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Friday, 29 October 2010

Parenting a Dyslexic - Five Tips From a Busy Mom

Author: Camille Booth

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I have two dyslexic teens. Actually, I have three but one is in college now...so parenting her has changed to phone calls and "send money". However, the two who are at home are both a joy and a challenge. They have so many wonderful attributes but sometimes I still want to pull my hair out when giving directions or when I come across another mess where one of them got all creative and then ran out of steam on the project. But, I also remember what it felt like before I knew much about dyslexia. I remember the struggles that I had trying to understand my children's behaviors. So, the following are five tips that have helped me raise my wonderful kids. Many look at us and can't believe how close we are...it's all because I learned from my kids to not sweat the small stuff and to be real.
Tips from a BUSY Mom
1) When you give your child directions, make eye contact. Yes...you will have to get out of your chair after a rough day. No, you can't holler from the kitchen. It's very important that your dyslexic child see your expression while they hear your words. As dyslexia is an auditory processing disorder, your child may have major difficulties processing what you've actually said if they can't see you. Also, make your child repeat the directions back. I still do this with my 18 year old. She has gotten very used to it and knows that it helps her to remember. I often review directions several times. If you are asking your child to do something new, expect to repeat the directions at LEAST three times and it will all go better if you show them what you expect the first time.
2) Be patient. loving and clear. Your child DOES NOT mean to not understand. When things happen in your household that have to do with your child(ren) "not listening", begin with patience, love and clarity. Of course, if they are being obviously defiant, then they need consequences. But, if you look at their face and they look genuinely confused about what you've repeated ("Son, I asked you to take the trash out to the curb.") Then, they probably did not process what you've asked properly. I often give time frames, like, "It is 3:00. At 3:05, I expect you to take the trash from the kitchen outside to the curb because the garbage man will be here in the morning." Notice I also made sure to paint a full picture of my expectation. Dyslexics think in pictures, paint a clear word picture for them.
3) Use humor. My kids are funny. They make me laugh every day and I appreciate that. However, they also make me laugh at inappropriate times...like when I'm trying to provide consequences for misbehavior! Still, I've found that using humor and laughing about the challenges helps us all to make it work. In our house, we have "Dyslexic moments." Those moments are acknowledged and accepted. We crack up rather than becoming frustrated. When my kids do something backwards like putting the pitcher of juice under the sink and the dish soap in the refrigerator, it's way funny. I used to get frustrated and angry simply because it seemed to take so much time to figure out how to explain things to my kids, but really words are over rated...laughter will get the loving message across much better. Laughing together when things are a challenge says, "I love you no matter what!"
4) Support organization but don't freak out about lapses. My kids are a bit of a mess, as are many dyslexics. We've tried many organizational strategies...some help some don't. I've learned to go with my kids' style. My daughter loves written calendars, she is great about writing down appointments and assignments. My son prefers to have open tubs in his room where he can see his "stuff". The best we can do is label tubs and make sure the stuff doesn't get mixed. There are certain things I insist on. For example, our living room MUST be cleaned and my kids are not allowed to trickle their mess into the common area. Their rooms can be "organized" how they want but the common spaces are organized by Mom...no exceptions. In order to do this, I had to establish strict structures to make this happen. I also have to do deep breathing exercising whenever I notice the structures have been ignored. Parenting dyslexics take flexibility.
5) Respect what your kids are feeling in the evening and on weekends. Now, this seems obvious...but it's not. I used to try to do the conventional things like enforce a homework hour, do play dates, and read for the big "at least 20 minutes a night". Then, I realized my kids needed me to be their advocate. They needed me to look at them and really SEE the dark circles under their eyes from being so worn out from trying to keep up in classes. The needed me to understand how deflated the balloon of their self-esteem was from not ever being number one (or even number 10) in their classes at school. They needed me to know that they didn't want to look at one more darned word of text. They just needed to be hugged, to be regarded as the coolest kid on the planet, and to do something they were good at with Mom or Dad. My daughter loves to cook. My son likes to play video games with Dad.
Once I really woke up, my kids got better and better...more and more confident. I'm an educator. I know what the rules are. I know what I "should" be doing to make sure my kids are successful in school... but guess what? That formula doesn't work very well for a dyslexic. So I wrote our formula based on MY kids...I highly recommend it.

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