By now we hope you are familiar with our trademark technique “Pretend You Are A Light Switch®” If not, go take a look at the “Respect the Switch!” blog post regarding this evidence-based technique created by owner/founder Jamie Waldvogel! The familiarity of expectations in routines can be an important factor in promoting our “light switches” to stay on or come back on within a hectic day. However, if you have a child who needs your support to get through these routines, this can really put a damper on your “switch!” Fear not, parenting trendsetters! We have some tools to help you help your child get through these routines with more independence.
If you look at a routine in a behavioral sense, it is a string of behaviors, which may or may not happen in a specific order, which often need to occur within a specific time frame. This means that for a child to be independent with a routine, s/he first needs to know how to do what is expected of him/her. A bedtime routine may include brushing teeth, putting pajamas on, getting out the next day’s outfit, and picking out a few books to read before lights out. However, if your child’s clothes are hung in a closet or away in a drawer they can’t reach, this is likely going to be an area where you can teach your child how to do this (i.e., step on a stool, ask for help, find a better easy-access location, etc.) and have them get the clothes with you present before you can assume they can do it on their own without you. When you aren’t in a rush, is your child able to perform the task quickly without your support?
Once you know that your child can complete each step without your assistance (within reason, depending on age and development), the next piece is to slowly remove your support from that routine. Our blog post about listening is a great first step to working on general instruction-following within a routine. If you have a child who is having more difficulty following instructions you give during those routines, take a look at that blog next to help improve your child’s listening in general, which can later be worked on during the times you need it.
However, if you have a child who only seems to get through a routine (morning and bedtime routines are the most common situations we see difficulty with during our in-home consultations) when you’re there and with your help, and will follow instructions you give, your child may be dependent on your instructions and presence. Here, it is important to get your child started with a task, possibly put some toothpaste on the toothbrush, and once s/he starts brushing, step out of the room and right back in to catch him/her still brushing independently in the bathroom! By using well-timed “doses” of your attention, you can teach your child that s/he not only can still get your attention, but that the best way to get your attention is to complete parts of each step on his/her own! As your child starts to perform more and more of the routine independently, it will be important to gradually reduce how often you step back in to be present during the routine.
The time frame within which a routine needs to be completed varies, but if you have a child who takes for-ev-er to get ready for bed or get ready in the morning, it is important for you to identify if your child’s “switch” is on/dim/off, do your best to keep it dim or on, have back-up motivators to use to support your child in the moment, and then practice following instructions in another context outside of the routine that may be time sensitive.
Whether you’re ready for your child to be more independent in learning how to do more of a routine, or need him/her to be more independent, by supporting your child with these tools from your parenting toolbox, you can help s/he build more independence within their routines! Need help practicing? Schedule your introductory, assessment phone consultation to discuss how we can serve your family.
Anna Milligan, MS
Jamie Waldvogel, MS, BCBA
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute a behavioral consultation relationship between Behave Your Best, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as behavioral consultation and should not be construed as behavioral consultation.