You are the expert for your child
I was working with a 10-year-old boy who had recently been diagnosed with autism. He struggled building relationships and did not have a desire to participate in our services. I was able to encourage him to be present in our appointments, but he did not want to participate in learning skills, and most especially in practicing skills. One afternoon while discussing his resistance with his mom, she explained that her son was a great teacher and suggested incorporating this into his learning. I had never thought of introducing a new skill in this way, but quickly changed my plan for the following visit to revolve around him teaching me how to build paper airplanes. With his strength in teaching me, I was able to tie the skill steps in with building paper airplanes, and he willing practiced the skill with me while flying our completed airplanes. I was grateful for his mom’s input and learned a valuable lesson when working with children: a parent is the best expert for their child.
We don’t often hear this phrase when seeking parenting skills. Our society often turns to issue specific experts when we don’t think we have enough resources, and although it is beneficial that there are knowledgeable people in every subject imaginable to help us learn and improve our skills, it can also lead to a loss of confidence in our ability to find solutions on our own. When exploring new parenting techniques remember that you know your child better than anyone. Proven theories and skills can aid in the process of behavior modification, but you know best what type of teaching your child responds to best. Because you spend consistent time with your child, and most likely have since birth, you know their strengths and weaknesses, how they are motivated, what causes them stress, what their interests are, etc. You have seen their personality unfold with age and this gives you a deep understanding of what is best for them.
In conjunction with the frequency of time spent with your child, you have had countless situations to strengthen your parenting skills through trial and error. When my first child was just starting to feed herself in her high chair, my husband was in a rigorous master’s program and was rarely home during mealtimes. Without giving it much thought, I had learned that when she was done eating and needed to be wiped off, I had to clear the dishes first, wipe off the tray, and then wipe off her hands and face to be the most efficient in cleaning her. When my husband was home one night I watched as he wiped off her hands first, after which she immediately grabbed her plate and became dirty again. He moved the plate and wiped off her hands a second time, only to find that she then started grabbing the tray, which was still dirty, and got more food on her hands. This time I explained that he needed to clean everything around her off first before wiping her hands so she didn’t repeatedly get dirty again. This was a simple task to learn, but illustrates that because I had done this so many times, I learned what was most effective for my daughter. On a larger scale, we interact with our children in all types of situations and have learned through trial and error when they need to be held to expectations and when they need milder discipline, or when they need a hug and when they need to be left alone. No one else will ever have as much interaction with them as you do in a teaching role.
As a parent there is one characteristic that is more important than anything else that leads to the incredible ability to be the expert for you child, and this is love. As much as I enjoyed working with children, understood the importance of building strong relationships to create change, and thrived on making connections with people, there is a unique and incomparable connection to a child when you’re their parent. Some call it instinct or intuition, but despite what is used to describe it, there is something intangible that surfaces when teaching your own child. There will be moments of imperfection and regret as a parent, but at calm moments when you can openly think about your child there is a clarity that comes from the love you have for them. Learn what you can to prevent escalated emotions and teach most effectively, but at the end of the day your love will provide more endurance, patience, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness than skills ever can.