Mom chose the words, "Walk with me." as the prompt because his parents hope to be able to let go of Patrick's hands and still have him stay beside them some day soon. Mom might have used "Hold my hand" or "Take mommy's hand" but mom and dad have a more ambitious goal in mind so she used the words "Walk with me."
Now, Patrick's parents have been trying to get Patrick to walk beside them for years but he often drops to the floor or runs quickly away if they indicate that they want him to stay close to them. He protests the moment they start to discuss the issue. This was how they discussed the issue in the past: "Patrick, hold Mommy's hand. Stop! Stop! You might get hit! It is dangerous to run in the parking lot! PATRICK!" In some places, they simply gave up when he started to run--like in the parking lot beside the park where they go to play. Dad would say "Patrick, why don't you stay next to dad? You are going to get smashed like a bug some day." In some places, they thought ahead and took his hand and did not let go, like at the supermarket parking lot and in the Shopping Mall. Each time they asked Patrick to stay beside them, they used different words in an effort to try to persuade Patrick but nothing seemed to work very well. It was always a battle.
This time, they are going at the task in a different way. They have persuaded themselves that this is the right time to make the effort to teach Patrick this skill once and for all. He needs to learn this for his own safety now and he needs to learn the social skill of walking beside others because that is what friends do throughout life. His parents have noticed that already at five years old, the other children in preschool walk together and Patrick darts ahead or away from teachers and classmates alike. They had kind of resigned themselves to Patrick running until they saw how other kids in his classroom line up and walk together down the hall. They asked for help teaching Patrick the skill of walking next to them.
Here were my suggestions:
- Use the same words every time to tell Patrick to walk with you. Walk with me. Why? Because if you say it different ways every time, Patrick will not know if he really has to walk with you or not. Don't use these words if you don't mean it. Think ahead and decide--will I really insist that Patrick walks with me today? Save the words for times when you have the energy and will to make it happen.
- Start with a small walk together when you have time to focus on the goal of teaching Patrick. Start by teaching Patrick to walk with you at home, walking down the hall or across the lawn. Hold Patrick's hand and say "Walk with me. We are going to the bedroom." or "Walk with me. We are going to the swings."
- Reward Patrick for walking with you with praise and even a treat at the beginning. When you are home and practicing walking together, you can use a game from RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) where you walk quickly or slowly, walk a few steps and then turn around and walk back, walk and pause to look at things, even walk in funny ways together. When you are playing the Walk with Me Game, make it fun and reward success. Gradually, teach Patrick to walk with you even when you are not holding hands.
- When you first start expecting Patrick to walk with you away from home, go places with no other aim than to teach Patrick to walk beside you. Go to the gas station and buy a small treat in the store for Patrick (but only if he does walk beside you). Practice walking together in the same place over and over if you need to, rewarding Patrick when he does it. Don't try to teach this skill while also trying to buy groceries or new tires or anything else because teaching this skill deserves your full attention and you will be more patient teaching if you are not trying to accomplish something else too.
- Once Patrick has the skill, beware of backslide. If you say "Walk with me" then even if you are late picking your boss up from the airport or trying to buy fresh bread before a dinner party of twelve guests, make sure Patrick does walk with you rather than darting off. Remember, to praise Patrick as he successfully walks beside you. Say things like "Mommy likes walking with you Patrick!"