We Can’t Fix Our Children, They Are Not Broken

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As a therapist I know that a child who struggles with sensory processing or mental health issues will not simply grow out of it or be fixed. I talk with parents all the time who want their children to come to into therapy with struggles and come out of therapy happy and regulated. As a therapist I know that this unrealistic, but as a mom I know how easy this is to forget.

When my son “graduated” from OT his moods, behaviors and relationships improved tremendously. I felt beyond proud of the hard work he and our whole family had done. In my mind I decided that he was all better - we had worked hard and it had fixed him. Then last week we had a really bad day. It felt like we took 100 steps back, and I couldn’t catch my breath. Even I, an educated therapist, could convince myself that my child is fixable, because if that was true, life would be so much easier. He wouldn’t have to suffer, and I wouldn’t have to hurt with him.

Our children are not fixable because they are not broken! They may struggle in certain arenas but find great strength in others. We can give them tools to manage their stress, but we can’t take away their frustrations because they are a part of them. My son’s desire to master tasks can cause him great frustration, but when he does master a task his joy is endless and it is beautiful to watch. This is all part of who he is.

So what can we do to help our children understand struggle? We can model it for them. When we try to be perfect parents who never have bad days we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and we teach our children to strive for perfection. When your kids ask how you are you doing, be honest. If you are having a frustrating day, tell them and remind them that we all have days like that.

After you model for your children how to accept struggle you can empower them to help you. While our children often don’t know how to help themselves, they love to feel needed and help others. After you let them know you’re having a frustrating day, ask them for suggestions on how to calm down. My sons always recommend I take a deep breath and we breathe all together. Through helping me they are taking time to think about coping skills and are practicing using them. Maybe your kids will offer you a much needed firm hug and you will both benefit from the love between you. Whatever they suggest, you are showing them that their opinion matters and that people can be upset and calm down.

Just as with our kids, our struggles don’t make us broken. They make us human and they are as much a part of us as our joy. Raising a sensory kid (or any kid!) can test our patience in every way and we cannot be expected to hold it together all the time. When we can all own who we are each day we can work together to hold each other up. We can live authentically in pain and in joy.