Finding Your Child’s Voice: How to Raise a Safe, Independent Adult

Every four years, November transforms into a month dedicated to democracy. On Election Day, citizens across the United States of America head to the polls. We cut time out of our busy schedules to shuffle slowly forward in a long, uniform line, waiting for our chance to make our voice heard. It’s not about the billions of dollars spent on ads and smear campaigns, but rather your right as an American to have your opinion count.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Raising Self-Sufficient Children
Political affiliation aside, you must admit those were some rousing words President Obama chose as his knockout punch to close his victory speech on Election Night. While I wish I had a speech writer to make me sound that awesome, I have ranted about a similar idea in my previous articles.

You are getting old. Okay, okay! Not old. Well, some of you. But we are all getting older, and you are not going to be around forever; plus, it’s natural to let go of our children and let them explore life on their own! Now, I understand that as parents you want to take care of your children, protect them and make their lives as easy as possible, but as parents or caregivers of children with special needs, it is crucial to start preparing them to be self-sufficient so they can thrive in adulthood.

Creating Independence
At GET SAFE, our mission is to encourage independence and give a voice to those who may have lost or not found their’s yet. Several times a year we host self-advocacy conferences for persons with developmental disabilities for just this reason; we hold leadership workshops, educate attendees about their rights and embolden them to recognize their gifts and abilities. You can do the same for your child.

There are two parts to creating independence: knowing and vocalizing your rights, and living independently.

1. KNOWING AND VOCALIZING YOUR RIGHTS

Answer this question: The person who best knows what my child needs is:

A) Me

B) My child

If you answered (A), congratulations! You are a typical parent. However, the correct answer is (B) YOUR CHILD (with some help from you)! Each child has different Isms—some may be lower functioning on the spectrum and others may even be nonverbal—regardless,  everyone has the right to speak out if they are uncomfortable or don’t like something. I believe there are many ways of helping our children learn this, at all different levels.

At one of our self-advocacy workshops, I had a young woman share that she wasn’t happy with the type of cereal her board and care home was feeding the residents; she wanted something more nutritious. I let her know that was her right, as she pays to live there, so together we came up with some appropriate steps to take so we could help her accomplish what she wanted: a more nutritious breakfast. She was more than capable of taking her concerns to her home’s administrators, the only thing holding her back was that she didn’t know that her voice counted.

Don’t worry parents, we’re not traveling around the world encouraging your kids to stop listening to you (they will totally do that on their own.) Here’s what I tell our students, and what you can tell your child:

It’s a good idea to work with our circles of support (parents, caregivers, teachers, job coaches, etc.) to help us through the decisions we have to make to live a safe and empowered life. There’s a difference between a caregiver telling us something we don’t want to hear (like, “clean your room!”), and a caregiver abusing us or not listening to the way we wish to advocate for ourselves.

2. LIVING INDEPENDENTLY

Most of your children live at home now, but one day they will grow up and want (or need) to move into their own place or a board and care home. To prepare him or her for this transition, start creating teachable moments daily that will build their independence. Here are some ways you can start developing independent living, today!

  • Make an event out of it: Let your child prepare dinner once a week. Start by helping them through the process, teaching them proper kitchen safety and monitoring their use of any sharp cutlery or hot surfaces. Once they get a hang of a few dishes, let them go. You get a night off cooking, and they won’t have to live off of microwavable TV dinners the rest of their lives, (I can tell you firsthand, not great for the waist line.)
  • Don’t let them get lazy: It may seem like a given, but give your child a list of tactical chores to complete each week so they take responsibility and ownership. This is especially important because you don’t want him or her to rely on someone doing simple tasks for them. For instance, as soon as I cross the threshold of my mother’s house, I transform from Safety Stu to Lazy Stu. I’ll sprawl out on the couch and ask her to hand me my drink that’s just out of reach, because I know she’ll oblige. You don’t want your kids to turn out like me, people. Sorry, mom!
  • Create a Safety Checklist: Every night, have your children go around the house and lock all the windows and doors. Create teachable moments that become fun; see how fast he or she can “lock down” the house, then explain why this is important (to keep out burglars and unannounced relatives.) Also show them important home “to-do’s,” such as turning the gas on/off, replacing batteries in the smoke detector, etc., and make sure they understand why they’re doing it.

Summary
Trust me—as a husband, father of two young children, executive director of GET SAFE, and wannabe surfer—I know how busy our lives get. And, we can save time by doing something ourselves for sure; it could take you hours to teach your child how to vacuum, instead of the 10 minutes it would take you to do it yourself. But, just as our President said, you have to be willing to try. What’s that old saying? Something like, give a man a vacuum and he will vacuum for a day, but teach a man to vacuum and he will vacuum for the rest of his life? Anyway, it is our duty as parents and caregivers to prepare our children for the future; it is your job to create teachable moments that guide them to become strong, independent adults who know their needs and exercise their rights, so one day they can take their place in line for their chance to make their voice heard.

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