Helping your child cope in an unstable world
It happens every fall season. Terrified teens. Anxiety increases, panic attacks increase. The cause? Worries about their future performance on standardized exams. No, correct that, it’s not just high schoolers. This epidemic of college hysteria starts much younger. The last kid to share their test anxiety with me was only NINE YEARS OLD.
KIDS ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED TO BE KIDS AT ANY AGE IN THE FRANTIC RUSH TO “GET INTO A GOOD COLLEGE.”
Why the hysteria? In part, it is fueled by the notion that SAT or ACT scores is the gateway into a college of their choice. And that only a few choice colleges will guarantee the key to success and happiness. Both of these notions are myths.
A FEW FACTS:
Did you know that Success on high stakes testing such as the SAT is more linked to socio-economic class than to prediction of success in college?
Did you know that many of these tests are poorly normed and not well validated before given to your kids?
Did you know that many of the testing corporations use your kids as guinea pigs to validate the test questions for future test versions?
And, most importantly, did you know that kids with special needs will do poorly on these types of timed, multiple choice tests even if their fund of general knowledge far exceeds their peers?
MYTH: every kid needs to go to a four year college in order to find happiness and success
NOT SO, MY FRIENDS!
It’s time to wake up and push back against the kind of rigid thinking that creates college prep automatons rather than whole hearted, confident and capable human beings. Kids are being pressured to perform increasingly higher as the high stakes testing game continues to play an increasingly prominent role in our drive to push kids into select colleges.
MYTH: Multiple choice standardized tests are a reliable way to predict a student’s ability.
NOT. Let me just say that some kids are just not multiple choice thinkers. In fact, think about it. Is this the type of automaton thinker we want to run our future world? What happened to our out of the box creativity that truly fuels this planet? We need innovators, problem solvers, wide range unconventional reasoners to work on our future planet. Not cookie cutter multiple choice responders. So WHAT exactly are we doing to our kids?
You Can Push Back.
As parents, you have the power to protest the standardized testing game and avoid the race to a select few “good” colleges with your choices, your actions and attitudes.
Start to look at the colleges that do not require standardized testing for admissions. There are amazing colleges in this country that offer a broad and creative curriculum that can meet the passions and interest of just about every student. Check them out and you will be amazed. Book sources include:
Start to tell your child that he or she is worth more than a score on a random test. The time to build a child’s self worth, as well as a broader outlook on life after high school, begins long before high school. In my practice, it’s frightening to see how many ten years olds are already worried about where they will go to college.
Get involved in your old college as an alumnus. Make sure your opinion is heard: eliminate or minimize standardized testing as a make or break rubric for acceptance.
BUILD PASSIONS NOT SCORES:
Building diverse interests and stoking your child’s passions create a more positive outcome on life than the emphasis on where to go, or even whether to go to college.
While it’s true that college graduates statistically have higher paying jobs, it’s also true that many people freeze after college and have virtually no training, outlook or experience to live in the real world when all they have ever known is studying and getting grades.
Whether or not you have a child who is ready to think about college, start thinking about your child. Who is he or she? Is this child a college candidate right now or do they need something more enriching and more diverse before starting to consider advanced education?
For example, Israeli teens have to serve a compulsory 2 to 3 years in the army after high school. After they get out, they generally spend time working and traveling before even considering University. While Israel has among the highest per capita educational level in the world, virtually 0% of their population attend college at 18.
Start thinking about a broader picture. Does your child want to give back before enrolling in that frat house? Does your child need more time to “ripen”? Consider The Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, or others: https://www.goabroad.com/articles/gap-year/best-gap-year-programs
Consider working at a job for a year. Nothing prepares kids for life like … real life. Your child will start college with a deeper sense of what they want to do afterwards.
And finally, re-examine your own attitude and expectations. Many atypical kids are late bloomers or just different thinkers. Honor their differences and build a path for them that is truly authentic and amazing. You will be proud.
It was a delight and privilege to speak with Debbie Raber of Tilt Parenting.
Have a listen!
TPP 167: Dr. Rita Eichenstein Offers Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children from TILT Parenting: Raising Differently Wired Kids in Podcasts. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/tilt-parenting-raising-differently-wired-kids/id1102055778?i=1000445108792
Billy is a child with severe asthma. He is also highly gifted and loves going to class, but the school nurse is new and doesn’t know this. One morning the nurse calls Billy’s mom to report that Billy is having an asthma attack but not to worry: she thinks he’s just being manipulative and trying to avoid taking a test. Luckily, Billy’s mom is nearby and rushes to pick him up and take him to the doctor. For Billy, an asthma attack can be life threatening.
If your child has any type of significant challenge—from severe asthma to autism, from learning disabilities to ADHD to a neurological disorder—you do not have the luxury of being a “chill parent”. As you have already figured out, kids who are atypical need atypical parenting. The problem is that other adults, be they teachers, parents, or the school nurse, may not understand your choices or reactions.
Maybe you have been accused of being a helicopter mom when all you are doing is making sure your son or daughter is in good hands. Instead of helicopter parents, I have coined umbrella parents (link umbrella parents to positivelyatypical.com)
Maybe teachers and so-called friends suggest that your “hovering” is actually making things worse for your child. Or maybe you are a people-pleaser, hesitant to make waves, hoping your kid will be okay on that field trip when you know for a fact that he hates long bus rides and may vomit. Your desire to be liked and respected as a “sane and normal” parent overrides your legitimate concern for your child’s well being. Perhaps you constantly doubt yourself, unsure of what it means to properly parent your son or daughter. There are no hard-and-fast rules for parenting any child, but my experience working with special-needs kids and their families has given me some insights I’d like to share with you.
