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What I wish I had known…in Older Child Adoption

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When I talk to families who have chosen to adopt an older child, I often wonder what were things they wished they had known about before adopting their child.

Here are a few I hear most often:

“I wish families who have already adopted an older child would be honest with how hard it is.” So often parents talk about the joys (and there are many), but rarely do they share with raw honesty the intense difficulties. Many agencies have prospective parents talk to other parents who have already brought their child home (which is GREAT!). Except these parents minimize the challenges and emphasize the blessings. While admirable, it does an injustice to prospective parents. A family cannot truly determine whether older child adoption is a good fit for them if they only hear the good. So if you are considering older child adoption, search out those who have adopted an older child. In fact, I would suggest that you reach out those who have been home OVER two years. Why? I don’t know what it is about two years, but things shift. Truth surfaces. Eyes are opened. Patterns are identified. Things start clicking. This was true for the majority of the forty families we talked to and it was true for us.

“I wish I had realized how important finding a support group was before we adopted.” Find social media groups. Find area support groups. Get connected. This group will be your lifeline. Or maybe you will find one or two people who you reach out to when you are challenged. Or empty. Or need encouragement. Find them. Before you bring your child home (if possible).

“I wish I had realized how absolutely consuming this journey would be.” Yes. 100% yes. One mom advised that you plan to set everything else aside for the first year, perhaps two. Maybe giving up everything is not realistic for you, but please consider reducing your involvement. You truly cannot understand the demands your new child is going to place on you (some purposely, but a lot to simply meet needs). And you truly cannot anticipate the how one person’s trauma impacts an entire household. Everyone will be impacted. Expect to make your world small for you and your family. I would also follow that up with find coping strategies that work for you. And do not feel guilty about TAKING time for yourself doing something you enjoy.

“I wish I had known how much un-teaching would be necessary before I would re-teach appropriate behaviors.” One mom commented their household appeared to have absolutely no rules and completely out of control children that first year. Remember, you cannot focus on everything your child needs to work on from day one. It is not possible. Another mom suggested focusing on issues of safety at the beginning. Once those have been unlearned, then relearned, you can focus on other issues (such as manners, grooming, etc.). It is a long journey marked by small successes that lead to larger ones.

These are only a few of the things families wish they had known before they adopted their older child. But I hope these help you—if you are considering older child adoption—to make an informed decision on whether it is the best fit for you. For those of you already home, I hope these help you know what to share with other prospective adoptive families who ask you about your experiences.

Strengthening your Support System

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Are you struggling to parent? Do you feel alone on your parenting journey? You are not alone! This may be one of the loneliest journeys you could walk. However, finding other families to walk beside you is vital.

But where can you find a support network?

Social Media. There are a number of groups on social media where you can connect with other families who are parenting adopted children. Groups on parenting with connection, older child adoption, parenting adopted teens, and adopting out of birth order are just a few groups you could search. Many other groups focus on families who adopted from a specific country. Get creative in coming up with key words that fit what you are looking for. Request to join a group, but if you find it is not what you expected or you find it bringing more heaviness instead of helping lift your heaviness, do not be afraid to exit the group. Thankfully, it does not have to be a long-term commitment if it is not a good fit!

Area Support Groups. While groups on social media can be fulfilling, there is NOTHING quite like meeting people in real life. (And it is possible to meet via social media yet become real life friends!) But people in your community you can meet one-on-one or as a small group can be helpful as well. Many churches have begun to create adoption support groups. Several larger churches have groups, but even some smaller churches have responded to the call to fill this void. Agencies often have support groups for their families as well so if your agency is local, get involved in their support group. If your agency is not local, contact some of the local agencies to inquire whether they have a support group you could join. Most agencies have a desire for ALL adoptive families to be successful (regardless of what agency helped you adopt) and would welcome families seeking to connect with others.

Adoption-educated Friends. Ok, so maybe social media isn’t your thing. And maybe you have tried to find a support group and have been unsuccessful. Create your own! Select friends (or find new ones) who are willing to become educated about the unique challenges of adoption. Those who are willing to not pass judgement when you share some of the hard aspects of your journey. They may be the people you least expect! However, they can serve as a great listener and a great encourager to you.

I hope that you will commit to strengthening your support system to help you through the bumps guaranteed to occur in parenting.

Overcoming Exhaustion

By | Blog, Parenting

Are you exhausted? Maybe the holidays have taken what little bit you had left right out of you. Perhaps spending time with extended family was simply too much. Or maybe your children’s behavior over the holidays simply drained your last drop of strength.

