“Aha” Moments

When our children are tiny, we wait with bated breath for every first…the first time they roll over, their first step, first words, first meal…the list is endless.

I’m still seeing firsts. When my oldest son, TLC, was three, he asked me to teach him to write his name, and I started teaching him the rules of reading and writing. He could never seem to translate that knowledge into action though. When he turned eight years old, however, a door seemed to swung open in his mind and he went from not reading one day, to reading at grade-level the next day. It was an amazing moment!

When he was two years old, we were frequently amazed at his mathematical propensities! He could do basic math, including simple multiplication. In the last few years, he has struggled with the concept of multiplication and division. On the advice of our facilitator, we have simply accommodated this challenge by providing him a times table chart to use. I’ll confess to many moments of frustration, especially when it takes him a significant amount of time to calculate equations on the two’s times table! Just recently, however, while we were working on calculating areas and volumes, he had to calculate 3×2… I got frustrated with him and went into a bit of a lecture mode — nothing I hadn’t said to him previously, but he suddenly grasped the concept, and I once again saw the door of his mind swing open. In the days following, he has retained and continued to gain confidence in his mathematical ability and multiplication prowess.

What did I say to him? I told him that math is always the same. That the equation for a triangle will ALWAYS be bh/2. His response? “That’s logical, I should be good at this.” I laughed and told him he was good at this. That’s been the most frustrating thing. I know he’s good at math. I know he has a natural affinity for it. It was not until he was aware of his natural ability in math that he was able to begin excelling at it. The key for TLC was discovering math is always the same, that it is logical, constant, and reliable. Once he realized that key point, the world of math opened up for him.

 
I love the “AHA” moments. I love still being able to experience those with my children. It makes all the frustration, the challenges and the struggles worthwhile.

Sometimes we get caught up in trying to make our children keep up with their peers, and forget that they learn at their own pace. We change the way we teach because we fear they aren’t grasping the concept, when our children simply need only one more piece of the puzzle to believe in themselves. Once we empower them to believe in themselves, they can quickly and easily grasp the most challenging concept. I have to be aware, to watch and carefully identify the messages I, and others, give my children. I need to purposefully build up their esteem.

When they believe they can learn, learning becomes easy.

The Two-Sided Coin of Giftedness

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“The root of excellence is perfectionism. It is the driving force in the personality that propels the individual toward higher and higher goals. There is a strong correlation between perfectionism and giftedness. I have yet to meet a gifted person who wasn’t perfectionistic in some way,” Linda Kreger Silverman, Perfectionism.

Today, I want to discuss the pros/cons of one of the most common characteristic of a gifted (G/T) child. That characteristic is perfectionism. As I look back at my own childhood, I know this striving for perfection led to a lot of anxiety and depression. Part of my efforts at perfectionism were rooted in the unrealistic expectations of a parent. However, it was also paired with my own expectations. It took a lot of life-learning to reach the point where I had a healthier and balanced form of striving to do my best.

Being a mother and grammy to a pair of females who also strive for perfectionism, I see both sides of the coin from a more objective viewpoint. It is not a bad goal to want to always move forward in improving oneself. It is good to try to work on bad habits to move toward becoming more of what God wants us to be. It is good to have high standards for yourself so you do the best you can at everything you do. The Bible even talks about doing all we do as to the Lord.

The problem comes from not accepting that, no matter how hard we try, we still make mistakes. Accepting that is very important in removing the negative aspects of this two-sided coin. Those who do not accept this often will experience anxiety or depression, and can even be stuck in procrastination. It is not uncommon for those G/T children to be stuck in a project by a fear of failure. They get overwhelmed with the possibility of not being able to get everything correct, so they do not even get started.

Some children will often refuse to try to do something if they feel they cannot master the skill immediately. It is simply “too hard” and not to be attempted. This is very common among the G/T.

Other aspects of the negative side of the perfectionism include never feeling as if your work is good enough. No matter the hours of research and the number of rewrites on a paper, it is still not good enough. This constant feeling of not being good enough can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Sometimes, a child can begin to feel physical symptoms due to this anxiety.

Sometimes the perfectionist will be unable to relax and enjoy just being. They feel they must be continually be working on something. Some G/Ts feel that they have no real value outside of their ability to produce.

This has some deeper spiritual aspects since we all need to learn that no one is perfect outside of God, and that our work, no matter how good, is never enough to earn our salvation. It is the dependence on God that actually will help the G/T child learn to accept their innate value, and to try their best and allow God to take care of the rest.

Ways to Help:

To help the G/T child who is experiencing the negative side of the perfectionism coin, a parent can begin by making sure you are modeling acceptance of your own mistakes, even while you always try to do your best. Also, sometimes children do not perceive your mistakes. Be open about them. It is also a good practice to have your child hear you asking God for forgiveness and even help in doing better.

