Before leaving home, SHOW exactly what is expected of your child. Warning a child that you expect them to be good won’t do the job. What does being “good” look like? And sound like? A checklist of these behaviors, a social script, or a of set visual pictures may be the tools that make the difference in the success of the outing.
A rushed errand will too often be disastrous because as many parents know, the more hurried we are, the slower our children move! Our kids with autism are busy dealing with their own stress; they can’t possibly cope with ours as well! Give yourself plenty of time when possible.
Humans develop self esteem by doing activities; achieving goals and completing tasks that are within our ability. Parents frequently say to me, “I don’t know why my daughter has such low self esteem. I always tell her how smart and wonderful she is!” The problem is not what we say, but how we act. Helicopter parents or grandparents undermine their own words; making what you say, meaningless. What exactly is a helicopter parent, you might be asking yourself? These are the parents who do too many things for their kids rather than allowing their child the opportunity to do a task for themselves. Sometimes, helicopter parents call their child’s employer to ask for a day off; they may pack a child’s bag for a sleepover; they may drive the child everywhere instead of teaching safe bike skills. My point is that, if we want our children and grandchildren to develop self esteem, we must teach skills within their range of ability, tell them that we believe that they are capable and offer them assistance. Helicopter parents mean well; but by taking care of everything, these parents inadvertently steal a child’s chance to build skills and self esteem. If the child makes a mistake, we hug him or her, review what could be changed for next time and then provide an opportunity for the child to practice the skill again.
Doing too many things for a child and preventing them from living with the consequences will actually result in raising a child that feels incapable, lacks resilience and lacks the confidence to take risks and move beyond their comfort zone. To build competence, we have to give our children and grandchildren opportunities to learn skills and take on responsibility. Involving children (including children with autism) in household chores such as setting the table, loading/unloading the dishwasher and feeding pets are a good start. Children should also be responsible for learning how to carry out hygiene routines such as brushing teeth, bathing, as well as dressing and undressing. A good rule of thumb is to observe yourself: what are you doing for your child or grandchild that you could teach them how to do?
Praising the child’s effort, hard work and practice is essential. Effort needs to be valued and appreciated, not just success. If kids feel that the only way that they will earn praise of parents, grandparents and teachers is by succeeding then for some, defeat will come before they even try. In 20 years of teaching, I have learned that children (even older children) desperately need to know that the effort that is put into a task is valued even more than the final result!