Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Of Helicopters and Helping

"Helicopter parents" seem to be the buzz word in our area lately. They are meant to conjure up a group of anxious moms or dads zooming around their kiddos making sure they don't fail. No one wants to be a helicopter parent. No one wants to be accused of failing to let their children learn from the much vaunted natural consequences.

Well, maybe except me. Not that I am a helicopter parent. I really don't perceive that I am. But different kids have different needs and different abilities to learn from and with experiences. KC seems more able to connect the dots and see cause and effect than either Chet or Rob. With Chet's autism, behaviors and appropriate responses are more rote and memorized. He doesn't have social acumen. His abilities to develop are seriously limited and if I intentionally allowed him to put himself in the negative situations, the consequences would likely be that he would not be allowed to participate in areas that have meaning and joy in his life. It is hard to have those venues for him and I am not willing to jeopardize those experiences as I know he feels isolated enough by his differences. And yes, I honestly tried natural consequences. He was banned from the local library for starters. For an avid reader, it was heartbreaking. I understand the reason; but his ability to learn from it was just not there. His take is they don't understand him and they are mean and someone should "wake them up."

Rob's lack of abilities to learn from consequences I think stem in part from his early years in foster care. A plethora of traumatic experiences led him to feel that bad things would just continue to happen to him. I don't think that he believes that so much now. But when faced with a more challenging situation his first inclination is to do a half baked effort. I think it is so that he can say to himself that "he could have done better if he had wanted to try harder." Initially I let him do the half baked jobs, figuring that he would want to improve. Didn't work. I stepped back for a loooooong time and it just didn't work.

So I changed my perspective. I decided it is my job to coach a bit and make him want to try harder . Rob's in a coming of age program and our church. There have been a variety of activities to help the kids explore their values, clarify their spirituality etc. They have had a lot of group building stuff and some fun activities, but also some big ideas to think about.

I have also learned that thinking abstractly doesn't come easily to Rob. Not that he can't--unlike Chet, for instance. But it is just hard. And when left in the hard place he falls into his familiar pattern. First he freezes, can't see a solution, then he goes for half baked. So for instance, when the kids had a mask making activity this fall, he and I did some brain storming. We went to a craft store together (well all the kids and I, which made for enough breaks in the conversation that there was no way Rob could get stressed!) By the end of the trip not only did I have the beginnings of Excedrin Headache #99 but he had managed to decide what things were inside himself that others didn't see from his outer self and find tools to show them on his mask.

Ironically Kirsty thought I was helping too much, but because I am pigheaded (LOL) and because I truly had a gut feeling that I was getting this right, I used the same tactic for each of the other activities that had abstract thinking stuff involved. I haven't seen the results but I have had other adults tell me how well Rob was able to articulate his visions, how focussed he was and best of all, how proud he was of his efforts. I noticed that he was glowing when I would catch up with him at fellowship after service. It was neat.

Also of interest to me was the fact that 2 or 3 of the parents in the class have cornered me and essentially expressed their regret that they hadn't offered more help on occasion to their kids. I said it wasn't really help; we just brainstormed together and I gave him access to craft supplies that could help articulate his visions. He doesn't really like to draw and why limit himself to drawing when he doesn't feel good about it? One mom told me how much her son hates his finished mask and how she wished she had done more to help him slow down. It wasn't that his ideas were bad. But he didn't plan them out and what he tried to do essentially wrecked the mask. When you are the only one with a wrecked mask, it hurts. Her son doesn't have issues of trauma and adoption, but he does have LD issues. My guess is he has enough instances when things feel wrecked. There also have to be enough times in our kids childhoods that they feel good about what they do, what they create and what they share of themselves.

The most recent project was a thank you gift from each child to their mentor. They had to paint and decorate a flower pot with things that are symbolic of their time together. There was a parent meeting from 6:30 to 8 on a week night to discuss the upcoming finale of the year's experience. The suggestion was to bring your child and have them make their pot while you were at the meeting. I know that by 6:30 p.m. the meds that help Rob focus are so not present. He is a fidgety little bug in the evening, unable to concentrate, unable to link thoughts all that effectively. I knew whatever he created would not be representative of how much he has really enjoyed his mentor. I emailed the coordinater and said he couldn't be there and why and he did the pot at home. 5 other kids did the project at home also, so he wasn't alone in this. But 2 of the kids who did it that night had a tough time concentrating and complained to their parents that it just didn't come out the way they wanted it to.

Bottom line, I think I'll keep on keeping on--coaching as unobstrusively as I can to help Rob learn that he has boundless potential and the courage to explore it.

1 comment:

Rambleman said...

Sounds like you're doing an awesome job.