If you are experiencing parenting challenges, it is easy to fall into the mindset of “I just need to get through today.” You wake up the next day with the same thought on your mind. I have been there. Sometimes I still struggle to think that way.

How can you get off the hamster wheel of exhaustion? Purposefulness.

There really is no other way to do it than to be purposeful. We often tell our kids to make good choices even when it is hard. Yet, we often forget that sometimes we also need to make the hard choice to get rest despite the many demands on us.

What are some ways that you can purposefully rest without spending several thousand dollars on a vacation? Here are a few ideas you could implement today!

Have “Must-Go” dinner night. What is that, you ask? Whatever-in-the-fridge-that-must-go is for dinner! When I was growing up, every Sunday night was must-go. You could also serve cereal (if your family will go for that, but mine won’t). Pick up a ready-made meal that could easily been cooked in the oven. Make it a night with little work or preparation for you.

Leave the mess. Let go of the need to have your house looking perfect. The toys can be picked up tomorrow morning (with your kids help!). The messy kitchen and dirty dishes can be washed tomorrow. Just leave it and go to bed early. There will be more dirty dishes tomorrow and maybe you can garner help to wash them.

Is that hard? YES! Who wants to wake up to a messy house? But, getting more sleep will help change your outlook on your circumstances so you can face the mess.

Call for an “early” night. If you have older kids, give them the option to read, listen to soft music, or work on a quiet activity in their room until lights out. Then you do the same. Avoid blue light (light from electronics). Instead chose to participate in relaxing activities such as taking a bath or hot shower, reading a fun book, listening to calming music, or practicing mindfulness activities. If you enjoy essential oils, select one a calming one (like lavender, a relaxing blend, or a grounding blend) and put it in a diffuser or place a small amount in your palms and breathe it deeply. You may also want to safely apply it to your neck and shoulders or to the bottoms of your feet.

Maybe you want to do all of these on the same night or maybe you want to pick just one. Perhaps consider working on your personal bedtime routine to incorporate more relaxing activities that promote restful sleep.

It is easy to keep pushing when you are exhausted. However, being exhausted can diminish your immune system and lead to illness. Be purposeful in finding ways to rest even when it is hard.

Adjusting Your Expectations

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

The beginning of a new year provides us the opportunity to reflect and look at our own expectations.

Unrealistic expectations put too much unnecessary pressure on you, your adopted child, your existing children, your spouse, and others. Unrealistic expectations can harm your relationships and leave you working toward false goals. They can, will, and most often do lead to disappointment. If you want your relationships to be successful, work on being aware of what is going on with you, with others, and within your relationships and set realistic expectations.

Do not expect others to be able to read your mind and always act according to your wishes. You do not share one mind, and they are different from you. Good communication is vital to a healthy family. Your family (existing children, spouse, and others) will likely need to adjust their expectations as well. Most families we spoke to found that their existing children had difficulty adjusting to their adopted sibling’s behaviors and the attention their adopted older sibling received. Make sure you check in with your family members to learn how they are doing. Have frequent, purposeful discussions with them acknowledging the successes and difficulties they are experiencing. Give them opportunities to express frustration that their expectations are not being met. Provide them with potential reasons why things are going the way they are. Have family members try to look at things from other family members’ perspectives.

Equally important, your expectations cannot change people. One of the biggest challenges people face in life is learning to accept people as they are. You can accept people while not accepting their behavior. People who do not feel accepted feel rejected, which is a form of identity destruction and can lead to many negative outcomes. Your older adopted child will be required to do a lot of work to adjust and change. You cannot change people, but you can help facilitate their process toward positive, healthy change. Life does not always work the way we imagined or planned and working hard to adjust accordingly to where everyone is at and what they are capable of may be beneficial. Adjustments can be long-term or moment-to-moment as needed.

Though we tend to set our expectations unconsciously, it does not prevent us from consciously adjusting them up or down. If you observe yourself repeatedly disappointed by experiences you feel you should be able to enjoy, you may benefit from consciously lowering your expectations somewhat. Similarly, if your expectations are continually low, your pessimism may prevent you (and possibly others) from enjoying the anticipation of good things, and you may want to work on allowing yourself to expect a little more. Going into situations with an open mind, not expecting certain things, allows you to fully engage without the pressure of living up to preconceived notions.

Consider taking a few moments to reflect on your expectations for yourself and for others.

