Helping my son get out of bed when he was in pain was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I knew how much he hurt.
But we both knew that the worst mistake we’d made when he first got sick was to let him withdraw from the world and into his bed. The light hurt his eyes. The cat walking across the room made him cringe from the sound. So he started with sunglasses and ear plugs. Then sunglasses in a darkened room. Then welding glasses.
Soon he was in the dark with his pain.
We both agreed that he needed to slowly reintroduce himself to the world and that I would help.
I’ve written before about Urie Bronfenbrenner, the great American developmental psychologist.
Children thrive – are happiest and become most accomplished and most independent – when they experience a balance of challenge and support from the people they love.
You can think about challenge and support as describing the give and take between the child and their world.
Challenge is how we ask the child to adjust their needs and desires to meet the needs of others. We ask them to be polite. To help. To stretch a little further and do a little better.
Support is how we adjust ourselves and the world’s demands to meet the needs of the child.
Push kids too hard and they lose their sense of autonomy and their love for what they’re doing.
And they make break, especially if they’re fragile.
But push kids too little and they learn to be selfish, that they can’t do for themselves, and that their needs come before others.
They stop learning and they stop growing. And, if that means they’re staying in bed and in the dark – like my son did – it means they get sicker.
So . . . . sit down and talk. What is the next small step they’re ready to make? How can you help them get there?
Scaffolding provides kids with just enough support. When parents scaffold, they are there when their child needs help. And they let the child do for themselves when they don’t.
The art of not stepping in is one key to good coaching – and one of the hardest to learn.
Sensitive parenting is an art. Especially parenting children and teens who are chronically ill, coming back from long COVID, or living with persistent pain.
Their needs and capabilities can change from moment to moment. Now they seem fine and together and completely ready to do the laundry. And ten minutes later they’ve had a flare and that’s just not going to happen.
Adjusting expectations to where they are right now is key to success. Because they may be able to do it. But maybe not right now.
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