We all forget things. Adults rely on to-do lists, calendars, Alexa and Post-Its to keep ourselves on top of life. Kids forget stuff too, but they often don’t have these adult strategies at their disposal. A visual schedule is a great way for kids to have their own kid-style “to do list” that gets their attention and speaks their language. It’s a great reminder station for them to remember what to do whether it’s how to get ready for the bus, what to do when they get home from school, their chore list, or their bedtime routine.
If you set up a reminder station and your child still forgets, simply redirect them back to the station instead of telling them what’s next. This will teach them to independently use the reminder station and not come to mom or dad for answers that are already available.
There are all sorts of reason kids are always on top of their hygiene. Usually, this is just a sign of their age. They forget and they often don’t understand the importance. No matter what your battle is, a visual schedule can help make this challenge a little bit easier. If you child simply forgets to do things like jump in the shower or put on deodorant, a visual reminder is a great way to show them how often hygiene is built into the daily schedule. It’s a great neutral third party because you don’t have to feel like a nag and your child’s self care is under his control. This can help a lot with confidence and also reduce embarrassment. The same goes for a child just not understanding the importance of hygiene. Many kids don’t understand why showers or baths are important or why they have to wash their hands or brush their teeth. A visual schedule can help them see that regardless of how important they think it is, hygiene is a normal part of everyday life that he’s expected to participate in.
If your child is not just forgetting or being stubborn about hygiene, but is instead having meltdowns, screaming or fighting, this could be the sign of a sensory issue. Make sure to inquire more about how your child feels during the activity to see if there is more here to uncover.
“I think in pictures. Words are like a second language to me. When I was a child and a teenager, I thought everybody thought in pictures. I had no idea that my thought processes were different. In fact, I did not realize the full extent of the differences until very recently.” This comes from a paper Temple Grandin wrote in 1996 when she was 50 years old. Now imagine being that child whose primary language is pictures but it will be years before you can explain that to anyone. Imaging how frustrating that must be to a child living in a mostly verbal world. It is no wonder visual schedules have been said to “unlock” not just communication but also even the personality of with a child who has Autism. Visual schedules add a extra layer of communication that engages the mind of an individual with Autism in unique and powerful ways. Because Autism exists on a spectrum of mild to severe, visual schedules will not be the same for all. But since people on the spectrum are more commonly visual thinkers than not, it is a tool worth exploring for anyone with the diagnosis.
Some kids with Autism do not think in “generic” images. In other words, a drawing of a toothbrush may not equate in their mind to THEIR toothbrush. These children need concrete images instead of the artwork we provide. For this reason, we also offer digital photo magnets so you can take pictures of the real person, place or thing that your child needs.
Structure can be such a stiff word. You just hear it and you imagine a strict, inflexible, “no coloring outside the lines” parenting style. But in reality, structure is everywhere, just in varying degrees. Too much of it and we feel a lack of freedom and self-determination; too little and we’ve lost our focus on goals, healthy habits and norms. Sometimes structure is put upon us like our jobs or school. Other times we create our own structure, like our gym routines or making dinner for our family each night between 6 and 7. Structure has purpose and at the right amount, keeps all of us operating in a world that makes sense. Kids don’t generally have the ability to create their own structure. They usually operate within a structure their teachers or parents provide. Kids are very used to seeing visual schedules up at school and if you think about it, we adults accomplish the same thing with our calendars and to-do lists. Providing a visual schedule at home for your kids will not only feel familiar to them, but they will appreciate the clear guidance. I can’t tell you how many times parents have told me they were hesitant to try something like a visual schedule. They are worried their child won’t follow it and are shocked when not only did they follow it, but they asked for Mom to put it up again tomorrow. This is because, just like us, kids like their world to make sense and be predicable. They also like to succeed for their parents. With a visual schedule, they clearly understand the day and its expectations. This sets them up better for success and a day with less frustration or confusion.
