Parenting is hard enough. Add a neurodivergent child or a difficult family situation and it only gets harder. It’s important for us to be the anchor for our children, especially when life is difficult. In the first part of this series, we talked about loving your child unconditionally. That isn’t to say we let them do whatever they want but that through our deep love we care for them, correct them, stay with them, and encourage them to right paths.
In this part, we’ll explore some specific tips to help navigate the ever changing road of childhood. Everyone has a different situation, but most of these tips can be modified to one’s specific needs and condition.
You’ve Got to Have Faith
We’ll start with the basics, the fundamental groundwork for a healthy human: faith. You’ve got to have a faith formation plan for your kiddos. It can look different for everyone in approach but here’s some guidelines.
- You’ve got to have faith. It’s hard, especially if you’ve fallen away from God, but it’s essential. Even psychiatrists and therapists will tell you that faith-based individuals fare better than non-faith-based individuals when confronted with crisis, trauma, or any challenge in life. Nurture your own faith and beliefs. Start praying, reading the Bible, or going to Mass or other church events. Little by little, it will help you tremendously.
- Teach from the core. Start simple. “God loves you.” (Jer 31:3) Keep it age appropriate and wherever your kiddo’s understanding is. If you have a kiddo with developmental delays, “God loves you,” may be enough for now. If you have a kiddo whose brain is fast-wired and everywhere (autism and/or ADHD), be prepared with Biblical and historical references. If it seems too much, seek help from a priest. Priests love teaching about Christ’s love for us - it’s why they signed up for the job!
- Practice what you preach. Go to Mass. Have spiritual and religious items and reminders at home. Create habits like praying before bed or meals (Phil 4:6). Something as simple as, “Thank you, God, for this food. Please bless it for us,” is sufficient. Habits become thoughts, thoughts become ways of living, ways of living become one’s character.
Be in the Moment
Sometimes it’s hard to see the way our kids see, so we may need to pause and turn off our own perception. We have bills, dinner, jobs, and other grown-up things on our minds. You kiddo is thinking about their social life, or school, or their parents and what things mean for them.
- Slow down or completely stop being an adult for a moment. Life is busy but this is important. Maybe it’s before bed or after school, but find a time to just be with your children. Suggest a game or a favorite thing to watch. Maybe go to the park with little ones. They need to know your time isn’t too good for them.
- Ask them how they are, but be specific sometimes. We get stock replies all the time. “How was school?” “Good.” Try instead, “What specialist did you have today?” “Was hot lunch any good? If you liked it, I’ll make it at home.” Don’t worry if answers are short. Sometimes pressing makes it harder. Settle for what you get and make it a habit to ask consistently. Try different things at different times of the day. The message is that you care.
- Just listen and acknowledge. Sometimes they need to vent and sometimes it’s about you. That’s okay. As parents we rag on our kids plenty. They’re allowed to express themselves too and this is important for neurodivergent people who often feel misunderstood (Jer 1:5). Listen and acknowledge their concerns. “We don’t have the money to go to the movies with your friends. Can you invite them over here to watch movies or play video games?” You may find they listen better once you’ve first listened to them.
Fill Their Cup
Childhood is draining. When we look back, we might wish we could go back to childhood, but for those living it now, it’s hard. There’s more demands on education and electronic communication than our generation previously had. The grown-up world is no longer just accessible to grown-ups; kids are online and the world is online with them! To keep the ugly out, we need to fill them with goodness.
- Encourage them, especially in the immediately attainable things. “Great job on that test!” “Hey, good shooting at your game today!” “Want to help me with this? I could use your help.” When small things are achieved, bigger things seem possible.
- Challenge them in good ways. “Think you can be ready before me?” “I know you can go the whole day without yelling. Let’s try that.” “I know you have a hard time with that teacher, but do me a favor and try to let him teach you something new today.” “Speak up for yourself today. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to help you!”
- Give them a win from time to time. They just want to play a video game and you hardly let them. Make time that they can. Better yet, play with them. They want to stay in pajamas all day. Find a day you can let them. Let them have a win sometimes so they know it’s not always a battle.
These ideas work for all children, all people really, but could be crucial to making that important connection with a neurodivergent or any child going through a difficult home situation. We all need faith to ground us, time to slow down, and positivity to fill us up. God wants our happiness and has goodness in store for all of us. Let’s take the time to pray, slow down, and fill up with all the good stuff He has to offer us and our children.