Making New Year’s Resolutions for some, is a yearly tradition. The new year presents a precipice of dual directional perspective; looking back and finding things to change while looking forward at a life we want to live. In essence we seek to reboot the system, install version 2.0 of ourselves. For parents and educators of twice exceptional students this practice of reflection and action is essential, but for it to succeed, it must occur daily and be well-defined. There is no option for failure, like so many short-lived New Year’s resolutions. To assist parents and teachers of 2e kids with this daily practice, I’ve devised a menu of intentional thoughts and mantras to keep parents and educators focused on maintaining a successful system. The key, however, is one overarching resolution – to build and maintain a strong personal connection.
Creating a Personal Connection
Having this one overarching goal helps parents and teachers stay on track and avoid the all too often “New Year’s resolution failure.” The personal connection is a means to an end – the best and most direct way to create trust and space for your child to do the hard work you ask and expect of him. So, how do we create this connection, especially if the relationship is often sour? First, frame of mind is important. You will not create the connection in minutes or hours or even days. It’s a process that includes many touchpoints – it doesn’t mean you have to take off work and keep your child home from school, and it doesn’t mean having to hire a second teacher for the classroom. It means finding and taking advantage of moments when you can ask questions and really listen to what the child is saying; to what he is interested in and likes doing.
To promote a strong personal connection, parents can ask their child to pick an activity he likes or an interest he’d like to explore. Even if the topic is of no interest to you, remember your goal – to connect. Keep a list of questions in your mind so you find things to talk about if the activity or subject is not your cup of tea. Ask the W questions; “Why…?” “What…?” “When…?” “Where…?” If finding an activity is too much or too hard, instead start by spending at least 15 minutes a week one-on-one with your child (you’ll be surprised just how seldom we find time to do this) – just sitting with him and commenting on what he is doing. Notice what he is working on or playing with and ask him about his interests and listen attentively as he tells you about them.
For teachers to create a personal connection, I often say, “find the hardest kid to love and love him the hardest.” That kid you know was “trouble” last year, approach him and have lunch together or carve out five minutes to talk to him about the things he likes and dislikes; what makes him tick and what ticks him off. Trust me, very few adults have taken the time to learn about him, you’ll already be ahead of the game by showing genuine interest.
Once the personal connection is formed, you can devise a plan that includes thoughts and mantras for when things are tough. Remember, the overarching goal, is to foster and maintain a strong personal connection. The thoughts and mantras are there to help you maintain the personal connection during difficult times. When behavior is perplexing or challenging or you just don’t know how to react to something done or said, go through these thoughts to keep you in response mode rather than reaction mode.
“What is the goal and is what I’m about to say/do going to get me to that goal?”
You’re on vacation and you want to have a nice family dinner out at a restaurant. Your child doesn’t want to go, is starting to melt down either by shutting down or by acting out. Remember, the goal was for a nice family dinner. If you force this child to come to dinner, at this moment, will you achieve your goal? If you use words that shame or guilt, will you achieve the goal? If you leave the child at the hotel (assuming he is of an appropriate age to do that), will that achieve your goal? Maybe. Will ordering room service and having a floor picnic achieve your goal? Maybe. Pausing and taking stock of options and where they will likely lead you, is an important first step before reacting. If you are thinking – “Isn’t that just giving in?” the answer is, not always. If you start by insisting he come to dinner, and then decide he doesn’t have to go, then you gave in. This is why the pause and intentional thought is so important. If you find a better way to maintain peace, and get to the goal you want, then what you did is role model flexibility and creativity.
You assign a fill in the blank worksheet, the goal of which is to determine what your students know about a particular topic. One of the students in the class circles words and draws arrows to the blanks instead of writing words in the blank spaces. The answers are correct. Unless the goal was to teach the student how to write an answer on a blank space, there should be no reaction or consequence. The student demonstrated his knowledge, albeit in an unconventional way, but it does not warrant a consequence because he did meet your goal of showing he knew the content. You shouldn’t ignore his tactic as this behavior may signal that the child struggles with writing. Asking him about his clever shortcut, rather than dinging him for not following directions will further a connection and help you get this child the learning support he may need.
“What else could be underlying this behavior?”
You’re at home and your child throws a toy across the room. Obviously, this is unwanted and unacceptable behavior. However, is he responding to something that happened at school? Did something happen right before he threw the toy that you didn’t see? If we assume a child did something naughty because he is inherently naughty, we set them up to self-define that way. Instead, we must give the benefit of the doubt and ask the child what is happening for him at that moment. Even remind him that you know this isn’t how he usually behaves. So often we react to behavior as “bad” because it is bad behavior, but we miss why the child resorted to that behavior and therefore never address the actual issue. Giving the benefit of the doubt goes a long way and actually diffuses behavior faster than punishing behavior; not to mention it strengthens the personal connection.