Work with the child to set SMART goals, while emphasizing that it is the process of learning that is important. Never allow the child to feel that your love of them is based on how well they do on a project.

Sometimes G/T kids are so scared of failure that they refuse to take risks. I’m not talking of unhealthy risky behavior, but just trying new things, whether that is trying out for a sport or entering a contest or learning how to dive. It is good for a child to learn something that will take practice to master. This will enlarge on their view of accepting themselves for not being perfect.

Striving for perfection is not a bad thing. We all should strive to move to be more Christ-like in all things. It’s when we cannot accept our best efforts that this characteristic can become a liability. As you work with your G/T child, help them to know that they are loved at all stages of learning, even when they are unable to immediately master a skill, and that God is there to help us in our walk to be the best we can be.

http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources-parents/social-emotional-issues/perfectionism
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/perfectionhg.htm

Self-care for Parents

Life Skills for Homeschoolers, Pt. 10

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In today’s post, I wish to discuss a topic that many parents with children with challenges neglect to address. That is practicing self-care.

Parenting a child with special needs takes a lot of work. Depending on the severity of the challenge, it may end up being a lifetime job. [This leads to another topic for another post.] What often happens in the more difficult situations, the marriage will not survive the challenges of being blessed with a special child. So, not only does the parent (often the mother) not practice self-care, but s/he will often have to carry the load alone. Of course, God is always there to equip this parent to make it through the years. These years do not have to be simply a time of survival, but can be a time of thriving.

This is why self-care is important. We do not want to merely survive our child’s younger years. We want our lives to be a witness to those around us about the enduring power of relying on God in the daily challenges of being a parent of a child with challenges. I recently asked a friend about what type of witness do we have when non-Christians do not see us thriving, but merely surviving? I’m not talking about living a life without problems because we are told we will suffer. I’m talking about how we handle things when the going gets rough. Do we focus on the problem or the problem solver?

Ideally, it would be good to have “Me Time” every day. This would be time set aside when the kids are occupied safely somewhere else, and you can do something just for you, something you enjoy,  something you find refreshing. That’s not always practical, especially if you are a single parent with a high-needs child. If daily time is not possible, then at least once a week is a must. For myself, my Me Time was attending Toastmasters once a week. It was fun. I was out in the community, meeting other adults, and learning all types of things (my way to relax). I would also wake early for private Me Time.

Other ideas to find Me Time: gardening, walking/running, join a book club, women’s Bible study, crocheting, scrapbooking, etc. The main requirement would be that you enjoy it, and it does not create additional stress or add to your sense of responsibility. I know some may want to give Bible studies for their Me Time. If this is you, please make sure this time is refreshing to you and not added stress because you feel this is something you should do.

I spent five years as a caregiver. During that time, I took a caregivers’ class in order to learn how to take care of myself. We had a simple goal we were to practice daily. We had to write it as a smart goal (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely). We also had to give a rating on how likely we were to meet this goal. If the likelihood was less than 75 percent, then we had to choose another goal. Now, our goal could be “walk for 15 minutes three times a week” rather than actually doing it every day. Each week we set a new self-care goal. It might be possible to Google caregiver resources to find an example of this.

What if you are having trouble finding time for Me Time? First, make it a priority. Seriously. Just as many make having morning worship a priority, make self-care a priority. If married, arrange time with the spouse so he can watch the kids while you go out. You might even arrange time with some girlfriends to hang out with as part of your self-care. This could be a once a month activity. If the hubby can’t provide that time, then turn to grandparents, close personal friends, or church members. As a last resort for a single parent, you could hire a baby-sitter.

One bit of information that many parents are unaware of: If you have a child with challenges, it may be possible to get respite care through an agency of some kind. An example of this would be the Federation of Families in your state. Your local Disability Action Center might be able to point you to the agency that could provide respite care. Another agency that may be able to help is the Parents Unlimited of your state. Most of the time, this service is free, but there may be a charge in some venues. Insurance does cover this at times also.

Self-care is essential. Remember every time you fly, you hear the information of what to do if the oxygen masks drop down. First, you take care of yourself, and then you help your child or other person in need. Self-care also teaches your children important life lessons on boundaries that will provide untold blessings their entire lives.

Another aspect of self-care is not to forget the spouse. Taking care of that marrige relationship is just as important as taking care of yourself. Date night is an important activity recommended by almost every marriage counselor — secular or Christian. Date night doesn’t have to be expensive. It just takes some creative thinking. There are numerous books and online sights filled with ideas on how to keep the marriage relationship growing.

Having a special needs child is difficult enough without having to sacrifice our marriage. I think this is harder on women because we tend to sacrifice so easily. Again, those boundaries are important-for yourself and your marriage.

