Some children are not as quick at learning daily living skills. Perhaps you are the parent of a 9-year-old, and you are wondering “Why can I still not let this kid out of my sight for two minutes?”
You may be walking through the mall and suddenly realize your child is no longer next to you. As you run the halls, yelling her name, she pops out of the candy store, looking oblivious. It may be that you are on a first-name basis with customer service at the grocery store, where you are constantly paging your lost child on the loud speaker.
When you are out-and-about, you may find that your child cannot keep track of his things. You may see your son leave his wallet on the seat of the taxi or your daughter leave her jacket on the floor at the movie theater.
Children mature at different rates. You may find yourself thinking, “how is my little bird ever going to leave the nest!” Sometimes parents make the mistake of too much hand-holding. Alternately, sometimes parents assume a child with a delay or disability ‘should’ be ready for more independence than he or she really is.
What do challenges with Community look like?
- Scaring you to death while walking around town?
- Needing constant check-ins or supervision?
- Forgetting your phone number and street address?
- Forgetting how to use a cross-walk and to wait for the green light?
- Leaving belongings all over the place; forgetting his wallet at the store?
- Seeming unaware of her surroundings, even with constant reminders?
- Wandering off at an amusement park, the zoo, or the mall?
- Struggling with community skills like crossing the street, making a purchase, or counting change?
Why is Community happening?
Community living is under a category of skills psychologists refer to as ‘adaptive skills.’ Community living includes remembering to look both ways before crossing the street, going on an outing with a peer, taking the bus or making an appointment on time. Clinically, we must consider that many children will struggle with independent living skills at one time or another.
Your typically developing child may do great in school but seem like she would lose her head if it wasn’t attached. Although there may be a slight delay, worthy of some support at home, it may not be cause for major concern. The time to be concerned is when your child seems far behind peers in terms of navigating the world outside your home or is clearly and consistently resisting opportunities to gain independence.
How can I manage Community at home?
If your child is struggling with the daily living skills needed for community living, several factors should be considered.
If your child is in the teen years and is slow to gain independence, it may be only a slight delay. It may be that your teenager cannot figure out the time it will take to get somewhere. He may think, for example, that you can leave at 2:15 for an appointment at 2:30, an hour drive away from your home. Your teen may always be a day late and a dollar short; showing up on picture day in a grungy t-shirt with no picture money.
Most children are driven, at least to a degree, toward independence. They generally want to be able to do more on their own. However, as a parent of a child who is delayed in community living skills, you may feel like it is dangerous to ‘release your child out into the wild’ for fear that he would not make it on his own. In a sense, this is true.
It is important help your child gain independence…and it is also important not to cut those apron strings too soon. Consider a gradual release approach. First, ‘I do,’ then ‘we do,’ then ‘you do.’ Do not expect your child to do it on his own and then panic and do it for him. Rather, expect him to struggle initially. Help your child only as much as needed and not more.
Many opportunities occur at school for your child to learn independence. The best example is to learn how to use a planner in middle school. Again, you would want to practice a gradual release approach.
Provide maximum support, and gradually withdraw your help as your child learns independence.
First, have you child’s teachers help your child write all homework and important events in the planner. If this approach is not possible, a school counselor or learning specialist can help your child with the planner at school.
Then, each night, check your child’s planner with him or her. Go over a plan for how each task will be completed. The more your child becomes solid with writing homework in the planner, the teacher can back off. It might be that your child’s teacher only checks for major assignments or only reviews it once per week.
Once that step is in place, you might start to check the planner at home every-other-day, then once per week, and so forth. The time spent helping your child learn to plan and gain responsibility will pay off in spades later in life.
If, however, your child is struggling in multiple activities of daily living, including self-care, chores, and participation in school, a developmental concern may be present.
Children who fall behind significantly in daily living tasks may have a disability and may require therapy. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists and Occupational Therapists (OT’s) can help children who struggle with activities of daily living. If you suspect your child may have a disability, consider an evaluation by a psychologist (see ‘Where to go for help’ below).