I almost regularly remind my kids that they can do anything they set their minds to. I’m mindful of how important it is to help grow their confidence. Giving them challenges is good, but I also like to help them build on their strengths.
This becomes even more important when it involves my daughter. It’s a fine line I walk every day. Do I push her a bit more because it’s something I know she could be better at or do I sit back and let her only put a small bit of effort in and just chalk it up to a lack of interest? Every day it’s a struggle to know what’s best.
Lately, it’s been causing a bit of a struggle between her and I. She decided she wanted to perform in a pageant she’s participating in. I’m always surprised when she wants to put herself into a high pressure situation, given the anxiety she deals with. That’s the kind of thing that with my anxiety, I avoid like the plague. But she has no fear of trying things.
She decided she would sing a song. Then when she realized she could play some of it on the piano, she figured out she could accompany herself. Of course, I’m all about pumping her up and telling her she can do it no matter what the idea is because I’m a strong believer that there are no limits. But in this case, not only did I know she could do it, but I’d seen her do it on multiple occasions. So I figured this would be easy street and there would be no frustrating moments or resistance on her part.
Not the case. The resistance is in full force. I’m glad I encouraged her to pursue this performance because she’s ten times more talented than I ever was on the piano and I couldn’t sing if my life depended on it. Now her nerves and anxiety are taking control and the more I push her, the more kickback I’m experiencing and the less she feels like she can do it. I still worry about pushing too hard and then having it backfire and crush her confidence.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m dealing with autism. I have the same expectations of her as I do our son. But autism doesn’t allow her to have control of a lot of things. So understandably, on the regular, she’s trying to assess control on whatever and whomever she can. That includes whether or not she wants to follow my directions, having the last word every single time, saying the opposite of whatever I say, and of course, how much she wants to practice her performance.
I’ve heard all about the tweenager thing, so I get that some amount of push back is normal at this age. She’s not a spoiled brat or badly behaved. This is way more than that. For years now I’ve been dealing with this because it is part of the disorder. Even after so many years of struggle, stress, and tears, I sometimes forget that she is operating from a place of constant anxiety. Constantly trying to control things is how she navigates a world for her that can be sensory overload and unpredictable. It can’t be easy.
We should all be encouraging with our kids and support them in their efforts. If your child is on the spectrum, it’s particularly challenging to find that space where you’re praising them and helping to build their self-esteem without pushing them too hard. We know they are not limited in what they can achieve. It could be though that their anxiety is in the driver seat. It could be that they need to feel in control of something to feel safe.
More than anything, this is a reminder to me that while I’m helping to build our daughter’s confidence, I have to always keep in mind her struggle for control. What I might think are constructive or well meaning opinions meant to help, can backfire. To her it’s a sudden change in expectations that can cause her too much pressure. That leads to frustration on both our parts.
So, if you deal with something similar, you’re not alone whether you’re the caregiver or the person with autism. As a parent, I can say that every single day is a learning experience even after all these years. I will always tell my kid she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to and works hard for, but I know that I have to allow her the chance to feel like she’s driving. That’s what will help her to grow in confidence. I have to remember that very specified praise and patience will help her to work hard from a place of peace, instead of from anxiety. It’s a healthy balance we have to find between empathy and healthy encouragement.
This Sunday is her performance, so I want to tell my daughter a few things. You have a beautiful voice and you’re a great pianist. You’ve worked hard. You can do this. Do your best. You are perfect just the way you are. Your performance will be amazing. Everyone will be cheering you on because we all know the kind of courage it takes to do this. But also because you are so talented, uniquely you, and awesome. I love you so much and I’ll be cheering the loudest my sweet girl.