Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A little way to help our kids feel really, really good

I tend to think of Max as a kid who needs help: from me and Dave, from teachers, from therapists, even from Sabrina. His hand and arm muscles are impaired by the cerebral palsy; sometimes they're stiff, sometimes they're weak, so much so that grasping a crayon takes serious effort. Max requires assistance with pretty much anything involving self-care, from getting dressed to using the bathroom, as well as stuff like going up and down stairs and getting in and out of cars. I've been so focused on helping Max that I've never given much thought to him as a helper, and how awesome that could be for inflating his confidence, until recently.

It started with an email from Max's teacher. At lunch that day, she told me, Max had helped a classmate clean up her desk, then held her hand to steady her as she went to throw out a napkin. "Children always seem to recognize when someone else could use some extra help," she wrote.

Then I found out from the school speech therapist that Max has been teaching another girl in his class how to use the Proloquo2Go speech app. Lately he is quite the helper, apparently (and a ladies' man).

This weekend, I interviewed a new occupational therapist. She asked how Max helps out around the house, and I didn't have much to say. We've been lax about giving him chores. He cleans up in the playroom after he's been in there and sometimes, he'll help make his bed. If I'm baking, he'll help mix; if I'm cooking spaghetti (like, all the time!) he helps break the strands in half. That's pretty much it. I don't expect him to do chores regularly the way I expect Sabrina to, and that's not doing Max any favors. Just the opposite, actually (special needs parent epiphany #25,379).

The OT pointed out that small things, like letting Max set the table, are good for his fine-motor skills. She also mentioned how empowering it can be, not to mention the idea of teaching him responsibility. Max may have disabilities, but there is no reason we shouldn't hold him up to certain standards. He needs that. He deserves that.

We are spending next week in a condo at the beach, a fine time to teach Max how to make fresh pasta noodles, haul out the trash and pay our bills online. OK, for real, it'll be a good chance to get him to set the table, toss stuff into laundry, and scoop chocolate ice-cream into a dish. Max loves hearing "Good job, Max!" and I'm sure he'll be pleased to help out. And to serve himself ten scoops of chocolate ice-cream.

I know pitching in will help Max feel great about his abilities. When Max can do something well, he does it repeatedly and often, one reason he loves to zoom around on this green tractor he's just about outgrown. He's mastered steering it. He's nailed pedaling it. And he just wants to keep doing it and doing it.

Like anyone, Max takes pride in stuff he's good at. I think more chores could be a great thing. For all of us. [Insert evil parental laughter here.]



  1. I'm never the first one on here Ellen:) I think that it's ok to give Max some responsibilities. As a person with a disbility when we do stuff, it might be little to an able bodied person but it might not be little to us. For example, when I started drinking out of a straw I was showing everybody...for an able bodied person that might seem kind of nuts. But for Max or I..I know for myself I need lots of encouragement to do things, lots. Otherwise I won't do it. Good Luck!!! and Good Job Max!! (for helping)

  2. That's the kind of stuff I wish my mom would have known to try with me; I always wanted to help, even in our totally inaccessible environment.

  3. Yes, give him chores. I did things around the house when I was little. It gave me independence and a feeling that I was a regular part of the family. It also helped me to figure out how to navigate an inaccessible world in a way that worked for me later in life.

  4. That's what I've been trying to tell you all this time children rise to expectations and that is perhaps one thing my mom has been guilty of she has lower expectations of me because I have CP and as a result I still have to be bathed and taken to the toilet by her at the age of 20 it is humiliating not to mention she's starting to resent me because I imagine it takes a toll on her body to carry another human being to and from the bed and bathroom.

  5. I think this is a great idea. Gracie loves helping out and it is a great way for her to feel good about herself. I love watching the the pride in her smile when I tell her thank you for doing a good job.

  6. I have also been thinking about the chores thing. We often don't have our 6 year old do anything because Brendan really can't but he loves to try. He loves bringing forks to the table and as long as you dont mind his hands all over them, possibly his mouth and some wheelchair wheels it's all good. :) I think once he is a bit older the riding lawn mower will be calling his name!

    Nisha, dont ever think your mom resents you. I have to help my son do everything and resentment is far from any thought.

  7. I have to say that, as a current OT student interested in paediatric OT, I absolutely love reading your blog. Reading about raising a child with special needs from a parent's point of view is so informative and fascinating! And I'll admit I'm stocking up on ideas from this blog.

