It’s expected that every morning I drink a cup of coffee. If I don’t have coffee, that’s unexpected. It’s expected that when it’s time for dinner, everyone comes in and sits at the table. It’s unexpected if one family member gets up from the table and starts dancing in the middle of the kitchen while everyone else is eating their meal. It’s expected that at bedtime, you get into your bed and lay down quietly. It’s unexpected that you come downstairs and ask for more to eat.
I’ve done a lot of work using Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking concepts. One of the basic concepts in her work is “expected versus unexpected”. Events typically fall into one of these two categories.
The tricky part is that what’s expected changes constantly, depending on where you are, who you are with and what is happening around you. A couple of examples that I loved to use at school: It’s expected that at recess, you talk out loud to other people. That same behavior is unexpected during a math test. In P.E. class, it’s expected that you run during a game like fishy, fishy, cross my ocean. It’s unexpected if you run down the hallway from your class to the bathroom.
How can you reinforce this concept of expected vs. unexpected at home?
Use the language:
You can start by using this language at home. If your child does something that was unexpected (like dancing during dinner), you can simply acknowledge that by saying “That was unexpected”. Initially it can feel a little strange to say it, but the more you use it, the more natural it feels. You can also follow up with a very brief talk about what is expected and a direction. (It’s expected that you sit and eat during dinner. Please come back to the table.)
Use a magazine:
My colleague Melissa Feldman introduced me to this. You can use Highlights magazine’s feature called “What’s Wrong?” You can also find a younger version from High Five magazine called “That’s Silly”. In both of these, you look at the scene and finds the unexpected things. For example, someone is lounging on a beach chair in a bathing suit on an ice skating rink. That’s unexpected!
Read a book:
My kids love the book Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss. On each page of the book, there are several wacky things that your kids can look and find. This is a fun way to identify expected vs. unexpected things.
Watch a show:
I have watched the show Wallace and Gromit with some of the kids I’ve worked with in the past, and they loved identifying what was expected vs. unexpected. Is it expected for a dog to be sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper? Not so much!
What’s expected at your house? What’s unexpected? Let me know when you do these activities, I’d love to hear how it went!
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