Adopting Out of Birth Order

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

No matter how you grow your family, your family experiences many changes. Of course, it changes in number, but the atmosphere also changes. The dynamics are different. Everyone is finding their place in the new normal. When you add a child younger than any existing children, every family member adjusts to cater to the youngest member of the family. And the family finds their new rhythm.

However, when the new child who joins the family changes the birth order, finding the rhythm is often more difficult. Not only does your new child have to figure out their place in their new family, but the existing children whose placement in the family changed also have to find their place.

For some children, a birth order displacement is minor. They may have a more flexible personality and can easily go with the flow of life. They will still have to learn how to respond or act to their newest sibling. They may need to figure out how to respond to a child who is chronologically older but acts younger than them. The parents may also need to figure out how to navigate that as well.

For other children, a change in birth order causes them to feel “demoted” in family “rank” which can incredibly difficult for some to accept. These children tend to be more competitive or often are identified as “natural leaders.” They may feel resentment toward the new child. They also may be confused on how to respond to a child chronologically older who acts younger than them. It can be especially difficult if the new child is now the oldest but is unable to fulfill the required responsibilities.

Before you decide to adopt out of birth order, consider these questions:

  • How will your existing child respond to a child who is chronologically older, but acts younger than they do?
  • How will your existing child handle the change of their place in the family?
  • How does your child handle change?
  • Will they struggle no longer being the oldest boy or oldest girl?

Perhaps ask others who know your child well for their thoughts as well.

Adopting out of birth order can work, but it does not always work. The unknown variable is how your new child is going to respond to their place in the family. Some adjust well while others want to be in charge of every family member. Some struggle to simply fit. Most will feel sad about family experiences they missed before joining the family. Often, this sadness is expressed as jealousy toward existing children. Then parents need to determine the best way to address that jealousy.

Creating Moments of Connection

By | Blog, Resources, Wisdom

Family bonding can be healing for a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to: helping to navigate change; enhancing communication; building teamwork; enhancing social, emotional and intellectual success; problem solving; improving concentration; improving decision making; providing comfort and security; building self-esteem; teaching practical skills; increasing physical ability; teaching values; increasing curiosity; building self-discovery; creating a sense of identity; increasing playfulness; improving kindness; and generating wonderful memories.

Thus, it is important for your family to establish a regular time to bond. Attitudes are contagious, so try not to see this as another thing on your to-do list. Try to be positive about family times. When the family is involved in an activity, they are more apt to open up about things they might not normally discuss.

It might be difficult finding activities that help facilitate family bonding. Everyone might not want to be involved. To help facilitate involvement, you can try asking those most resistant to pick the movie, activity (game, craft, etc.), or snack. However, that may not work well for those who are anxious, since they might feel they are being put in the hot seat. If you notice someone is anxious or struggling with making a decision, you might suggest they select three choices and ask another family member to make the final decision, or for the family to take a vote. You may need to give some incentives to participate such as not having to do a chore, getting an extra half hour or hour of TV time, a bonus bedtime story, or getting to stay up an extra half hour on Friday night. However, if the family activity becomes too competitive and there are some who never win, you might change the prize to a family reward earned after everyone participates. Some families may benefit most from cooperative games rather than competitive games. The ultimate reward is connecting as a family, having fun, and creating lasting memories.

The Reed and Kittle families enjoy playing Rory’s Story Cubes where a story is created round robin style with each family member adding an aspect to the story. This type of activity creates connection and conversation. If someone is struggling to come up with an idea of what to add to the story, then another family member could provide a suggestion. This type of activity also emphasizes the importance of taking turns. Some of the stories can also be pretty funny, and laughter is a great way to facilitate bonding! (There are many ideas on Pinterest for printing pictures to use to tell stories as well).

Another fun activity is to work in pairs or teams to write step-by-step instructions on how to do something (e.g., how to make a PB&J sandwich). Select one set of instructions and see if the family can accomplish the task using ONLY the steps provided such as: 1) Locate the bread; 2) Untwist the tie and open the bag of bread; 3) Remove two slices of bread; (You cannot use a plate if it did not say to open the cabinet door and get a plate!) All family members can help monitor whether the task can be completed correctly or not. If that task cannot be completed because steps are missing, start over with another set of instructions. You might want the entire family to collaborate in writing step-by-step instructions and then see if the task can be completed effectively together.

