In the two decades I have been helping kids and parents improve their relationships, I can't count the number of times parents have discovered that their child is their greatest teacher.
Many parents agree that their children are one of their greatest gifts. But how many take the time to see what they have to learn from their child?
What Parents Can Learn From Kids
“What? I'm the parent. I'm supposed to teach them. I'm the one in charge.” I hear this in my office all the time, an attitude that feeds many family conflicts. In our culture, those who are older, bigger or have more “status” are often the ones in charge. Seen as teachers, those “below them” are considered students. Subordinates are relegated to learning from the teachers, while teachers are expected to learn nothing from their students.
There are many kids and adults more than willing to fall in line with this paradigm, and in those circumstances, things may work out fine.
However, many kids (and adults) with ADD/ADHD do not walk this line. We – I include myself here -- are the individuals who challenge the status quo. We find flaws in systems, stand up to change them, and find different ways to look at rules and issues that may lead to better solutions.
When parents focus purely on the negative impact of this tendency, it can create conflict and tension in relationships. However, when we turn off the struggle for power and control and look to empower our kids, it can open up windows of opportunity.
So, how can we take advantage of this natural tendency in many kids with ADD/ADHD? Learn these 4 life lessons from your kids:
Thinking out of the box can be a very good thing. Many solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems come from a fresh and different perspective. For many individuals with ADD, thinking outside the box is part of the fiber of our being. We are not trouble-makers, we are merely looking for ways to make the world work in a way that makes sense to us.
ADD/ADHD kids often love to have fun and laugh, even when they aren't supposed to. They laugh at inappropriate times, say inappropriate things, and push the limits on play. Understand that they want to enjoy life and live it to the fullest. Be careful not to stamp on their enthusiasm, but guide and direct it carefully.
Many kids who behave defiantly are seen as wanting power and control over others. I see it differently. In response to feeling controlled, they learn to seek control over others to protect themselves. When parents have a high priority around “keeping their kids in line,” it actually feeds the problem, leading to more defiance and anger.
The challenge for parents is to loosen the reins (not let go!) and be open to see things from a different perspective. Allow your kids to begin to assume more management of their lives, not control over their lives. After all, control is an illusion, management is a skill. As a parent, you can help guide your children to use their power wisely, to find power with people, not power over people.
Assume positive intent from your children, even with their negative behavior. Often, children lose trust of those in authority when they have been punished unfairly, and they will often react to protect themselves.
I teach that there are seven primary protective emotions: Anger, Rage, Arrogance, Flippancy, Defiance, Sarcasm, and Hatred. In our win-at-all-costs world, whenever anyone is showing one or more of these emotions, they are always protecting emotions that are perceived as weak, such as sadness, fear, failure, shame, guilt. When you or your child expresses one of those protective emotions, there is always something hidden deeper that you may not even be aware of. Take the time to look inside and see what might be at the source of the problem.
By the times many families find me, the problems in their family dynamic can be severe. Parents bring their children as the identified patients -- the problem in the family. In this situation, I often step back and thank the child for having the courage to be the barometer, for recognizing that there is a problem. This often has everyone step back and reassess the situation.
We have to recognize that our children did not grow up in a vacuum. More often than not, many of their behaviors were learned from those around them.
So whether your kids are smiling, laughing and playing, or in the midst of a temper tantrum, take the time to see what they have to teach you – about them, and about yourself. A silly, playful child may teach you how to live more in the moment. A defiant child may be challenging you to understand yourself and be a better parent.
There is so much more I would want to say, but I will leave you with this: think of each day you wake up with your kids as Christmas day. Your child is a gift that is wrapped and ready to be opened, filled with wisdom, opportunity, and love. It may not be the gift you wanted, but s/he is definitely what you need.