Parenting

Raising An Adult By 18 – Flexibility Is Key

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We have this idea of wanting to raise an adult by 18. We know that to do that we need to determine our values so that we can determine the goal. And then we talked about how we could then break those goals down to create a plan – how we might create an awareness of all of the steps our children might need to get to to be able to function well in the world as the unique and precious people they were made to be.

However, this week I want to provide a note of caution, because as soon as we start thinking about ‘plans’ people seem to jump immediately to ‘rigid, hierarchical, authoritarian structures’ and that is not what I’m talking about here!

While I have seen charts saying children should reach this skill by such-and-such an age, or showing what chores kids should do in what grades, I think it’s incredibly important to realize that each of our children are unique, and each will develop in slightly different ways and slightly different speeds. This is particularly true for children who have neurodevelopmental issues such as autism, physical disabilities such as club foot or those who were born prematurely.

Because of this, my recommendation is to create a list of skills that you want your child to develop along each of these axes – heart, soul, mind and body – and for each of the values that you want your child to learn. Then, take an inventory of where your child is at, asking yourself the following questions:

  • Which of these skills have they already developed? Give yourself (and your child!) a huge pat on the back!
  • Which of these skills is your child currently trying to develop or interested in developing? How can you encourage that process? Putting your time and attention into these skills next will be worth the effort, as it’s always easiest to teach something to a child that they want to learn!
  • Which of these skills is your child currently lacking that you feel are holding them back? How can you begin to make those skills interesting or exciting or intriguing to your child to help them to get closer to wanting to learn?

Here’s a sample for a child I’ll call A.J.

A.J. is nine. His parents’ values include community, nature and movement.

But A.J. has autism. He finds being out in public to be very difficult because of the level of sensory input it creates – the fluorescent lights buzz, the conversations are loud and overwhelming, and he gets in trouble for spinning in circles or running too fast in the aisles. Years ago his parents agreed that taking A.J. to the store was just a bad idea – so if there’s ever a way to leave him at home with a parent or other caregiver while they run errands that’s what happens.

A.J.’s autism also means that movement is difficult. He has something called ‘dyspraxia’, so coordinating his gross motor system has been difficult. As such, he is still struggling to master riding a bike, he gets extremely frustrated when he tries to play ball games and he’s fallen off the play equipment at the park so often that he’s afraid to go and play.

However, A.J. absolutely loves nature. Nature is his solace. He knows all of the plants in his grandfather’s garden by name – knows how they grow best; when to plant them; what soil conditions they like the best; and what time of year they produce their flowers or fruit.

So using these questions and their values, how might A.J.’s parents look at the situation?

First of all, they would see that A.J. has developed a number of skills around their value of nature. He can name the plants in the garden, knows how to care for them, and knows what value each brings in terms of fruits, vegetables or flowers. This is something worth celebrating!

Sometimes the things our kids excel at come so easily to them that we forget to appreciate how big of an accomplishment their successes are, and sometimes their incessant conversation about it almost makes us frustrated by their love of their ‘special interest’. But it’s really important for A.J.’s parents to acknowledge, validate, appreciate and encourage A.J.’s interest in gardening – perhaps by setting aside a part of their own yard for him to start gardening on his own, or perhaps by taking him to the library or sitting down with him at the computer to do some research about a new plant that he’s interested in.

After looking at what A.J. is succeeding at, his parents might turn their attention to what he seems to be trying to get better at. They might realize that he really, really wants to play soccer with the other kids at school during recess, but is scared that he’ll make a fool of himself. So maybe A.J.’s parents might make some extra time to take him to the park in the evenings or on weekends so that they can practice these skills together. Regular encouragement, and a helping hand can go a long way with a child who is ready to put in the work!

And then finally, A.J.’s parents might realize that as he is getting older he is going to need to learn ways of becoming comfortable out in public spaces. They realize that the sensory therapy he’s done and the developmental progress he’s made means he’s probably ready to start trying, but they haven’t known where to start, since A.J. is completely uninterested in going out.

So perhaps they look at this final question and think, “I wonder whether we might be able to start by tapping into A.J.’s special interest – gardening – and offering to take him to the garden centre?”

Perhaps they plan their trip for a time when they know that A.J. will be pretty calm, and a time when they suspect that the store won’t be too busy. Perhaps they go with a very specific goal in mind to help A.J. focus on the task at hand. And perhaps they slowly start to build up from there. The expectation isn’t that A.J. will suddenly be interested or willing to run all of the errands with the family overnight, but that by being flexible, and attuned to his interests they may be able to help him move forward with the skills that are currently holding him back.

So, I would encourage you this week to have a look at your plan from last week and then think about the questions we listed above:

  • Which of these skills have they already developed? Give yourself (and your child!) a huge pat on the back!
  • Which of these skills is your child currently trying to develop or interested in developing? How can you encourage that process? Putting your time and attention into these skills next will be worth the effort, as it’s always easiest to teach something to a child that they want to learn!
  • Which of these skills is your child currently lacking that you feel are holding them back? How can you begin to make those skills interesting or exciting or intriguing to your child to help them to get closer to wanting to learn?

What might be your next right step?

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