It’s a parent’s job to teach our children: to do the right thing, use the right words, learn and practice the skills they’ll need to handle life at school and out in the world. But some mornings — after a seemingly endless stream of corrections intended to help my daughter — I end up feeling as if I am sending my unlucky child off to school with the extra burden of never getting anything right.
For parents of a child with any kind of “special need,” reminders and corrections are especially complicated. Prodding a child to pronounce the “s” at the end of the word or to look into someone’s face when they’re speaking or to finish a task or use a developing physical skill — can dominate the relationship between parent and child and become the focus of every interaction.
Striking a balance between the help that seems necessary and the loving, nonjudgmental relationship you want to have is harder than it sounds. Parents of children in various therapies are often coached by professionals on how to support their work — to encourage a correct pronunciation or redirect an interaction with a friend. But parents rarely receive guidance on when to step back and be parents, not teachers.
I was clearly in a pattern where the “bulk of communication” to my child was corrective. “It can be hard to be nice to a child who, in your mind, is always blowing it,” Ms. Nair wrote.
“Blowing it?” That’s not the language I would ever use, but I suspect that is effectively what my child hears when the drumbeat of correction becomes louder than anything else.
I emailed Ms. Nair to ask for some ideas for parents on how to balance “corrective communication” with support. “How often do you correct,” I asked her, “and how often do you let it go?”
“I like to reframe ‘nagging’ as ‘redirection,’” she wrote. “We can still guide our children, even often if necessary, without making the child feel like we’re being hard on them.” Try wording directions neutrally, she suggested, like catching a child’s gaze and using a single word “eyes” to encourage eye contact.
Children, she said, do need a break from being redirected. “They need opportunities to feel they are doing something well.” With special needs, redirection can be tricky. Too much can start to be interpreted by the child as an inherent fault in who they are. Ms. Nair suggests using words focused on growth, and watching carefully for any language that may suggest that a child is incapable of getting it right.
“Parents can use the child’s behavior as an indicator when there have been too many redirections. Children might start snapping at parents, friends or siblings if they feel too hounded. Some kids even get absorbed in video games because that’s a world their parents can’t correct them in. ”
I still wish I knew precisely how often I need to help my child read social cues in order to help her grow. And I struggle with how often I can let things slide to make sure she knows that I love her even when she walks up to her third-grade teacher in the middle of the onstage presentation to the classroom parent and demands to be given a drink. (I let the teacher handle that one.) For now, I’ll mind my “nice to nag ratio” with all of my children.
How do you find the balance between correcting and lovingly allowing, for children with special needs and without?