Tag Archives: Parenting Atypical Kids

Parents, Here Are Your 6 Teachable Moments!

Parents, Here Are Your 6 Teachable Moments!

19221587_sA teachable moment is supposed to be a moment when your child’s attention has landed on something you want him to learn—and he is actually ready to learn it. More often, parents use “teachable moment” as code for “catastrophe.”  As in, “William dropped all his stuffed animals in the toilet and then flushed it. Ah, that was a teachable moment.”

In everyday life, the challenge for parents is to recognize teachable moments and follow through. It’s not really a matter of waiting until your child is ready to grasp the lesson. It’s a matter of repeating the lesson so often that, sooner or later, it sinks in and becomes second nature.

Here are the skills I believe parents of atypical kids should try to teach their children, along with the right moments to do the teaching.

1. Eye contact: You and your child run into someone you know or are introduced to someone new. Your child stares shyly downward and says nothing or mumbles, “my airplane got lost.”

Your teachable moment: BEFORE your child is approached, remind your child what is expected.  SAY: ‘Neighbor Joanie is walking over to us, remember to look her in the face and say hello’.   If your child is not doing so, don’t be shy, say it aloud: “Look her in the face and say ‘Hello’ ! Good for you!” Every child is capable looking someone in the eye when they are introduced, even if it takes years of training. Don’t hesitate to keep reminding.

2. Manners:  Every child is capable of saying please, excuse me and thank you—again, even if it takes years of training.

Your teachable moment: Every single time your child asks for or accepts any item, task, or favor. Also: You must model this behavior by saying please and thank you yourself, every single time. Your child can learn to do this, and it will make so much difference later on in his or her life.

3. Simple conversation skills: Your child should be able to hold up his or her end of a basic conversation, including asking questions: How are you? What do you like to do in school? Who are your friends? What are your hobbies?

Your teachable moment: Driving in the car is a great time for parents to rehearse these conversations with children so they are at ease with the questions and ready to roll. They can help you make up the questions and, of course, they get to answer the questions too. Model having back and forth conversations with imaginary people or friends, don’t hesitate from adding some humor to it, kids love to laugh at absurdities, like what to say to Mr. Elephant at the zoo or Mr. Ralph who, of course, owns Ralphs grocery store.

4. Planning and organizational skills:  How to clean out a backpack. How to neatly put papers in a folder without them getting crinkled. How to lay out clothes the night before (also builds good planning skills). How to prepare lunch with their parent the night before.

Your teachable moment: After homework is done but before TV privilege time. Now is the time to run through all the necessary prep work for the next day.  The trick is forcing yourself to take the time to teach these skills in a patient and relaxed way at the end of a long day. It’s always so much easier just to do it yourself, right? Don’t! Your little Johnny needs to pack up his own backpack and put it right by the front door all my himself. He can do it!

5. Nutrition: Children must eat foods that are not white. I lost count as to how many parents have told me that their child will only eat exactly 3 foods, over the years. How did that happen? Eating a healthy diet is the most important brain-building activity.

Your teachable moment: Start young. Give them nutritious food before they have an opinion. The world of natural food is delicious! Whole Foods offers cooking classes for kids or you can buy simple cook books with pictures and experiment.  Do not succumb to every plea for orange-dyed snacks, and oversalted, oversugared pseudo-food that only benefits food industries but certainly not your child.  DO NOT. EVER. PLEASE.

6. Entertainment: Do not introduce your child to iPads or iPhones until at least age 5.  You have control until then.  Use your parental control and your wisdom. Please.  One parent I know equated the iPad to vodka for an alcoholic. It can be that addictive. Why would you want to do that to your child? From age 0-5 is the time for a child’s sensorium to develop, including sensory relationship with the world. That does not include using a finger to swipe for immediate gratification, but does include crawling, touching, tasting, sensing and interacting with real people in real time.

Your teachable moment: Any moment when you are stressed and it would be so much easier just to hand over the device. No, make that BEFORE you are stressed.  PLAN AHEAD.  Are you going to be in the car for a long stretch? Doctor waiting room? Long meeting? Long car pool line? Remember drawing on a scratch pad with crayons? Picture books? CDs? If you can’t listen to Radio Disney for one more second, try movie soundtracks or children’s classics like “Peter and the Wolf.”  Plan to have conversation topics or plan songs from your childhood to teach your child while waiting. Teach them finger games or other ways to entertain themselves for those few minutes.

