We all want our children to be successful. But we may need to use different criteria to measure success for a child with special needs. Great grades, athletic prowess and peer popularity may be difficult or impossible goals for our kids to succeed at -- but they're not the only goals that matter. Here are five ways to think about what success means for your child, and make it happen.
Your child's opinion is important.
When you're defining success, make sure you're doing it in a way that's meaningful for your child. Being successful at something you couldn't care less about doesn't deliver the same positive charge as triumphing at something you consider important. And it's a lot easier to get motivated about something that matters. You may always have to set some of the priorities for your child, but make sure that he or she gets to set some, too.
Is being successful by your parental terms making your child happy? Happiness is in itself a kind of success, and something parents ignore at their peril. If your child is happy and comfortable in his or her own skin, chances are he or she is experiencing success in something -- whether it's something that matters to you or not. And if your child appears to be doing great, but is sad much of the time, then success may only be in the eye of the beholder.
The goal is progress, not perfection.
Just moving forward is worth something. Improvement in grades, improvement in willingness to do homework, improvement in reading speed, improvement in classroom behavior -- all of these require substantial effort, but are easier to attain than straight As, struggle-free homework, reading fluency, and being the teacher's pet. You may always hold those perfect goals in your heart, but recognize that doing better from one year to the next is a triumph in its own right.
Create opportunities for success.
If your child has trouble being successful, create situations in which success can happen naturally. Make sure your child spends lots of time doing things he or she is good at. Teach skills in small steps so you can elaborately praise each successful learning experience. Praise your child for resisting doing something he shouldn't as much as for doing something he should. A little success can go a long way in improving your child's self esteem and breeding more success.
You don't have to fix everything.
Your child doesn't have to be successful in everything he tries. Every failure is not a signal that you need to prepare more and push harder. Most adults have figured out their own strengths and weaknesses, and make choices based on those. Kids rarely have the same luxury -- they have to go to school whether they favor deskwork or not, they have to acquire basic physical and mental skills whether it's easy or excruciating. But they don't have to excel at all of those things. As long as your child has some experiences of success, failures don't have to be tragedies.