What You’re Up Against
In some ways, atypical parents have the same challenges as all parents, only more so because the stakes are so high. The mother of one girl recently told me that the school principal saw her with the family dog and remarked, “You have no business owning a dog—you have too many problems with your kid.” Imagine this mom’s frustration! But she couldn’t say a word, because she didn’t want to get her child in trouble. That’s how most parents would react, but in this case getting on the wrong side of the principal could mean more than just getting the cold shoulder at the next PTA meeting. It could affect your goal of keeping everyone responsive to helping your child’s special needs.
In addition to having to deal with a more intense version of the typical parenting dilemmas, parents of atypical children must develop skills other parents can barely imagine. Constant vigilance is one. The average bumps and surprises of childhood can be difficult for special-needs kids to tolerate. Is Mad Mike the Science Guy coming to class? Cool! But not if your son is autistic and will freak out at Mike’s loud, smoky “experiments,” so once again you will have to be the Debbie Downer and voice your concerns. Conflicts like this can leave you feeling tremendously isolated—and isolation itself is one of the hardest parts about parenting an atypical child.
To help ease your way a bit, here are some guidelines I give to the families I see in my practice.
Do’s and Don’ts for Parents of Atypical Kids
- Do educate the environment around your child. Create a large index card that clearly explains your child’s condition and how to handle it. Hand it out to the people involved in your child’s care.
- Do be aware of who will be watching your child during a play date. Is it a parent who is aware of your child’s condition, or a nanny who’s going to be watching TV in the other room? If you feel uneasy about the supervision, reschedule the play date at your house so you can keep a closer watch.
- Do have a few friends in your corner. It helps to have friends witness your child’s meltdowns or special needs, so they have a clear understanding of the condition and can validate that, “No, you’re not losing your mind. You’re not overreacting.”
- Do discuss your child’s condition with him or her in age-appropriate terms.
- Make it solution oriented: “The reason my child can’t handle Mad Mike is because it’s too much over-stimulation for him. Here’s some guidance to create a curriculum for sensory sensitive children plus create a plan B for your child when he starts to feel over stimulated.”
- Do not become emotional when describing your child’s condition. When talking to professionals or even other parents who are not your close friends, you must be matter-of-fact about it. Otherwise, they will dismiss you as hysterical and overprotective. Save your emotions for family or close friends. It’s okay to be assertive as long as it’s done respectfully.
- Do not wait for a diagnosis. Your child may not have an official diagnosis, but you may know in your heart that he or she is having difficulty. Follow your gut instincts and don’t be afraid to advocate for your child.
Last weekend, I decided to follow a new gluten free pancake recipe. I was careful to follow the ingredients written on the recipe, since I had never done this before. The directions said to use a nonstick skillet with cooking spray. I spooned the batter into 4 lovely circles on the sizzling pan. I almost felt tender towards the promising little circles of yum – until it was time to flip them over and I discovered that the nonstick spray wasn’t working. These little circles of yum became mush – see photo below for a reality check.
For my next attempt, I decided to go a bit rogue and use my common sense. I generously buttered the pan, poured the batter and watched circles emerge – looking good! until my phone beeped and I got distracted, responding to a text. Pancakes? Burnt. -see photo for reality check#2.
Was the third time the charm? By now, I knew what to do:
- butter the pan.
- Pour one perfect circle at a time.
- WATCH it carefully,
- flip when bubbly.
- Voila! not perfectly round but still pretty and delicious!
p.s. JUST KIDDING! I couldn’t make that plate above! That photo above is actually from the recipe card, BUT all three of my batches were actually delish, they just didn’t look anything like the photo led me to expect!
What’s the parable here? There are several.
- Good Enough: As my kids would love to tell you, I’m not the world’s best cook. At times, I have produced a few startling successes, but most of the time, it’s just good enough to fill the belly without winning any awards.
“Good enough” parenting was a term coined by a child development specialist, Donald Winnicot, when he said that kids don’t need superstar perfection in order to become perfectly great people. Follow the link for more on that!
- When to go off recipe: Following the standard rules does not apply to every kid. As with my first pancake batch, the nonstick spray wasn’t effective. These pancakes needed … ACCOMMODATIONS. In this case, the accommodations was a good stick of butter. In your child’s case, it may be an IEP or 504 plan. Or medical interventions. Get your child tested if you KNOW they need something, but just aren’t sure what.
- Pay attention. Kids don’t grow on their own. Just as my pancakes got burnt when I took that text, kids can get neglected. Put down your cell phone long enough to watch your kids grow up.
- Specific Accommodations: Like many children, my final pancakes needed me to go beyond the expectations described in the recipe. For my unique pancakes, success was a pancake that required: non-standard administration of the protocol, careful attention and it’s own plan, I mean, pan. Some kids need us to go above and beyond the standard “recipe”: pay attention and make sure that your child gets what they need, both from you, from their school and their environment. Don’t hesitate to make the call if they need more than is “typically acceptable”.
- And finally, kids are not, just like pancakes, meant to be picture perfect. But all of them are delicious and no two are exactly alike.
For those who are curious about accommodations, IEP plans, why you should put down your cell phones and the pancake recipe, follow the links. For more about Neuropsychological testing go to my website:
For those who need a more specific “recipe” check out my brilliant colleagues book “Just Tell Me What to Do” by Betsy Brown Braun https://g.co/kgs/nHGk6A
For more inroads into atypical children, go to my Not What I Expected – Help and Hope for Atypical Children https://g.co/kgs/GFky7g