Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Sometimes we parents can get bogged down in the notion that the teaching of our children must be done by professionals. Parents of children with special needs are particularly vulnerable to this idea since children with special needs often have to learn and develop quite differently than children with typical needs. This series centers around the idea that learning can and does occur most effectively through everyday life experiences at home and out in the community--for children with both typical and special needs.
What are code words? Code words are those "magic" little phrases that are the substitute for a long drawn out explanation. For example, I have a little boy who loves to stand up on a basketball, stand in a rolling office chair, jump up and down in the bathtub, flip on the bed....you know...if it's unsafe he is all about it. A phrase that is often heard at our house is "Jack! Stay safe." "Jack! Stay safe" means "Jack, do not stand up in that office chair. That chair can topple over and you will crack your head open on the filing cabinets. Get down now!" AND it means "Jack, do not use Irish as a step stool to lean over the upstairs railing. You could topple over the side!" It also means "Jack, do not even think about going out into the street without me." AND "Jack, do not touch the stove." The phrase reminds Jack to stop and think about what he is doing. It focuses his attention (for a moment anyway) and makes him remember what we've told him.
How do you develop "code words"? Choose a very simple phrase that succintly sums up what you want to say. Our "Jack. Stay safe." arose from constantly telling him that we wanted to keep him safe. Eventually we narrowed it down to "Jack. Stay safe."
Next, you form the associations with the words. Every time you encounter a new situation where the phrase applies, you say the phrase, ("Jack. Stay safe."), confirm that you have the child's attention, and then give a simple yet longer explanation. For instance, Jack's latest trick is jumping on the bed. When he first tried to show me this nifty trick, I said "Jack! Stay safe.", helped him to the floor, and said "Jump on the floor." He climbed up on the bed again later and I repeated, "Jack! Stay safe. Jump on the floor." Soon enough, the association was created and if I saw him stand on the bed I would say only "Jack stay safe" and he would sit down on or crawl off the bed.
The great thing about code words is they are portable from person to person. We told the school our "Jack. Stay safe." phrase and they are using it there too.
His teacher taught us a phrase she uses to get a child to give her his full attention. "Look at my face."
We also use "Pay attention" to let Jack know that we need him to really focus on what we are saying.
Jack has evidently learned these code words really well. Last weekend, he said, "Pay attention" and gently turned my face toward his. It worked. I took notice and began paying attention.
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