By Kathy McNamara
Parents: Would you like to learn how to avoid common problems with your children while increasing their self-esteem? In order for our children to behave differently, we as adults need to change our behavior first. When we do that, we give others the opportunity to behave differently too.
Here are a few skills that will help you create more peace in your home. While intended for parents of children with special needs such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Learning Disabilities, Behavioral/Emotional issues, or Developmental Delays, these skills can be modified to meet any family memberís individual needs.
Use short sentences instead of talking in paragraphs. Most children with special needs have difficulty processing information. They may understand words individually, but words used in long sentences or a string of commands may get jumbled in the childís head. Rather than saying: "Mary, please go and get the shovel that is on the workbench in the back of the garage.", first try getting the childís attention by making eye contact. Then use short sentences: "Mary please go get the shovel," and "Itís on the work bench." It may help to ask the child to repeat the message: "What do I want?" Mary: "Shovel." Parent: "Yes. Itís on the workbench." If the child is easily distracted, you may need to walk with the child to keep her focused on the task.
Give information instead of accusing or insulting the child. Too often children donít see the reason behind what youíre asking them to do, although the reason may seem obvious to you. Theyíll be more apt to cooperate if they understand why they are asked to do something. Instead of: "How many times do I have to tell you to close the door?", try giving information: "When the door is left open flies get in."
Allow the child to make limited choices whenever possible. Children often feel powerless in their lives. When they are allowed to make choices for themselves they learn how to make decisions, they feel they have more control in their lives, and when their decisions are respected, they learn that their opinion matters. Caution: Make sure the options you give are acceptable to you and are limited to two or three. Instead of "What do you want for breakfast?", try "Do you want eggs or cereal for breakfast?" Similarly, if you want them to do something, make a command; do not ask a yes or no question. Instead of "Do you want to make you bed?", try "You need to make your bed in five minutes."
Praise/encourage/compliment your child 25 times each day. Catch them doing something wonderful or compliment them for just being who they are. "Johnny, I appreciate the way you picked up that book without even being reminded." Or "Jill, I love the way your blue shirt matches your beautiful eyes." Soon this way of communicating will become a habit and youíll notice how your childís self-esteem and your own increases.
Let children know what event is coming next, and make expectations clear. All children need time to change from one activity to the next; some need more than others. A child with special needs may have a short memory as well as a warped sense of time. Reminding the child what is happening next and providing a few moments to change gears will help the transition go smoother. For instance, "Sue, in ten minutes it will be time to go to bed."
The skills above may seem too simple, perhaps too obvious. Try them for at least two weeks and notice the change. My guess is that after practicing these skills you will have better relationships with your children and more harmony in your home.
Note: Kathy is the mother of Scott who is 13 years old and severely neurologically impaired. She is also a Marriage, Family, Child Therapist Intern at the Process Therapy Institute in Los Gatos. She specializes in working with families of children with special need and a variety of other issues. Kathy developed and facilitates the 9 week YWCA class on Parenting the Child With Special Needs.