Daily Excerpt: I Love My Kids, But I Don't Always Like Them (Bagdade) - "Carma's Story" from "Right-size Your Expectations"
Excerpt from I Love My Children, But I Don't Always Like Them
Every family has to figure out the expectation game and how each child may respond to surprises, frustration, disappointment and even too much excitement. As children grow up, and their behavior evolves, their capacity to handle change and respond to unwelcome triggers may also vary, depending on a number of factors. Every family must deal with this process.
The Greens came to me because their daughter kept embarrassing them at family functions. Both parents had four siblings, and everyone lived nearby, so they came together to enjoy a meal at least once a week. Carma’s parents considered this a blessing, but their daughter wasn’t so appreciative. As she turned 12, she often tried to get out of family events by crying and begging to stay home alone.
I facilitated a parent-child meeting with them (see Chapter 6). After some open-ended questions, Carma was able to verbalize that she felt nervous being with large groups of people, especially among her aunts and uncles. While well-meaning and loving, they couldn’t stop launching tons of nonstop questions toward Carma, which made her anxious.
After speaking with Carma and her parents and teachers, I suspected that she had difficulty processing auditory language quickly. This made all the questioning from well-intentioned family feel like a rapid-fire assault. With so much background noise at these large family functions, she may not have been able to hear the questions being directed at her and would struggle to comprehend them and process her thoughts into an age-appropriate answer. To compensate, she would often answer, “I don’t know” to even simple questions, such as “How’s soccer going this season?” This frustrated Carma’s family, especially her grandparents, who thought she was being rude.
Children with invisible disabilities, such as language disorders, ADHD, and anxiety often appear rude when they are actually trying their best! I suggested to Carma’s parents that they work with their school district to get Carma a full Speech and Language Evaluation (more about how to get your child expert support in the Resources section.)
As I expected, Carma had a speech and language disability. She was severely delayed in receptive language, which refers to processing language as it comes in. No wonder she could not quickly come up with sufficient answers to all the small talk!
According to the K-12 Teachers Alliance,Top of Form while learning disabilities are common, many myths are attached to them, which can be detrimental to how these students socialize and are educated. When children have a disability, their parents must navigate new territory. As educators, it’s our responsibility to demystify these disabilities. So, when it came to Carma’s mom and dad, I assured them from the start that her issues were absolutely not a result of harmful or neglectful parenting.
Carma and her parents became educated about her language disability, and she received some great speech and language therapy to address it. However, she remained anxious about going to family functions. She was not quite ready to share her diagnosis with her huge extended family and asked her parents to keep it private. She wanted to enjoy these gatherings like her siblings and cousins and was just as frustrated as her parents with her lack of ability to do so. She wasn’t misbehaving when she had meltdowns before going to those family dinners; she was simply communicating her fear and anxiety in the only way she could.
Eventually, with the new language skills she acquired, Carma was able to have more comfortable conversations, but she still became fatigued and “talked out” more quickly than your average 12-year-old and she didn’t want to continue disappointing everyone. Her parents wanted to “right size” their expectations as they supported their daughter to demonstrate age-appropriate behavior by not letting her anxiety get in her own way.
Carma’s Family Dinner Plan
Here is the plan we came up with, collaboratively and preventatively, for the Green’s next Sunday night family dinner, which was hosted at Carma’s aunt’s house. It was typically quite noisy, and most of the adults were asking many questions, which was expected. Carma’s parents even reminded her of this.
Here’s what we decided we could control: The Green family will be the first of the extended family to arrive. When they are the only ones joining the hosts, the atmosphere is calm, warm, and inviting and that becomes Carma’s first impression. She can enjoy playing with her cousins with no competition for their attention and catch up with her aunt and uncle when it’s just two families interacting.
Beginning the evening this way lessoned Carma’s anxiety. The Greens and I clearly explained to her what was appropriate and expected for someone her age in this situation. We even modeled some back-and-forth conversation skills she could use when talking to adults by deliberately “right sizing” our expectations to include Carma’s language deficits. She could have one 10-minute break away from people and three short breaks of two to five minutes, but most of her time she should be with the family.
To help her take breaks without being asked why she was leaving the room, she brought a school novel and said she was doing homework. School is prioritized in her family and her parents thought that no one would interrupt her if she said she was doing homework. They asked ahead of time if she was able to use her aunt’s office to get a little work done so she didn’t fall behind, and her aunt happily complied.
Carma was a bit nervous that evening as they prepared to go for dinner, but her parents saw her confidence building as she now knew how to please them and her extended family! They reported that the night went beautifully. Carma focused on enjoying her little cousins, as we thought this would help her avoid the parts that were not ideal for her limitations. On the way home in the car, her parents, as instructed, immediately and specifically praised her behavior and accomplishments. Carma seemed proud of herself and expressed how much she enjoyed the experience and was even looking forward to the next family dinner!
This book has earned the following recognition:
RECOMMENDED by US Review of Books