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?

Back to School Jitters — Parent Edition

When your child started back to school did you feel nervous?

Feeling nervous as a parent was a surprise to me, yet I’ve experienced it every new school year. When my oldest son started kindergarten I was nervous but thought it was natural because he was moving from pre-school to elementary, he’d be with new people, have more structure and more expectations put upon him. I worried if he’d fit in and make friends, and be safe, and like his teacher…you get the picture. I was caught off guard when I was nervous when he entered first grade the following year. He knew the school and most of his classmates. He did have a new teacher, but the school is small and most of the kids (and parents) know the faculty. The pattern has repeated over the years. Each new school year creates a bit of anxiety and nerves for me, the parent, on the first day. What is going on? Why am I still nervous? Parents aren’t supposed to get nervous, right? I thought. Clearly I was wrong.

Upon reflection, I realized there were several reasons why a parent may be nervous:

  • You care about your child and worry about them making (or keeping) friends and fitting in
  • You worry about them having a positive learning environment
  • You care about how your child does in school, and how you as the parent, are helping your child be successful–trying to figure out how to accomplish this (helping with homework, etc.) and keeping up with all your other responsibilities would make anyone nervous (e.g. how am I going to do this (again)?)
  • You care about your own friendships–do you mesh with your child’s classmates parents? It seems so trivial, but feeling like you are part of a school community not only forces your child to make friends, but forces the parents to also. It takes effort and precious time. Will other parents like me? How will I fit in?
  • You relive your own childhood through your child(ren) in many ways. A new school year, at least for me, takes me back to the fear I used to have when I was growing up–would people like me, was my teacher going to be nice, did anyone notice the effort I put into my new outfit? 🙂

We grow up with our kids. We learn patience and better appreciate what matters in life. I dropped my sons off at school, and marveled at how well they handled it, how well I handled it. The nerves slipped away quickly, but I know they’ll be back next year.

How do you experience the new school year with your child? If you have any tips for how to calm your child’s nerve, please share.

The Advocate

Do you ever struggle to speak up for yourself? How about speaking up for your child?

If so, then we have something in common.

Speaking up for yourself is one thing. Whether it’s due to lack of confidence, the way you were brought up, or something else, you are the only one that suffers when you don’t speak up for yourself. But what about your child. They don’t have a voice, and need their parents or loved ones to advocate on their behalf.

I have to admit, I’ve often taken a backseat to voicing my opinion in regards to child development and education. My mother was an teacher for over 40 years and I have great respect for those in this profession. I’ve always been involved and stayed close enough to be  in-the-know of what is going on with my children in school, but also wanted to give the teacher a chance to successfully teach my child. I thought that might be negatively impacted if I was constantly asking for input or feedback on how my child was doing. I also thought I would be perceived as a “needy” parent. I wanted to empower my children to be independent and thrive, and thought by giving them some distance in school, it supported this desire.

My husband and I noticed our son was having some struggles in school and enlisted the help of others. We brought in someone from outside the school to observe him, and learned quickly that we needed to find and ‘raise’ our voices quickly. If we didn’t our son might  continue to struggle and develop some negative self-beliefs about his capabilities. My husband and I were going to do everything we could to ensure that didn’t happen.

We initiated a conversation with his school’s leadership (teacher, principal, counselors, etc.) and discussed our concerns. At the time, my husband and I wondered if we were wrong about our concerns and were overreacting to the situation (e.g. raising our voices too high too fast). After the discussion, one of the leaders pulled us aside and said, “You’re doing the right thing. It’s important we understand your concerns and work to help your child together.” It was a relief to hear.

I’ve gotten better at advocating for my boys ever since. No longer worried about being perceived as the “needy” parent who wants information, and to have influence in who teaches my child, etc., but instead seen as the advocate who will do whatever is needed (even if uncomfortable or scary) to ensure her sons gets needed resources, attention, etc. for the best chance of success. Finding my voice is a muscle that I continue to develop and make stronger.

For those of you who have always been vocal and will continue to be — you are an inspiration to me and others. For those of you working to find your voice…remember you need to be heard. You are the best advocate your child has.

How do you advocate for your child?

Reaching Your Full Potential

My boys are big fans of Cartoon Network’s Ninjago. The story follows four ninja as they train, taught by their master Sensei Wu, in order to defeat the great Lord Garmadon. The Lego minifigures—Cole, Kai, Jay and Zane—was what first drew my sons in.  My husband and I have found there are actually some pretty good lessons Sensei Wu teaches his young apprentices in the series—to appreciate differences, appreciate what you have, and to work hard to reach your full potential.

As a parent, I certainly want my children to appreciate differences, appreciate what they have, and reach their full potential, but often think how do my husband and I do that?  For me, it starts with having a plan that captures what you want to teach your child (e.g., values, morals, beliefs, experiences, etc.). While my husband and I had similar upbringings (two parents, small town upbringing, etc.) we didn’t have identical ones. When I was pregnant we both thought about things we wanted to incorporate from our own upbringings and things we didn’t (I think this is common for many new parents or parents-to-be to do). We took it a step further and wrote down things we wanted to teach our children and things we didn’t independent of each other and then compared notes. That’s how we started our plan.

The plan is dynamic and will change as our children grow and as we grow as parents. It requires inspection—are our children learning appreciation, for example.  If so, how?  If not, what do we need to change?  Our busy lives can leave us a bit drained at the end of each day, and weekends can feel like “catch up” time for all the things we weren’t able to get to during the week.  I find that I have to carve out time to ensure I am able to evaluate, with my husband, how we are doing in our parenting journey. Most nights we find some time after the kids have gone down. It takes work, it takes thought and it takes commitment.

While I want my children to reach their full potential and appreciate their talents whether they come to them naturally or they work hard to gain them. I want to reach my full potential as an individual, and as their parent. It’s hard to conceive that achieving that goal is possible, but I’m not going to stop trying. Thankfully I don’t have to master my skills to defeat an evil dark lord, but I do need to master my skills gain confidence in myself, and in my parenting journey.

How are you helping your child reach their full potential?  How are you reaching yours?