Learning Together

What are you teaching your child?

As a parent, I’ve always felt my role is mainly comprised of two things: to teach my children things (how life works, how to be a good citizen, how to prosper, etc.) and to keep them safe. I’ve been keenly aware since becoming a parent, that while my husband and I are doing most of the teaching (in addition to their formal education and instructors), we’re also learning from each child–each is different, has varying needs and ways in which they learn–so we can help them thrive.

My husband and I became increasingly aware that we were going to need to increase our knowledge of kids on the autism spectrum after our youngest was diagnosed. He has always done well academically, but struggled socially. He has a happy disposition, and people generally like him, but he is challenged with making meaningful and lasting connections. In doing some research I came across a book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules — The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. My son and I started reading it together. For me, it was like shining a light in a dark space. I started to understand the true challenges my son faces and why. For the first time, I started to get a much better understanding of how my son’s brain works. I wasn’t the only one who was learning. My son started to get a much better picture of what we’ve been trying to teach him and why.

The book references those that are high-functioning as Aspie’s, and those that are not on the spectrum as Neuro-typical (NT). Oh, how I love that difference. It provides an alternative to speaking of behaviors in terms other than normal and abnormal. My son is a pretty normal kid with the exception that his brain is wired to think and process information differently. My son and I have been learning together. We are having ‘aha’ moments where we are understanding each other and social situations described in the book more clearly. My son even had a moment of self-reflection where he realized how he’d handled a situation as an “Aspie” vs. a “NT”, and how he might handle the same situation differently in the future.

While I have always prided myself on being a good teacher to my child, I’m finding more satisfaction learning together. I need to learn more. Learning together now, while I can still help my child as he grows, feels like winning the lottery. Thank you to Jennifer for this book. For the light bulb moment, and more that will come. Not just for my family, but hopefully for many others.

What are you teaching your child? How are you learning from or with your child to help them as they grow?

Parenthood – Cracking the Code

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

A good friend recently had a baby and was asking for advice and my take on her baby’s progress. The baby, who had once been a good sleeper, was now sleeping in short stints which concerned her.  As we talked about the situation she shared how much she craves learning parenting tricks-of-the-trade, in hopes of shortening the length of time she continues to feel anxiety as a new parent, and fearing she is somehow unknowingly doing wrong by her child simply because she doesn’t know everything.

“No one knows everything,” I told her, “No matter how long you parent. Much like you’re child is learning, so are you. But let’s think about what insights I can share that might help.” I don’t know if I came up with anything profound. I think I shared what most parents do…what worked for them.  “The bouncy ball was a miracle worker for me and getting my son to sleep.” “Rubbing the baby’s back helped calm him down.” “Swaddling stopped him from startling himself.” It was frivolous insight. It was my experience and what had worked for me. I decided instead to turn the conversation back to what seemed more truthful and valuable. “Parenting is hard and scary, and what you are feeling is normal. I wish there were shortcuts, but everyone’s parenting experience is different. You will get through this phase with your child and their sleeping pattern, and then something new will come up and you’ll figure that out as well. If you make your decisions based on what you think is best for you and your family, you are probably doing just fine.” I knew she was hoping I was going to give her some silver bullets around how to get through parenting, but in my time as one, I’ve never seen two parenting experiences that were the same.

I admire my friend’s desire to be the best parent she can as fast as she can be, and look forward to watching her son grow, and her as a parent. As much as she thinks she may be learning from me (and others), I will be learning from her too. It’s reinvigorates me as a parent to see a new parent starting from scratch. I’m reminded of my own anxiety from way back then and how far I’ve come. I am grateful to those who helped share their advice and insights along the way that helped me be a better parent and look forward to continuing to gain knowledge from others who are further along in their journeys than I.

What advice has helped you as a parent? What advice have you shared with others that helped them?

 

 

Better Than Gold

Have you ever struggled to do something you thought should be easy?

