Independence and Dependence-Helping Your Exceptional Child Move Forward As They Grow

“Stop nagging me and telling me what to do. I want to decide.”

“Help me. I can’t calm down. I don’t know what to do.”

Both of the above quotes were said by Michael, as he struggles with coming into his own during puberty with his exceptional brain. My responses to both of those questions also contradict somewhat:

“I’m not trying to nag. I’m your mother and I make rules to keep you safe.”

“You don’t need me to fix it. You can do it. I am here to support you. Remember your strategies.”

While it is true that tweens like Michael need rules and guidance from their parents like when they were younger, they are also understandably looking for more freedom and choice to make their own decisions. Parents too want to be the safety net their child needs until they are adults, but also want to be able to give their child space to make decisions, even if they are challenging decisions. The thing is, that with exceptional or neuro iverse kids, the age of full awareness of one’s action and adulthood is difficult to see. For some kids they mature a lot faster than others developmentally. For others, parents and caregivers have to hang in there a little longer helping them with things. Still, it is hard when your child is growing up and pushing away, but still needs you for things you thought they would have mastered by now.

For me parenting Michael is exhausting on a whole other level as well as being incredibly cool on another level. I no longer have a child who worships the ground I walk on. I will hear repeatedly I like you, I want to live with you, I want to tell you things, but there is no more of wanting to do everything with me. He wants to hang out alone, with friends, and do his own thing. He is independent with getting snacks and some meals. I can leave him alone for longer periods of time and he enjoys the responsibility. He is a teenager almost, so perfectly normal. But then there are the anxieties and challenging behaviors as he wants more control, but has a hard time reigning his emotions in. I joke sometimes that my child is one big walking hormone, but it is true. Puberty hits our guys and girls harder in most cases, which means parents and caregivers have to be EXTRA patient and give them time and space to regroup.

It has gotten easier over the years as I have learned to read Michael’s cues and see his anxieties and anger for what they are. Now, the thing is just where the problems will arise next. I remember a friend years ago saying, “little kids little problems, big kids, big problems.” To some degree she was right. As our children get older they need the room to make mistakes, but need us to catch them when they do. This is hard as they want to be fully independent and don’t yet have the skills. If anxiety is in there, it makes it harder for them to accept help. Self-esteem is affected. This is Michael’s battle and mine helping him see how amazing he is. We are making headway, but there are some days when I think I can’t keep up with one more turn on the highway. Then, I remember what I told Michael years ago, “we never give up. tomorrow is another day.” Sometimes he even says it to me and not the other way around.

Exceptional Parents, how do you walk the line between giving your child independence and reminding them they are still dependent on you? It is a tricky line and sometimes blurry for all to see. The most important thing to remember is to find a solution which gives your child the power they need to grow strong in mind, body and spirit, while also knowing that you are there to catch them if they fall and help them back up again. Until next time.

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