There are many more teachable moments that are available to parents if they can be mindful and alert to their children’s behaviors.  What are some teachable moments that have worked for you?

When Is “Too Much” Just Enough?

Umbrella Parents
Umbrella parents always know when the rain is coming, and are ready with a metaphorical umbrella.

You know the ones.  The moms or dads with chronically worried faces, who pre-empt every group parent meeting to talk about their child’s special needs, and seem oblivious to the eye-rolling of parents around them.  The ones who wait outside the classroom at the end of each day to make sure their child is bringing home the right books. The parents who take the longest in the parent-teacher conferences.  “Helicopter parents.”   “Smother mothers.”

You know them because they are us and they are you. Parents of atypical kids do stand out from the rest; they take care of their children in ways that other moms and dads don’t have to, risking criticism from other parents and weary sighs from teachers.  They look like they are helicopter parents, but here is the truth that only you know:

They are doing what it takes to get their kid through the day.  Sometimes “too much” is just enough.

Hello, Umbrella Parents!

Instead of helicopter parents or smother mothers, I like to refer to these devoted moms and dads as umbrella parents. Good parents know what their children need, anticipate those needs, and take action. They are like weathermen who know when the rain is coming and are ready with a metaphorical umbrella.

When a child is diagnosed as atypical, I always explain to parents that they will need to be more attuned to the child’s needs than the average parent, at least for a while. Helicopter instincts are a very practical response to dealing with your special needs child.

Why? Because most atypical children experience some impairment and delay of their executive function.  Executive function is a broad term for the process that takes place in frontal lobe of the brain: the ability to anticipate, plan, problem-solve, organize, and self-monitor one’s social behaviors.  That pretty much sums up the job description of a parent, doesn’t it?

Umbrella parents don’t hesitate to protect their kids

When parents know that their children will have problems in particular areas, not only is it important to intercede, pave the way for them, and inform those adults who teach them, it is critical.  Teachers and coaches are busy running programs with lots of kids, and the problems of a single child just don’t stand out—until they do.

At that point, how the coach or teacher treats the child can lead to a series of humiliations, unfortunate discipline tactics, and subsequent self-esteem problems for the child. Coaches, counselors, and some teachers can be too aggressive in their tactics unless they are informed and instructed about better methods to deal with a child who is different.

So parents, do not hesitate to be your child’s advocate! Stand up, call it out, pay no attention to the other parents who think you are helicoptering. You are protecting your child!

The 5 W’s of  Umbrella Parenting

When your child is beginning a new class, team, or other activity, you have the chance to set the stage for a positive experience for your child and a good relationship with the teacher or coach. It is your chance to replace the “helicopter” label with “attentive and available.”  Just remember the 5 W’s:

  • Who? Who should be in the meeting? When you ask to meet with the teacher, coach or activity leader, it’s best if you bring along backup. The more people to support you, the better.  A spouse, neighbor or even your child’s therapist.  There is strength in numbers; moms rarely get heard as well as a professional who is saying the same thing.
  • What? What should the parent bring to the meeting? A note from a doctor or a one page recommendation list could help the process.  For example, a note could say: “Andy suffers from an auditory processing disorder. This means that he may not hear your instructions the first time. Please do not yell at him for this, but do repeat it a few times if he seems confused.  You could also meet with him before the game to see if he has any questions.”You could also attach a brief printout about the disorder for him to read. Note that what the doctor is saying is exactly what you will say, but somehow the doctor or therapist note provides more weight to your requests.
  • When? When should the meeting take place? The earlier the better. I often advise parents to meet with teachers a few days before school starts to debrief them on your child’s needs.  Depending on how many adjustments your child needs, you may want 15 minutes up to a half hour.Ask the teacher for “15 minutes of your time” just to briefly explain the situation and why you, the parent, will be hovering a bit throughout the year.
  • Where? Location matters. You will want privacy, away from other parents.  You also may not want to involve your child if he or she is not ready to talk about his issues (stay tuned for a future blog post on this)
  • Why? The point of this first little meeting is to set the stage with the teacher, explain what the situation is, and communicate that you are a calm, attentive parent and want to help the teacher so that your child is not disruptive and also is getting what he or she needs.

Stay tuned for my next post, when I will talk about the flip side of umbrella parenting: over-indulging your kid, soothing your own nerves instead of his, and when and how to let go.