We all look forward to vacations, but many of us have learned the hard way that they don’t always go as planned. Flights get delayed, favorite stuffed animals are forgotten at home, and unpredictable weather can throw a wrench into a week at the beach. A last minute change of plans can be stressful for any of us, but for inflexible children it can be a cause for tears, tantrums, or full on meltdowns.
If you happen to have that rare child who always rolls with the punches, is super flexible and just goes along for the ride then this article may not be for you. However, if you are the rest of us (or if you have an inflexible child) , I hope it will help to turn what could be a bad situation into something fun and memorable.
While a change of plans may be disappointing to a child, you may be able to make things better by involving your child in the steps to solve the problem. This way your child will feel more involved and take ownership in the solution. This strategy is also a great way to encourage critical thinking and problem solving.
Shopping with your child is a great opportunity to practice this strategy. On the way there you can discuss the tasks that you hope to accomplish. Limit the tasks to about 3-5 depending on the age of your child. As you complete each task discuss it and talk about what else you have to do. Many children enjoy naming the tasks and talking about them. This kind of back and forth discussion is a great way to learn about the world around them and to expand their vocabulary. It also helps them learn to handle problems when things don’t go as planned.
While some children work best with language tasks your child might do better with a written list, pictures or even objects. We can’t promise this strategy will improve a rained out trip to the beach, but it may help your child transition to a new plan more smoothly.
If you have a child on the autistic spectrum, then you probably know that there is a whole program designed around this philosophy called TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicapped Children). The main goal of TEACCH is to create independence by setting up schedules which are very similar to “to-do lists”. It also incorporates a visual of tasks to be accomplished each time a child sits down to work. In other words it lays out a plan for a child to accomplish a goal.
The TEACCH strategies are not just for children who have autism. Many children who struggle with a less structured environment thrive with these strategies because they can finally make sense of their world. They now have a purpose.