Probably one of the hardest things to do for most parents is to back off and relinquish control, it’s not that we don’t trust our children but we feel a duty to ‘make’ them the best they can be. Well, spoiler alert, children want to be the best they can be too.
Before my son was diagnosed as autistic using the PDA behaviour profile I was accused (amongst other things) of being a ‘helicopter parent’, i.e being over concerned about all aspects of his life. A lot of this of course was because I could see my son was not thriving in a school environment and found social interactions complicated and perplexing due to being autistic in a non autistic world and I just wanted to help.
By the time he was diagnosed things had broken down for him at school and I had to home educate. I felt guilty that I couldn’t make the school system work for him and wanted to make sure he didn’t ‘fail’ as a result. I looked at different therapies and all sorts to try and aid in the recovery of his mental health. Eventually I realised that he couldn’t learn while he was still trying to recover from being overload and that ultimately what he need to fix it was time and a safe space to do so.
Fast forward almost 3 years now…
I am the parent of a happy, healthy 13 year old who corrects me on my history knowledge, picks me up on my sexism and asks if we can ‘rescue’ his friends and bring them into our home ed fold. So what changed?
Quite simply I backed off..
Pushing a demand avoidant child or indeed any child is;
B) often counter productive.
This goes against everything you know about raising a child, I know right? But it has been my experience. Allow me to elaborate.
For example, once upon I time I worried about screens, my son seemed to want to spend his whole life on them. When I adopted the low demand approach (read more about that HERE) I also dropped screen restrictions. I am not going to lie, first of all screen use increased but as my son’s mental health improved screen time reduced. Currently my son hasn’t gamed, other than on the odd visits to my brother as part of their social interaction, for more than 6 months. He does however still enjoy TV and loves a good documentary, he recommends programs to me and we watch many of them together.
TV often inspires things such as ‘who do you think you are’ inspiring him wanting to find out about his own history, an on going journey we have been travelling for 2 years now and still going. As well as learning about our own family and self identity, he has also learnt so much about social history, the class system, politics, the first and Second World Wars, geography, colonisation, the list goes on from this research as well as how to research.
While watching another of his favourite shows ‘Elementary’ my son fell in love with tortoises and decided it would be the perfect pet to replace his beloved hamster who died last year. I was reluctant at first but we did a lot of research and for his birthday early this month he got Clyde, a one year old marginated tortoise. Taking care of a tortoise takes a lot of measuring, measuring temperature of his environment, measuring of size and weight to keep tract of growth and so on, so exercises his maths shills. He also undertook research into Clyde’s natural environment and geography of that area (Greece) so he could get his pet’s environment just right. My son has not only come out on foraging trips to collect fresh greens for begun to recognise different wild flowers and learn the ones a tortoise can eat and the ones that might harm him. Having a pet is teaching him about responsibility and caring for others as well as about biology and natural history.
On a different occasion my son was watching American pickers and saw them find a Pez dispensing machine and decided he wanted to collect Pez dispensers. He is now a member of a Pez collectors club, has asked to travel to the convention next year, has improved his maths, understood how to look for a bargain and the skill of negotiation understood the principles of budgeting, profit and loss and made some pen pals which means he is writing. It was actually the Pez collecting that made me realise how important taking a step back was as he said I was ‘Putting him off’ in my enthusiasm to support him. Yes a parent’s enthusiasm can become a pressure and that pressure a demand.
Tv plays just a tiny part in all the things that have inspired my son to learn and the things I talk about here just a drop in the ocean of what he has taken it upon himself to explore and learn about. None of this was instigated by me, I am simply my son’s facilitator. The hardest part is stepping back and not taking over or trying to maximise his learning but just be led by him.
I have learnt so much myself, not just by researching along side him but from the process and my most important lesson was;