Five Keys to Managing Daily Life

Livia Cheung, M.A.

Livia Cheung, M.A.

About the Author

Livia Cheung, M.A., is an information and resource specialist at AANE and a mother whose son was diagnosed at age 3. She is currently studying clinical psychology, hoping to use her experience to connect with fellow caregivers and empower families. She also speaks fluent Cantonese and has a younger neurotypical child.

Being a parent or caregiver is a demanding role in itself – we often think about whether we are doing the “right” thing. For parents with neurodivergent children, it could feel even more overwhelming as we navigate how we can best support our children and ourselves in this journey. 

When it comes to managing daily life, it is important to remember that as parents and caregivers, we are also part of the picture. We need to include ourselves in the planning process – both to help set our children up for success, but also to work within our own parameters so that we are not overstretched. 

When managing daily activities, one thing to remember is to consider the big picture: what are our goals and objectives? It could be to share enjoyable moments and explore new things as a family, or simply to get ready to go school everyday. No matter the task or activity, there are five principles I try to use to help manage our daily life. 

1. Make choices for success.

Looking for settings, environments, and ways to do things that work for both our children and ourselves is one of the most important life hacks in managing daily life for my children and my family. The ideal is for tasks to be enriching and manageable experiences. 

For example, my family and I may want to share a meal at a restaurant, and I know that my children may have sensory challenges with sound and/or brightness or dimness of the light. Therefore, I find a place (outdoors) and a time (less crowded) where I know the sound and lighting could be at a level that may work for my children. Drawing from what we have learned from similar past experiences and thinking ahead helps us make the best choices possible.

2. Divide a big task into small, achievable steps.

If something is not working for my children, I consider whether or not the task is “too big.” If it is, I figure out if I can break it down into smaller pieces. 

Think about skiing: it would be a big goal for someone to learn to ski with no prior experience. When we break down this big goal into small, actionable pieces and focus on literal small steps – like learning how to put on the equipment properly, how to balance, push off, etc. – the larger goal of cruising down a mountain becomes achievable. 

This is also applicable to managing daily life. For example, the task “going to school,” consists of organizing backpacks, changing clothes, personal hygiene, eating breakfast, and leaving the house on time. Even further, each of these steps include multiple components. For instance, changing clothes includes knowing what the weather will be and selecting an outfit. We can already see that breaking down the task “going to school,” consists of many small but important steps. 

Breaking down tasks also helps me identify things that could be done ahead of time. For instance, choosing clothing and organizing backpacks are tasks that can be done the night before. Tasks that can be pre-arranged gives my children the opportunity to practice and complete them without the time constraint. 

My rule of thumb is to think about all possible small steps in a task and be creative about when and how these steps can be done. I tease out the steps my children can do successfully on their own, and work towards chaining up a few small steps together. It will take time, but practice makes things more achievable. 

3. Model flexibility and curiosity.

Children learn a great deal from observing. When I show flexibility and curiosity with them, it demonstrates constructive ways they can interact with the world. 

For instance, one of my children intentionally wears mismatched socks. At first, I asked him to find matching socks and he would comply. Soon after, he asked “why do people want to wear matching socks?” I thought about the big picture, and I said to him “I should give it a try too!” 

By being flexible, I have shown to my children that there are different ways to do things and that we are oriented around the big picture and objectives. It allows us to let go of small details (like matching socks) that really don’t matter. With a flexible, creative mindset, and focussing only on what is essential, we are expanding our resources and circumstances that we can utilize individually and collectively as a family. 

4. Keep trying.

Things don’t always work out the way we want. Sometimes unexpected changes derail the process, or I might create a plan for one activity that is successful, but the same process might not work for another. The outcome could be impacted by a personality difference with a teacher, therapist, or coach, or even the time of the day. 

Whenever I feel like I’m hitting a wall, I take a break to recharge and regroup. Paying attention to my own reserves is important; nothing can come out of an empty cup. My go-to recharge activities are getting a good workout and visiting a nearby coffee shop, or I realize I need to step back and ask for help. Once we are in a better mindframe, I look for other opportunities to give the task another try, perhaps with a different approach. 

I try to collaborate with my children and see what they want from their experiences, and also see what stands in the way of them engaging or completing those tasks. I always highlight to my children that trying in itself is successful because wanting to try can be both exciting and vulnerable at the same time. When we try something new, we don’t know if it will be a successful experience, or, we need a little more support to get started. We may all feel anxious and unsure if we should go ahead, but finally achieving the goal, even if it takes multiple attempts, is hugely rewarding. 

Remember, success is showing up and wanting to do it. Do not discount the effort. I think it is important to let my children know I recognize difficult situations and that certain things have made them feel uncomfortable. I see their effort, and I appreciate their openness and willingness deeply. I want to let my children know that it was indeed successful because we tried. 

5. Recognize we are only human.

We all have our own personal strengths and challenges, things that we can do, and things that we decide aren’t important. I have many shortcomings in various shapes and forms. My children accept the way I am and my imperfections. I, in return, see them as human beings that come in various shapes and forms with unique strengths and support needs. Acknowledging our humanity helps us be more compassionate with each other and ourselves. 

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