Mementos from family get togethers that highlight the family’s laughter can be saved and displayed to encourage positive reflection on family time. For example, save a funny family drawing from Pictionary and display it in a prominent place, or display the answer sheet from Scattergories with a note that says, “Do you remember all the creative answers Mitch came up with for the letter ‘z’?” Perhaps, you can decoupage and frame a puzzle you finished together or display a mosaic or artwork the family created. Maybe create silly captions for family photos and display the favorite.

Families with younger children might enjoy blowing up a balloon and hitting it back and forth to one another. You could even make paddles out of paper plates and hit the balloons to one another with those. Yoga might be an activity everyone can try and encourage one another to do different poses.

Remember laughter is a great way to facilitate family bonding.

Our book contains many other ideas to facilitate family connection, including lists broken down into Doing Tasks, Artistic Tasks, Writing or Verbal Tasks, Family Outings, and Games You Can Play.

The Role of Parents

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

One area of research that I cover in the college course I teach is the study of Information Processing. Information Processing looks at how people process information and experiences which determines behavior. In my class, we discuss the implications on leader behavior. If you are unfamiliar with the concept (especially if you are an information junkie like me), I encourage you to research it.

I remember teaching a class several years ago when the implication on older child adoption hit me in middle of my lecture. I view one aspect of information processing as a mental box where we store information in our mind based on research or personal experience. In my class, we talk about the impact on leadership. The type of leader you are depends upon things you have learned, read, and experienced. If you have only experienced a leader who “hides” in the office while leaving the team to do whatever they think is best, then chances are when it is your turn to lead, you will lead in a similar manner. However, perhaps you have studied about leaders who gather input from their followers. What you learn will also go you’re your mental leadership “box.” When it is your turn to lead or manage, you will look into the leadership box, reflect on the contents, and lead from your knowledge and experience.

So what was my lightbulb parenting moment? At that time, our daughter had not been home for very long and we were struggling with her accepting our role as parent. It was in that moment I realized the application of this theory in our life. She had no frame of reference for the concept of “parent” since she had never truly had a parent before. Her “box” marked parent was empty. Since she hadn’t experienced having a parent before, she did not know how to respond. And she did not know what role parents play in their child’s life. Further, her “box” for “teacher” was distorted. The teachers she had experienced before coming home acted in many ways like a parent by teaching things parents generally taught and providing care and concern. In those first few years, she would say she did not want us to teach her various life skills, she wanted her teachers to do that. It did finally click that teachers taught academics, not necessarily relationship or various life skills.

Since becoming an adult, she has had to readjust her expectations of parents. We do not live close to our extended family, so she had limited opportunities to see me interact with my parents. Consequently, she has had to learn what role parents play in the lives of their independent, adult children. And to be honest, so have I.

How do you think your child views parents based on their past experiences? What information do they have in their mental “parenting box”? How can you contribute positive things to their perspective? And further, how can you not take their inappropriate responses to you (as their parent) personally? Really, that may be the most important question to ask yourself.

From Lying to Honesty

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources

For anyone to be healed from lying, they must discover what is driving them to lie in the first place. Honesty begins with oneself. Honesty with oneself and others—by accepting and telling the truth—is the foundation of lasting relationships and a must for security and well-being. So, what can you do to help your child progress to honesty? You can start by trying to understand the reasons why your child is lying. (Our list of various reasons people lie is in the previous blog post). When you have an idea of why your child is lying, you can respond more effectively.

How to address lying varies for each child as does his or her reasons for lying. There is no single way to solve every child’s lying. However, according to Victoria Talwar and her colleagues who study children’s lie-telling behavior, forcefully confronting any suspected lying and threatening with punishment only make children work harder to become better and more frequent liars.

If you are trying to get to the truth with your child, you can help your child justify his or her actions by saying how reasonable it is to avoid embarrassment or to want to make a good impression. You can use phrases like: “You wish that were true.” “You’re embarrassed and didn’t want me to find out.” “You want your brother to get in trouble so he cannot go to his friend’s house, because you’re upset you’re not going to a friend’s.”

