Whatever our personal qualities are, whether we see them as positive, negative, or neutral, they can lead us to our passions and purpose.
As a parent of a child who is clearly different from the rest, how can you support him or her in feeling good about those differences? My "different" and quirky son once said to me, "Mom, everyone's different and everyone's the same. It just depends on how you want to look at it." Why not choose to see the positives and the strengths instead of just focusing on the challenges your child faces?
All of use need to support our children who are different and who struggle to understand why many activities are harder for them than they are for other kids. How can we do this? Here are fifteen ways:
1. We can remind them regularly that we love and care about them just as they are. When children feel accepted, it’s easier for them to admit that they need help and not become defensive.
2. We can remind them of their strengths and compliment them on their hard work and perseverance. We can speak up when we see them at their best and later, say, “When I saw you working so hard this morning to put your shoes on the right feet/organize your school folders/be patient and calm when the room got noisy, I was so proud of you.”
3. We can offer them a hug, and if they don’t feel comfortable with that, we can simply sit by them and offer them our quiet, loving, supportive presence.
4. We can let them feel their painful feelings without trying to get them to stop crying simply because we are uncomfortable seeing them sad, scared, or angry. We can encourage them to let out these feelings appropriately and remember that feelings do not overwhelm us or go on forever if we simply experience and release them.
5. We can teach them self-awareness and help them recognize when they are beginning to go into sensory overload or feel uncomfortable, angry, sad, or scared.
6. We can give them language to describe what they are experiencing in a way that people can hear and support them, for instance, “When you touch my arm unexpectedly, I feel anxious and irritated.”
7. We can teach them to politely and firmly advocate for themselves as they keep in mind that we always balance our needs with other people’s needs.
8. We can remind our kids what they can do to feel comfortable in their bodies and in their environment. (HERE is a suggestion for using breathing techniques for self-calming). We can find subtle ways to signal them to make themselves more comfortable so they don’t feel embarrassed by the attention paid to their sensory differences.
9. We can help them develop good habits of mind, heart, and body. We can teach them that while it’s important for them to take baths or showers, brush their teeth, and say “thank you” when someone does something nice for them, it’s just as important to develop habits of thinking “I can do this” and “Even though I just messed up, it’s okay, and I’m okay.”
10. We can encourage them to get out of their comfort zones and not be afraid to fail at something. We can model to them that we’re imperfect, too, but we still try new things and are proud ourselves for doing so.
11. We can give them opportunities to shine and express their strengths not just for their own benefit but the benefit of everyone around them. We can remind them that they are valued members of the community.
12. We can help them understand that being different is not just okay, or something to be “tolerated,” but something positive and wonderful.
13. We can help them understand that just as the forest needs many different plants, trees, animals, and insects to thrive, our families and communities need many different personalities, perspectives, talents, and approaches to survive, so it’s good for all of us that everyone is unique.
14. We can model to them that it’s important to reach out in love and compassion to others who are lonely, scared, or angry, and not to take it personally if those people reject us. We can show them that every single person has the power to make a positive difference in the life of others.
15. We can begin and end the day on a positive note, helping them to remember that whatever their struggles, there is always a chance to do better next time.
Is your son or daughter with sensory issues struggling to accept “being different”? You can learn how to talk to your child about sensory issues, self-advocate, and be empowered to meet his or her sensory needs–get a copy of the award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child.