One of the very reasons that we discipline in a very different way is because we face very real self-esteem issues.
I hear a grown from the crowd…’ugh…more talk about feelings and this generation of ‘feel good’ kids?’
Precisely. More talk about feeling good about yourself. Why?
Trust me…there is not much worse than hearing these words from your child at the tender age of five,
“I should just die. You would be better off.”
“I should just kill myself. Life would be better.”
“I can’t do it. I wish I was dead.”
Very real phrases…spoken by my son – until 6th grade. Yes…it took us that long to teach him to feel good about who he is.
Some said, ‘Oh, he doesn’t know what that ACTUALLY means.’ Um…okay. How do you know that? So…somehow that makes it better?
Some said, ‘You just have to ignore it, it’s for attention.’ Um…okay. Well if it’s for attention – then why would I ignore it? That just doesn’t make sense.
Some said, ‘You just have to tell him he can’t say that.’ Um…okay. It’s always a good idea to shut down the child who doesn’t talk much…and to shut down a real thought.
It’s very real. If you read Day #119 – Advocacy, Part 1 I wrote about how I told him he had autism in 1st grade. He’s known for as long as he can remember. I thought this was incredibly important so he could begin learning to advocate for himself. It also had drawbacks.
- He learned that this was his reality, and would be for the rest of his life.
- He didn’t know (at that time) that he was any different from anyone else.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The positives (at least for us) definitely outweighed the negatives – but the negatives were responsible for a plunging self-esteem.
As he matured he began to recognize the differences…
No matter how hard he tried there were some things he just couldn’t get.
No matter how hard he tried he felt different.
No matter how hard he tried…he wouldn’t ever be cured.
He began to perceive the correction of his behaviors as criticism. He had to go to SLP, OT, PT, and special counseling sessions. Children figure out early on that the rest of their friends are not doing that…so there must be something wrong with them.
He couldn’t always understand his peers and their play because it didn’t come natural to him. He didn’t understand their jokes…so he began to ‘not fit in.’
There is a nasty Catch 22 here as well. The more his self-esteem plunged – the more he acted out. The more he acted out, the more others saw the media interpretation of someone with autism…
- Someone without emotion
- Someone without interest in others
- Someone incapable of love
- Someone with no social graces
- Someone with little imagination
- Someone with poor hygiene
- Someone who is obsessed
This was probably THE most frustrating part of my life…because Tucker is none of these things. Well, he can be – but in very different ways.
- He is not without emotion, he is simply very black and white.
- He is not without interest in others…at least when others show interest in him.
- He is quite capable of love. It may look different – but he’s quite affectionate.
- Okay, okay…we’re still working on social graces, imagination, and hygiene.
- He is most certainly obsessed and I think it’s AWESOME to know so much about one thing.
His teachers grew increasingly concerned…and so did I. It had to begin with us, all of us that surrounded him. That’s when we all went to work.
We went to work…talking about autism in very positive ways.
We went to work…teaching and telling others who surround Tucker about the positive pieces of how he experiences the spectrum.
We went to work…making sure he always heard more positive than negative.
We went to work…turning all of these preconceived negatives into positives.
We went to work…always listening to him and taking everything he said seriously.
We went to work…at being his ‘adult’ friends.
We went to work…at always giving him the benefit of the doubt.
We went to work…intentionally helping him bridge the conversation gap between him and his peers.
We went to work…learning best practices and sharing those with others.
We went to work…always looking beyond behavior and instead at impetus.
We went to work…celebrating EVERY milestone, even if it was simply wearing a new shirt.
We went to work…looking at the whole, not just parts.
Which brings me to my friend, Dr. Jerry Jampolsky. Okay, he’s not really my friend – but I’m POSITIVE if he met me he would want to be my friend. I ran across some information on Dr. Jampolsky while research ‘low self-esteem and autism.’ He is dyslexic and writes about his own struggle with feeling ‘worthy’ and accepted.
So, I read his book, Love Is Letting Go Of Fear. He offers many principles that were quite helpful in helping Tucker (and actually, myself along the way). His viewpoint is that most actions in life are rooted in two emotions – love or fear. To help Tucker’s self-esteem I had to change my own thinking (thereby creating change in his) to solely focus on love. The twelve major premises in his writing:
- All that I give is given to myself
- Forgiveness is the key to happiness
- I am never upset for the reason I think
- I am determined to see things differently
- I can escape the world I see by giving up attack thoughts
- I am not the victim of the world i see
- Today I will judge nothing that occurs
- This instant is the only time there is
- The past is over it can touch me not
- I could see peace instead of this
- I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt
- I am responsible for what I see
Now, I could probably write a blog post for each of these ideas and how it helped us transform Tucker’s self-esteem issues (and maybe I will). The main idea is that anger, resentment, judgement, frustration are all feelings related to fear. Letting go of this fear allows love to dominate. Honestly, as I write this I giggle to myself and think, “How very flower-child’like of you.”
But then, I think…let that sink in…
Letting go of fear allows love to dominate….that domination of love has also prevented Tucker from saying any of those phrases for 18 months. That? That I’ll take. Flowerchild and all.