Being independent what does that mean? Depending on your child’s age that will mean different things at their different developmental stages. For young children they may be learning to sleep, play and eat independently. Older children may be learning how to be more independent with their daily tasks around the house and perhaps helping with simple chores. At school it may require them to be independent in their work tasks. For teenagers the situations are very different. Many teens begin to feel comfortable and are ready to take more risks in their school and social environments. Parents of teens want their children to have a sense of accomplishment and success in the independent choices they make and at the same time they want them to be safe. It’s a delicate balance and no matter where you are in the parenting process however as parents we know that independence is the key to success in our lives.
As behavior analysts we educate parents and teachers about the importance of independence in the daily lives of children with developmental disabilities or delays. We often start with a target behavior, develop procedures or a program to teach the steps (e.g., forward chaining or backward chaining), put in supports (e.g., visual schedules) or prompting guidelines on how to help the process move toward independence. We identify reinforcers and a plan on how to deliver rewards (e.g., reinforcement schedule). We develop a method of measurement, monitor progress and make changes as necessary depending on the data review.
We know what to do! Why do we find it hard to apply this logic to our own personal lives? I have many colleagues and friends who are very skilled and successful in helping children and families achieve their goals. However, when it comes to our own children we sometimes find ourselves looking like a deer in headlights. Why? Whatever the reason maybe we can follow some quick easy steps to foster independence in our children’s daily lives.
1. Set up the environment. We know how important it is to prepare and plan ahead. Begin to set up your environment for success. This may require discussions with your partner or children so that everyone has a voice. This will ensure buy in from your family members and everyone has identified their shared purpose.
2. Identify the goal. Whether it is to divide house hold chores, setting up an after-school routine for your younger child, or a plan that involves an older child getting dinner started. Depending on what was identified as important for your family (e.g., your shared purpose) the goals will vary.
3. Discuss the procedure and clearly state or list the steps necessary to achieve the goal. What are the behaviors you will do? You may want to include supports and reminders such as visuals on the refrigerator or reminders on your smart phones.
4. Consequences. Identify clear consequences when following the procedures as well as making sure everyone knows what would happen when steps are not followed.
5. Reward: Don’t forget to reward yourself, your partner and your family for achieving the goals that you have been working for.
There will inevitably be days that the steps you outlined may be harder to follow. Be kind to yourself and remember that those are great opportunities to capture teachable moments. Model appropriate behavior for your family and let them know that one “off” day does not mean the plan isn’t working. Tomorrow is another day.