By Melinda Khachaturian, National Director of Admissions & Outreach for College Living Experience (CLE)
“It goes by so fast.” All parents of young children hear these words. Sometimes it’s said with a tinge of sadness, sometimes with wonder, and sometimes with contentment and pride. And as parents of children who learn differently, it can seem as though that short period of time is riddled with twists and turns, adding unexpected elements to the journey. It is imperative that they learn the necessary skills to manage their lives and responsibilities. After all, they will spend much more time with the title of “Adult” than they spend as a “Child”. We watch our children grow, adapt, and mature, and more than anything, we hope they have the tools they need to be confident, happy, successful young adults.
So, what can you do to help your child prepare for the myriad of skills they will need to live, work, and socialize independently? It can be a delicate dance of stepping in and then stepping back…setting higher expectations and allowing the law of natural consequence to take its course. Just as it is difficult for parents to see their child fall off a two-wheeled bike during the learning process, it can be just as difficult to see him/her not succeed at being independent at first, when that time comes. So now is the time to work on the skills that will contribute to overall independence!
Here are some ideas for you to work with this summer, as your child blossoms into the next school year.
Money Matters: Has your child been exposed to the concept of money management? Give your child a small allowance each week. Designate a place for the money to be kept and use a notepad to write down what amount s/he receives and when. Identify a goal, such as a new article of clothing or a small gadget that your child would like to buy, and then work together to figure out how many weeks of saving are necessary.
Navigating the Community: Does your child feel confident to ask a question of an employee or worker when you are out in the community? Encourage your child to make a purchase or order a meal in a restaurant independently. Go into the store with your child but have him/her bring the item to the cashier, give the cashier the money, and receive the change back. Similarly, have your child order their own food and beverages whenever you go out to eat. If your child struggles verbally, have them circle the items they want on the menu and show that to the server. This builds independence and confidence when navigating the community.
Independent Living Skills: Can your child prepare a simple meal, such as a sandwich and side dish? Start by breaking the task down into steps…first have your child get the ingredients, lay out the bread, build the sandwich, and then put the extra items back into the refrigerator or pantry. Before long, your child should be able to do this without prompting, which is a sign that they have mastered the skill. Then you can move on to more complex dishes…the sky is the limit! Another skill that can be added onto this is checking the expiration dates on foods…have your child look for the date on the package every time they take something out to use it.
Academics: Although many school-age children would love to completely forget about academics over the summer, they can still have fun without losing their school-based skills! Are you planning a family trip or vacation? Have your child participate in planning the logistics and writing it all down. This will help when they have to break down a big assignment in school. Can your child teach an academic subject or read a book to a younger sibling or neighbor, even for 30 minutes a week? Being “in charge” can encourage your child to maintain their enthusiasm for academic subjects in which they shine. It can also strengthen communication skills and social savvy.
Consider post-secondary supports: When your child is finished with high school, s/he may need a transition program to help them bridge the gap between childhood and young adulthood. Consider programs that offer supports in all areas of independence: academics, independent living skills, social skills, and career development. Think about whether your child wants to attend college or begin preparing for a career. Transition programs offer a wonderfully supportive environment for your child to be coached on all the skills s/he will need in order to live and work independently.
As parents, we know that childhood can be messy, both literally and figuratively. Young adulthood can be messy too, but it’s important to remember that “success” is not finite. There will be failures and setbacks, and moments where certain skills feel out of reach. But just around the corner from those moments of doubt, there will be terrific moments where the small skills add up to monumental achievements, and you will beam with pride and contentment as you acknowledge that yes, it does go by so fast, and every moment is worth it.