Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lessons I've Learned

I originally wrote this post over two years ago, but it has been on my mind lately and I wanted to share it.

Families often experience unique circumstances that teach them new lessons about parenting. My son Elijah was diagnosed with developmental delays at the age of three, and although these delays are now in our past, the truths I learned from that experience have become the foundation of my parenting style. These also apply to children who are not developmentally delayed, so I hope other parents will find them helpful.

Listen to your heart. My heart told me that something wasn’t quite right with Elijah, but for a long time my concerns were shrugged off by family, friends, and even professionals as “just a stage.” If you feel strongly that something is not right with your child, you’re probably correct. A parent’s gut feeling should not be ignored. When Elijah was young, I was not very confident in my role as a parent. I worked hard to please the people around me and do what they thought was best, which led to a lot of inconsistency and confusion. If you see that something is not working for your family, listen to your heart, even if everyone else around you is doing things differently. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising children; know your child, know yourself, and do what is most beneficial to everyone involved. Do it confidently—this is your family and your child.

Slow down. I started college when Elijah was three weeks old, and I graduated a month after his diagnosis. While my education is valuable to me, I wish I had spent more time focusing on my son during those years. Since my graduation in 2005, I have intentionally slowed down by becoming a full-time mom. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be at home with him. During this time, I have gotten to know and understand him better, and I have been able to work with him one-on-one. While I do have other interests and goals, right now my highest priority is raising my children. I realize that being a full-time parent may not be the best fit for everyone. This is what slowing down looked like for me, but it may not be what slowing down looks like for you. (Remember to follow your heart!)

Recognize and understand your child’s developmental abilities. This will save you a lot of frustration! Elijah’s developmental delays meant that, for a time, I could not expect age appropriate behavior from him. Chronologically, he was three, but developmentally, he was on the level of a one year old. Even if your child is not developmentally delayed, educate yourself on the behaviors that are expected during each developmental stage. When you know what to expect and why, you are better equipped to respond appropriately.

Punishment is not the same as discipline. When I expected Elijah to behave in ways that did not match up to his developmental ability, I was quick to become frustrated and punish him. One of my biggest regrets is that it took a diagnosis of developmental delays for me to realize that punishment was ineffective; it increased our frustration levels and did nothing to remedy the situation. When I chose to discipline by calmly modeling and teaching appropriate behaviors instead of punishing for inappropriate behaviors, our frustration levels dropped and he responded positively.

Know your child. Know his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, personality and temperament. My children are unique individuals, and my understanding of them equips me to parent them more effectively. I am able to focus on their strengths and interests in order to teach them new skills, and I am more aware of what to expect from them based on their personalities and temperaments.

When you intentionally slow down, get to know your children, and understand where they are developmentally, you will gain a new perspective on their behaviors and your role as parent. Your relationship with your children will blossom as you listen to your heart, grow in confidence, and actively teach them new skills and behaviors. Although I learned many of these lessons while parenting a developmentally delayed child, they can be applied in all families. These lessons changed my perspective on parenting, and I hope you are able to find them helpful or encouraging in some way.

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