Go Fly a Kite: Exploring your Family Culture
Often in the first years of parenting, childcare takes the centre stage. The things we liked to do before we had children can just fall away. Children (with and without autism) tend to like what’s familiar and don’t always behave the way we’d like when we take them out in new situations – so it’s easier to stay home and just stick with routine.
In the book “Dancing With Max,” Emily Colson found herself in this situation. But after the death of a close friend, she decided she was going to change her approach and live life with her son as though it were her last day alive. “Pictures popped into my mind, my own movies to choose from and savor. I imagined taking Max to the beach and running into the water, with our shoes still on. And then, we would attend the international trampoline-jumping contest…On my last day, autism is not going to hold the two of us hostage. It’s time to throw out my ideas of what I thought life would be, should be, and let joy fill up those brand-new vacancies (p. 102).”
I’m not sure about trampoline contests, but there is definitely something wonderful about showing our children how to seize the opportunities life has to offer.
This is good for us, and good for kids. We want our children to expand what they can do, experience the world around them, and find things to get interested in. How can we do that?
One of my favorite RDI assignments was to explore this question. Our therapist asked us to think about “Family Culture” – what are the things that my husband and I have enjoyed, and might share with our children – but aren’t doing because it seems too difficult?
The first step was to make a list of things we, as parents, like to do. The second step was to plan an adventure. We know our children well, in terms of what they are comfortable with, and we know what their best level of interaction can be. So how could we plan an activity from our list that our children might also enjoy and learn from?
Here’s how it looked for us:
Our Family Culture
Put together, my husband and I are interested in or have experience with:
- Cooking and baking
- Reading (and I love children’s literature)
- Kite flying
- Going to community events – music, museums, New Years festivals, watching buskers, etc
- History and museums
- Cross-stitch, knitting, and other crafts
- Guitar playing
- Computers and digital applications
- Pets – fish and budgies
There’s more, but you get the idea.
The whole point of an adventure of this sort is for you and your child to experience enjoyment, connection, and to build competence in some way.
I’m assuming that you already know a lot about your child with respect to sensory differences, learning styles, self-regulation strategies, appropriate goals, and interests. I also am assuming that you are using basic strategies for engagement that fit your child, like wait time, creating emotional shifts, inviting through comment instead of directive statements, modeling, and so on. You can learn more about those ideas in the Hanen books, RDIConnect or DIR/Floortime resources, or best of all, with a therapist trained in these approaches.
So, here’s how we did this:
We chose an activity.
The first time we did this was for an RDI assignment, and we chose to go fly a kite. It seemed relatively simple, and the season was right.
We thought about goals, possible problems, and strategies.
We thought about what we could do to engage our kids. Our daughter was able to imitate what we did, and sometimes contributed her own ideas, so we hoped she would get involved and learn a bit about keeping the kite up. Our son was younger and our goal for him was just to stay connected and spark his interest in what we were doing. We knew we would not get the same reactions or participation from both children, and that was okay.
We thought about regulation – we took the wagon in case someone didn’t want to continue walking, we brought snacks, and to build interest, we talked about what we were going to do before we went. We watched a video together about how to fly a kite. In the worst case scenario, we were not far from home and there weren’t a lot of people around anyway.
We thought about modeling, about talking through what we were doing and why, and about using emotional shifts (therapy-speak for sharing our own enjoyment or dismay, depending on the situation). We knew we should start any turn-taking with our daughter, and maybe our son would come join in too.
The thing we didn’t plan for – our daughter dropped the crossbar from the kite on the way there. I ran home and got another one (good thing I could think of a way to replace it!)
So we went out to the field. We did tend to give directions more than we meant to (which often is off-putting for our kids, but wasn’t this time). We were pleased that our daughter enjoyed holding the kite string, and our son was paying attention, too, and enjoying what we were doing.
What did our kids get out of this activity? They had fun, our daughter learned how to hold a kite, our son saw us fly one and might want to try himself the next time. It’s totally OK that he only watched – that’s part of the learning process too.
What did we as parents get out of it? We spent time together as a family and made a great memory.
The next time we go out with a kite, or for another activity, what could we change to make it better? Looking at our video, we did tell them what to do a lot. Working on commenting and explaining might be helpful. Maybe bringing two kites would be a good idea, to allow for more participation and skill learning.
We also knew the children will engage more next time, simply because they now have experience with this activity.
Over the last couple of years we have continued to introduce our children to things we find interesting. Our daughter likes to draw and I’m interested in sketchnoting, so we’ve explored that, particularly as a strategy to make church sermons meaningful. In the summer evenings we lie in the hammock and look at stars together. I’ve taken my son canoeing and he’s developed an interest in baking, which is a great way to spend time together. We routinely go to museums, and our daughter has picked up her father’s interest in taking pictures. We’re scaffolding that interest with the Capture Your 365 photography challenge. We found a child-sized guitar, but nothing has really happened with that yet. Maybe it will later.
One of our most exciting adventures was when we started going to the Forks to see the fireworks at New Years. We planned that one out carefully, with a Plan B (visit the toy store until the fireworks) and Plan C (use iPads or read books in a quiet hallway if the store is closed early) in case the crowds or noise were overwhelming. It’s now just something we do together.
This is probably the kind of thing you always imagined doing with your child. You can! It might look a bit different than you anticipated, but it will evolve over time.
You already know something about activities that you like. This naturally puts you in the role of guide, and you can focus on supporting your child’s participation rather than trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. (A few weeks ago we were trying to use a crystal kit with our daughter for science fair, and that did NOT go well, as the directions were a little unclear.)
Sharing your interests expands your child’s interests. DIR/Floortime talks about joining in with whatever a child is interested in, but where do you think those interests come from? Interests can only emerge from a child’s experience. It’s also a good idea, of course, to plan adventures around your child’s interests too.
Sharing your interests with your child in a carefully planned way makes guiding them more fun for you. You’re doing something you like. That means it’s easier to try again and to continue doing things with your child.
Want to try? Start with a list, pick something you’d like to start with, and then make a plan to support your child through that activity. Good luck, and have fun together!
For those of you who like help with your planning, you can download and use this Family Adventure Worksheet.