Recently I visited a good friend of mine in Cape Town. While we were chatting in the kitchen, her 7 year old son was making a cup of tea. I wasn’t paying particular attention to what he was doing but I did notice that it was taking him some time to make his cup of tea.
While watching him finish the task, I saw he had an expression of pride and a little bit of relief on his face. What he said after he finished making his tea, often plays in the back of my mind, as it is so simple and straightforward but really puts things into perspective. He said, “Wow Mom, is it as hard for you to make dinner as it is for me to make tea?”.
What he said reminds me of how often I take seemingly simple activities for granted. Yet a seemingly simple task, such as making a cup of tea, is actually a complex task that relies on a number of underlying skills (both cognitive and physical skills). When thinking of it this way, it is obvious that it would take time, energy and perseverance to learn and master new skills.
As an occupational therapist, this story reminds me of the proverb, “Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime.”
In our busy daily lives, it is often easier/ more efficient to do things for our children due to external pressures that are often out of our control.
I find that even during therapy, I constantly need to remind myself to take a step back and encourage active participation, even if it is only during one step of a task.
From an occupational therapy perspective, I feel like my view on the proverb is, “Do things for children and this will help them momentarily. Teach children how to do things and you will be astounded by what they can achieve.”
Rather than doing the whole task for children, I have found some of the following tools useful:
- Start with what they are able to do and expand on that aspect.
- if they can put on their jacket but are unable to do their buttons/ zips up, let them put on their jacket and help with putting together one button or zipping up the zip once you’ve joined the parts together.
- Prompt/ cue them to recognize errors that they may have made, rather than correcting the error for them.
- if they put their socks on inside out, point to the extra thread sticking out of the side of the sock and say, “mmm, I don’t see this on my socks?”.
If you would like to get in touch and brainstorm ideas around how to foster independence in specific daily activities for your child, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– By Nicole Kayton