My youngest son has been struggling to learn to ride his bike. He got his bike last year, but we realized soon after getting it, that it was too big for him, and he’d have to grow into it. We were excited to teach him this year. We took him out and followed the same steps we’d done with his older brother. We removed the pedals, and had him work on coasting and balancing first. Then we put the pedals back on in hopes he could balance and get his feet up on the bike. He learned to coast, and even get his feet up on the pedals momentarily,  but without pedaling, the bike would tilt to one side and he would put his foot down. We kept trying to explain to him that the bike wouldn’t fall over if he started pedaling, but he didn’t believe us. He got frustrated and very upset. We even reminded him that he’d get a reward once he finally learned to ride his bike. That just seemed to make his disappointment in himself for not being able to do it worse. We abandoned bike riding that day and decided we’d try again the following, but the results were the same. He could coast, and get his feet up on the pedals, but would ultimately put a foot down without getting the bike going.  He then let out a cry of frustration, disappointment and anger. “I’ll never learn to ride my bike!” he exclaimed and broke down in tears.

My husband and I were at a loss as to what to do; did we need to get him into a biking class, get him private instruction, or get him a different bike?  I thought about how I learned. I didn’t appreciate how quickly I picked it up as a kid. I learned within an hour of my father and sister teaching me. I hadn’t struggled for long, and here was my son struggling for days on end. He desperately wanted to be successful, and was getting down on himself. We could tell that we had to figure out how to help him, or risk having him decide that there are some things in life he just can’t do (and that was *not* acceptable to my husband or I).

After two weeks of daily practice without success, I had an idea. What if one of us held the back wheel steady and gave him a push so he could pedal and get the feel of the bike in motion?  We got our son up on the bike and he could push for a rotation or two, but when the bike leaned, he would put his foot down. He was frustrated, but we could tell he understood now what we’d been trying to explain. He tried again and again. Sometimes going a couple of rotations, sometimes not making it even one. We encouraged him not to give up, that he was very close. He got up on the bike again, holding the back wheel steady, he started to turn the pedals. One rotation, two rotations, three, four, five, and the bike kept going. He rode across the lot away from us. He got to a place where the pavement started to go back up and stopped himself. He turned back and shouted, “I did it!” It was a mixture of relief and pride. He continued his joy for the next minute saying so all could hear (and I’m guessing folks from a few blocks around could), “I did it! I didn’t think that I could but I did. I really did it!” By the time I caught up to him, he was happily shouting and crying. It made me cry. I knew how hard he had been trying, and how frustrated he had been. It was one of those moments where I felt I’d had some success as a parent. Those moments don’t come often, but when they do, they feel better than gold.

I think my son felt his achievement was better than gold too.

How have you helped your child succeed?  How have you helped them when they struggled?

I will be taking some time off to enjoy the rest of summer break and will be back in September.

Our Town?

Have you experienced a moment where your child made you rethink or appreciate life a little more after seeing it through their eyes?

My husband and I went to pick my son up from a lesson. He finished his lesson early and had free time prior to our arrival, and had decided to build a town with multi-colored triangular blocks. Some buildings were tall and round. Others were short and flat. One stood out. It was encased in a plastic holder that lifted it off the ground a few inches. I asked my son to explain all the things in his town. He pointed to the tall and round buildings. “This is a movie theater and this is a grocery store.” He moved over to the short and flat buildings. “This is where the poor people live.” And then he moved to the building that was on the plastic base off the ground. “This is where the rich people live.” I asked him what made the rich people live off the ground vs. the poor people. He replied, “The rich people have a force field around them to keep the poor people out.” He paused, probably because my mouth had dropped open in disbelief at his sage observation. “You know, so people can’t get their stuff. They really don’t like people to get their stuff.” I asked, “And where do we live?” He pointed back over to the poor section. “We’re over here. This is the poor to medium section. We live in the medium section house.” “Okay,” I said, “Where do you want to live?” He said, without hesitation, “Over here.” He pointed to the same poor-medium section but one house over. “I would be close to the movie theater and grocery store, and, I’d be close to you.” It made me smile, but also made me think. How would I have answered the same questions when I was his age? Did I have the same awareness of the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have-not’s’ back then? Where did he get this insight from? He seemed wise beyond his years.

The conversation made my husband and I realize that once again our children are noticing things–even things we think they shouldn’t until they are much older. We were reminded that when we’re fortunate enough to have our kids share their insights with us, it’s an opportunity for us to teach them (explain our take on the situation, or how others might think); and get their ideas for what can be done to make things better. I always learn when my children share their ideas–either about them (how they think, what’s important to them, etc.) or from them (sometimes their simple yet smart ideas come are way better than anything I (or I dare say most adults) could come up with). I see things in a new, fresh way.

