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Giving Credit Where It’s Due

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Expectations for our children start early, often while they are still in the womb, and most parents have common goals for their children. We want them to be considerate of others, we hope they will grow to be independent of Mom and Dad, and we dream that they will do well, first in school and then a career.

But what happens when one of those expectations goes unmet? Invariably, children will prove over time that they are their own people, coming to our families with their own strengths and likes (and dislikes), some of which don’t match our expectations for them.

Looking at my own family, it amazes me how different each one of my children is. Our 10-year-old daughter, for example, excels athletically and wears her “never quit” attitude as a badge of honor. On the other hand, our 7-year-old has an imaginative mind, coming up with fanciful stories that entertain us all…except when he’s trying to pass them off as truth.

Then there is Holden. He has taught us profound lessons in his lifetime. He shows us time and time again that love is not contingent on achievement. In parenting Holden, we are reminded of that deep love mothers and fathers have for their children solely because they are who they are, simply because they exist.

Holden, who has autism, has always struggled in school, taking extra time to learn and grasp concepts that his peers tend to pick up in minutes. Over the years, we have learned some effective ways of navigating Holden’s journey through the world of academics and keeping him, and us, from getting discouraged along the way.

The first truth we learned early on: Never compare our children and their abilities. We’ve already established that each child is different. Forcing a child into an older sibling’s mold is not only painful but, quite often, fruitless.

Our older son was quick to hit all of his developmental milestones, from talking to learning his colors and numbers. When Holden didn’t follow suit, we tried hard to see our children for who they were: two very different people growing up in the same household.

A related idea is having realistic expectations for our children. I can’t think of anything more frustrating for children than continually striving to reach expectations not within their grasp.

It can also be disheartening for parents to watch their children struggle again and again with little or no success. By all means, set standards for your children but make them attainable instead of setting up your little ones for failure. Not every child is going to be an honor student or be the star quarterback, but each child should be encouraged to try his best in school and in his extracurricular activities.

When a child struggles in school or in any area of life, she needs encouragement. Sincere praise should be offered even for small accomplishments.

Maybe your child isn’t a good test taker but is faithful at turning in his homework assignments. He deserves a pat on the back for that. Maybe, like me, you have child who is habitually disorganized but is diligent about having you sign his planner. Acknowledge that effort.

Every child needs a cheerleader. Who better than the people whose opinion matters most to him: his parents.

Last, sometimes your child needs you to advocate for him or her with members of the school system. Become actively involved in your child’s classroom. Get to know his or her teacher. Understand that you know your child best.

With Holden, we let his teachers know early each school year that he is a very visual learner. Words, written or spoken, don’t mean much to him, but charts, graphs and pictures he can comprehend more readily.

If your child is receiving special services, make attending her team meetings a priority and regard yourself as a valued member of your child’s academic team. You have known your child since infancy, a claim no one else attending the meeting can make. Most teachers, school psychologists and other personnel value a parent’s input and will weigh it accordingly when putting a plan into place to help your child academically.

We all have a psychological need for love and reassurance. Children are no exception. A child’s well-being is often contingent on the acceptance and love she feels from parents.

As we strive to help our children who struggle academically, let us do so with a soft touch. Emphasize the positive steps they make and encourage them to move forward while knowing they have got a powerful advocate on their side.

Kelly Taylor, her husband, Alan, and their five children in 2008 moved from their Liverpool home of 10 years to Greenville, N.C. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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