When you first receive the diagnosis or listen to a teacher suggest that your child might have some learning difficulties, it can be very shocking, disconcerting and even confusing. Many of us might also deny the problem at first, thinking it is an issue of our child’s attitude. Blaming other caregivers in charge of our child for spoiling them and not being firmer with them is also a natural reaction.
After the initial flurry of emotions, frustrations, communications with teachers and therapists and psychologists, we as parents have to calm down to take stock of the situation in order to find a way forward.
As a parent myself, let me suggest 4 big steps that will help you get a better handle on the situation.
- Understanding the condition
Firstly, make an effort to better understand your child’s diagnosis. I will admit, even though I studied Psychology in my undergrad years, I was also affected by the common myths and misconceptions about ADHD. Because Dyslexia has to do with reading, it is easier for us as parents zoom in to find educational therapists to support this area of learning need. However, ADHD is a broader cup of symptoms, mostly exhibiting in behavioural “misendeavours”. It is easy for us to assume that if we are stricter and firmer with our children, they will learn to “listen to instructions” and comply like other children, and their hyperactivity and inattentiveness can be disciplined away. We end up using our own methods, becoming harsher (which often is proportionate to our level of exasperation and frustration) and yet finding ourselves getting zero or negative returns.
This was what I did, and I found myself struggling more rather than less. So, after hitting a wall of daily school refusals and temper tantrums, I started to read up more on ADHD and Dyslexia as well as connect with existing support networks like SPARK. It was a gradual process of equipping myself to better understand the condition and therefore my child. And as my understanding increased, so did my sense of confidence.
- Connect with other parents
Connecting with other parents on the same journey was also immensely helpful to me and is a “secret factor” in good coping that many parents neglect. When I got in touch with SPARK, (it could be the DAS Parents Support Group for most of you), the process of hearing how other parents are managing was very comforting. Just knowing that I’m not struggling alone was a big relief. Having children with learning difficulties and pervasive developmental disorders like Dyslexia and ADHD leaves parents not only bewildered but overwhelmed and misunderstood by everyone from close family and friends, to relatives and even general members of the public who observe and judge when outbursts happen in public places. So, it is amazingly heart-warming to gather with parents who have children with similar needs as your child. In such meet-ups, tears flow freely and laughter arises more heartily, as an environment of authentic sharing and identification takes place.
- Adjusting expectations
The third aspect of better coping is by asking ourselves what we really expect from our children. When we pause to answer this question, we will find ourselves re-calibrating to talk more about long-term goals. Like a child becoming more self-motivated, independent, a responsible and contributing member of society, etc. However, zoom back to the current day-to-day life we have with our children. Do our choices and interactions with our children really guide them towards the future we envision for them? Or are our daily lives filled with excessive activities from therapies to tuition to enrichment classes, interspersed with predictably unpredictable outbursts requiring our fire-fighting discipline attempts? Underneath the buzz and craziness of our everyday schedules, we need to pause and ask ourselves how these really work towards the long-term goals we have for our children. Or do these activities arise more out of our parental expectations that they do not lose out in school amongst their peers? Unaddressed parental fears create expectations on our children that can heap on the stress for them as well as for us. Take time to honestly take stock, and re-calibrate your daily life to better reflect your long-term goals for your children. Couple it with better knowledge of your child’s condition, and that brings us to the 4th step.
- Bringing the best out of your child
As we equip ourselves with a better understanding of our child’s condition, we need to let this knowledge translate to practical adjustments in our family life to bring out the best in our children. For example, if your child has hyperactivity and impulsiveness issues, bringing them for regular shopping centre outings can be a regular disaster. In most malls, space to run around is limited, and many exciting things regularly grab their attention, yet are “don’t touch, just look” items on shelves. You will find yourself repeatedly telling them to “Stop!”, “Don’t touch!”, “Don’t run!”, “Walk straight!”, “Look where you are going!”, and yourself incessantly apologising to whoever gets intruded on by your unbridled child. Even the most patient parent would get worn out by the end of such an outing. The question to ask is not that the general public is not understanding (that is a long topic for another article), but whether we have unwittingly put our children into an environment that doesn’t bring out the best in them. Conversely, it is actually bringing out the worse in them and showcasing that in public, which leads to stress and frustration for us their parents.
Perhaps, choosing better environments for family outings is one way to better allow our children to be free to be active and not be judged for it. Outdoor playgrounds and parks, indoor areas with wide-open spaces for free play, sports facilities, swimming pools… In these contexts, your child can laugh as loud as they want, run around, explore, and play. Isn’t this what we parents love to observe in our children? Planning this into their weekly schedules is critically important to balancing off their experiences of indoor school classrooms. If every after-school enrichment and tuition is also indoor and enclosed, you might want to re-evaluate your commitments. Yes, initially, therapies and intervention sessions can take up a lot of time. But as soon as you can free up time, do so confidently. They can do with 1 less enrichment, but a whole lot more outdoor and explorative playtime.
Raising a child with learning difficulties and developmental disorders can be exhausting and demanding for parents. Having these 4 key steps as your framework for moving ahead positively can take a load of stress off your own chest. Sometimes we hope they will just grow up and “be normal”, but their difference should become our new normal. When we as parents adjust ourselves first, we will see the effect on our children sooner than when we only expect them to be the ones to “change”.
Tina is a mother of 3 boys, aged 16, 15 and 10. Her 2nd son was diagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia when he was 7, and ASD when he was 10. As an overwhelmed parent initially, Tina found her passion in supporting other parents struggling similarly with their ADHD children. She has since been helping with parent training and parent coaching for ADHD families from 2013 to 2016. In 2017, she was invited to serve on the SPARK1 Executive Committee as Vice-President. In 2018, she developed and ran a 4-session parents group hosted in CGC, and subsequently in 2 Primary Schools in Singapore. She also gives talks to Schools and Allied Educators on Understanding ADHD.
Being a Social Worker at heart, it is Tina’s desire to empower parents & educators to better cope with their ADHD and Dyslexic children.
Mrs Tina Tan [Qualifications: B Soc. Sci (Hons) Social Work (1998), Rainbows Program Trained Facilitator (2011 to 2018), Accredited Triple P Trainer with MSF (2015)]
1 SPARK is the Society for the Promotion of ADHD Research and Knowledge