  • Making children aware of their reasons for lying will help them to understand themselves better and to feel better understood by you. It is important to help them learn the alternative to lying is to be honest. “I wish I had a cool story to tell my friends about what we did this summer.” “I’m embarrassed and did not want to tell you I got a C on my test.” “I really don’t want to get in trouble for breaking the lamp because it was an accident.” You might need to work on acknowledging and accepting some of their honesty. It may mean being careful you hear your child’s honesty and do not focus on something else. If your son says, “I don’t like this shirt you bought me,” rather than focusing on his lack of gratitude and the money you spent, be glad he told you the truth. Try to always be positive whenever your children tell the truth.
  • When possible, avoid lecturing or criticizing your child which can be counter-productive, leading to defensiveness and more lying. Do not ask a question when you already know the answer, because it is often an invitation for children to lie. Instead of saying “Is your bag ready?” say, “I noticed your bag isn’t ready.” Please do not call your child a liar as it can lead to more lying to confirm your expectations. It can also trigger trauma of past name calling (e.g., “You’re a bad kid.” “You’re stupid.”). Further, your child may be convinced that change is impossible and quit trying not to lie. It is also not helpful to bring up past transgressions such as, “This is the fourth time you have lied this week.” Remember to be a good model for what you want from your children. Praising them for telling the truth may encourage them to be less likely to lie. You can also help them to see that a little deceit is not worth defending because the more they lie, the more it becomes a problem in their life.
  • As you use the list of various reasons for lying to help determine your child’s intent for lying, you may start to notice a pattern providing insight into your child’s lying. Perhaps you will come to the realization that your child is lying about his or her grades because of perceived pressure to achieve. If your child repeatedly lies to avoid discipline, perhaps reassessing your consequences with your child might be helpful. The point of consequences should be to teach your child, not inflict distress.
  • Parents have mentioned the frustration of their child laughing when caught telling a lie. Inappropriate laughter can be a sign of anxiety. It is most likely that their laughter is due to anxiety about getting caught and what might happen, rather than because they thought their lie was funny. Pointing out the anxiety will help them learn to be honest. Their lying behavior might not be accepted, but their nervousness can be accepted. You can communicate that you understand them and desire to help them recognize possible reasons for their behavior. Verbally pointing out nervous behaviors like inappropriate laughter or lack of eye contact might also help you to avoid taking the behavior personally.

The more you understand the reasons for lying, the better you will understand your child, allowing you to provide more effective help for your child. Some research suggests children often lie out of fear. Therefore, once the fear is reduced, the lying will also decrease. However, determining the root cause of the child’s lying is not always straightforward which makes reducing or eliminating lying difficult. Therapy may be helpful in figuring out why your child feels the need to deceive, but ultimately, your child must purposely make the choice to tell the truth. For most children, increasing self-confidence (which lowers their anxiety and need for control) and feeling understood and accepted by themselves and others will be more therapeutic. It is much more difficult to help those who use manipulation and self-deception, but continuing to confront them and to point out things from others’ perspective may yield benefits eventually. 

Why Lie?

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

While nearly everyone lies, few understand why they do, how destructive it can be, or how to stop. Because the human imagination is limitless, no list can possibly encompass all the reasons people lie. However, Drs. Kittle and Reed have reviewed research on lying and complied a list of various reasons:

  • To avoid punishment.
  • To avoid shame, embarrassment, and being judged.
  • To avoid conflict.
  • For material gain, such as reward or sales. A child says she has done her homework, so she can go play with friends. While trying to get the best price when buying a home/car, the buyer tells the seller a certain amount is the highest they can afford. A salesperson tells you, “That fits you well” when it is too small.
  • To maintain or improve self-esteem. These lies are often told by people with low self-esteem, who experience a sense of failure and inferiority. They feel insecure and often lie because they want to try to fit in, or to try to get others’ attention, interest or admiration.
  • To preserve independence. Kids keep some secrets from their parents because they do not want them to know everything.
  • To create a sense of identity. People may feel more comfortable in a set role or identity, so they lie in order to be seen or treated in a certain way. This reason can be either unhealthy (pathological and manipulative) or relatively healthy. Professionals (e.g., teachers, doctors, counselors, etc.) need to behave a certain way so that people seeking their services will think they are competent and successful. Lying to make oneself look good on their resume (called “resume inflation”) or during a job interview is particularly common.
  • As a wish fulfillment. A child says, “We went to Disney World over the summer” because the child wanted to go to Disney World, wishes they had, and thinks if people believe we did, maybe that is good enough.
  • To assist self-deception. These lies are told to avoid confronting some painful truths about ourselves. Those who struggle to take responsibility for their own actions lie to protect themselves from facing some hard truths and to avoid accepting blame. Some people blame needing to work rather than admit they do not do well at social events. Your neighbors might choose to go on vacation after you had a huge falling out and say it is because they love to travel. A thief who justifies stealing only from rich people who do not give to the poor. An alcoholic who is self-deceived in believing that his drinking is under control. A girl who convinces herself that her boyfriend loves her even though he has told her repeatedly that he wants to break up. Lying to oneself is one of the most harmful types of deception and automatically leads to lying to others.
  • To obtain a sense of power. Some people experience a feeling of power from telling a lie and getting away with it. People may also lie to prove a point or to try to change someone else’s opinion because it makes them feel more powerful. The additional problem with these lies is that people can form a disconnect between reality and fantasy.
  • For the amusement of fooling someone. Unlike genuine humor, the practical joke can contain a bullying component.
  • To be aggressive and deliberately hurt someone.
  • To control or influence the behavior of others. Some people lie to pursue their own needs and wishes and, at times, the needs and wishes of others. This form of lying is manipulation.
  • To protect our own resources. Most people highly value their time, energy, and money, often feeling like they do not have enough. These lies are told to avoid doing something they do not want to do, but they do not feel comfortable admitting it. These lies may be told to protect others’ feelings, to avoid conflict, to avoid being judged, or to self-deceive, but ultimately the purpose is to protect their time, energy, and money.  Saying you “have to” get off the phone with someone, when really you “want to” get off the phone.
  • To protect or to please others. People like to be told what they want to hear, and this is usually determined by local culture. You say you are fine, rather than disclosing a serious illness because you do not want others to worry about you. You lie to try to hide the fact that the person you are talking to smells bad. We often lie to protect our friends’ and family’s feelings such as when we’re asked if we like a gift, haircut, outfit, writing, or a performance. Some might provide an alibi or commit perjury. Children often lie to their parents because they think telling their parents what they want to hear will make them happier than telling them they failed to live up to their parents’ expectations.

