Activities of Daily Living

By Mary Forde

As we start another decade, I was reflecting on the changes we have experienced over the past 10 years, some good, some bad and most inevitable. I do think the one change that we may come to regret is the frantic pace we seem to have adopted in all parts of our lives. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and Scotty keeps sending us into warp speed.

Why does that matter, aside from the stress on the body and soul?  We seem to have forgotten that we need to teach our children the basic daily living skills (usually referred to as ADL skills). I really don’t think we are evolving into a species that is unable to tie shoes, button shirts or put on boot/hats/mittens, but if you ask any elementary teacher they will tell you that more students are able to do less independently for longer periods of time. Like many skills, learning to tie shoes and button shirts takes practice and practice takes time and there is no time to practice anything at warp speed. How do you grab some time to teach when there is no time to breathe?

Suggestion 1. If you can buy your child two pairs of shoes, buy one with laces and one “warp speed” pair that have Velcro or slip on. If the planets align and you find yourself with an extra 10 minutes to get ready in the morning or before going out, have you child practice tying their shoes. Bunny ears or loop technique, just sit behind them and guide them through the process. But if the dog ate the homework and your child has just spilled juice all over themselves and the dog, then by all means go to the ‘warp speed’ shoes. Take the time to practice when you can and have back ups when you can’t.

Suggestion 2. Buy pajamas that look like clothes and start referring to them as ‘evening wear’ not pajamas. If you have the time, have your child practice buttoning up the oxford shirt to wear to school or an activity. If not, they can go out in their sleepwear and if an adult asks “Are you still wearing your pajamas?” they can truthfully respond, “No, it’s my evening wear.” No harm, no foul.

We can now find clothes that do not have fasteners and thanks to accommodations for people who are elderly or who have disabilities, there are now many options for clothing that is easy to put on and looks fine on anyone. Not having these ADL skills doesn’t doom you to a life of track suits and bedroom slippers. But being able to tie bows and knots and button and zip are skills that have application beyond dressing and make us more independent. These skills are not worth tears, but they are worth effort.

The same applies for young and older adolescents. Making dinner for the family once or twice a month is a good way to learn how to cook for yourself. You can start with one dish in the meal – they make the salad for pizza night. Estimating portions, chopping (you don’t have to start with the Ginzu knife, there are some great chopping gadgets that don’t put the knife next to fingers), measuring, etc. Also, the person who makes the salad decides what goes in the salad – be prepared for lettuce and potato chips. Sometimes you might be surprised by the result. However, having a bag of premixed salad in the fridge is a good back up, just in case.

As in most situations, teaching activities of daily living skills to kids and living in our warp speed world are not mutually exclusive. You probably can’t practice all the skills every day but you can likely squeeze in one or two. Although getting your teenager to do all the laundry for the family on a regular basis, is not likely they can do the twelve towels they need each time they shower. You may not be able to get your seven-year-old to clear the table and load the dishwasher but they can put their plate in the sink (or throw the paper plate in the trash – not ecological but sometimes necessary).

Although we may eventually evolve to the one-piece stretchy Star Trek jump suit with no buttons, zippers or laces (hopefully not in my lifetime or current body) for the forseeable future, being able to dress yourself, feed yourself, and at least do the basics of home living are necessary evils. Being able to do these things for themselves make your children more independent, should make your life easier, and gives kids a sense of competency and autonomy. Do what you can when you can, and celebrate both successes and attempts. And try the lettuce and potato chips although tomatoes and pretzels are not bad either.

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