Five Critical Areas To Strengthen Your Child’s Skills for Adulthood
Do you worry about your child after graduation from the school system? Most of us parents do. So, because early intervention starts today, begin preparing your child now in these five critical areas:
1. Financial Planning
Coins aren’t used much in real life, but plastic is. Set up a minor’s debit bank card account tied to your adult accounts. You will be able to load as little as $5 onto it. Your child can carry this card in a pocket, wallet, or purse. If it is lost, you are only out $5.
When you buy small treats (ice cream, for example) and inexpensive meals, let your child handle the transaction. Help him calculate the tip, and let him do the math. Use a restaurant that knows you, and step back. The cashier can help him sign where needed.
Grocery stores are another great place to let your child practice financial planning. Tell her $5 is the budget, and then meet up with her at the cashier. Send your child on this adventure with paper bills ($5 or $10 will be the most effective in the beginning to understand what “change” is) or her own debit card. An added bonus will be her growing skill at choosing and finding what she wants to buy, and navigating the aisles and other shoppers.
As you teach this process, start with the checking out (the last step) first. Occupational therapists call this “backward chaining,” and educators call it “backwards design.” Once she can handle the purchasing, let her practice walking the aisles solo. If a cart is too unwieldy, start with just holding the items, or use a small handbasket. Keep chaining backward, and eventually you will be telling her at the entrance, “Meet me at the cashier. I will be there in five minutes.”
A bonus will be your child’s growing ability to navigate around a store, know where to find you without panic, think independently, and build self-confidence. Reading the aisle signs and the packaging will increase learning and give you something to brag about with teachers.
2. Organizing Time
Getting ready for the day’s activities and getting out the door on time is essential to life success. But what if your child stalls and makes the morning routine one big power struggle? To avoid (useless) threats—you aren’t really going to drive off without him—and minimize a loud angry voice, try making it a friendly competition. Play the “I’m going to win!” game.
It goes like this: Work with your child so that he knows each of the tasks to be done (toilet, flush, wash, teeth, shoes, socks, coat, backpack), using “backward chaining” as discussed above. You might want to give him a little help by piling shoes, socks, coat, and backpack by the door. Then, as soon as he starts stalling (you will feel your blood pressure mounting), just say, “I’m going to win! First one to buckle the seat belt wins!” and walk out. There is no longer any audience, and the child’s developing desire to win takes over.
I actually back the car down the driveway, stop, and wait. When my son comes running out, I happily say with a big smile, “Where were you? I thought you were in the car! I missed you!”
Once your child is in the car, teach him how to lock the door, and you will no longer need to do that yourself either. It may take you a few weeks to backward chain the child in all the steps.
This game is now our daily practice, and no one yells anymore. The child gets to practice, under a little pressure, all the pieces of the get-out-the-door process without prompting. The authors of Smart But Scattered, Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, might call this “Something Fun at the Finish Line.”
3. Social Skills
Help your child with her powers of observation of other children. Ask, “What are the other children doing?” and then ask her if she wants to do that also. Let your child practice self-control in every way and at every time possible.
Use your (or your child’s) mobile phone to video a complex social activity that seems overwhelming. I do this for my son. We have hours and hours of videos that he can “earn” to watch as neurotypical peer modeling. Let your child earn, not just assume, the privilege of doing anything (electronic or not) whenever he wishes. This will help balance humility in his daily interactions with others.
Social skills appreciated by others are more “giving” than “receiving.” You must “be a friend” before you “have a friend.” Remember that social skills training is everywhere: in every store, every festival, every playground—anywhere there are other children to watch and model after.
4. Intellectual Curiosity
We often underestimate our children’s curiosity. Try to do less for your children. Yes, you are a fabulous therapy parent, with no intervention too small. But remember to fade those prompts! If our children are constantly entertained, their brains have no reason to make the effort toward seeking new things.
Let your child become bored. Then ask her what she would like to try next. Steer her toward a physical activity and ask open-ended questions (not a “yes” or “no” answer). The physical activity will stimulate learning due to midline crossover and movement-based learning (as explained in Movement Based Learning for Children of All Abilities by Cecilia Koester).
5. Risk/Reward Decisions and Accepting Consequences
Sometimes your child will get an invitation, and other times not. Let your child do the asking for a playdate. Kids get used to parents doing all the social arrangements. Don’t fall into that trap. Teach your child to ask friends to play. When he gets a “no,” I tell my son, “They said no. What else would you like to do?” I then offer a few happy alternatives, and we practice being at peace in our own skins, alone, when friends aren’t available.
Steer your child toward a park or playground. Other children will likely be there, and your child will benefit from the physical movement and midline crossover that builds sensory integration. If your child is sad about the “no,” tell him that it is okay to feel sad, and offer a hug. Hug him “until he is done with being sad.” Don’t let go of that hug until your child is laughing and pulling away.
When you make plans with your child, discuss Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Verbally explore the possibilities with your child, and let her choose what is next. It is magnificent life training for our children to experience how to find their own happiness and fulfillment. To build new neural pathways, the child must choose to try something different, to give the brain a chance to build a new, nuanced experience on top of an existing experience (read Kids Beyond Limits by Anat Baniel for more on this). Let your child learn to be proactive in her social life, and this tool will be hers for a lifetime.