongate by using them, the more (the skills) come in,” Girao says.

Is more needed?

If your child’s coordination skills haven’t improved by second grade, it might be time to seek some help.

“Kids can fake it in preschool, kindergarten, first and second grade – but by third grade, it’s like hitting a wall and they might not be able to catch up.”

Occupational therapists will teach kids how to go beyond their body’s capacity; bilateral, symmetrical and asymmetrical movements; and how to move more smoothly.


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