Some of the best parenting advice I ever got was to enjoy the kids while they are young and simple because it only gets harder.
When I was swimming in dirty diapers, sleepless nights and toddler tantrums over nothing, it was the last thing I wanted to hear. Life was tough then, but it required physical grit as opposed to today’s psychological warfare.
These days with my kids, 12 and 11 years old, I get it now. In fact, I never would have imagined a time when my neurotypical child, Beckett, 12, would be more complicated than his autistic little brother Carson, 11.
Though Carson comes with a host of challenges, including limited independence and verbal apraxia which makes him nearly nonverbal, it’s the tween in the house who is on my mind most of the time these days. In many ways, Carson is simpler. He has severe limitations and social anxieties, but he’s more predictable and easily satisfied in his home doing what he enjoys.
His older brother is a complicated being on the verge of puberty who is always testing his parents with actions and words that hover between outright disobedience and simply testing limits. He’s a good kid with a solid moral compass, but he is easily influenced by others and often loses his way. He forgets who he is and gets distracted by things in life that are not good for him. Parenting him while he works through all these changes in his life has become a constant source of anxiety for us. It’s a difficult time.
As prone to do in times of conflicts, I did some online research this week on the whole concept of how parents work through these instincts to help their children when what they really need is some tough love.
From coaching him for many years, I have learned Beckett is not one to heed advice. His mother and I can guide him and offer recommendations from our experience on how to go about this or that, such as studying for a test or practicing hard to get more playing time in a sport. He seems to think he knows more than us and the general principles that have steered us our entire lives will not work for him. He almost always replies with, “I know, I got it” but the reality often is he doesn’t know, and he certainly does not have it. He has to learn through his own experiences. He will fail consequently. It’s only then will he change his approach.
One example to share this week was an instance in school when he was blindsided by a history test. I watch his school portal to make sure he’s on top of his assignments, but I never saw anything about a test until the score was posted. He did far worse than normal because he didn’t study. He didn’t even know there was a test.
It’s the poor effort and disorganization that frustrates his parents. If he studies hard and puts in the time and doesn’t do well, that’s one thing. It’s another matter altogether to simply forget about a test (or in his case not even be aware of it) and then shrug his shoulders when I told him what he got and say, “phew I thought I did much worse.” I didn’t handle that response very well.
It was the day after this conversation I started doing some research and came across an article on huffpost.com headlined, “You Need To Teach Your Kids To Fail. Here’s How.” Here are some excerpts:
“Failure is part of life, and if our children don’t have the opportunity to fail or make mistakes, they’ll never realize they can bounce back. That’s what resilience is all about,” said Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and author of “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.” “Your child doesn’t learn to bounce back because you told them they could but because they experienced it. Then when the problems get really huge, they’ve got that gumption inside to realize, ‘Hey I can do this!’ … When your child makes a mistake, don’t berate the child for the mistake but make it into a question of ‘What are you going to learn from it?’ ‘What’s one way you could do that differently?’”
“The most effective teaching tools we have require kids to get frustrated and work through it to the other side,” said Jessica Lahey, a teacher, journalist and author of “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” pointing to the concept of “desirable difficulties” ― educational tasks that require a considerable but ultimately desirable amount of effort in order to enhance long-term learning.
“To benefit from desirable difficulties, kids have to be able to get frustrated, redirect themselves, take a breath, reread the instructions and stick with it long enough that they can overcome that frustration and actually feel that sense of competence when they actually work it out,” she noted.
Lahey encouraged moms and dads to parent from a place of trust and focus on “autonomy supportive parenting” (giving kids more control over the details of a task and allowing them to get frustrated and work through it) rather than “directive parenting” (laying out exactly how to do things and making them follow through).
“We as parents are really good at trying to make our kids feel confident. But confidence is like this empty optimism,” said Lahey. “Competence ― when kids actually push through, figure something out, try something, screw it up, do it again, and get to a place where they really achieve something ― that’s where real self-esteem lies, not in someone telling you you’re smart over and over again.”