I work with several parents who are ‘stuck’. They have more tasks building up than they have time to complete, and they may feel incompetent, hopeless, or just plain tired.
When I start with families, I may find that they are being pulled in all directions. They are told to enroll their child in MORE therapy, and then pay MORE bills, and then observe and carry-over MORE new strategies every week.
However, MORE is not better… better is better.
I cannot recommend a ‘perfect’ number of therapy hours or a perfect schedule. That depends on the individual child and family. However, there are a few initial steps that can be taken to get out of ‘Crisis’ mode. We want to ask the right questions and find joy with our children.
- Find your Roadmap by asking the right questions.
As adults, we are able to envision multiple futures. We can ask ourselves questions and use our life experiences to make informed decisions. We often have a long list of goals that we want our child to accomplish. Some are language goals, some are feeding, some are self help, and some are physical… But we have to start SMALL.
Let’s start with the goal of feeding our child ‘vegetables’.
First, let’s manage our expectations. I know that if I give ‘broccoli’ to a child, he will either: eat it, throw it on the ground, say ‘no’, make a new request… We want to not only predict what COULD happen but what is MOST LIKELY going to happen.
If a child ALWAYS throws the broccoli, guess what… he is probably going to throw the broccoli when I offer it. That’s ok. He is doing something he has always done; he is just being himself.
Instead of asking the question, “Why won’t my child eat broccoli??” or “why is he being so difficult?”, we can ask ourselves:
A. “Is helping my child (eat broccoli) something that I want to focus my energy on right now?”
- Is this goal at the top of my list? (Parents who want to feel in control should only have about 2-3 goals at a time. It is ok not to focus on this goal right now.)
- Am I emotionally and logistically ready to take the time necessary to work towards this goal? (Planning time, completing time, reflecting time.)
If my answer is ‘no’, then it is best to try to make sure my child has their vitamins and to put this as a ‘future goal’.
If I decide that ‘eating broccoli’ is worth my mental energy and is appropriate for my child, then I will ask myself the next very important question.
B. How can I use my child’s interests to create a successful plan?
This question can be broken down into more questions.
- What are my child’s interests; something he does on his own?
- How can I use this interest WITH my goal? (I can try to use broccoli as a ‘paint-brush’ to draw a ‘smile’ face out of yogurt. Or I can show Elmo eating and enjoying broccoli during play.)
- After pairing the goal with my child’s interest over a few weeks… have I seen improvement? Did my strategy work? (If ‘YES’ then you are done! Keep practicing. If ‘NO’ then start from the beginning and ask yourself those questions again.)
Even if a plan doesn’t work, this exercise is meant to empower parents to being their own primary advocate. A parent whose job is ‘appointment organizer’ instead of ‘parent’ often falls into a state of crises. It is difficult to feel that you are always working and yet not feel capable of supporting your own child.
By using your own ‘roadmap’ you can continue learning more about your child. You may need to adjust the activity, location, time of day, materials, or supports. You are developing something called the ‘growth-seeking’ mindset. There is no such thing as ‘failure’. You don’t need to feel insecure or overwhelmed. Instead, positive and negative experiences lead to constant learning.
2. Find your joy with your child
Take time to put your goals aside and have fun with your child! I believe that a healthy schedule has plenty of time for parents and children to interact in a way that they mutually enjoy. Going to the beach together, walking in the woods, cuddling in front of the tv, playing ticking games and hide and seek. These moments together, especially those moments when your child is in a ‘green light’ and connected to you, (*see my other posts for more information) are at the core of any healthy program. It is healthy to connect for both parents and children alike!
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I truly enjoy doing with my child that my child also enjoys? (Note; these are not ‘if only’ joys. If going to the beach is a nightmare because your child hates sand… then it is not a good ‘enjoying together’ activity)
- Which activities do we share smiles with each other? (Your child may like walking in the woods and you may like it as well… but this question refers to times where your child looks at you and shares their smile.)
- Do we enjoy at least some aspect of everyday routines we do together? (If your child is passive while you get him dressed in the morning… is there any way to make it more enjoyable for both of you? Add a tickle to the routine? Smell his feet and go ‘yucky’.) *Look at my other posts for more ideas.
We can create a plan that gives us a feeling of joy with our children. We want to help our children learn new concepts and grow… but not at the expense of losing our confidence in ourselves or our connection with our children.
We cannot control our children; they are each a whole unique person. However, we CAN find our roadmap and we can change our focus to creating more joyful and connected moments with our child.