In school a child cannot seem to settle down and focus in the classroom. Why do we assume there’s an attention diagnosis? Perhaps there is a reading issue, a social issue, something happening at home. If we have a strong personal connection and we give the child the benefit of the doubt, hopefully we can get to the bottom of what is going on for this child. If indeed the child inherently needs to move around, then we find that out by asking questions and we support his need through a standing desk, sitting ball or making an opportunity for him to move.
“Is the consequence I’m considering going to teach a lagging skill?”
I remember dropping one of my kids off at preschool and watching as a father pointed and wagged his finger at his child and said, “Don’t you point your finger at me!” I felt for the father because he was clearly exasperated, and I felt for the child because she clearly learned that gesture from her father. She was given a mixed message and didn’t have the tools to channel her emotions or express her feelings. She only learned what would get her in more trouble.
I am still shocked when I hear from a client that their child had recess taken away in school. What skill does that teach? For the child who has to move, when recess is taken away, it only sets them up for further failure. A better reaction would be to give the child permission to run a few laps around the playground and then see if that helps him attend better in class. That teaches the child to recognize what his body needs. Alternatively, give the child an important note to deliver to the front office or to another teacher and have the receiving adult thank the child for delivering such an important message. The combination of getting some energy out, and knowing that two adults trusted him with an important task, gives the child self-confidence and helps him to integrate into the classroom.
Along with thoughts, the mantras below should help keep things calm, help you avoid conflict and stay focused on your goal of maintaining a strong personal connection.
“When we’re tense, everyone is tense. When we’re calm, everyone is calm.”
Remember, children and students look to the adult to role model behavior. As with the example of the finger-pointing father above, children mimic what they see. Think about how you would want your child or student to behave when they are frustrated, annoyed, angry, or tired, and try to model that response. You can even say “I’m having a hard time keeping my emotions in check, I’m going to take a break and come back in a few minutes so we can talk.” Can you imagine if your child or student said that to you? Wouldn’t that be wonderful. You just role modeled self-awareness and appropriate communication.
“Manage who you are so you can manage who he is.”
Not unlike the oxygen mask analogy, we have to be in control of ourselves before we can help a child maintain control. Energy tends to feed off energy. So, if you add fuel to the fire, the fire only gets bigger. Take away the oxygen and the flame decreases. Think of a tug of war – if one side drops the rope, the tension goes away. Do that deep breathing. Close your eyes. Go for a walk or run. Take a bath. Go for a ride. Listen to music. You can even tell your kids or students in the moment or later, what strategy you chose to regulate your emotions and moods.
“I think this is a good time for us to take a break.”
This sentence takes the wind right out of the argument’s sails. You model noticing when it’s time to stop. It shows that conversations don’t always have to be black and white or resolved in the moment with a “winner” and a “loser.” This sentence says – ‘Our relationship is way too important to me to continue in this damaging way.’
“Let’s start over, this isn’t going very well.”
This sentence provides a great reboot. It says, “I’m feeling yucky about what we are saying and what is happening here.” It gives perspective and prioritizes feelings and the relationship above being right. Sometimes using this sentence makes the issue go away entirely and replaces the argument with a hug.
“The most direct route is the indirect route.”
I use this all the time with clients to indicate that there are no quick fixes. With our twice exceptional kids we need to lay groundwork – create that connection – before we can set difficult expectations. Sometimes we have to make sure certain conditions are in place before we can set expectations. Has the child eaten, slept, moved his body? Do we need to address his mood before we can set out the day’s plans and goals? While we can’t always ensure that conditions are optimal before we set an expectation or ask our twice exceptional student to do something, if we are sensitive and aware, we might get farther faster by asking “Do you need a few minutes?” instead of forcing something.
Let’s face it, new year’s resolutions can be annoying. They force us to face something about ourselves that we want to change, or we weren’t good at in the past year. Hopefully the schema I am suggesting – identifying an overarching goal and using daily thoughts and mantras to stay focused on achieving that goal, will bring you the parenting or teaching change for which you are yearning. Remember, your efforts will sometimes yield the results you desire and sometimes nothing will seem to work. That’s okay. Tomorrow, you build on that personal connection again. Making a strong personal connection with your child or student is something you can resolve to start anew over and over again.