As your child's first teacher, you will be supporting him or her in a number of social - and maybe even academic- situations. You want to be a great resource, but not a helicopter parent. The term shadow means you are close by and there for your child if he needs you - but you are not hovering and you are certainly not speaking or acting for him. The key to shadowing is to observe your child's behavior and make some important notes. In order to be a successful shadow in any situation you must learn a few things about your child.
First, learn your child's processing time. When you or others are speaking with her, see how long it takes for her to process the information and generate a response. Some children answer right away while others may take up to five to seven seconds to respond. Figure out the window in which she best answers. Learning your child's processing time will allow her to answer for herself and will keep you from over or under-prompting.
The next thing you need to know is what your child is interested in. This may seem obvious as you know what shows he likes to watch and what toys he likes to play with. Also keep an eye for topics that he recently questioned. You may be able to start a conversation by simply saying "Hey Josh, remember you asked me about dinosaurs the other day?" That prompt may be enough to spark an interest in your child which you can then direct towards peers.
The most important thing you can learn about your child are her signs of stress. Check her face, body language, and verbal language. It may be as simple as a few extra blinks or a pace around the room to show she is feeling overwhelmed. She may need to get a drink of water, go for a walk, or color in a quiet part of the room until she feels better. Taking a break from a playdate or social group is much better than prompting her to stay and ultimately have a meltdown. You can very discreetly go for a walk with your child and come back to the situation. Figuring out why and when she needs a break will save everyone tears in the end.
Here are some quick tips for shadowing in different settings_
Play datesYou may need to be a bit more proactive in this setting, depending on the children and parents involved. Staging a few different activities before the playdate begins can cut down on your involvement. Leave three different activities out where the children can see them. They may find their way without you prompting and if not, your prompting is easier because the toys are already available.
Mommy and MeThese activities are a bit different because they are designed for you to interact with your child. The important thing to remember here is that you should follow the group leader when in any type of Mommy and Me activity. When she gives group directions, cut down on your verbal interaction with your child. You want your child to understand that when there is a group leader, everyone's attention should be on that person. Don't confuse her by repeating directions over an over. Model the desired behavior. The time to shadow is when the group leader is engaging with the children.
School The teacher is likely giving the directions and providing a model. Remember your child's processing time in this setting. There is a lot of visual and auditory activity to compete with in a classroom and your child may need a few extra seconds to process what is being said and figure out what she needs to do. Knowing her processing time allows you to give her independence without feeling lost.
Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.