My name is Sonya and I am doctoral student within the field of clinical psychology. My passion is working with children, adolescents, and their families to help make their daily stressors more manageable and to help my clients lead more harmonious and autonomous lives. In doing this, I have learned about the magical, marvelous, magnificent powers of….visual aids! As adults, we use visuals all the time to help keep us on track (calendars, traffic signs, scripts, etc.), but did you know that, generally, children learn better with visual aids, too? Strictly auditory directions can be confusing and difficult to remember. Additionally, what can be seen as non-compliance in a child might be due to the fact that they did not have enough time to process the directions that were spoken to them. Or maybe they just forgot! Visual aids help to ameliorate some of this ambiguity. Much of the work I do with my clients and families incorporates the use of a variety of visual aids in order to make the child’s world more understandable, intriguing, and independent. For example, instead of telling Daughter Susie to, “pick up your socks, put your plate in the dishwasher, and brush your teeth,” try putting it into visual form! Not only do visual aids help children better understand what is expected of them, but it also jogs their memory when multiple pieces of information or steps are thrown their way. In the example above, a visual aid might look like this for a younger kiddo:

A picture of a pair of socks, a man putting the dishes in the dishwasher, and a girl brushing her teeth.

For a more advanced child or an avid reader, that same visual might look more like a standard to-do list:

A list of Billy’s Chores. Chore number 1 is to pick up socks and chore number 2 is to put plate in dishwasher.

Since a child’s lack of understanding of what is being asked, forgetfulness, or even anxiousness could hinder their ability to complete tasks or function independently throughout the day, a visual schedule might be the option for you! Think of a visual schedule as the day planner on your phone. It tells you that you have a meeting with Peggy at 9:00am, lunch with Max at 12:30pm, pick up the twins from ballet at 4:00pm, then take the dog to his vet appointment by 4:30pm. Can you imagine how forgetful adults would become without these visual schedules? Not to mention the anxiety that comes with accidentally deleting your planner for the day. Well, children experience the same woes and here is an example of a visual schedule that could help!

A picture of a visual aid to help a child get ready to go to the park.

When incorporating a schedule like this, it is visually very clear what is expected and in what order tasks are to be completed. Once the topmost item is completed, it’s placed into the “all done” folder at the bottom.

Next time you get frustrated having to repeat the same directions 10 times (“Johnny set the table…Johnny….JOHNNY SET THE TABLE!”), try using a visual aid and observe any changes in your behaviors or the behaviors of your child. It just might be the colorful addition your family has been looking for 🙂