As the daughter of a special education teacher and a special education teacher myself, I’m pretty familiar with labels. Learning alongside my neurodiverse and disabled students unfortunately included writing IEP’s about their strengths and weaknesses, often after only meeting these wonderful humans for just a few hours. Sometimes thirty minutes.
Boy were these fabulous souls more than their IEP goals. The labels and deficit-based system did a disservice to those who reviewed the paperwork instead of connecting with the human in front of them.
Humans are multi-faceted, behaving one way in a certain environment and completely different in another. If I could have just gotten my students out of the classroom…oh the learning & joy we could have had! How about the beach? The forest? Planting a garden? Building a bicycle? Creating robots? Learning about and raising chickens together? Can we write IEP goals based on the mindset needed to cultivate joy?
When you look at your beautiful, one-of-a-kind child, what do you see? Do you lean towards judgment without recognizing that you are doing so? Do you comment on one of your children’s intellectual abilities while praising the other for their outgoing nature? Do you do this so often that your child starts to “see” themself the way you see them? Do you have so many expectations and goals you aren’t enjoying the present moment?
Or do you truly recognize that children are fluid, changing from moment to moment just as our feelings do? That barriers need not exist in our minds, because our children can knock them down?
I have way too many books to help me be a good parent. These books haven’t made parenting any easier. I’ve gained a lot of great information from these books, but it’s important to know when something is useful and when something can hinder your parenting.
Recently, I’ve been reading about a baby’s temperament. Some of these books put children in categories such as textbook, grouchy, spirited, and touchy. I found myself highlighting different examples that reminded me of my daughter. I started telling my husband, “Ohhhh…our daughter fits into THIS category, no wait…THAT category, and a little bit of the other category.”
Then I caught myself mid-sentence. What was I doing? I actually found examples from each category that reminded me of my child. Why was I trying so hard to label her? To make her fit perfectly into one category?
Maybe I wanted to understand and find one solution that would make my daughter a “happy” baby all the time. How ridiculous is that? Is there one “solution” that makes YOU happy all the time? For heaven’s sake, NO! We change, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
Mindfulness practice has been paramount in teaching me the importance of recognizing that feeling states are fleeting. One second we may feel anxious, the next nostalgic because of a smell, then irritated, and after a few minutes happy again. Our children’s feelings, interests, friends, ideas, & identity change. All the time.
Right now she laughs when her dad nuzzles his face under her armpit.
She laughs when I startle her.
In the past, it was very rare for our daughter to smile for strangers. Now, she is cautious around strangers, but when she likes someone I can tell because she smiles more, looks back at them for approval as she crawls away, or reaches out her hand to them.
Babies and children learn through play. She knows where every toy is in her play area; takes puzzles apart, climbs up on the gate, puts the ribbons in her mouth, messes with drawers, and takes the shoelaces from shoes. She pulls herself up on the chairs and couch. She likes music. How can I tell? She bounces up and down when she hears it. If she is crying, my singing or music can ease her sadness or frustration.
Sometimes her personality is vibrant and we hear screams of excitement as she crawls through the house.
Other times, she is quiet and contemplative as she explores a speck of lint on the floor (or gecko poop…HA!).
I like to observe my daughter. Take pictures. Videos. Record these precious moments as she grows. Be with her in this moment.
I will honor my daughter by getting rid of the labels.
Instead, I will get to know her; who is she today?