Getting my Child to Try New Things

Getting our kids to try something new can be extremely challenging, especially for those on the spectrum. Because they will need to transition into new seasons very often throughout their life and because they need to learn to adapt to changing environments that they may not always have control over (I.e. changing schools, changing jobs, etc.), it is necessary for our children to become more comfortable with trying new things. Here are some ways you can help your child do so:

Change up the routine 

Individuals on the spectrum are more likely to rely on a routine and often emit challenging behaviors when their routines are altered in the slightest. For this reason, it is important not to keep an extremely rigid routine. You may like to adopt what I like to think of as a flexible routine. This means the things that need to get done on a daily basis, such as getting ready for school, meal times, bathtime, bedtime, and so on, get done, but maybe not always in the same order or in the same way. For example, if you take your child to the park everyday at a certain time, try taking a different route or going to a different park entirely! Switch up the toys they play with during playtime. If they have homework, have them do it in different places and with different people! This helps them adapt to the inevitably changing circumstances they will encounter on a daily basis and throughout their life. As a result of being accustomed to changing environments, rather than stuck on a rigid routine, they may generally become more willing to try new things.

Use what they know and Love

Use the items your child already loves as a reinforcer for trying something new. When working with an 18-month-old with feeding challenges, one of our solutions to get him to try certain vegetables was giving him a bite of yogurt after eating a bite of vegetables (I know, yogurt and vegetables? Yuck! But this little-one loved it!). We slowly increased the amount of bites of vegetables required to receive a bite of yogurt until eventually, the yogurt became a dessert option after he finished the entire plate of vegetables.

It is important to note the differences between reinforcing your child for certain behaviors, and bribing your child. Positive reinforcement is when the reinforcer is given contingent on a desired behavior (eating a bite of vegetable, in this case)  Always be sure to give the reinforcer AFTER the behavior has happened. When we use positive reinforcement to encourage our children to try new things, those positive behaviors are reinforced and more likely to happen in the future.

Introduce new items or activities slowly

New things can be overwhelming, even for us adults! Try slowly introducing these items and activities in a systematic way. When working with a child that was absolutely terrified of getting a haircut (something that is rather common for children on the spectrum), we started by showing him videos of other children getting their haircut. This was very successful because this child loved watching YouTube anyway. Next, I brought a razor and placed it in his line of vision but about 10 feet away. Once that became tolerable for him, I moved the razor closer and closer until he was able to hold it (with no batteries and a cover over the blade, plus my active supervision). We then started pretending to give him a haircut. Acting as if it was a fun game, I would slowly and carefully run the razor around his head without touching his head and making the vibrating sound with my mouth. Eventually, he was able to go to the barber shop and get a haircut without any difficulties. We praised him and even rewarded him with a trip to the ice cream shop next door for behaving so well as he got his haircut. Guess who loves getting haircuts now?

Take your child’s lead when it comes to the pace at which you introduce new things. We don’t want an anxious and stressed child, we want a confident and happy one who is ready for something new.

Finally, be Prepared.

You know your child well, use that to your advantage when introducing new things. If you know your child is going to loathe trying a new food dish, offer a contingency ahead of time that you know they will work with. For example, before introducing the dish, tell your child to first take a bite, then they can watch a video off their favorite YouTube channel. If a protesting behavior still occurs, do not, under any circumstances, provide them with the video. If you’re prepared with a contingency plan ahead of time, you may avoid unwanted behaviors and frustration.

Remember to always consider whether or not the new thing that you want to introduce is significant enough for your child. We want our children to be able to express when they really just don’t want to do something and we want them to feel respected and heard. Eating healthy foods or brushing their teeth independently is definitely something they need to do, but playing a new sport they don’t like or watching a movie they’re not interested in are not significant behaviors that will have an important impact on their lives in the future. Ask yourself, is this something my child absolutely needs? Always make sure you are taking their feelings into consideration.

Overall, we hope that the tips mentioned will help broaden your child’s horizons and ultimately improve their lives in a major way!

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