Last week I was at the Breakthroughs in 2e Education Conference where I had the pleasure of hearing Ross Greene speak. As I listened to him repeat his familiar refrain that “kids do well if they can” I began to think of the parents of those kids who have a hard time doing well.
In a nutshell, Greene argues that most children struggling with behavior issues do so because they have lagging skills and unsolved problems. His approach focuses on using empathy to connect with the child and learn from them what they are feeling overwhelmed by. Once the adult has reflected back the problem to the child, the adult and child begin a process of solving the problem together, as opposed to the adult unilaterally imposing a solution on the child. Through the process, the child learns to identify their feelings and challenges, self-advocate, problem-solve and work collaboratively.
My thought about parents had to do with the fact that as parents of twice exceptional kids we can also struggle with our own lagging skills and unsolved problems. Our 2e kiddos are complicated kids and they may present us with challenges we don’t know how to address. Frequently, the people that we thought we would partner with to raise and educate our children are unable to provide the support we expected. The pediatrician might not have insight into our children’s intensity and uneven development. Teachers can be confounded by our children’s high intellect and emotional immaturity. Our kids might need more support than an afterschool program or activity can provide. Our friends and family might not offer us the support and compassion we expected from them. And it can be hard to find specialists and programs that understand how to work with our children.
Consequently, we believe we have to figure out everything all on our own. We are constantly second-guessing ourselves and never feel certain that what we are doing helps the situation. Our kids don’t make it easier because with every new strategy we try, they find the loopholes, outsmart us, or simply wear us down. We are desperate to “get it right” because we are terrified of what will happen in the future if we can’t teach our kids to behave appropriately. With all this pressure we put on ourselves, it is easy to feel like we are failing our children.
When you get to that point of feeling alone, overwhelmed, and bested by your kiddos, it is easy to “lose it.” Losing it means different things to different parents. For some, means becoming depressed and withdrawn. For others, it might mean losing your temper and screaming at your kids. For many, it means sleepless nights spent wondering how you are going to get through the next day. However “losing it” manifests, it is surely a sign of a parent who may have some lagging skills and unsolved challenges.
So where does a parent go from here? The first step is to have empathy for yourself. Remember, you are a wonderful human who deserves compassion and love and who also needs to be taken care of. It is impossible to be the perfect parent and expecting that of your self is unrealistic. Parenting, especially with complicated kids like ours, has a steep learning curve and they are changing ALL THE TIME. Once we think we have figured them out, they grow and change and they need something new from us!!!
Next, it is important to know that our kiddos are much more resilient than our consumer-oriented society leads us to believe. We are continually bombarded with the message that if we don’t get our kids the absolute best of everything – from safety products to toys to an education – then we are failing them and disaster will surely strike. That is not true. Remember, cave dwellers successfully raised their babies and they didn’t have parenting books or the latest products to help them!
The most important thing that you can do for your children is to let them know that you love them, that you appreciate them for who they are, that you care about their feelings and experiences and that you’ve got their backs. Those are the absolute most important things you can do for them. (And don’t forget all of the other things you are doing well – like making sure your kiddos have food, clothes, a home, and opportunities to express themselves and their interests.)
Lastly remember that your best partner for understanding what your child needs is… your child! Approaching them with empathy to understand their lagging skills and unsolved problems will help you address your own.