Some children develop anxiety because of a sudden change in their life like a death, injury or parents’ divorce. Others are just more anxious naturally. If your child fits this description, a visual schedule can help reduce that anxiety. Sudden change can cause a child to lose trust in being able to predict what’s next. The shock of suddenly losing someone or something teaches them for the first time that life can be negatively changed without warning and this introduces worry into their world. Kids who feel this way, either naturally or event driven, can derive trust and reassurance from a visual schedule. When they can predict and be reassured of what’s next, it helps them to relax about the “unknown” and build trust. It’s also a great way to show things don’t always go as planned and that that’s ok. It allows parents to isolate these moments and point out that everything’s ok even though it was not “the plan”.
COVID has elevated the anxiety level for children who typically don’t experience it. So be on the lookout for simples strategies like these to manage the times.
Routines are good for kid in general, but kids with ADHD benefit from them even more. Reliable morning, after school, and bedtime routines make a tremendous difference in setting expectations, building good habits, and improving ADD-related behaviors. ADD challenges executive functioning, working memory and mental organization. A visual schedule helps kids organize their day easier by providing a visual construct that helps them make a plan and then stick to it. If your child has ADD/ADHD it is quite possible you find yourself repeating instructions or reminders often. Kids with attention deficit are often easily distracted. A visual schedule will help create a home base that your child can revisit once he has realized he is off track. So rather than having to tell your child what to do next (again) you simply redirect him to his schedule and he learns how to find that information himself.
For kids with attention deficit, we suggest setting up a visual schedule that requires interaction so you can monitor your child’s success from afar. For example, create a to do and done column and have your child move the icon to the done column or use our SchKIDules check marks next to completed activities. That way parents can visual track their child’s progress and redirect when necessary.
Go to any preschool or early elementary classroom and what will you see? Pictures. Kids take in information visually before they develop good verbal or auditory skills. The need for visuals usually lessens as kids grow, but there is no one time at which visuals as a communication support “expire” for everyone. Some of us, even into adolescence or adulthood still claim to be “visual learners”. Do you learn better or understand information quicker when you’ve been shown a chart or a diagram? Do you remember what landmarks were at an intersection better than the street names listed on the directions you read? You might be one of them. At a young age, visuals are a primary modality for taking in information. As a child’s listening skills develop, visuals still play a significant supporting role in receiving, processing, and recalling information. This is why when you supplement the spoken word with visuals, some children will completely change their behavior and you will realize that they were not being defiant, forgetful or not listening. You were just not communicating on a level that allowed their brain to operate at its full potential.
When kids are enjoying something and we say “time to go” or “turn it off”, they can respond a variety of way. Some kids will roll with it, while others have a complete meltdown. If you’ve got the meltdowns, you just might have a child who has a tough time transitioning. We’ve all heard the advice to give them the 5 minute warning. This is solid advice because what you are doing is you’re verbally helping them to prepare for the end of something and perhaps also the start of something else. Some kids, however, need more than a verbal warning. Some kids do better when they can physically see that after the playground icon, there are more plans like dinner, bath time and a tv show (for example). By adding the visual layer of communication, you have just strengthened your child’s understanding and in turn strengthened their coping skills. So rather than coping with the bad news when it happens, he has expected all along that this fun thing will end and will handle that event better when it arrives.
If your child has trouble transitioning out of a fun activity try to make the follow up activity neutral and not one they avoid. For instance, don’t follow play date with nap. Instead put a snack in between to help them move them down one step at a time.
Communication and Listening
Communication isn’t easy. We forget how complex communication is and how something like listening is actually a skill we develop and work on all our lives. For kids, processing information can be hard, especially when it comes at them fast. All too often adults attribute their kids’ failed recall to “not listening” or not “paying attention” to something they said. And while distraction and forgetfulness are undoubtedly factors at times, underdeveloped listening skills are also a common reason kids just don’t always process what we are communicating. When we speak to kids, the words are available just for that moment. But when we show them, the image is available for as long as the child needs. Verbal guidance is spoken and then gone. An image is something your child can look at as long as he needs, can study it in relation to the events before and after it, and can refer back to it as many times as necessary to reinforce the information. An added bonus to displaying a routine or set of directions visually is some children will also be too embarrassed to admit they forgot and have to ask again what they were supposed to do. This can hurt confidence and only encourage them to try to hide what they don’t know.
