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What is Heavy Work and Why is it Important for My Child?

If your child participates within occupational therapy, you’ve probably heard of the term “heavy work”. But what does it mean when therapists use this term and how does it relate to your kiddo? Keep reading to find out! 

“Heavy work” is a term that refers to activities that involve the pushing/pulling of the muscle joints within our bodies. These activities create resistance input to the muscles and this feedback helps to calm and regulate a child’s nervous system. In fact, when children are engaging within heavy work activities their bodies are actually releasing both serotonin and dopamine which are calming and organizing neurotransmitters! A child who participates within heavy work activities is better able to attend and engage within directed tasks (even challenging ones!), control impulses, has greater aware of their body and surroundings, has improved force discrimination, and is better equipped to handle frustrating situations. 

Heavy work should be utilized as a preparatory activity – meaning you want to have your child participate within heavy work activities before they face a challenging situation (i.e. going to the zoo, working on hard homework, long car ride, eating a new food, sitting at the table for dinner). The calming effects of heavy work can last in a child’s system for a few hours following the input!

Examples of some heavy work activities that you can do with your child at home to aid in regulation:

  • pushing a weighted laundry basket across the floor 
  • crawling over and/or through couch cushions on floor 
  • jumping and crashing into a pile of cushions/pillows on floor 
  • army crawling underneath tables and chairs
  • carrying in and putting away groceries
  • drink thick liquids (i.e. milkshake, yogurt) through a thin straw 
  • blow pompoms off the table using a straw 

Keep in mind that sensory input is ALWAYS a trial and error! We all have different sensory systems and thus we all have different sensory needs! If you trial heavy work with your kiddo and see no difference in their regulatory state, work with your occupational therapist to decide on the right duration, frequency, and intensity needed for your kiddo’s unique sensory system! And most importantly – try to make the sensory heavy work FUN for you child! 

– Stacey Neat, Occupational Therapist