“How do I get other people to understand my son?”I thought I’d jot down a wee bit of a note to this distraught mom, but 42 paragraphs later (tiny exaggeration) I had spilled many more of my thoughts onto paper (okay…onto screen).
Here’s the spill…
As to your question on how to get others to understand your child…
My answer actually starts with some bad news, but it gets better from there.
So please read to the end.
The bad news is that you can’t.
Most of the time, people are not going to understand your child. To most folks this child seems to be nothing but an example of poor discipline. And the awful truth. If I didn’t have a child just like this, I would look at these kids and I would be the one thinking “discipline problem…absolutely.”
It looks and walks and talks like a typical misbehaved kid.
So to the untrained heart, to the undiscerning observer, it will indeed seem like nothing more than a typical discipline problem. It is VERY hard to get people to see beyond what they already believe they know in order to see the differences in this child.
Understand however, that most people CAN’T understand this child. If you and I didn’t have a child like this, chances are WE also wouldn’t understand this child. Here’s my reasoning.
When my first child was born, he had 13 surgeries before he was 3 1/2. It was a dreadful time in our lives. It was one of the most difficult times in our lives. It created stresses and challenges in our lives that we had never experienced before and frankly have not even come close to since. During that time people said some really stupid things to us, amazingly, in an effort to provide comfort. People can say some really outrageous things when they don’t know what else to say.
I used to become very angry at their insensitivity. But the truth is that the only way they could have been sensitive is if they had the same set of experiences, or ones very similar to my own. And even though I might reallylong for some highly effective comfort at this moment, I also know that I wouldn’t have wished those similar experiences on ANYONE…most especially this person sitting next to me trying to be kind. So I’ve learned that in order for people to TRULY understand and be sensitive, they have to share your set of experiences.
And if they’ve never had a child like mine, they simply will not understand.
So how can we find any comfort in that?
Here’s the key.
I no longer seek their understanding. They can’t provide it. AND…it’s not their fault. Once I released them from needing to understand my son, I relaxed immensely. It’s like asking someone who’s 7’4″ tall to understand the frustrations of being short (Can you guess that I’m under 5 feet tall?) They simply can’t. It’s not their fault. But it’s also silly on my part to continue to expect or want them to understand.
Now that we’ve released everyone from needing to provide understanding that they simply cannot provide, it IS worthwhile trying to find someone who DOES understand, someone with whom YOU can commiserate. It is very healing to talk shop with someone who knows where you’re coming from. If you see a mom struggling with a child much like your own in the grocery store, say a kind word. If you know of someone at church on the playground whose child struggles with many of the same issues, try to make a connection. Your child may need this as much as you.
And all that said, there are a few things you can do to help others understand. Don’t go out on a mission to make everyone understand. But if your child is going to be working under a particular teacher at school or church or working with a Cub Scout leader, it would be worthwhile to try to give them a bit of insight, to help them understand behaviors that they might otherwise misinterpret.
1) Explain to them that this child needs constant stimulation of some sort of motion. I have always explained it as a TWO-TRACK system. These kids have two tracks in their brain. One is for absorbing information. The other is for pure stimulation. If this second track is not being fed something, the primary learning track will not function. So if the teacher or leader does not provide this child with some legitimate thing to do to feed this STIM track, the child will eventually find something on their own with which to feed it. Not a good idea…as it will involve flinging merit badges into the fish tank on the far wall or some such thing.
2) Explain that this child struggles with impulse control and that their blurting out of answers is not willful disobedience or even a desire for attention. And that when this happens, gently reminding him of the rules is fine, even good, but help them to understand that his motivation was to get it out of his head as quickly as possible. There’s already so much swirling around in there, he is relieved to get one piece of it out and where it belongs.
3) Explain that this child wants, even needs, to please adults, intensely so, and that if the instructor recognizes and feeds this need, the child would gladly give him his soul. But if the child feels that this adult thinks he’s a bad kid, he won’t disappoint in meeting that expectation either.
4) Explain that this child simply CANNOT transition instantly from a fast moving and exciting activity to a quiet and calm one. You can simply tell other children, “Okay boys and girls, now come sit down in the circle area for a quiet story” and they will come…and sit…and quiet themselves almost instantly as the story engages them. Our child, instead, will still be revved up by the intensity of the playground frenzy, or the last fast paced activity. They will need transition time before they can move into something quieter. It is helpful to have a period where the instructor speaks quietly and calmly for such a length of time as is needed before the excitable child can begin to mirror the quieter behavior. And instead of simply sitting and listening, if the instructor can give this child something to DO while they listen (see item 1 again) like coloring an object relating to the story, or quietly pressing on Silly Putty, or whatever it takes to keep their hands busy and their bodies quiet, then such things should be considered.
5) Explain that this child, does indeed, hear his name called out 10 times more often than other children for correction. He is NOT 10 times as bad. He’s just 10 times as busy. But because of this frequency, he may come to believe that he is trouble. He hears his name in association with correction soooooo much everyday. It is important to do our best to counterbalance this running correction commentary with frequent and regular reminders of his worth, his value to the process, his contributions, and his good actions. He needs to hear that he not only does good things now, but that his energy and creative can-do approach to life will be an extraordinary asset when he’s an adult, making all of his peers jealous of his strengths. He needs to know that the very things that challenge him now will be among his greatest strengths when he is an adult.
For us as parents, I recommend that we work to apply an intensive grace to others who misunderstand our children. As I said before, they can’t understand without a similar experience base. But another reason to be gracious is that we, ourselves, will eventually be the one’s saying something stupid or insensitive in another arena. All of us are unfamiliar with SOMETHING, and in the right set of circumstances, we could be the ones saying something that shows our ignorance about the experiences of another. So just as we may one day need such grace applies to us, we now have the opportunity to apply to other. In fact, we have these opportunities often. God must want to grow us.