Tying our shoes, zipping our coats and cutting our food are all everyday activities that are second nature to us. However, for small children and children with special needs such as autism, these activities are often tricky. In such cases, learning everyday skills takes more practice and requires more time spent on fine motor exercises. How can you help your child learn everyday skills? What are some easy ways to incorporate skills building into your activities? Here are a few ideas.
Tips for Helping Your Child Learn Everyday Skills
- Break large tasks into smaller chunks. Whether you’re teaching your child to tie his or her shoes or you’re going over how to put a shirt on, you can help your child develop necessary skills when you break the task into smaller chunks. Here’s how: Practice the given activity yourself, slowly, thinking through each individual task involved. Then, help your child by explaining and guiding him or her through one small section of the project at a time.
- Provide positive reinforcement. Each time your child completes a tiny aspect of the process, provide positive reinforcement by calling out the behavior and praising it. Even if all you’re praising is a step in the right direction, such as picking up the spoon, it’s important to keep marking correct actions.
- Start with looking. Particularly for children with sensory issues, jumping into a new task that requires handling or smelling materials is daunting. If you’re running into roadblocks trying to get your child to take on a new activity, this could be the issue. In these cases, start smaller. Encourage your child to merely look at the clay or strings you’re working with, for example. Then, reinforce even this basic step with positive feedback. Once your child is comfortable looking at the objects, you can move to the next step.
- Help less and less. When your child is learning about a new skill, you may need to help with every part of the process. As he or she progresses, however, remember to back off slowly, giving your child a chance to do tasks independently. Let your child manage the parts of the task that are working, and only step in when necessary.
- Make it fun. What is the skill your child needs next — strength to pick up toys, dexterity to pull off a shirt sleeve, or motor skills to grasp a shoelace? Whatever it is, find a way to incorporate fun playtime activities that will deal with the same skill. Whether you’re pushing play dough or grabbing marbles, as your child grasps the necessary ability for a game, he or she will also be building capabilities for everyday skills. What’s important, though, is that a child who’s playing just might relax enough to enjoy the process.
- Practice makes perfect. Remind yourself that learning is a process, and your child may take time to grasp a specific task or skill. Keep practicing, repeatedly. In time, you’ll see your child catching on to new capabilities.
- Keep at it. When you’ve been going over the same skill for a while, it’s easy to get discouraged. You may find yourself wondering if your child will ever master the given task. Stay faithful, however. With enough consistent instruction, your child is likely to grow in capabilities for self-care and learning.
Whether you’re teaching your toddler to use a spoon or showing your child how to tie a shoelace, you’ll have more success in teaching everyday skills when you follow the steps above. Divide tasks into manageable chunks, provide positive reinforcement, keep adjusting how much you help, make it fun and keep at it. With enough practice and time, your child will grow new skills and be empowered to manage life more independently.
Author bio: Lisa Orlando is Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Early Intervention at Invo-Progressus, a provider of employment and professional development for therapists. The company connects qualified candidates with job opportunities across the United States.