What have you learned from, or about, your child from their observations?

What a Jerk!

I have to admit. I am probably not always my ideal self when I am driving a car. While I had grand plans for quelling my need to verbalize my disdain for disrespectful drivers while my kids were in the car with me, I have failed.

After picking the kids up one afternoon and heading to the house, I pulled onto a street that only had enough room to let one car pass at a time. I saw someone was coming the other direction and decided to wait for them to clear the street so I could go. It was going well, until a driver behind me, who didn’t understand why I was waiting decided to take matters into their own hands. He drove around me, and quickly understood why I hadn’t moved forward. He quickly pulled over to the side, and thankfully avoided causing an accident. My blood pressure on the other hand shot up. How dare he? I thought. I felt disrespected by the other drive and really didn’t like it. “What a jerk!” I said aloud. I continued to refer to this poor man as a jerk all the way down the street. It was almost like I couldn’t help myself.

As we neared the end of the street and I probably used the word ‘jerk’ a dozen times. I finally started to cool off. I could feel the tension in my body lessen. I took a deep breath. The driver turned left and we turned right. That definitely helped. It finally occured to me that both of my boys had been listening to me. “I shouldn’t have called that man a jerk, that was wrong of me,” I said. I proceeded to try to explain why I had gotten so upset, but my sons weren’t buying it. “Mom, jerk is a bad word. You shouldn’t say it,” my older son said. “Yea,” my younger son chimed in. It was one of those moments, where I had to agree with my sons. As much as the other driver may have “offended” me, it wasn’t on purpose, and I’m sure I’ve done the same thing unknowingly to other drivers myself. I certainly wouldn’t want them to be upset with me, or to carry that anger around with them. “You’re right,” I said to my boys, “you’re right.” We were quiet most of the way home.

Later that day, I took my older son down to soccer practice. I had to go through a busy intersection and saw two drivers having a similar experience to what I had had before. To me, it was clear one driver was causing the angst, but clearly wasn’t taking responsibility for it. I’m not sure if it was empathy or what that prompted me to once again say, “Wow, that guy is being a jerk!” He wasn’t being a jerk to me, but the other driver. I quickly realized I had said, “jerk” again and owned it. “I said ‘jerk’ again. I’ve got to quit saying that word.” My son agreed, “Yea, Mom, maybe we should put tape over your mouth.” He said it so innocently and matter-of-factly I couldn’t disagree with him. Instead of getting upset, it made me laugh. “You’re right, ” I said, “maybe we should.” My son taught me a lesson that day: that as much as we’d like to think we’re teaching our kids, they are teaching us too. I’m reminded that I need to try to be a more patient driver and better model what that looks like for my boys.

What have you learned from your child?

Read This!

I was fortunate enough to see a family member participate in a city-wide reading competition. I had never heard of a reading competition before. I thought perhaps it had to do speed reading, but learned it had nothing to do with that at all. Instead, the competition was based on 4th and 5th graders who were given a list of 10 books to read. They then participated in competitions where they were asked a series of questions (some multiple choice, true/false or short answer) that tested the kids knowledge and comprehension of the books.

It was one of the best competitions I’ve ever seen. There were several things I really liked about it. First, the books the kids had to read were all educational: they taught the kids about the world, appreciation for different cultures and experiences. Second, the teams had to work closely together to come up with their answers. It was similar to watching a team sport where everyone needs each other to be successful. Third, the supporters: parents, classmates and family members (such as myself), were rooting for all of the kids — it was impossible not to. These kids had learned so much and were so eager to work as a team. Yes, you may have wanted your child (or family member) team to come out on top, but it was clear that all of these kids had and were accomplishing something great regardless who the “winner” was. When the winner was named, it was a non-event. It seemed like the best part (the actual competition) was over, and this was an after-thought. I’ve never experienced anything like it, but certainly hope to again.

In an age where competition is king, it gives me hope that there are competitions like this one. The kids learned, they had fun and even got to showcase their talents on a big (public) stage with people rooting them on.

What competitions has your child participated in that seemed different from the rest? What brings the best out in your child?