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16 ways to grow self determination skills

by Mary Mazzoni on May 25, 2012

The hazy lazy days of summer are upon us. It’s a great time to grow self determination skills that can flower into a life your child loves.

To prepare the soil, you may want to see what self determination looks like, read a bit about it, and glean insight from other parents.

Our kids’ self determination will grow when we explicitly teach skills and strategies - and when we give them regular opportunities to practice self determination in day-to-day life.

We want to sow new seeds of self determination all year long. But summer is an ideal time for growth. Without the demands of the school year, our kids have more time to practice new skills and routines so they’re ready to apply and build on them when school starts up again.

Which of these activities seem timely for your child?

There are obviously too many ideas here to tackle in a single summer. They’re not listed in any particular order, and they can be adapted to any age or skill level.

Sometimes too many ideas can feel overwhelming.

You may want to just read through the list first without clicking through the links. You might then choose just a few ideas and click through to learn more. If they’re still appealing, discuss them with your child. Perhaps you’d both like to start with just one, or maybe two. You can always return to explore some more!


1. Think-Plan-Do

The Think-Plan-Do strategy teaches our kids to make things happen in their own lives. Using the graphic organizer to plan a fun activity of their own choosing each week can empower kids to set goals, make plans and take action.

2. Problem Solving

Inevitably some unexpected roadblocks will arise as your child implements a Think-Plan-Do. Use this problem solving graphic organizer to teach your child to identify the problem, generate possible solutions, analyze the pros and cons of each option, choose a solution, and evaluate it’s effectiveness. You’ll be amazed at how your child’s problem solving skills will improve with regular practice!

3. Working for cash

Those fun plans may require cash. Let your child choose from a selection of daily and/or weekly chores to earn an allowance. Write up a contract about when and how each chore is to be done, and how much your child will earn. You may want to start with one chore and a small allowance. After your child shows responsibility completing one chore for a few weeks, s/he can earn a promotion with more chores and more earnings. You’ll find allowance tips here and here.

4. Chore checklists

Work with your child to develop a checklist for each chore. Once your child can complete the chore using the checklist, allowance can be tied to completion of the chore (without nagging from you).

5. Adventures in money management

You’ll find fun financial literacy games, activities and challenges at,, and

6. Speaking up and asking for what I need

As your child implements a Think-Plan-Do, s/he will need information and/or help from others. This may mean:

  • making phone calls (to make appointments or request information or accommodations)
  • writing emails
  • speaking directly to people in stores, restaurants, offices, etc.

If needed, you can help your child develop and practice a script and/or program assistive technology beforehand. Try to fade your support so your child is speaking as independently as possible in a wide variety of settings.

7. Planning and preparing a weekly family meal

A great way to contribute to the family, exercise preferences and learn valuable skills. Your child can use Think-Plan-Do to plan all the many steps from shopping list through clean-up. Picture recipes available here.

8. Growing independence with healthcare providers

Summer is often a time for medical appointments. Check out this post and talk with your child about how s/he can begin to interact more independently with healthcare providers.

9. Growing a personal network

Take some time to read this post and explore the links. Brainstorm with your child, friends and family about some ways to develop a circle of support or personal network. Have questions about personal networking? Email me (click white envelope in sidebar).

10. Asking myself questions

Young self advocates from the Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network (PYLN) have developed a free By Youth For Youth Toolkit filled with great self-quizes and activities that help kids figure out what matters most to them. Is there a mentor (trusted family member or friend) who might meet with your child every week or so to do these activities together?

11. Creating a Life Book

Using art supplies, photos and other images can be a powerful way for kids to explore Big Questions about themselves and their dreams for the future. For some people, scrap booking or art journaling in a Life Book is a way to more deeply understand and appreciate themselves and their goals. Once begun, kids can continually add to their Life Book. Click here to find out how some people use Life Books for self-empowerment.

12. Designing a “Good Day Plan”

What particular activities at what particular times combine to make a day “good” from your child’s perspective? As your child plans a routine for a typical “good day” – s/he learns about needs and preferences and is empowered to speak up for what matters most in day-to-day life. Learn more here. You and your child may want to explore “good day planning” in preparation for the new school year routine.

13. Learning about disability disclosure

Disability disclosure is a personal choice. But how can youth make important choices without information? The National Collaboration for Workforce and Disability – Youth (NCWD-Y) tackles this complex topic with a free youth-friendly workbook called 411 on Disability Disclosure.  There’s a companion book for parents. I urge you to download and review both books. Decide when and how you’ll begin to support your child to learn about this important topic.

14. Researching careers with

Summer is a great time for your child to explore career interests. is a powerful free online tool!

15. Job Shadowing

The best way to learn more about a job of interest is to actually observe someone doing the job in a genuine work environment. Here’s a collection of “virtual job shadows”. But nothing takes the place of actual experience. Do you know someone (who knows someone) who does a job of interest to your child? Here’s a guide to help you and your child plan a job shadow experience. After the job shadow, support your child in reflecting on the experience. Is s/he still interested in that job? What are next steps to learn more?

16. Volunteering!

Volunteering is a powerful growth experience for kids. Your child can explore career interests, develop new relationships, build interpersonal and employability skills and  practice self determination through volunteering. Click here to learn more.

Your turn!

Which ideas sound appealing to you? Have you and your child tried some of these ideas already?

Keep in touch by email or in the comments below. I’d love to hear how your child’s self determination skills are growing!

Enjoy the journey!

Did you find this post helpful? Please share it. Thanks!

Photo credit – *Micky at Flickr

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