Look for tips on how to respond more effectively to lying in Dr. Reed’s blog post: “From Lying to Honesty.”

Education Challenges

By | Blog, Challenges, Wisdom

In our research, the majority of older adopted children struggle in some area of education regardless of their home country. Honestly, this finding was surprising. I assumed those children adopted from other countries would struggle due to the language and educational differences. And they do. However, we found kids adopted through foster care struggled as well. Many experienced a variety of moves and school changes. Since every school tailors their curriculum to their school (within state and federal requirements), kids may have missed concepts when they change schools. Perhaps one school introduces multiplication in second grade while another waits until third grade. If a child changes schools between these years, they miss out on vital teaching.

In no way am I advocating that every school teach exactly the same curriculum at the same time, each school has its unique culture. They should have the freedom and flexibility to reflect their school’s community. However, changing schools can bring interruptions in learning for kids.

Kids in care tend to have holes in their education. It may be in social studies, math, science, reading, or writing. Really, it can be in more areas than academics. My daughter had been home almost two years and in high school when I discovered she had never been taught the order of the months of the year. She knew the month names, but she never knew what order they came in. I assumed she knew since it was something often taught in preschool or kindergarten, but she had never been exposed to it before.

Often kids in care “slip through the cracks.” Perhaps the child never had appropriate educational support at home and entered care at an older age. Maybe the child was not at one school long enough (or often enough) for teachers to discover a learning disability. Consequently, the child can go years without diagnosis and intervention causing further educational delays.

Difficulty or lack of understanding can often lead to lack of interest in learning. Some kids refuse to learn because they are embarrassed they do not understand. No one likes to feel dumb and sometimes a refusal has more to do with feeling inadequate than being unwilling.

How can parents help their kids?

  • Ask yourself if this is “can’t” or “won’t”. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between (and do not be surprised if it is a little of both). Assuming “can’t” will help you have more understanding and patience for your child. Then remind yourself often that they cannot.
  • Talk with their teachers. Ask if they suspect learning challenges. Ask what areas where they believe your child needs the most help. Select a place to begin. Do not try to address everything at once. It will simply overwhelm you and your child which can lead to more frustration for everyone.
  • Encourage your child. They are probably as frustrated with their educational experience as you are. If they put forth the best effort they can do right now, celebrate that. Tell them you notice they are trying. Acknowledge the extra time they spent studying whether the grade reflects it or not. Encourage even small progress.
  • Breathe deep. Probably the best advice shared with me was from a mom who had adopted several older children. She learned early on in older child adoption to repeat: “my child’s behavior is not a reflection of me.” When we do not take on our child’s behavior as ours, we do not respond in embarrassment and frustration. We can want the very best for our kids, but they still have to do their part. And sometimes we need to adjust our expectations for ourselves and our kids.

Staying calm is key to helping our kids push through educational challenges to find a solution.