First Question, Always…How Will This Help Your Child?

I’ve been told I’m tough.  I’ve been told that I have the patience of a saint.  I’ve been told that I am authoritative.  I don’t know about any of those adjectives, but what I know is that when working with children, the decisions we make affect their future.   Period.

I believe in exposure therapy.  When I make a decision about behavior or expectations, I try to look at how that decision will affect them.  I deal with this personally and professionally.  Anxiety and its effects did not miss my household.

I often hear people complaining about the demands that school puts on kids and how ridiculous some of them are.  Many times people ask schools just to dismiss their expectations to make their child’s life easier.

For example, I often hear parents saying things like:

-Can we excuse Johnny from the timed test because it makes him very anxious?
-Can we excuse Mary from art class because autism makes the smell difficult for her to handle?
-Can Peter leave school 10 minutes early because the craziness of the hallways really makes him nervous?
-Can we give Lucy less homework because she gets very tired at night?

Unless there is a darn good reason, like Lucy has a debilitating disease or Peter downright cannot move from fear, my answer is usually, “how will this help the student in the future?”.  I’m not heartless and I don’t think there’s a definitive right or wrong answer.  I just think we need to be thoughtful about making life “easy” because, newsflash…adulting is not easy!

Let’s look at a couple of these examples.

Timed tests.  Yes they cause kids to be nervous, frankly they cause most kids to be anxious.  Yes, they often shoot up anxiety.  Yes, they provide no other value than increasing fluency, or, do they?  I believe times tests provide more than just fluency.  I believe that they gently, if done right, put time constraints on our student.  That’s a life lesson, friends.  In life, we have to complete tasks within a time frame often set by other people.  Can you imagine telling your boss that his deadlines give you anxiety and if you are to continue working there he has to stop setting deadlines?  That’s ludicrous and probably not a great way to stay employed!

Busy hallways.  The kids not wrong…busy hallways are stressful!  In fact, if I can hang back and avoid the end of the day hallway madness, I will…every time.  But, here’s the rub…hallways are busy, malls are busy, train stations are busy, city streets are busy…see my point?  A busy hallway can help your child learn to deal with crowds in a safe, familiar environment.

Avoiding uncomfortable places.  I had a parent request that I remove art from their child’s schedule.  The student had autism and was very sensitive to smells.  She did not want to go to art class.  She cried at night.  This was a tough one.  I asked the parent if there was anything else she disliked in regards to smells.  The parent said cleaning supplies were also hard but they had worked to overcome them somewhat.  When I inquired further, she said they only did cleaning in short stints…so, kitchen sink today, bathroom sink tomorrow, mopping the floors the next day, etc.  The smells were still present, but in small doses and the student could handle them.  We decided to duplicate that process at school.  We started on the first week just walking into the art room.  That’s it, walk in, find your desk, stand up and walk out.  The next week, she stayed in art for 2 minutes.  The next week, 4 minutes, the next week 6 minutes, you get the point.  Within 7 weeks, the student was able to stay in class for 30 minutes.  Within 3 months, she was able to stay for the entire hour.  This was a long process, but in the end, she coped and worked through her challenge successfully.  Further, the parents were able to clean entire rooms at one time.  This was life changing for this student.  Smells are everywhere!  Pay attention when you walk through your office or the grocery store.  There’s no way to successfully avoid smells so she needed to learn to deal with them so she could navigate her world.

My point to all of this is that life is hard.  Life is filled with demands and situations that require us to do things that make us uncomfortable.  So, how do we support children while also helping them to grow?  I have a few ideas for you to consider:

  1.  Break tasks down.  For the timed test example, maybe the student doesn’t have to do 30 addition problems in 1 minute, maybe they only have to do 10.  10 is totally doable (I’m assuming here, it may be different for your child) so the time limit becomes unimportant, but it’s still there.  Then, when the student sees success, make it 12 in a minute, then 15, you get where I’m going.   We don’t remove the stressor, we just make it less impactful.
  2. Small steps.  When situations or locations are intimidating, think about ways to help the child navigate.   Let’s use the hallway example.  Are there times during the day when the hallway is busy but not as crazy as the end of the day?  Could the student practice navigating the hallway during those times?  Could the teacher ask him to take a note to the office or a book to the library?  Think about natural situations that could get the student into a somewhat busy hallway to help him become more comfortable.  Then, when he’s good with that, go to the next step…maybe he wait in the classroom for 4 minutes after the end of the day bell, by that time, many students have left.  Then maybe to go to 2 minutes, but the teacher or an aide or even a friend walks with him.  Then the next time go to 2 minutes and the teacher hangs back a little.  Take your time with this.  Again, we didn’t take away the stressor, we are just helping the student learn to cope.
  3. Lead by example.  Are there things that are hard for you?  Expose them to your child.  I don’t love parties.  Honestly.  I can get up in front of a crowd of hundreds and speak, but don’t make me make small talk at a party.  It terrifies me.  So, I’m open with kids about that.  I also ensure that they see me facing my challenge and succeeding.  We can’t ask kids to do things we aren’t willing to do ourselves.  I hate bridges.  Well, I use to hate bridges.  Everyone in my world knew how afraid I was of bridges.  My daughter would talk me through crossing any bridge.  One year, we went to Virginia on vacation and I rented the car.  I did not add a second driver.  We decided to drive to Washington DC, Delaware and Maryland.  Did you know there’s a 20 mile bridge WITH TUNNELS on that route?  I DID NOT!  I had to drive the Chesapeake Bay Bridge…round trip.  Me.  I’m not gonna lie, I cried, several times as we crossed that bridge.  But, I did it.  I overcame that fear.  I now don’t have a problem.  I am so proud of that because when I had to cross a bridge, I would freeze, drop down to like 20 under the speed limit and white knuckle it across.  But, holy wow, when I succeeded, the feeling of success and joy was incredible!  Share your fears and give your kids the opportunity to see you facing them!

Look, I’m not saying it’s easy to look at your kid struggling.  It’s hard.  It’s also hard to know when to be tough and when to give in, but if you focus on that one question and take steps to help them succeed, you’ll more often than not, be grateful you did.

How will this decision impact this child’s future?

You cannot take away all demands from a child and expect them to suddenly enter adulthood with all of the skills needed to succeed.  These timed tests, busy hallways, and obnoxious smells are just examples…insert your own “thing”.  But the bottom line is that all of these little challenges that seem monumental at the time are preparing your child for life.  These are important!

Help them cope and help them work through these hard things.  In the end, they will see that they succeeded.  They will see that they are strong.  They will see that they faced their storm and were able to overcome.  Step by step…



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Disclaimer:  There are exceptions to every rule.  Children and adults with disabilities are people with their own individual needs and desires.  The ideas and advice given in this blog are for your consideration only and should not be taken as legal, medical or educational advice, as every single situation is different.


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