Raising two kids has taught me a lot about how to help children become their best selves. Four key themes have emerged in my years as a mother, and I believe they will be helpful for all the parents and educators out there, the people shaping the lives of our children.
1. Speak an affirmation statement to your children
Affirmation is a strong encouraging proclamation. Positive talk molds the emotional well-being and beliefs of your children. Imagine that you are 4 years old. Your mom and dad tell you how dumb you are daily. Flash forward a decade and you’re a high school freshman who’s only heard negative talk for 10 years. Your parents have not affirmed your intelligence, have not confirmed your ability to do and now you do not believe that you can achieve greatness. My daughter was born to a mother who was an addict. I met her three weeks after her birth, and she needed four more weeks in the hospital to get the drugs out of her system. God told me to find a scripture to speak over her and I have spoken it for four years. Psalm 139:14 states, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” It means that God made you full of life and you are unique, special and made with purpose. I have spoken that phrase to her consistently since she was three weeks old—after hearing me do it, my husband started doing the same. She now says it herself and is full of joy when she says it. I have affirmed that she is a special, delicate, wonderful person. A lot of folks told me she would experience many difficulties because of what she was predisposed to. But I do not allow her beginning to define her identity. So I want to ask that every parent find an affirmation statement to say to their children. I found mine in my faith and if you are not a person of faith then find an inspirational quote that aligns to your values.
2. Read and converse with your children constantly
My husband and I are constantly conversing with our children about various topics. I also read to and with them as time permits every week. As a working parent, I find it difficult to carve out the quality time, so I have learned that the car is my classroom. My daughter can identify the letter Z—the first letter of her name—on any license plate because I am constantly pointing it out. She and I chat about brushing her teeth, washing her face, the outfit she will wear, the snack she will have in the morning, where we are going in the morning, the traffic, etc. Essentially, we talk from the time she wakes up until I drop her off at daycare in the morning. Why? She needs to hear as much language as possible so that her brain is stimulated and ready to learn. I will admit that I do not talk to her as much on my way home because I am exhausted but I do ask her about her day before I go silent or put on music, take a phone call, etc. She also brings me a book to read to her a few times a week and she thinks she can read because some of the stories are very familiar to her.
3. Do not put limits on your kids or allow others to do so
My son is on the autism spectrum—likely Asperger’s—which means his social skills are not natural to him like you and me. Therefore, because I recognized early that he had a deficit, my husband and I filled the gap with as much as possible. Well meaning people gave me a laundry list of what he would not be able to do (tie his shoes, ride a bike, care for himself, do anything that was not dependent on my husband or me). He’s proving them wrong. My son has had an individualized education plan (IEP) since he was 4 years old, and he has progressively built his independence through school. We have moved from him having a one-on-one aide in first through third grade, to a shared aide in fourth through sixth grade, to a resource class in seventh and eighth grade and to only social work and counselor support for high school. My husband and I put him in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, a small groups at Rush University Arts Center, a small group with a speech language pathologists to teach him social skills and a computer coding class with
BDPA at Roosevelt University. On his own, my son has joined at school the Anti-Bullying Club, Math Club and this year will be entering his second year as a debate team member. Yes, debate team. My son, the boy who so many people said wouldn’t be able to communicate, is no longer afraid to speak in public. He’s doing so well that, when he recently went to a 10-day summer camp, I only got two phone calls with a request.
My son can have a conversation with anyone because my husband and I did not allow people to put barriers around his abilities. Yes, he still needs some social development and social skills growth, but I am confident that he will be fine. Please know that although I did not have an affirmation statement for my son, I did constantly talk and read to him and I did not allow people to tell me what he could not do. When a parent gets a diagnosis of autism and they start to lose hope, I encourage them to expose that child to as much as possible and see what the outcome will be. I was (and am) stubborn, I did not buy into what autistic kids cannot do and I did not buy into what effects drugs have on kids. I push my kids as far as they can go and not as far as someone says they will go.
4. Share and live your values and traditions with your children
Recently, my husband and I have been talking to our son about what we value as a family. We wanted to know what he sees as the principles we live by, standards of behavior and what is important to us. He can tell us what they are. My son shared that faith, education, family time and finances are important to our family. My husband and I agreed. We are Christians so we attend church on Sunday, we pray as a family and we read the Bible. I am an educator and my husband works in a high school so we expect that our kids will be third-generation college students. We spend time together as a family on weekends, family vacations, dinner time, driving, etc. We had a blast on a recent family vacation in Tennessee. We are good stewards of our money. We do not have cable television, I do not buy my kids the latest clothes and shoes because I value experiences over things. We go to dinner a couple of times a week, my son is in summer camp, we have checking, savings, mutual funds, retirement funds and more. My son went to camp this summer for 10 days by himself and he had $50 to spend and he only spent $20. Why? He said that he does not like giving away his money too quickly because he wants to save it. Remember that you are your child’s first teacher. What impression are you leaving on them as they grow and develop into adults?