Self-care skills usually emerge around the age of three to four years old, but mastery is not until six. Our kids deal with the added difficulty of low muscle tone and developmental delays, which will cause mastery much later.
Using a fork and spoon: This will require extra practice. You may have to try many types before you find the correct set that your child will tolerate. Then add a knife to the mix, but make sure that it is plastic for safety reasons.
Dressing and Undressing: As most of us already know that it is much easier for children to undress, especially those with sensory issues. They prefer to run with the wind! Getting dressed is much harder and requires that you assist for a while anyway. You will have to practice buttons, zippers, buckles and ties. Velcro is wonderful for shoes. Tying a shoelace may come much later for our kids due to the added difficulty that they face.
Putting on shoes: This skill is especially difficult if your child has low muscle tone. Placing your child against a wall or corner helps to give the body support. Sitting on a small stool such as a stepping stool can also help. If socks are an issue because they tend to hurt toes, then turn them inside out. The seam will not press against the skin. There are socks that you can find at Wal-Mart that have a softer seam. You will not be able to keep shoes on their feet if this area is not addressed. I have had many shoes thrown at my head while driving in the car! Sensory issues are a serious problem.
Brushing Teeth: This is our greatest concern for us all. Make sure that you only use a pea size of toothpaste, because swallowing the fluoride is not healthy. Children that have sensory issues will most likely have to be desensitized. A small finger brush can help with this. Brush every area of the mouth and teeth to the count of ten. Front uppers – 1,2, 3,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 then the lower front, molars – upper and lower and so on. Even do the cheeks and the tongue. Great coordination is needed to brush teeth on your own and most of our kids are lacking in that area. Games are great while brushing teeth. Our favorite is following the leader. Watch mommy and copy what I do. Then the next time reverse it and allow them to be the leader. Always check their teeth at the end and reward with a sticker.
Toilet Training: The numbers vary on this, some children are three and some are four years old. Then there are some that are over four years of age. Encourage your child to practice using the potty at home and away from home. Remember that are kids looking at details and if the toilet is different in any manner you may have difficulty trying to get your young one to use it. You do not want to find yourself in the situation that friends of ours did. They were at Disney for the day and their child refused to use the potty and they were forced to drive home three hours. Just remember it will take time and a lot of patience. Make a BIG deal out of it when success is reached!
Little Helpers: Encourage your child to become a helper. There are many things that will need to learn how to do and this is a great way to start building chores. Allow them to help with baking, cooking, setting the table (Not the good china!) and doing chores. Help them make their bed and then allow them to do it on their own. Laundry is a fun activity (well maybe not for us, but they like it!) sorting the colors into light, dark, towels or however you do it. Try feeding the pets – warning this can be a little messy at first, but they do get the hang of it. Just be there to supervise and laugh together! Each year should bring on a new chore and make it age appropriate. First picking up toys which will lead to cleaning up the room, feeding the dog which will lead to bathing the dog, and collecting the trash which will lead to taking out the trash.
Make each new chore learned the true achievement that it really is! Keep it positive and encourage your child to learn self-care skills, which will lead your child toward the independence that they need to succeed in life.
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