How do I promote independence in my child with all this time at home?
A parent recently asked me this very important question. It is true that parents are spending more time with their children than ever before and have taken on many roles such as teacher, chef, IT support…on top of the typical role as a parent. (Have I mentioned that you are all amazing!) With this increased time together, one result could very well be an increased dependence. My advice is to be aware of this potential consequence, and try to find opportunities to build independent, daily living skills. Below are some tips and tricks for doing just this:
- Use Visuals: By now you have likely figured out that I am an advocate for using visuals to help support your children. And the reason behind this…they really work! Let’s use the example of brushing your teeth. Some of your kids may benefit from the use of pictures that breakdown the steps to brush teeth, such as this one, while others may benefit from a simple reminder such as a sticky note on the mirror. You may even incorporate a checklist or checkbox to serve as a visual reminder that the task is completed, such as this chart by The Taylor House. Other examples of visuals include a social story or videos of either your child or another child their age doing the task.
- Break Down Tasks: Everyday tasks (e.g., taking a shower, making a sandwich) can be broken into smaller tasks using pictures or even a simple sentence or word. In my last post on Increasing Motivation, I wrote about the benefit of breaking down larger tasks, as it feels much less daunting to complete an individual step than the entire task. I gave the example of rather than saying “clean your room”, you could list “make bed, put away toys”, or break this down even more to “put blanket on bed, put pillows on bed.”
- Gradually remove your support: When teaching a new task, your child will likely need more support at first. My recommendation is to try to gradually remove your support to increase their independence. For example, if teaching how to do the laundry, you may first have your child observe you doing laundry, then do the laundry together, followed by eventually completing the task independently (likely after several repetitions of doing it together).
- Problem Solve rather than Giving the Answer: If your child asks for your help, try to guide them through the solution, rather than giving them the answer. Consider making lists of possible solutions together (including those that may not be best) and then list the pros and cons of each idea. Ask questions such as, “what would you do at school?” or “what might you tell a friend in this situation?” Remember that making mistakes are actually teaching moments.
What are examples of daily living skills that I can teach my child?
- Personal Skills: Brushing teeth; Washing and drying hands and face; Bathing or Showering; Blowing nose; Dressing self; Covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing; Caring for minor cuts; Brushing hair; Cleaning, trimming, and filing fingernails.
- Domestic Skills: Preparing foods that require mixing and cooking; Using simple appliances in food preparation; Using stove or microwave oven for cooking; Making bed; Sweeping, mopping, or vacuuming floor; Putting own clothes away.
- Community Skills: Demonstrating an awareness of danger and safety (e.g., looking both ways before crossing the street, understanding that electrical outlets and light sockets are dangerous); Answering the telephone appropriately; Calling a restaurant to order food; Using emergency telephone number in emergency.
This post is part of a 5 part series of articles written by Dr. Jamie Barstein, child clinical psychologist at The Help Group with expertise in working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities as well as their family members.
Contributions to this series were made by Dr. Laurie Stephens, Director of Program Development at The Help Group.