When does preparing for adulthood (PfA) start?
Ideally, as early as possible. Although as a parent it might seem strange to be thinking about your child’s adult life when they’re still in nursery or primary school, it’s worth keeping it in mind. All the support that your child or young person gets should aim to challenge them to achieve the best they can and be as independent as possible. And all that support over the years builds into small stepping-stones on the journey to adulthood.
Teaching children to be independent can be a bit tricky at times however. Fortunately, these strategies can help them gain freedom and earn more responsibility one small step at a time.
Helping your child to develop a strong sense of self and identity
Having a strong sense of identity is important because it:
- Creates self-awareness
- Enables healthy relationships
- Keeps you grounded
- Improves decision-making
- Fosters community participation
Childhood is when we first start to develop a self-concept and form an identity. As children, we are highly dependent on our families for our physical and emotional needs. Our early interactions with family members play a critical role in the formation of our identities. During this stage, we learn about our families and communities, and what values are important to them.
The teenage years are a critical period of identity formation. As teenagers, we start to intentionally develop a sense of self based on how the values we’re learning show up in our relationships with ourselves, our friends, family members, and in different scenarios that challenge us. This is the period where we start to become independent and form life goals. It can also be a period of storm and stress, as we experience mood disruptions, challenge authority figures, and take risks as we try to work out who we are.
Having reasonable expectations to encourage success
Children usually try to rise to meet expectations from adults, as long as the expectations are clear and reasonable. If you expect too much, they’re likely to give up. But if your expectations are too low, you won’t challenge them to tackle things they’re capable of learning.
So, work on creating reasonable expectations while realizing that the process can require a little trial and error.
If you aren’t certain what constitutes a reasonable expectation, establish an expectation that is just slightly higher than what you’re seeing now. And watch your child try to rise to meet your expectation.
Make your expectations clear by saying things like, “I expect you to be able to get yourself dressed in under five minutes,” or “I expect you to put your dishes in the sink when you’re done eating.”
Encouraging your child’s independence one task at a time
It’s easier to do most tasks yourself rather than teach your child how to do them. And it’s never easy to watch your child struggle to do something that you could easily step in and do yourself.
But think about the time you spend teaching your child how to complete a task independently as an investment. When you put time into showing your child how to clean the kitchen or how to vacuum the living room now, you’ll spend less time doing those tasks yourself down the road.
Most children do best when they have routines in place. A good routine will help them know what they need to do in a specific order.
A morning routine, for example, might involve:
- Getting dressed
- Combing their hair
- Washing their face
- Eating breakfast
- Brushing their teeth
- Packing their backpack
An after school routine might involve:
- Eating a snack
- Enjoying 30 minutes of screen time
- Doing homework
- Doing chores
- Eating dinner
- Playing a game
- Taking a bath
- Putting on pyjamas
- Brushing their teeth
- Reading a book
- Going to sleep
Establish clear routines that will help your child know what to do next. Creating more order and structure eliminates the stress and chaos you might experience when everyone is rushing to get things done.
Saying, “Clean your room,” or “Get ready for school,” is a bit vague. Younger children, children with short attention spans, or children who are learning a new skill need specific action steps that explain exactly what they need to do.
Break down those bigger commands into small steps like, “Put your dirty clothes in the hamper. Then, straighten your bookshelves.
Obviously, you don’t want to stand around and micromanage the task step-by-step however. This could backfire and foster more dependency on you.
Create a chart that explains each step, and you can increase your child’s independence.
Think of a kid-friendly chart being like a to-do list or a checklist. For children who can’t yet read, provide pictures that show them what to do step-by-step.
If you’re artistic, you might draw the pictures. If not, look for images you can cut out and attach to a chart. You might find pictures of how to get dressed independently in a book or online.
Hang the chart near the place where they’ll perform the task. A chart about cleaning their bedroom could be on the bedroom door. A chart that reminds them what to pack in their backpacks might be hung up next to the coat hooks or by the front door.
You certainly don’t want to create charts for every little task. But pick one or two things you want your child to start doing independently and create a checklist to guide them.
Then, when they’re struggling, you can tell them to check their chart, rather than remind them of each step. Eventually, they’ll remember to check the chart on their own.
How to create a behaviour chart for your child
Shape Their behaviour
Whether you want your 6-year-old to learn how to calm down when they’re upset, or you want your teenager to know how to prepare dinner for the family, shape their behaviour one step at a time.
Show them what to do. Then, guide them as they try to do it on their own.
Provide positive feedback when they’re on track and redirect them when they’re headed down the wrong path.
Once they master the first step, teach them the next step in the process.
The key is to reinforce their behaviour one small step at a time as they learn a new skill.
It’s easy to give children attention when they’re breaking the rules or when they’re not staying on task. But attention (even negative attention) can reinforce misbehaviour.
So the key to reinforcing good behaviour is to catch them being good. Provide praise when your child is being independent.
Say, “Great job putting your dish away without a reminder,” or “I’m so impressed you sat down and did your homework tonight all on your own.”
Reward your children for being independent. Create a sticker chart with a preschooler who is working on sleeping in their own bed. Earning a sticker every morning might be incentive enough to help motivate them to be like a big kid.
For an older child, offer a weekly reward. You might say, “If you get your room clean and your homework done before dinner every night, you can invite a friend to come over on Saturday.”
No matter what type of incentive or reward plan you choose, it should mimic the real world. Similarly to the way your boss gives you a pay check after you complete the work, give your child a reward for meeting their goals.
However, it is also important to instil a sense of self-pride of their achievements in your child when they manage to do something for themselves. This will help them to build a self-resilience that will last into adulthood when they need to become self-motivated to be independent.
What is Preparing for Adulthood? (PfA) | Care and Support in Cornwall
Encouraging your child to develop delayed gratification
The ability to delay gratification, or to wait to get what you want, is an important part of self-control. People are often able to control their behaviour by delaying the gratification of their urges.
For instance, someone who wants to buy an expensive console game might avoid spending all their money on going out with their friends. They want to have fun, but they know that by waiting and saving their money, they can afford the console game.
Delaying gratification involves putting off short-term desires in favour of long-term rewards. Researchers have found that the ability to delay gratification is important not only for attaining goals but also for well-being and overall success in life.
Encouraging mental well-being in your child/teenager
As parents and carers, there are ways we can support our children to give them the best chance to stay mentally healthy.
Encouraging and guiding a child to think about their own mental health and wellbeing are vital skills you can teach them from a young age.
Find out how you can help a child to have good mental health, including knowing how to talk to a child about their mental health, and when to spot signs they might be struggling.
Ways to support a child or young person:
- Be there to listen
- Stay involved in their life
- Take what they say seriously
- Support them through difficulties
- Encourage their interests
- Build positive routines
Many young people with special educational needs will want to leave home and live independently or with support. Preparing for adulthood includes thinking about when a young person will leave the family home, where they will live and what support or skills, they might they need to do this. Young people will also need to think about managing money, keeping themselves safe, making friends and being part of their local community. They will need to have the confidence to go to the GP, dentist and optician and organise their own appointments. They will need to think about transport and whether they want to learn to drive. These are all things you can chat about with them when it comes up.
Being part of society
You can help your young person think about living in their wider community and how they will have a social life. Help them to think about their interests and hobbies, whether they want to join clubs or organisations and where they will meet and find friends. Some young people choose a volunteer role to begin with, to help them feel more independent and get a feel for the world of work.