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- Use painter’s tape or a basket to set up an actual visual “parking lot” on the kitchen counter, or on the homework work space. Just like a parking spot, it should be empty until your child parks something there. For example, if a child has difficulty separating from a toy or item, have them bring it to the parking lot. If it is the only item in the space, they can see that is has a place of importance and will be waiting for them when their job is done.
- Alternatively, discuss the “parking lot” as a virtual place where we can “park” ideas for a more appropriate time when our work is done. A child can relax and focus, as can we, if they know they will have an opportunity to spend dedicated time, at a later time, talking about their idea or interest.
- Make sure you devote time to revisit the virtual “parking lot.” As a therapist, in my experience, once a child becomes accustomed to the idea of a parking lot, he or she is not averse to using it, even if I need to interrupt a train of thought to get them to park it. Over time, the child may notice themselves at the first cue, “Oh, this can go in my parking lot.” With development, they may begin to stop themselves to park something independently.
- Revisit the parking lot within the same activity span, if possible. As a parent, I find that I need to use the parking lot often while out in the community when my attention is divided. I cue my child to use the parking lot in line at the grocery store, and then give him his specified time after we return to the car, after the groceries are loaded and before I turn the key. If I wait until we’re home, the parking lot has lost its power.
- Reestablish your child’s attention once the item or idea is parked. You may have already delivered instructions, maybe even several times, but your child wasn’t disengaged from his/her own activity yet, so they weren’t attending to you. Once you’ve engaged the parking lot, deliver your instructions again, and establish the expectations before the child may return to their item or idea. It can be a specific time amount, “Do this for five minutes, and then come back to your parking lot.” Or a sequence, “Get dressed for school, and then we can come back to your parking lot.”
Please comment. I look forward to hearing about how you are using a “parking lot” and if you begin to notice that disengagement, more so than transition, is where the real struggle lies.