HOW TO HELP MORE DIFFICULT CHILDREN
By Dorothea McArthur, Ph.D.
I recently attended a continuing education seminar by Robert Brooks from Harvard that was entitled, Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or Learning Difficulties: Strategies for Building Motivation, Self Esteem, Hope and Resilience. Dr. Brooks spoke of his personal journey through 30 years of work with these children. He has a son, now 32, with learning difficulties. He feels that he almost lost his relationship with his son because he would come in the door every night and the first words out of his mouth were "Have you done your homework?" For four years, this child did no homework. Now his son is designing and maintaining Dr. Brooks' website www.drrobertbrooks.com. Dr Brooks made the following points in his seminar: It is an obvious fact but we often forget that children are born different. Within three months after birth, they fit into one of three categories.
We cannot expect these children to change unless we are willing to change the way we treat them. It does not help to punish, reject, isolate, or take away the activities in which they are interested and do well. These kids have three basic needs:
Don't get into an argument with these children, they will always find a loophole. Validate them instead. Do not try to discuss something while your kid is arguing with you. Try not to say what you don't want said to you. If you get frustrated, you can take a "time out" instead of the child. In your darkest moments, try to keep your sense of humor. Empathy is a key concept in working well with these children. It is "the capacity to put yourself inside of someone's shoes and see the world through their eyes." It is not sympathy or feeling sorry for them. Therefore it is important to ask these kids just how they see you at the moment. Have them draw, write, or give you a description so you can see your relationship with them through their eyes. Empathy means saying, "I know that what you are trying to do is not easy. It is not easy for a lot of kids. Maybe we can figure out a way to handle this together. It gets easier over time.
If you wish to tell a child something, preface it with: "I have something to say to you. If you feel criticized, will you please tell me?" When they tell you something say, "Thank you so much for letting me know." When interacting with these kids, ask yourself, how can I say this so that we both problem solve? Is what I am going to develop hope in this child? Being fair is not treating these kids the same way as other kids. Being fair is giving them what they need.
Children love to help and to make a difference, and come up with a solution. Give these kids choices. "You can choose to do three out of six problems." However, it is always wise to have a backup plan that will aid in being successful. These kids have some excellent ideas. When they come up with a good idea, tell them, "That was a great idea! Can I share it with others?"
1500 difficult kids reported their most positive memories of school. They involved being noticed or recognized or being asked to help out. The most negative memories involved public humiliation for not understanding. Our schools need to provide a curriculum for caring in addition to academics. These children have learned not to have a good day because it will be held against them for the rest of their lives. People might say, "You were able to do it last week, why can't you do it now?" Instead focus on what they were able to do to make it a good day. Many difficult kids are doing well in other areas of their lives. Be sure to help your child build on these strengths so that they can feel competent. Focus on their skills. Therefore, speak of your child as not a "LD child" but a "child with LD."
The most important key to success is to have "one person who stood by this child and believed in him/her " or a charismatic person from whom this child gathers strength. Try consciously to minimize the fear of making mistakes, by letting these children know that mistakes are a normal and necessary part of learning. Adults make them too. Engage your entire family in a community service project that your difficult child can handle well.
In study done by Raskind, M; Goldberg, R; Higgins, E; and Herman, K entitled Children with Learning Disability Grow Up: Results of a Twenty Year Longitudinal Study, the researchers found that the following "Success Attributes" alone determined whether these students did well in adult life. These attributes were:
Dr. McArthur is a psychotherapist in practice in Los Angeles. She is the President of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.
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