Finding Motivators to Gently Push Beyond Comfort Zones

When I did a post earlier this summer on creating a water wheel pouring station, little did I know that a water wheel was going to be the thing to motivate and encourage Andrew to get closer, even into, the ocean.

My mother in law brought a bunch of sand toys, including some pails and several different water wheels. We began by filling some pails with water so that he could pour the water into the water wheels while we videotaped him on our phone. (It’s no surprise that he loves things that spin and watching the wheels spin at different speeds was very exciting for him. Being able to watch it frame by frame on the phone afterwards was an added perk!)

Video clip of Andrew pouring water into the water wheels.

After a while, we decided to use this to motivate him to get closer to the ocean. We gradually moved him closer to the water by first coming up with a plan for how far he was willing to go in. This was important so that he knew ahead of time what he was going to have to do AND he agreed to it. We would then go with him, go in the water and gently get him to the designated point.

Earning the water in buckets by going up past his ankles.

Once he did this, he was free to go back and we filled the pails with water.

"I did it! Now I'm out of here!"

"Whew! Made it! 🙂 "

He eventually went into the water up past his knees, something I don’t think he would have done in the same amount of time on his own. This was huge for him!! Maybe next time we’ll get him to fill a bucket but for now, it was perfect for him to go in as far as he did.

Note: Andrew does not have fear of water. He knows how to swim and is very comfortable in the water. If he did not know how to swim or had water fears, we would have placed focus on something else because going into the ocean would have been too big. This was a sensory processing issue for him, working to deal with the noise of the ocean, the feel of the cold, scratchy water on his legs and the unpredictability of the waves. You can see that he is plugging his ears to lessen the noise and as the week progressed became more comfortable with the patterns of the waves, which we pointed out to him. Not much to do about the scratchy water other than get used to it! 🙂

The day before we left - in on his own.

I share this experience because it was such a clear example of finding what is motivating and exciting for your child and using that to help stretch their experiences and tolerances, even if by the tiniest bit. While your child may not care about wheels spinning (or fans as he was calling them 🙂 ) or videotaping themselves on a phone, there is usually something that they will be willing to work for, you just have to find it.

Start small and slow with things that are doable for them and gradually increase the expectations. Watch them carefully and read them for what they are telling you – (too much? too scary? too big? or Ok, I can do this. I may not be crazy about this, but I really want to do ___. ) and try to stay in the zone of nudging them a little bit out of their comfort zones while still feeling safe. Think about what you experience when you or someone else pushes you a little outside of your comfort zone for your own good. Nervous, doubtful or bothered at first but when you finish or reach your goal, you probably feel really proud of yourself. I saw all of this in Andrew as he made his way closer and closer to the ocean and by the end of the week, he was even inside pretending a pillow was a boogie board, practicing how he would wait for the perfect wave and then ride it in. Who knows, maybe that’s what I’ll be reporting to you next year! Turtle steps all the way :).

Special thanks to my in-laws (G & T) for these awesome photos – Thank You!!!

Engage, Encourage and Empower!

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