While working as a therapist with special ed kids in schools, I have noticed a trend with Special Ed Moms. They are so ernest to help their child succeed, they become hyper focused on the problem, forgetting about the things that are going right.
Many times parents often forgot that their words and actions made a huge impression on their child. When you hyper focus on fixing the ‘problem,’ the child internalizes the messages you are putting out. The trouble is, your child sees and hears all you say, and they internalize the message, “I am broken. I need to be fixed.”
I know personally how hard it is to keep your mind on the big picture. You want to focus on the details, getting the proper help, and making sure the school follows through on it. So the majority of your time is spent on making sure your child gets the right support.
Unfortunately this message from home is coupled with differences the child experiences in the classroom. This sense of being different is amplified as they compare themselves to peers as they get older. Often it is the early teenage years when it begins to manifest as anxiety or depression, further compounding the school challenges the child has.
It is really important to take a proactive approach to making sure your child understands why you are so focused on helping them with school. Make sure they understand they are not broken, they just need an extra boost.
Teach about being different.
While we do have to focus on finding solutions, it is important to take time to explain to your child that everybody is different in some way. Differences do not make us broken or bad or in any way less than other people. Differences are what make the world a unique place. Point out some of the differences you see in their world. For example, if your child is a girl, about half the people she knows are boys, and they are different. Kids are different races, have different interests and have different strengths and different weaknesses.
Ask your child…
- What can you do really well?
- Are there kids in school who aren’t good at that?
- What is really hard for you or you don’t think you do well?
- Are there kids at school who really excel at that?
Help your child understand that their differences aren’t bad or something that makes them broken. They are something that makes them unique, and everybody has them.
Teach them about their disability.
It helps to educate your child about their challenges. Talk honestly about it. If your child had diabetes, would you hide that from them? No, you would share what they need to know so they could make proper choices to take care of their body. The same is true of a learning challenge, sensory issue or physical challenge. You should help your child understand that everybody needs help with something, so it is okay to ask for help when they need it.
Dream about their strengths.
While it is fun to compliment our children on what they are good at, it can become old to keep saying, “Wow, you are really good at such-and-such!” Instead, focus on what it means to be good at that skill. For example, if they are good at math, share math puzzles and talk about how much fun it is. Teach them about careers in math or things that people do with math. Show them fractals and tell them that each design actually comes from a mathematical equation.
Help them get excited and intrigued by their strength so they realize the value of it. There is so much content online these days. You can show your child how their strength can manifest into something wonderful. In turn your child will have a positive sense of self despite their learning challenges.
My son’s take on being different.
My son, who is in 8th grade, has a very good sense of self. He’s okay being different and not always fitting in. He has a lot of interests in math and science, but not so much sports, music or girls. This means he often feels on the outside of conversations with peers, and he realizes this makes him different.
So I asked him why it doesn’t bother him that he isn’t always like the other kids. He said it’s because we taught him that he would find his niche. Even if he didn’t fit into these everyday conversations, he knows he can talk to other friends about mutual interests and then he is one of the gang. As long as he knows he can find his niche, he’s okay when he’s a fish out of water.
Help your child find his/her niche.