Try not to accuse your child of willfully “not listening”. Often times something else is the culprit. Not only can this frustrate a young child who is doing their best and can be hurtful to a child who wants to please his/her parents but feels accused of doing something “wrong”.
Power Struggles and Tantrums
If your child craves control, you have probably had your fair share of power struggles. The battle of wills can be an exhausting one and some very willful children can fight tooth and nail to win. The secret is that the child often only needs “perceived control” to alleviate this issue. For instance, if you give your child a cup of milk, you’ve decided its milk but you might ask them if they want the green cup or the pink one. This is a strategy to get your child to drink the milk (your choice) but to allow them to feel they controlled something in the process (cup color). Visual schedules can help with the concept of perceived control in the same manner. For instance, you may want your child to follow a morning routine but he is fighting you. In this case you would hand you child the magnets he needs to get done (let say brush teeth, eat breakfast and get dressed) and let him put it on the board in the order he chooses. This will give him a sense that he has made choices in his own future which will satisfy his mini control center. Do this anywhere you can for a child with this personality type. If you want your child to practice sports but do not care when, let him choose where in the day to put it on the board. Not only does it reduce power struggles, but it also shows you trust him to make decisions for himself and it allows him to learn a little about organizing his own routine
Quick Tip → Another way to satisfy your child’s control center is to pick a few acceptable activities and ask your child to choose which one he/she wants to do. This way you have already pre-selected things you are ok with, but your child gets to make the final decision.
“Type A” Toddler
Do you have a planner on your hands? Is your child in need of knowing what’s next, what are we doing today, when is daddy coming home, etc? This level of curiosity and “need to know” is great, but sometimes exhausting. Even if you know the answers to these questions and share them, there is a good chance your child will ask again because they have either forgotten or they are wondering if enough time has passed that it’s “that time”. A visual schedule can help a lot with this mini CEO personality. First kids like this love being “in the know” and will appreciate you showing them what’s up. Secondly, when they ask about time, it’s often a trap since they can’t always tell time and they definitely don’t know when “later” is. So visual schedules focus more on the order of things. This way, if they are super curious when they can watch TV, they can look on the schedule and see that it is after grocery shopping.
Start by just laying out one part of the day to see if that satisfies your child’s curiosity. Or laying out just the part they seem to be thinking the most about. Visual schedules are not about having every minute of the day mapped out, but rather supplementing communication for the parts of the day that triggers your child’s needs.
Visual schedules have really surged to the forefront as a resource for helping families manage life during this pandemic. SchKIDules have proven particularly successful for helping with two COVID-19 challenges. The first one is structure. In a normal world, the patterns of work, school and extracurricular activities give our lives structure and rhythm. With all of that on hold for now, one day can just bleed into the next and that rhythm disappears. Establishing a visual schedule that communicates routines, schedules or expectations, helps to preserve that healthy rhythm and provides a structure in which a child can operate. The second challenge is anxiety. We are not sure about a lot these days and can cause an unhealthy level of anxiety for some kids. This can come from either not knowing what’s next, not having any control over what is next or often times a combination of the two. Psychologically, visual schedules provide predictability, trust and control. Predictability is established through sharing what’s going to happen that day. Trust is established though that day going as the schedules says it will. When these two things happen, a sense of control (vs chaos) is restored. All of these things, help reduce anxiety.
With virtual life, everyone is home…a lot. It can be hard to establish things like “quiet hours” or “alone time”. Visual schedules aren’t always for kids schedules. You can use a visual schedule to communicate YOUR schedule to your children as well. Your kids will better understand your need for uninterrupted work time or “mommy’s tv time” ALONE for 30 minutes ☺