If you have read a little bit of my book or on the blogs, you are likely aware that seeing growth is a very important step in giving yourself grace. Unfortunately, one of the problem’s we face as parents of special needs kids is that growth can be hard to find. For our kids, a baby step is huge, but we can’t always see them and when we do, we can’t always be sure that it’s growth and not just some sort of weird instance that looks like growth just to fool us.
So the other day, my son has what looks like a piece of cotton in his ear. Upon closer inspection, I see that it’s really a piece of napkin. So, I asked him what the napkin was doing in his ear. “I put it there, Mommy. My ear was yucky.” Traditionally, this child has always had problems with his ears. He has had 3 sets of tubes and currently, has regular fluid drainage. The typical prescription is drops but he hates the drops. I finally convinced the pediatrician to try a z-pack oral antibiotic. One dose a day and when he had it for strep, the fluid in his ears dried up. We had some success with the antibiotic taking care of the fluid but then, recently, the fluid started draining again. So, I said to Chris, let’s go ahead and add some drops to your ear. He was not happy with that but I told him we should do it when we got home. A few hours later, he comes to see me and points to his ear. Says “it’s yucky again,” and does a motion like he was squeezing drops in his ear. Wait…What? He wanted me to put drops in his ear. I got them quickly and he laid down on the couch, let me put the drops in and then asked for cotton for his ear, which I also got immediately. Ummm…..what happened to my child? This is the child that kicks and screams at just the mention of ear drops and he just lets me put the drops in without a peep. Growth? Maybe. A weird anomaly? Highly likely.
But, then, the following day, it happened again. I really don’t know what to make of it but I’ll accept it and hope we have continued success. But, honestly, this situation has me thinking, “what if there was a way that I could help this trend to continue?”
What is Growth Mindset?
In education, we identify an individual as having a growth mindset when they believe that their talents and abilities can be developed by hard work, the use of good strategies and by input from others. Based on the research by Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford University, we have seen that children who develop a growth mindset excel and achieve much more than those who have a fixed mindset. Essentially, those who have a fixed mindset believe that no matter how much work you put in, your skills are what they are. Taking that a step further, if I applied that fixed mindset idea to raising a special needs child, I don’t think I would survive. So how can we apply a growth mindset at home?
Take A Cue From The Best
If you don’t already know, Christopher attends a Martial Arts program. The motto he has learned really does take it’s cue from growth mindset and Christopher says it often.
We are, the best!
We never, give up!
Hard work, pays off!!
Over the past year, I have seen Christopher excel at this program in ways I really did not expect. Their approach to the growth mindset really focuses on rewarding and praising the attempt rather than the end result. The end result will come, if you work to get there. My son has tested every 8 weeks for the past year to earn an new belt each time. Not every child is able to advance through the program in this way. True, he is working at a lower level than typical for his age, but the reality is that he believes he can learn, he believes he can do better and he believes in working hard.
Translate this to what our kids do at home. How can we change our approach as parents to encourage growth in this way? As it happens, I was reading about growth mindset, in ADDITUDE magazine about how often times, no matter how much praise you give a child, they get stuck on easy problems or refuse to try new things. So here I am writing about it and the exact same things which I want to say turn up in my email this morning. The article goes on to say that when children are praised for “being smart” – ie “You did such a great job on this puzzle. You are so smart.” – eventually begin to quit on themselves. They convince themselves that doing something = smart; not doing it = not smart. If I am not smart, what’s the point?
How many times have you said to your child something like, “Great job taking your medicine!” or something simple like “You did it!!!” or, even said something like, “What were you doing? You made a mess.”, when your child tried to be independent and get his own milk. I’m quite embarrassed to say, I’ve made that mistake. My child did not feel good about having tried to do something for himself and my reaction made him afraid to try it again.
What if I had turned it around? “Christopher, Mommy is so proud of you for trying to get your own milk. It’s ok that it spilled because we can clean it up together. I’ll help you.” – I think, looking back, he would feel better about himself and be more willing to try again. Mistakes are not so scary because we can learn from them.
Circling back to the ear drops – what’s the better response? “Great job letting me put the eardrops in!” or “Mommy is so proud of you for trying so hard to get the eardrops in your ears.” ???
Whether we are successful or not, the attempt has to be rewarded. Success and growth is not whether or not he actually laid still for me to put the ear drops in his ears, it’s that he was willing to try even though he really hates the feeling of those ear drops. Success is trying and that’s how we can see growth.
For ourselves, as parents, we need to know that our kids can learn. They can improve. They can make changes. We also need to know that we can too. Growth is understanding that I didn’t have success getting my child to comply with getting dressed this morning because I was so sure that he was going to give me a hard time that I didn’t give him the opportunity to even make the attempt to comply. Mom will do better tomorrow. Today, I will give myself a bit of grace, forgive myself for my mistakes, and remember that in spite of my mistakes, I can still love myself and love my child.
If you would like to read more about growth mindset you can find additional information at this link: https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/school-anxiety-in-children-with-adhd/
Although Additude Magazine focuses on children with ADHD, I find it an excellent resource for information which can be applied to other special needs, as well.