Let’s work SMART

11/19/2010  |  M. BRAD SIMS, M.S., CCC-SLP
motivation techniques
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Under optimal conditions, getting an adolescent to do household chores can be . . . well, a chore. It may even be a responsibility many of us have come to avoid as much as our little darlings would like to avoid whatever job we assign to them. We know that having our children share in household tasks is a good idea, but does the game plan need to change if your child struggles with learning, psychological or attentional challenges? If you are questioning whether the benefit is worth the effort, read on. While the suggestions that follow may be applied by anyone teaching any adolescent to do household tasks, they are particularly important for helping adolescents struggling with more complex issues. Let’s work smart!

Show and Tell the Process

A direction to “sweep the garage” or “clean your room” is never enough. Teach each task step-by-step. Think out loud as you demonstrate so the process is clear. Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it while you are doing it; do not assume your child already has that knowledge. Consider printing step instructions; make a mnemonic (like SMART) even supplement with “before and after” photos for comparison if that is helpful. The best way to teach the task depends upon the specific learning needs of the individual. While one may learn best by seeing the task modeled, another may benefit much more from verbal rehearsal of the steps involved.

Motivate for Success

Motivation can be suppressed by a sense of impending failure: “I can’t do this.” “I don’t know how.” “It’s going to take me all day.” It is important to know your child’s abilities and make sure the task is appropriate. As you reinforce the value of the work to the family, guarantee your guidance when needed to ensure success and efficiency. Recognize initial effort and successive approximations on the road to mastery.

Allocate Time for Work

Consider being flexible with task time to adapt to schedule changes or important events, but the general rule of “work before free time” should prevail. Recognize that just because your child can tell time does not mean he has a notion of how long a given period of time is. Build time awareness by making a game out of estimating the length of time for each task completed to expectations.

For example, each of you write down a time estimate; compare at task’s end to see who is closest to the actual estimate. See who can come closest to telling when one minute, three minutes, or five minutes has elapsed.

Reward Your Worker

Keep the experience positive, not punitive. Award points toward a reward when tasks are completed willingly, promptly and correctly. Rewards should be tangible, e.g. extra computer time, allowance, etc. For adolescents who have problems with sustained attention, distractibility or impulse control consider chunking tasks and rewarding completion of each chunk to ensure successful completion. When consistently successful at that level, combine chunks into the complete task.

Teach New Tasks

As a task is mastered, introduce a new one. Switching tasks helps fight the tedium of always doing the same job; it adds variety and teaches new skill sets. As new skills are acquired, more complex tasks are possible requiring more responsibility and bringing a greater sense of accomplishment and independence.

Start Early

Very young children love to be helpers. The experience of doing chores helps to build skills of time management, organization, prioritization, and problem-solving. It provides a context for developing a work ethic, self-discipline, and a sense of community and shared responsibility — all components crucial to the development of independent living skills. Because we are talking about something that is not only a skill set, but a mind set, we must be clear to our children early on that we value their participation in the work of the home.

M. Brad Sims, M.S., CCCSLP, is the Coordinator of Speech-Language Pathology at BrehmSchool. He brings six years of experience as a teacher of students with special needs and another 21 years as a speech-language pathologist.
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