"I'm stupid! I wish I hadn't been born." When my son, Casey, uttered those words, at age 10, it ripped my heart. How could this child feel so hopeless?
I thought of the messages he got everywhere he went: "You need to learn to sit still. Why can't you follow directions?" He was always in trouble, for things he couldn't control. Amid his meltdowns, I began hearing a different message: "I don't want to be the bad kid! I don't want to be in trouble all the time. I need tools to succeed, I need help!" Here are four ways to give your child the help he is crying out for:
> GIVE YOUR CHILD A REPORT CARD. If you were constantly "graded" and penalized because of your disability, you'd feel pretty bad about yourself. So create your own report card highlighting the qualities your family values. Write down all the times your child shows leadership, compassion, creativity, and problem-solving. Your kids should know that they have talents that are rewarded in the real world.
> GIVE HER TOOLS TO SUCCEED. If your child needs an object in his hands to concentrate, tape a Velcro strip underneath his desk at school and at home. It is an effective, non-distracting fidget toy that improves focus, and helps with sensory challenges. When your child gets upset, give him a specific, physical activity to do — build a Lego spaceship or jump 37 times on a mini-trampoline. Physical activity will manage his frustration better than yelling at him to stop.
> MAKE A POINT OF PRAISING YOUR CHILD. Far too often, we wait until our kids get in trouble to show them our love. Catch your child when he is showing self-control and praise him for it. Pop your head into the living room and say, "Guys, I wanted you to know you've been playing well together now for 18 minutes. Proud of you." Write a note telling your child three reasons you are proud of him, and place it under his pillow.
> SHOW OFF YOUR CHILD'S STRENGTHS AND PASSIONS. Give your child opportunities to show off his talents in doing what he loves. Help your daughter to start her own business creating things, volunteer at an animal shelter, play her violin at a retirement center, or sell tickets for a fundraiser. When kids do what they love and help other people, it builds their confidence and gives them hope for the future.
KIRK MARTIN is founder of celebratecalm.com. He has written four books, writes an award-winning newsletter, and hosts his own radio show.