Ezequiel from Fitchburg, MA tells us what it’s like being a Behavior Technician for BCI.
As states take their first tentative steps toward reopening, we want to support families navigating new rules that may be encountered in the outside world: hand hygiene, wearing masks, and physical distancing. You may be considering sending your child back to a center-based program soon, or thinking about what things will look like at school in the fall; whatever the circumstance, these are health and safety issues that we should address with all of our children. Here are some topics to discuss with your clinician.
We know that the spread of Covid-19 is primarily through touch, so it is a good time to talk to your clinician about where your child is with hand hygiene, and what is the next step in teaching them to maintain hygienic hands.
Thorough hand washing is most likely something you have already begun to teach your child that will remain a priority. For those who are just learning this skill, it is more important for them to tolerate a longer, prompted, handwashing than to achieve independence at a less-thorough level. Children should also be able to use hand sanitizer effectively, cough and sneeze into their elbow, and be able to refrain from touching common surfaces and their own faces.
There are many different methods of teaching handwashing: prompting and reinforcing, chaining (teaching certain steps first and then adding on to the “chain”), video modeling, picture schedules, or peer (sibling) tutoring. These same approaches can be slightly modified for teaching effective use of hand sanitizer. Coughing and sneezing into an elbow may also be taught through modeling, video modeling, peer (sibling) tutoring, or repeated practice and role-play.
Another thing to think about is ways to help our kids build the habit of keeping their hands to themselves in public – we don’t want them touching items others have touched, or their own face. The easiest method is to teach them an alternative response, like keeping their hands in their pockets, clasping their hands together, or holding an object with both hands. First, you use instructions and reinforcement to teach the target behavior to occupy their hands. Then, begin to slowly increase the amount of time they can keep their hands occupied before they receive a reinforcer. Ultimately, when they are in the community, you want to be able to give them the instruction and feel confident they will not touch common surfaces or their face.
Masks and other face coverings will likely be in use for the foreseeable future, so it’s a good idea to begin teaching our kids to tolerate wearing face coverings and getting used to others wearing them. One way to tackle this is “desensitization,” a fancy term for starting small and building up tolerance slowly. If you were using desensitization, you might begin with first having your child touch the mask with her hand, then allowing the mask to be held up to her face, then allowing the ties to be secured for a second. Another way is “pairing,” which would entail having a lot of reinforcers available when a mask is present, and getting your child to associate the mask with positive experiences. Other topics to address with your clinician are whether it’s appropriate to teach your child to put a mask on him/herself, or learn how to take a mask off hygienically, without touching the front of the mask, and putting it directly into the laundry.
Another skill that will continue to be relevant is learning how to physically distance. For children who can learn to give others 6 feet of distance, your clinician can modify techniques from social skills research that have been used to teach children personal space. Many children will not be able to gauge 6 feet on their own, and the focus moves to ensuring they can follow instructions for their parents or caregivers to guide them in public. You can begin by looking at the instructions that your child already responds to that may help you to guide him to physically distance, for example, “stop,” “come here,” “wait with me,” and “stand right there.” It’s likely that your child has learned or worked on these or similar instructions in the past; now it becomes more important that they are able to follow them quickly and reliably. Talk to your clinician about appropriate ways to solidify these responses, such as increasing the amount of reinforcement earned for physical distancing instructions, practicing them frequently in a variety of settings, and practicing them in the presence of significant distractions.
As parents and service providers, our goal is always to support children in staying healthy and safe as we guide their development. Though these specific goals may not be the things we would have expected to focus on, our aim is to stay flexible and continue to adapt (and help our children adapt) to the changing practices in our community.
Being a working parent is demanding. Being a working parent with your kids home all day is demanding squared. Being a working parent with your kids home all day when your child does not have a lot of independent play skills is relentless!
For parents of children who require a lot of supervision, there are a number of activities that many children can do independently, and that may provide you a few minutes to yourselves. For kids who enjoy messy, sensory fun, here are some fun activities that you can contain in a very washable location: the bathtub.
Many of the activities you might normally do on an activity table or in the yard can be converted to the tub. When play time is over, you can turn on the water for easy clean up of your child and the play area.
Bathtub paint is available online, or make your own by mixing liquid hand soap, cornstarch, and food coloring. Let your kiddo paint the entire bathtub, with brushes or their fingers, whatever they like! Use food coloring if your child is apt to get some in his/her mouth; use liquid watercolor if you’re concerned about staining clothes.
If you don’t know about oobleck, it is a magical substance that feels solid to the touch, but becomes a liquid when you pick it up, Add food coloring or liquid watercolor and it’s the coolest, messiest thing around. I like to make a humongous bowl of it, putting one liquid watercolor on one side of the bowl and another color on the other side of the bowl; as they play with it, the colors swirl and change and mix and are truly mesmerizing. Again, your own circumstances dictate whether food coloring or liquid watercolors are best for your family.
There are many different recipes online – choose the one that fits your kid’s allergy situation. Here are my favorites:
Slime is always sensory fun, and there are a number of different types of recipes.
- Borax-free slime is made with fiber powder, so although eating it would not be good on the tummy, it is safe for kids who might give it a small taste.
- Gummy Bear slime is safer to eat, but it’s chock full of sugar, so careful of the sugar-crazies!
- Borax-free and sugar free slime recipe, try this one that uses Jello.
For children who get excited by foaming bubbles, let them create miniature volcanoes in the bathtub. Line up a bunch of paper cups in the tub and fill them half-way with vinegar. Drop in some color, either food coloring or liquid water color. Show your child how to put a spoonful of baking soda into one cup – and watch the eruption! Exciting, non-toxic fun.
Last, just a reminder that for kids who like water-play, actual baths are always an option for a family stuck in the house. Now, you don’t want to leave your children alone in a bathtub full of water, but if your kid is able to play in the water safely while you are supervising, you might be able to get in a phone call or two. If you want to mix things up, check out bathtub color tablets, different colored/scented bubble-baths, or (my kids’ favorite): water beads. Please note that water beads are not edible, and only appropriate for children who will not ingest them. Pre-soak the water beads first so they get plump and as big as a marble, and dump a bunch in the tub. For kids who like to taste all of their toys, dump a container of blueberries in the water instead! They are the same size as water beads and also float! Other novel floatable fun objects include bars of soap, apples, corks, sponges, and ice cubes.
Here’s hoping that at least one of these ideas will spark delight in your kiddo’s eyes and give you a few minutes to breathe.