Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Experimenting. Parenting. Part Four. Finale

I want to start this post by answering a question my friend Jenn posted after the second installment and then bridge into discussing the idea of self-motivated effort as a conclusion to this "Experimenting. Parenting" series.

Jenn's question:
I love it when a kid takes responsibility for himself, thereby freeing the parents for more important things! It's good to see that he's making so much progress, too. Would you care to share your insights about why and how that happens? (Not knowing much about autism I am very curious.) 

In my kiddo's case, he needed more limits and limits longer to provide a sense of security.  Without a severely stable routine, he felt threatened.  As I noted in my original post on my autism experience:
He saw routines as the essence of his world.  For example, I needed to park my car outside the garage.  For one week, I dealt with a solid thirty minutes of ballistic crying every time I came home because the car belonged in the garage.  It was in the nature of his universe.  It was as frightening and upsetting to him as it would be for us to wake up to a purple and green polka-dot sky.  Cars in the garage were part of the metaphysically given and that's one example of hundreds.

What was most unusual about this situation was the duration of that need for routine and limits.  It is normal for two year olds to thrive on routine and to balk at trying new things that aren't part of their norm.  Again, as I reviewed in that post, what helped my kiddo gain perspective and catch up with the years of lost social experiences was his precocious reading ability. As I noted: He took the experiences from the books, the hundreds of books, and made them his own.  He learned about people, feelings, imagination, language.  

So, the extensive "experiences" that my kiddo has lived vicariously through books have made him much more typical in his responses.  He is still emotionally young, but through this round about process, he tends to interact socially now (age seven) more like a typical five year old.  Back to Jenn's question, I don't think autism is key to this recent process I've been experiencing with my son, I think he's just interacting with me at a socially younger age.  So... why and how does a kid take responsibility for themselves?

As this series has addressed, experimenting to find what works with your child is an incredibly powerful tool.  I think my son has been so willing to take control of these aspects that I have released to his control because I have been extremely focused on motivation.  He has taken the responsibility because he sees it as good for him.  The motivation is that taking control is exciting to the child now, not as a means to being an independent adult in the future.  Making that link takes parenting work because it's often not a direct connection.  Listening to this lecture by Ray Girn has helped me concretize why certain actions I have taken have been so effective.  One of the key take away points from that lecture is that education must be a delight in the process to keep children motivated because they cannot be expected to have the adult context that any given knowledge will help them in the future.  

Thus, to answer the "why" question, my son is taking on the responsibility because he is motivated by the process.  It's fun for him now.  That doesn't mean it's not scary and I do get some push back, but with my support it is overweighed by the positive.  Two blog friend have addressed concerns with this issue with their kids in recent posts (Amy and Jenn).  So, what about the "how" aspect?  How can a parent encourage self-motivated effort?  

First, reality is a good teacher.  If a parent is preventing a real need from being recognized by being the cozy crutch, a child loses a key motivator for action.

Second, look at the process.  Is the process boring?  Can you provide a bridge that makes it fun now?  This is where knowing your kid's motivators is essential.  I know that discussing things with my kiddo in terms of helping him "make his own choices" will immediately capture his interest.  I could explain nicely, "I'm not making your lunch anymore because you know how and that's part of being an independent adult."  I might get a sullen nod, a grumble, or a full blown tantrum with that approach... one learns from experience!  I get an entirely different response by explaining the same conclusion with, "I know how much you love to make your own choices.  What are you going to put in your lunch this week?"  This approach it much more effective with him because it keys into his immediate values and motivates him now.

Third, help them see the growth.  This has been an amazingly powerful tool for my son.   Like most of us, it's hard for him to see his own learning.  My most effective method has been the Success Boards (original idea, board 1, board 2).  These are so rewarding for both of us and I am again and again amazed by how well he can see a principle.  He can say, "I'm a person who tries hard." because he has seen that portrayed in the pictures that capture multiple, progressive moments of his life.  He is not taking my word for it, he is looking at the facts and coming to his own conclusions.  He gains genuine esteem from these boards and becomes motivated to put out more effort because he is aware of the results.  We refer to these boards too in casual conversations.  (Yesterday, I ordered a new binder to contain the photos because there are now close to 300 pictures under the categories: Hiking, Reading, Moving with Control, Figuring Things Out, Eating, Birthday, and Strength.  Categories are naturally individualized to the child's interests to show their progress in areas important to them... chess, gymnastics, legos?)

To sum up, my son has taken on these challenges because we've been able to address the motivation issue.  Motivating kids to put out the effort requires understanding their context.  They have both a natural comfort in the routine and a desire to grow.  Parents can help them grow by bringing focus to their success, making the process more positive, and allowing reality to highlight a need. 

That's my take, but I'm definitely interested in other perspectives as well!  Every kid has their challenging times.  What has worked for you when your kids don't want to do for themselves?

I didn't know more about chess and wasn't interested in learning.  I got him a book so he could learn more on his own.  This is the latest picture (last week) that I added to his "reading" pictures in the autobiographical memory success board.  He'll be able to bridge from the differences between this picture and those of him as an infant listening / toddler pointing to reading to reinforce his self conclusions.  His conclusions under the reading category:  "I am a person who: has a jiffy brain, can read hard books even to late-in-the-year 4th graders [library level], works hard, wants to learn new things all the time, is able to do things by myself."  Powerful messages!


  1. This was an excellent post. I also really enjoyed learning about the Success Boards.

    Aquinas Heard