Don’t forget your friends, also. This may be further down on the priority list, but take time for those friends. Once a month or even bimonthly would be better than never getting away and enjoying the simple blessing of friendship. We are social creatures who need to be able to connect with others. It helps give us strength and often lets us know we are not alone in this pathway.

Self-care takes setting boundaries. Boundaries where you say no, either to the church or community or relatives or even immediate family. If setting boundaries is a challenge, I suggest the book Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend. It’s an excellent, Bible-centered book. I actually offer classes on this book.
If self-care is not practiced, what often happens is that mom will suffer, either mentally, emotionally, physically, or even spiritually. Health may fail due to overwhelming stress. Especially with homeschooling, burn-out can occur because of lack of proper self-care. Self-care is not an option. If you want to be the best parent for your special child, start by taking care of yourself each day in some small way.

The Role of Service Animals: Life Skills for Homeschoolers

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As I write this article, my family is grieving over the fact we had to say goodbye to a long-time family member. She served my son well for about 15 years. I know my son would not have been who is he today without, in part, her service to our family.

As I comforted my son, I realized that many families who have children with challenges may not even think of the benefits of having a service animal. I want to share a bit of our experience and give some of the wonderful benefits of these special creatures.

We adopted Dina when she was to be put down because of having an abusive owner. To me, that sounds a bit off, but she was to be removed from the home and destroyed because she was being abused. She was the sweetest dog. Over the many years we had her in our home, the only time she became aggressive was if she perceived a threat to my son.

There are many reasons for a service animal. Some service animals act as the well-known guide dogs used by the blind. Some are hearing dogs. Some are seizure alert dogs. Some dogs even alert diabetics to low blood sugar. Then there are the emotional support animals.

Emotional support animals tend to get a bad rap today because many will use the label to have a pet when pets are not allowed. This is not a true emotional support animal. A service dog (SD) of this type will instinctively provide support when the owner is feeling depressed, anxious, confused, or even frustrated. They will lean on the child, offering unconditional support. Sometimes they will lick and snuggle. The main characteristic here is the emotional bond felt between dog and owner. The dog will help the child calm down and become settled emotionally.

SDs offer unconditional love, a listening ear, and even a coat to absorb tears as they fall. There is never any criticism or judgment. Our children with challenges need that at times. Oftentimes, they cannot express what they are feeling. With the dog, just hugging him/her will provide an emotional outlet. The SD will never tell the secrets whispered in their ear by a distraught child.

Another benefit of service animals is that they provide a good lesson in responsibility. Learning to care for an animal depending on you is a great life lesson. You cannot shirk the duties of feeding, watering, walking, and even cleaning up dog poop. When frustrated about something, my son would walk miles with his faithful companion.

As the dog aged, there were other lessons to learn. There was patience as the dog was unable to put in the miles she did as a youthful pup. There was sacrifice learned as the owner had to deal with sickness, loss of hearing and balance, and even the increasing number of accidents in the home. Then there is the final lesson of all when you have to say goodbye to a faithful companion, and learning to grieve. As my son cried over his companion’s death, he was reciting Ecclesiastes about “a time to be born and a time to die.”

Outside of the many benefits of having a service animal, there is other important information that a parent may need to know before taking on the responsibility of an SD. Service animals are not pets. They are actually considered assistive medical devices. Because of this, any expense in their care is tax deductible over a certain percentage of income. They are allowed in rentals that do not allow pets if the owner has at least four rentals, or if it is managed by a rental agency. It is illegal not to rent to someone due to a service animal, or even to charge a pet deposit. If someone has been denied due to an SD, they should contact their state’s Department of Justice. The landlord can require a letter from a professional regarding the need of the animal. There does not need to be any mention of the particular disability/challenge that requires the use of the animal. Your local Disability Action Center can give you more information regarding your state laws.

Although many emotional support animals are used only at home, they are allowed to go out in the public with their owner. This can be of great benefit to some children who may have issues with meltdowns when in certain situations. Although a vest is not legally required, it often makes things easier for the business establishment and the other customers. Again, service cannot be denied due to a service animal, even in restaurants. And again, the reason for the animal doesn’t need to be disclosed. Service animals are not usually allowed to be petted by other people when out in public. This can distract them from their job. Some do allow petting. It is always important to ask each owner before making overtures to the animal. The only time a business owner can have the owner take the animal out is when the animal is misbehaving. Please be sure your animal is public ready before venturing out with him.

Service animals can travel on public transportation without cost. The agency does need to know about the animal beforehand. They cannot deny you service. They may try to require documentation, but this is not legal. Again, the animal must be on their best behavior. If there is any barking or biting, there can be trouble.

