self-help skillsWhen your child is evaluated prior to entry into the early intervention program, a team of professionals looks at his/her skill levels in the following domains; cognitive, communication, physical, social-emotional, and adaptive. The last domain, adaptive skills, refers to your child’s abilities at self-help.

This includes the ability to sleep through the night, to self-feed, to clean up his toys, imitate housework, and help with dressing and undressing. As a child grows and develops, we expect him to reach certain milestones in this area.

Achieving independence in self-help is not only a developmental expectation. It is also the building block of self-esteem and confidence. The following “Dos and Don’ts of Self-Help Skills” will provide some guidelines for maximizing your child’s independence.

DO establish regular mealtimes and snack times. Toddlers and small children need to eat a meal or snack about every three hours. They thrive when eating times are an established part of the routine.

DO have your child eat while seated at a table or high chair. This establishes the meal as an activity separate from the rest of the day. It also helps minimize distractions so that your child can work on his skills.

DO allow your child to self-feed, at least for part of the meal, even if it is messy. A little mess allows for a lot of growth and development.

DON’T follow your child around, stuffing food into his mouth during play time. This prevents the establishment of mealtime as a routine and steals the opportunity to self-feed.

DO get rid of your child’s bottle once she is able to drink from a sippy-cup unassisted. DON’T put a toddler to bed with a bottle. Bringing a bottle to bed is a bad idea because it causes tooth decay, and the constant sucking motion can contribute to ear infections as well, if your child has a cold.

DO introduce your child to an open cup at an early age. From between nine months to one year, your child may be ready to be introduced to the open cup. While he is seated in the high chair, hold the to his mouth and gently tip the cup between his lips, allowing just a few drops of water to spill into his mouth.  Do this 2-3 times a day, until he gets the hang of drinking from the cup. Eventually, he will be able to hold the cup himself.

DON’T allow your toddler to suck a pacifier throughout the day. The pacifier may restrain the appetite, interfering with feeding and nutrition. It also inhibits the development of oral motor skills that are essential to chewing various textures, as well as language and communication. If your child won’t sleep without it, reserve the pacifier exclusively for nap time.

DO make dressing a playful activity. Encourage your child to participate with peek-a-boo games. Talk and laugh with your child as you dress him. The more positively he perceives this activity, the more cooperative he will be.