  8. Well, Dani, you need to share some of your ideas! I'm actually putting up a post you are going to love later today, so please come back and share some tricks!

    I'm so grateful to all of you adults with disabilities who come here and offer wisdom and encouragement. Thank you for the reassurance and guidance.

    OMG, I totally laughed at the idea of Max riding a lawn mower. He would take off down the street and we'd never see him again, I think!!! Either that or we could hire him out to do all the lawns in our neighborhood. Hmmm....

  9. For those who are interested, I have a whole set of posts on teaching children functional tasks. In the right column on my blog, scroll down to the category cloud and click on 'functional tasks'. Oh, heck, here is the url:

    Another one of Ellen's fans,

  10. I'm SO guilty of focusing on helping my daughter and not having her be a helper. We keep talking about having her help out more but then get caught up in the day-to-day. It doesn't help that she is our only child, so I forget (or don't always know) what "typical" kids would be doing at her age. Summer break would be the perfect time to get her helping out more!

  11. Loved this post. D does not seem to be too behind in many areas at this point, mostly just gross motor skills with some weaker fine motor skills, but then he's much younger still. We've been trying to slow down a lot more and let him "help" and stir and wipe, etc. It makes things go much slower (and we never have nearly enough time) and he creates a huge mess sometimes, but I do think it helps him. It's a good reminder that it's good to let the kids try and participate as much as possible, both for our sake as well as theirs.

  12. Chores are good, even easy ones like toys back in their places, laundry in the dirty clothes sack (and when it is full, bring it to the washing machine), dishes in the sink (or more likely, in the trash can, since we use paper plates a LOT), and of course, in winter, snow shovelling for places that grampa's plow can't reach! They don't shovel very well, but it gets them out in the air and spending time with all of us on a common goal!

    We've always had chores--you live here, you pitch in; that's just expected!

  13. This last year at school they've been giving Maxwell a different job every week. He's done laundry, vaccumed and dusted. It honestly never occured to me to have him help until I got reports he was doing things like that at school.

  14. It is so weird that this post came up at this point...only in that I was just printing pics of my little guy on a little green tractor also.

    Coincidence? NOT.

    I know Bennett isn't nearly ready to go where Max is, but man am I learning tons by watching how you guys relate to each other.

  15. I love you blog Ellen! You, Max and you're family are so beautiful and I've learned a lot from your posts. =)

  16. Hi Ellen! Relatively new special needs mommy blogger here! Thanks for your wonderful blog.

    I agree, I try to give all four of my girls chores, well, because I am tired lol :). But also, I want them to take pride in what they can do. And although they are all different, they can all contribute. Looking forward to learning more from you.

  17. Nice story! my kids start to help me in the kitchen. They are rotating washing the dishes,sometimes they arguing who's assigned for the day..
    good job!

  18. I would encourage you to give Max chores as well. In our house,there are Summer chores & school year chores. I expect a little more out of Sierra during the summer. In addition to setting /clearing the table,she feeds the dogs straightens up & puts her toys away Before bed,brings her dirty dishes out & puts them in the sink,etc. This summer we are working on being more independant. She has learned to rinse her dishes & put them in the dishwasher,make toast in the toaster(by her self)and pour milk from a small container-placed on a lower shelf in the fridge) She is so proud of herself (and I am proud of her as well) Sierra is 8 & has mild CP,so we are blessed that she can do things,but I think most children w/disabilities want to be part of the family & have some independence. They have to learn to help out,we can't take care of them forever,eventually most of them will want to be on their own & get jobs. We have to prepare them for real life now(while they think chores are fun)to be productive adults & maybe even one day parents.

  19. Whenever I have moments like this (realizing that steps to independence need not be cosmic and are obvious, right in front of my face), it's so very humbling. But at the same time, I think that our brains get overloaded with stuff and thoughts, we're trying so hard to cover all the big bases (and oh there are so many of them!!!!) that the little stuff falls through the cracks. Then I don't feel bad about myself and realize that each minute of each day, I'm doing my best. And I thank God above there are OTs, teachers, therapists, doctors who are there to point out stuff as needed.

    Thanks again for your blog. I love reading your perspective on this mommy gig!


Thanks for sharing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...