Always helping? What are you teaching?

photo by  woodleywonderworks via Flickr

photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

There are times when doing for the child takes away an opportunity to teach. 

A child stands in the middle of the room with socks in his outstretched hands.

His mom passes by his room and stops in her tracks as she sees him not even close to being ready. She says, “Put on your socks…seriously, you don’t need me to put on your socks.” She races around collecting bags and making sure the kids have everything ready for school.

Time is ticking, but the bags and big sister are ready. “Where is your brother?” She races back to her son’s room to find the socks on the floor and her son playing with his action figures, seemingly not worried that it is 7:50 and he needs to be at school by 8:00.

“Here…give them to me, why do I have to do this for you? You are too old to not know how to put on your socks.”

Sound familiar?

Fade to independence

In our work with younger children, some with disabilities and some typically developing, one of the main goals of teaching any skill is to fade to independence. What this means is when we are teaching a certain skill, one with which we have to prompt or help the child to demonstrate, we always try to end with the child independently performing the skill. Even if we have to do a lot to help at the beginning, then slowly remove the help.

This also applies to simple things.

I was reminded of this the other night as I was speaking to a parent in their kitchen area and her child went over to the stove and really struggled to understand our suggestions for how to get the kitchen towel to stay hung on the stove handle. Sounds simple, but we were not successful with verbally teaching her from the comfort of our bar stools.

I got up and went behind the girl and showed her how to do it with her standing there. With my hands over hers, we held the towel up high, let it drop behind the handle until it was half-way through, then draped it over the front of the handle. “That’s cool,” she said.

She turned around as if we were done…we were not done. I held out my arm and redirected her back to the stove. “What’s really cool is you doing it by yourself,” I said, handing her back the towel.

“You do it.”

When these opportunities present themselves (or maybe you even create some on your own), make sure to do it with your child, then step away and say, “now you do it.” If you need to guide, do it, but then step back again and say again, “you can do it by yourself now, let me see it.”

It could be from anything to tying shoes, to putting laundry in the hamper, to dishes in the sink. It could be getting a bookbag ready, making a sandwich or raking leaves. Anything, really. Just take advantage of the opportunities to fade to independence.

Be sure to reinforce the independent task with a special high-five, an extra wide smile and an extra “attaboy” for doing it independently.

It sounds simple.

It might even sound like I’m making a big deal out of something fairly simple, but:

  1. Each time something like this comes up, consider it an opportunity to teach your child a skill rather than teach them to depend on you or someone else.
  2. Every time you do this and end it by having your child do it by herself, you are connecting positive praise and good feelings with her doing things independently, which will make her more likely to build a tolerance for frustration and a motivation to figure things out on her own.
  3. The next time the need for that skill comes up, you have already taught it and, hey, maybe you will not have to get up from the bar stool that time.
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