Fostering independence in children with LD
Monday, February 22, 2016
A son in his early teens decides to help his single mom out by hand-washing the dishes. He is trying to please her as she is often asking for help keeping the house clean. He has never tried to help out this way before.
To her surprise, when his mother returns from work, she sees the dishes in the drying rack. To her dismay, she finds that he hasn't rinsed them.
Understandably, her reaction is to chastise him. However, in doing so, she and her son have missed an opportunity to celebrate. The mother framed the situation in her frustration and focused on the part of the task the boy left incomplete. Alternatively, she might have chosen to focus on his initiation and execution of a new task.
Upon recognizing that the dishes had not been rinsed, she may have reframed the incompletion into a celebration of success of his initiation and partial execution. Ironically, by choosing to chastise him, ultimately she may have unwittingly discouraged him from risking to attempt another new task to help out around the house.
The youth took a task in hand and managed it. The parent's task was to respond to the youth's efforts. There is both an immediate and a long-term component to the parent's response once she recognizes the "incompleteness" of the dishwashing task.
Of course, the immediate component is what the parent actually focused on — he hadn't finished the dish-washing task. However, more significant is the long-term component — the ultimate independence, life skills and self-confidence of the youth.
Many parents of youths with disabilities worry about how their children will make their way in the world: Who will take care of them after I am gone? Will they be happy? Have a job? Be confident?
The Independent Living Philosophy (ILP) holds that adults with disabilities are the best experts on their needs and must take the initiative in handling their own lives. If one examines the above learning situation about washing dishes from the perspective of the ILP, the youth had taken an initiative in his own hands and "completed" it.
One might speculate as to the cognitive and attention-related reasons the task was incomplete, and the parent's reaction, but those are topics for another time. Needless to say, some tasks, if left incomplete or completed poorly, have more serious consequences than upset stomachs from soapy dishes.
The opportunities for fostering and/or celebrating independence are not just the grander, traditional milestones such as learning to drive and high school graduation. Life affords parents countless moments that, if seized, accumulate in the enhanced self-esteem and competence of their children.
If we understand ourselves, become experts on our own needs and take the initiative on attending to how we tend to frame our parenting moments, we may reframe them in real time, as we react to our children's behavior, and find the celebration in their learning processes and tasks attempted at home.
If we frame a moment, reframe to validate authentic success, then celebrate it, we as parents may build self-esteem, potentially increase the self-awareness of our children and reinforce their taking the initiative in their own hands to shape their future.
Parenting is fraught with such moments. Whether it is doing chores around the house, socializing at a family party or doing homework, the less we seize control or overpower the ownership of the task at hand, the better with respect to nurturing autonomy.
Yes, it might have been more socially adept to ask how grandma is feeling at a party rather than just hug and greet her, but it is better than the grunt uttered at last year's celebration. Imagine the harm in taking ownership of a child's homework! Yes, the grade on the assignment may be be inflated, but the self-esteem of the child may be crushed.
Rather, let us guide our children toward maximum independence in life and model self-awareness and taking matters in hand to shape our future whether washing dishes or rinsing them.
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