Another important point that many are confused about is that SDs do not need to be professionally trained. Some types, like guide dogs for the blind, do need special training. However, other types do not. In fact, SDs for seizures or diabetes demonstrate a more instinctive act. A dog cannot be trained to recognize seizures or diabetes, or even to emotionally support a person. A parent will need to use their best judgment in regard to whether the animal could become the support the child needs. The temperament needs to be calm also, so that if taken into the public arena, there is no chance of barking and biting. Basic obedience lessons are needed also. There is a website called Mr. Paws (www.mrpaws.com) that gives a lot of information. They also offer excellent training books if you need to train a dog to provide more of a type of service rather than only emotional support. This site also has templates for IDs which make taking an SD out in public easier. They also sell vests.

Even though my heart hurts at this time as we grieve Dina’s death, it is also filled with thanksgiving over the blessing this dog brought to our life. She lived a long, happy life. She helped my son cope with many challenges of his youth. She will be missed. We rescued her, but she ended up rescuing us. I hope, if needed, your family can find the special blessing your child needs.

Know Yourself… Know Your Child

“You’re not doing him any favors…”

How many times have I heard that sentiment? So many people think they know better than I do how to raise or school my sons. In the last year at least two separate people — professionals, parents of friends — have said it to me… So, I ask myself, AM I helping him or harming him in how we “school”?

My boys have special needs. Getting those needs diagnosed and treated can be more challenging when you are homeschooling. In particular, I’ve experienced a lot of difficulty getting people to even look at my younger son for assessment, and when I finally found someone to assess him, they were so focused on the fact that I homeschool, I didn’t feel they truly did their best assessment — they simply didn’t know how. When I went to them and asked for an assessment, I stated that I observed and believed that he had ADHD, anxiety, and a learning disorder of some type that I needed help identifying. At the end of their assessment, they diagnosed him with ADHD, anxiety, and “learning difficulties”…and then they decided that he should be in school so he could be assessed in two years. They intimated it was my fault he wasn’t reading at a third-grade level, and that I “wasn’t doing him any favors” by reading to him. (Recently had him assessed by a speech-language pathologist, and her advice was to read to him until he could do it for himself.)

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How is he to learn how to do math and other subjects if I don’t read to him, since he doesn’t read for himself? Am I to simply let every other subject fall to the wayside until he can read for himself? How is that “doing him a favor”? For me, I read the questions with words in math, and I read his science and social studies work to him so he can continue learning in the areas he is excelling in. He’s advanced in math by at least two years. Shall I halt that process simply because he has a learning disorder in reading? That is the joy of homeschooling him. If the task is to work on reading, to learn how to read, then HE does the reading, but if the task is to learn something else and reading gets in the way, why restrict him? Why should I hold him back from learning what he is interested in simply because he is not at that reading level?

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My eldest son has ASD (autism) and DCD (developmental coordination disorder). This means that he struggles with gross and fine motor control. When we aren’t home, he walks into walls, trips over carpets, and stumbles into light switches, etc. He feels like he’s always getting hurt. In addition, it’s simply exhausting for him to maintain a pencil grip. DCD affects his hands, his legs, his arms, his posture, his eyes. We work with an occupational therapist, and a behavioural/developmental aide. Last year I was able to get him to write three to five words before he gave up. He was more willing to draw — squiggly lines, curves, trucks… But, he tires easily and it’s evident in his work.

I was feeling pretty proud of him because the amount of handwritten work he can do has increased by three to four times…until a friend’s parent saw us working on school — and all of a sudden I’m “not doing him any favors.”  What made her comment? I do most of his writing. He does all his reading, he does all the work, I am simply a tool to help him complete the work and get it done. I don’t like using computer programs — he tends to figure out a way to guess or cheat for the answers, and he doesn’t learn as much as he does when I write for him. It’s a teaching opportunity and it helps him focus better. Sometimes I hand him a voice recorder so he can dictate his answers for me to transcribe and mark later. He’s learning typing, he uses an iPad, and I anticipate that when he’s of employment age almost everything will be electronic. I don’t want him to rely on that, though. I want him to believe and to know that he needs to have the ability to write. He knows I can’t always be there to be his pencil. I can’t always be his voice. We’re working on those things, and, in the meantime, I don’t want his struggle to write to interfere with his ability to learn. He absorbs knowledge like a sponge…until he has to interpret or express it with his hands; then writing absolutely interferes with his comprehension. He writes when the task is writing and penmanship. We’re building his endurance. In the meantime, I don’t mind being his pencil.

There is always going to be someone who thinks they know better than you do, someone who will imagine they have a better method of teaching your child, someone who can’t understand how what you are doing could possibly work…

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The message today? You know your child. You know how they learn; you know their struggles and their strengths. You know where they need to be challenged, and you know where they need to be helped. It’s good to get feedback from others, it’s good to see where maybe you could offer a little more challenge to your child, but FIRST you must trust that your instincts are right. First you must believe in yourself and your ability to teach your child what they need to know. When we lose faith in ourselves and our children, everything becomes a bigger struggle, a harder challenge than it needs to be.

Know your child. Trust yourself.