Why We Need to Stop Looking for "Quick Fixes"

Atypical kids thrive when we respect their timelines and parent with patience.

Posted Sep 24, 2018

rmarmoim/Depositphotos
Source: rmarmoim/Depositphotos

Stuck in a loop of negative self-talk, weighed down by perfectionism, unable to start school assignments because they seem meaningless or boring—the challenges facing differently wired students are often pervasive, deeply personal, and messy.

As parents, it’s hard to watch our kids get hung up on the same things day after day, especially when we see how it’s impacting their happiness, their ability to thrive in school, and their self-esteem.

Because of their neuro-differences, we parents often place immense pressure on ourselves, believing there’s no room for error, that we’ve got to help our child make progress now or they’ll never successfully launch. We earmark pages in parenting books and employ "foolproof" strategies suggested by knowledgeable friends, but we’re still not sure our efforts are paying off. We say all the right words, design the right positive behavioral systems. We reinforce. We notice. We hug.

We wait for the Brady moment, where we’ll share our hard-won wisdom over a snack and, afterward, our child will hug us, thank us, and step away with a new understanding that will make life easier.

But it doesn’t work that way. There is no “quick fix.”

And so, when change doesn’t come as quickly as we expect, we look at our child and, instead of recognizing where they are growing and respecting their individual journey, we just might see someone who is continually getting in their own way.

Yet, the angst we experience because our child isn’t developing as quickly as we may like is nobody’s problem but our own. Because what’s true for every parent, and especially those of us with kids on an atypical timeline, is this: There are no shortcuts. (And, I would argue, we wouldn’t want there to be.)

It Takes as Long as it Takes

I recently spoke with Zach Morris, the forward-thinking head of curriculum and instruction at LEARN Inc, a nonprofit school in Missoula, MT, about how to help our kids “transform their worldview,” or shift their mindset or thinking in areas where they might be stuck.

I’ll be honest—I was hoping Zach would give me a checklist I could work my way through, a clear plan for getting my child from point A (caught in a cycle of unhelpful habits) to point B (thriving). Instead, Zach reminded me that there is no fast forward.

“A transformation of worldview is a slow burn of a process. It really takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, a lot of subtlety, a lot of reflection. And it's not something that someone can just package up and give to you, and then all of a sudden you can adopt it,” he told me.

Admittedly, not what I wanted to hear. But over time, I’ve realized his words bear repeating. Every single day.

Because whether we’re talking about how long it will take to help our child form healthier habits or boost lagging skills or adopt more positive outlooks, we’re looking at years, not days, weeks, or even months. Years of modeling for them, supporting them, coaching them, and, perhaps most importantly, meeting them exactly where they are.

Zoom Out and Focus on What Matters

When we’re in the tedium of daily life, wondering why, for the thousandth morning in a row, we’re still scrambling to find lost shoes or school folders or frustrated when a math worksheet completely derails our child, we might wonder if we’re doing anything right.

As Seth Perler, a passionate executive functioning coach whose life’s work is helping complicated, outside-the-box learners reminds me time and time again, the key is to zoom out and remember what we’re actually working toward.

“A lot of times, adults get caught up in planning for college and test scores and grades and missing assignments. We get really focused on these details that may be important, but we lose sight of what are we doing here in the first place. How are we going to give [our child] what they need so they can have an independent awesome future where they're able to go for their dreams and their goals and their hopes?” he explains.

In the face of no obvious progress, showing up consistently with calm and the kind of patience our kids deserve takes effort. But when you consider what our role in this equation is, it’s clear that the gift of time, kindness, and shame-free support is the most important thing we can do for our exceptional children.

This is where I am personally on my journey with my young atypical teen, who is in that liminal space between childhood and launched adult. The good news is, I know I’ll to have lots of opportunities to practice mastering this skill in the coming years. And I have no doubt it will be totally worth it.