It is the litany of parents raising a child with ADHD or LD: "What can I do to improve my child's social skills and language skills, get him to be a team player, stay on task, and build self-esteem?"
That's a long to-do list. As it turns out, cooking can help with all of those challenges — and is fun to boot. But you need the right "recipe" to make it work. Here is one that I have used with many developmentally challenged kids that has led to good results.
1. Pick out a few simple recipes that your child will enjoy cooking. Find recipes that use only four or five ingredients, list the ingredients and equipment needed, and have easy-to-follow, step-by-step directions.
2. Let your child choose which recipe to try. Start by saying, "On Saturday, we are going to cook a recipe together. It's going to be so much fun. I can't wait! I found two recipes that I think you will like. Which one do you want to try?" After he or she chooses one, encourage your child to explain the choice: "Oh, that's perfect. Why did you choose that one?"
3. Choose a time to cook when you won't be interrupted. Have the recipe ready and on the counter. Before you start preparing the food, have a piece of paper available to hide the ingredients and the steps of the recipe you are not working on. This will keep your child focused. Sticky arrows serve the same purpose.
4. With your child, start gathering the ingredients. Read the ingredients together and place a sticky arrow next to the first ingredient. As you find each ingredient, move the arrow down to the next one. Take turns assembling the ingredients. At the same time, work on bolstering your child's language skills and teamwork by asking "Whose turn is it now?" or "What's the next step?"
5. Follow the same rules when gathering utensils — whether it be a blender, measuring cups, or bowls. If the recipe doesn't list the equipment, make a list of what is needed together. Save it for the next time you make the recipe.
6. Use the same process when following the recipe directions. Ask the same types of questions and use the sticky arrows to stay on track. Encouragement is key to making the activity a confidence- building experience. Say, "Aren't we a great team!" or "This is turning out well."
7. Rave about how great the food tastes — and the wonderful job your child did. Encourage the rest of the family to compliment the dish.
I recommend that your child work with the same person a few times until both have the system down, and your child is confident about asking questions, using sticky arrows, and encouraging teamwork. Then have another family member cook with your child.
Take It to the Next Level
Talk with your child about making a treat at home and taking it to school to share. Tell the teacher what you have been doing at home, so she will be ready with high fives.
Keep practicing with your child, and when you feel he is ready, invite a friend over (only one), so they can cook something together. Don't rush this step. You want it to be a success.