Raising a child is something everyone has an opinion on. Everyone has a view about what good parents are, do, and should be.
It figures that just as there are a number of myths about different types of child raising, there are also a number of myths about the use of pictograms with neurotypical children (i.e. children without special needs). I have compiled a list of some of these myths here, and will now try to confirm or dispel them, as well as write a little about what pictograms can and cannot do.
If you are unable to read the whole thing (there’s a lot, I know!), I have summarised the most important points at the end)
Myth 1: The need for pictograms is a sign that today’s children and families with children are too stressed.
False – the need to use pictograms with young children has nothing to do with stress levels in the family. The use of pictograms actually requires there to be a certain level of calm around the child and time for both parents and child to get used to using them. When pictograms are well-integrated into a given situation, their use can easily make that situation less stressful for both child and parents.
Myth 2: The need for pictograms is due to the fact that today’s children have “too much on their timetable”.
False – how much a family has “on their timetable” in everyday life has nothing to do with the need for pictograms. Pictograms are a tool that the family can choose to use when learning new skills, and when they want to give the child more co-responsibility, autonomy and more opportunity to participate in decision-making. Pictograms are not designed as tools to replace dialogue and adult guidance, or make it possible to squeeze more activities into everyday life.
Myth 3: You do not need pictograms for your child to know what the next step is if you consistently follow the same routines as a parent.
True – in the case of neurotypical children with super-parents who are brilliant at incorporating and maintaining routines, then strictly speaking, you have no need for pictograms. BUT – the vast majority of parents of smaller children (I would dare say!) sometimes find it difficult to incorporate new routines with their children. No parent is perfect, and most are familiar with busy mornings when you sleep in a little too late, forget to take the snowsuit out of the washing machine or forget to fix the packed lunches the night before, where the kids are extra tired or you can’t find your keys, or whatever else can go wrong on a weekday morning. I’m certainly familiar with mornings like this (along with everyone I know), so why not make everyday life a little easier for the family by giving children some shared responsibility? And here, of course, we are only talking about responsibility that the child is ready for in terms of development and maturity. Using pictograms can provide support in introducing the child to family routines – and if something can help to make everyday life a little easier, why not do it?
Myth 4: Pictograms only help in the specific situation in which they are used, and do not give either children or adults ”tools” to cope with similar situations.
True and false – It’s true that pictograms primarily help in the situation in which they are used. That’s why the intention of the pictograms is also to use them in situations that often go awry or where conflicts arise, e.g., around bedtime, and for when you want a little extra help working through the situation in a way that is good for both child and parent.
The myth is also false in the sense that the skills that the child learns by using pictograms can almost certainly be transferred to other situations outside the home. An example could be clothing. When the family has used pictograms over a period of time as a support tool when it comes to getting dressed, the child will be able to take this learning out into the world, and getting dressed will be easier e.g. at the daycare centre or gym class. More generally, the child also learns through the use of pictograms that it’s a good idea to divide activities up into smaller chunks, which makes them easier to manage. It’s a learning process that the child can take with them when they go to school and have to solve problems there. More generally, the child also learns independence and self-control, which are also skills that can be brought with them into all of everyday life’s situations.
Myth 5: Pictograms are a big help for children with neurological difficulties, but a “false friend” for neurotypical children.
False – Pictograms are a common pedological tool used in many daycare centres and schools in general. So, by introducing your child to pictograms at home and practicing using them together, you are giving your child an advantage for when they start school due to their familiarity with them. Children’s self-confidence and self-esteem is also strengthened when age-appropriate responsibility is shared within the family.
(*Read below about the benefits of general use of autism-specific pedagogy with neurotypical children)
Myth 6: The use of pictograms is external control, rather than internal control and is therefore not desirable.
True and false – True in that the use of pictograms is external control, but there is little to suggest that the use of pictograms is undesirable on the basis of this claim. The two statements have nothing to do with each other, therefore making it also false.
It is the case that smaller children have not yet developed the skills for internal control and therefore need external control from e.g., parents. Pictograms can be beneficial to use as support for gradual internal control. Naturally, the goal is for the child to master internal control and internal motivation, but it is unrealistic to think that small children are able to do this – on the contrary, this is something that they learn gradually as the brain develops. And this learning only happens through turning external control into internal control; as the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky said, “there is no internal structure that was not once external”. In other words, it is our most important task as parents to help the child by providing an external structure, through expectations, upbringing and values, which the child can then gradually internalise as they get older. The use of pictograms can, in some respects, help to bridge the gap between internal and external control. And no, of course the use of pictograms cannot replace loving parents who serve as great role models, who provide values and norms that the child can adopt as their own. But the correct use of pictograms can make some of this a little easier – and why not make it as easy as possible for both child and parent?
Myth 7: The use of pictograms looks like an authoritarian way of raising children
False – The use of pictograms is not an inflexible tool or a rigid chart that you enforce on your child in order to make them “do as they’re told”. Rather, it is a dialogue tool that you can use in collaboration with your child. Embedded within this myth is another enduring myth about child-rearing, about there being an incomparable opposition between an authoritarian and laissez-faire upbringing. But this either-or understanding is incorrect, as it is my belief that none of these can stand alone. A balance must be found between the child having to adapt to their surroundings and at the same time freeing themselves from their surroundings (see also above about external and internal control). If the pictograms are used according to our intentions, they can contribute to a flexible style of upbringing, as the use of pictograms on the one hand can give the child co-determination and co-responsibility, encourage the child to be independent and teach them autonomy (i.e. freedom) at the same time as learning that some things/activities/responsibilities are non-negotiable (i.e. adaptation)
- Pictograms can facilitate the learning of new skills.
- Pictograms help to give the child developmentally-adapted co-determination and co-responsibility.
- Pictograms can help in situations that often go awry, or where there may be many conflicts.
- Pictograms teach the child independence and self-control, which are skills that can be brought into all of life’s situations.
- Pictograms are a common pedological tool used in many day care centres and schools more generally, so if the child is familiar with them from home, this can be an advantage when they start going to school.
- Pictograms are a dialogue tool to be used together with the child.
- The child’s confidence and self-esteem are strengthened when, through the age-appropriate sharing of responsibility, they experience themselves as an equal member of the family.
Ina Victoria Haller
*Several studies suggest that all children (neurotypical as well as those with special needs) benefit from a school environment that uses autism-specific pedagogical methods. A long-term Danish study found, among other things, that in classes where Nest was used (a teaching model where children with and without special needs are educated based on a pedagogy catered for children with autism spectrum disorder), all children (with and without special needs) were calmer and experienced fewer conflicts. At the same time, it was noted that the structure, predictability and support for self-regulation offered by the Nest principles prompted the children to use their energy on solving academic exercises instead. The introduction of more structure into the morning was experienced as a particularly effective change (Bjergø & Kromann, 2019). Of course, structure and predictability are only a small part of the Nest programme, and nothing can be concluded from this study in relation to the use of pictograms at home, however only positive effects are seen for children (with and without special needs) with the use of autism-specific pedagogical methods.