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How Chris Winfield’s Crazy Idea of “Stupid Small” Can Help With Special Needs Success

If you’re a special needs parent, I’m guessing you’ve been there. Your child needs to grow or stretch in a specific area. Together, you’ve got this, you tell yourself! The day comes. You’re mentally geared up to coach and prompt and assist. Your child is fed, rested, and in comfortable clothing. The time has come to try something new or face a fear. And it flops. Meltdown city. Maybe it’s even meltdown city for both of you. Hang in there. Help is on the way!

Did you read the title and think, “Who in the world is Chris Winfield?” He helps people with productivity and motivation. The other day I read a blog post in which he discussed the problem of wanting “sweeping change” and how that often sabotages us. Chris proposed that instead we should go for the small changes. He wrote, “What if I broke my goals down so ‘stupid-small’ that it would be almost impossible to fail?” For example, he said, what if I flossed one tooth to start a new flossing habit. The next night I’d tell myself to floss two teeth, etc. Sounds pretty good, right? Kind of one of those crazy ideas that is so easy you wonder why you didn’t think of it before. What a great way to start a new habit!

This morning it dawned on me…why not apply Chris’ “stupid-small” principle to our special needs parenting? What if we broke down the goals for our child or family into such a small step that our child would almost be guaranteed to succeed? (I say almost because you know how special needs life goes…)

I think sometimes we want success for our child so badly that we try to shove multiple steps into one. (Please, please tell me I’m not the only one who’s done this.) Deep down in our gut we know we’re pushing it, but we’re impatient or are concerned about what the people around us will think. You know…We want our child to be able to stay just as long as other children on an outing, so we push when they’re not ready. Or we think they shouldn’t be so afraid of something so we force them to deal with it despite the panic on their face. Instead, let’s start thinking about the small steps in between that would get our children with special needs prepared for victory.

What would that look like? Maybe something like this…

  • Does your child hate trying new foods? Start by asking her to let a new food sit on her plate. No eating required. That’s a stupid-small step.
  • Is your child afraid of bugs and comes running down the hall for you to kill something you can barely see? Have him get you a tissue or stand next to you or at least in the same room while you kill it. Those are stupid-small steps.
  • Have you and your child been battling over math for years? Ask her to do one math problem for you today and put the book away. That’s a stupid-small step. (Don’t worry. You can sneak math learning in throughout the day.)
  • Does panic overwhelm your son when he thinks of leaving the house? Ask him to stand with you at the open door for a few minutes and observe the outside, then go on with his day. That’s a (say it with me!) stupid-small step.
  • Do you want your child to sit at the table with the family to eat? Tell her she can leave after just one minute and set a timer. There’s your stupid-small step.

Wow. Maybe we can revolutionize special needs parenting by incorporating Chris’ principle. I’m guessing if nothing else, using this stupid-small step approach would strengthen our relationships with our children. If they’re having a moment of feeling successful, they’re not having a moment of feeling resentful, right?

So, let’s play a game! I want you to leave a comment below telling me a challenge your child is facing and how you can smash it down into the first stupid-small element. If you’re not sure, leave a challenge and maybe other readers can help you brainstorm. Let’s join together to help our kids be successful with Chris Winfield’s stupid-small step approach!

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4 thoughts on “How Chris Winfield’s Crazy Idea of “Stupid Small” Can Help With Special Needs Success

  1. For my son, time is an issue. One”stupid small” for this ongoing process was to simply have him develop a ritual to cross off today on a paper calendar before bed. Before that, it was to talk a little about “what to expect tomorrow.” Before that, it was telling him ” in the moment,” because that’s where he lives. Now, we’ve progressed to using a timer for some things, and occasionally we use hour time blocks to write down what being done and how long it takes. On the tough days, it feels good to just hear him crossing off the calendar and saying, “Hey! Tomorrow is (fill in the blank)!”

  2. When my daughter was 3 (she’s now 27) she suddenly developed a horror of spiders! Not through any genius of mine, I told her “let’s name him Philip!” Hmm, it was an immediate success!! She no longer ran and screamed at the top of her lungs!!

    My question is how do I get my grandson (8) to take his daily medicine? I already give it to him in applesauce and occasionally he takes it with liquid. Anybody have a stupid simple solution?

  3. I wonder if my son would like naming a spider. What kind of medicine does he need to take? Capsule, pill, crushed pill, liquid? That may help people get ideas.

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