Podcast Episode 32. The best way to boost the self-esteem of our children is to let them have their say, give them a voice and help them to feel a sense of control, according to Soli Lazarus this week’s podcast guest.
Soli has a son with ADHD and so knows some of the struggles parents have first hand, as well as being a teacher for over 30 years. Her consultancy Yellow Sun delivers support and advice to parents of children with additional needs and challenging behaviour.
Soli believes one of the biggest issues for children with additional needs is suffering from low self-esteem due to society pressuring them from a young age to conform to the ‘norm’. Children may interrupt, be disorganised, be inattentive and so from an early age they are branded as naughty and constantly being told off. Consequently, their self-esteem plummets.
To help deal with this Soli talks about how important it is to provide our children with routine, whilst also giving them responsibilities so that they can be rewarded and praised. She discusses the importance of giving them the opportunity to make decisions when at home, because school can often be a very rigid place with little chance for make independent choices. By giving them the choice and the power, they feel listened to. Soli also addresses how this giving of more choice can impact on siblings and ways to deal with any feelings of jealousy they may have.
As an experienced teacher, Soli also talks about what she sees as an outdated education system focused on times tables when the focus should be on technology solutions which children with additional needs can access much easier. She explains how children with additional needs often feel happier online and this is a great way to counteract the difficulties surrounding making face-to-face social networks. Soli feels that using online tools can help to develop social skills and move them to a point where they can say they have real friends. Obviously, this all needs to be done in a safe environment and she reminds us that as parents we need to make sure we keep up to date as much as possible with the online world.
Soli talks also about frazzled parents and offers some suggestions to deal with those feelings of overwhelm. She talks about the importance of taking a moment out of every day to do something for yourself without feeling any guilt. She also talks about her own experiences of being lonely and feeling like she was the only one in her situation when her son was diagnosed. For her finding others who understood even a little of what she was going through was essential in helping her move forward.
The main idea from Soli is about sending messages to our children that help them build their self-esteem, develop their strengths and let them know that if they fail, that’s ok, it’s just a part of living their own lives.Show Full Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 32 of the Journey Skills podcast. This episode, I’m talking to Soli Lazarus who is based in London and provides support services for families who have children with ADHD and autism. Soli talks about a variety of issues from education to self-esteem to what to do if you’re a frazzled parent. It was also interesting listening to Soli talk about letting our children have choice. Choice in some of the activities you might do at home for example because often at school, they don’t have a lot of choice. We stumbled upon this solution in our house some time ago and to be frank, we still struggle with remembering to let our daughter be the chooser. And some of those choices aren’t always the things we all wanna do.
Certainly, when Soli talks about the problems that can arise when one child with additional needs is perceived to be getting choices that siblings don’t, it resonated but we continued to work on finding a way that keeps everyone happy. Of course, you know I’m kidding a bit there when I say that because at the end of the day, one person is always gonna feel a bit hard done by. But the simple reality is that like Soli says, giving our daughter more control is going to lead to a happier experience for all of us then it’s the right choice to make.
Soli also talks a bit about the UK education system in part from her many years’ experience as a teacher. Personally, I agree with some of Soli’s views especially around the idea that the system, at least here in the UK, is pretty okay. I’m not really sure when my daughter will find her times tables that useful because she’s already pretty adept at finding the calculator on her smartphone. We’ve already written a fair bit about the importance of technology and helping drive our daughter’s quest for independence on the Journey Skills website and I really believe that this will open up a lot more opportunities for young people with additional needs. So, it seems to make sense that we should be doing a better job of integrating technology into education and why that helps young people imagine they’re independent future.
Soli also talks about her role in supporting parents and she has two main tips for parents which is taking time for yourself and finding a support network. Again, these have come up before but maybe we all need to be united now and then.
DEBRA: This week I’m talking to Soli Lazarus of Yellow Sun and she’s a coaching trainer who supports families who have children with ADHD and autism. Welcome, Soli.
SOLI: Thank you.
DEBRA: Tell us a bit about Yellow Sun and yourself?
SOLI: I have been a teacher for 30 years and my son has ADHD and he’s now 29 but when he was little, it was very difficult, it was very tricky and when he was 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD. So, from a personal point of view and a professional point of view, my life led me into the world of ADHD and autism.
DEBRA: So, your organization, what exactly do you do at Yellow Sun?
SOLI: I am supporting families, first of all. Parents really are very lonely.
DEBRA: What are some of the issues that come up and what do you say to people?
SOLI: The main issue that comes up time and time again is children’s self-esteem because from a very early age, all the professionals, all the adults around them will be expecting them to conform and to behave in a normal kind of way and because our children, they are chemically, their brains are chemically different and they have not the capacity to sit down for 20 minutes. They will be naturally inattentive, there were interrupts, might be disorganized and those are natural traits.
So, from a very early age, they’re at school, they’re at the Charminder and there’s a babysitter, there’s after school clubs and our children just find it really hard, so they’re constantly being told off, they’re constantly being branded as naughty. And as a consequence of that, our children have such poor self-esteem because then they grow up thinking they’re useless, they’re rubbish, they can’t do anything.
That is so easy to do. At school, a teacher could give a child some responsibilities, you know, if they’ve got a natural ability, let’s encourage those. Let’s make all the other children in the class see something amazing that they can do rather than be a child that’s always being told off. But all it is, is that a teacher has to look at the child and think he has different needs and I say he because more often than not, our children with autism and ADHD are boys probably because they’re more avert so we can diagnose them easier. So, look at the child and just think ‘What can I do differently just to make his world happier?’ And if he’s happy and calmer and is achieving and feeling secure, then the impact on the rest of the children means that their learning can move forward as well.
DEBRA: Do you say the same things to parents then about building up confidence?
SOLI: Yes, so for parents, have routines in place. So, our children need to know exactly what’s happening so we can use visual resources. Make children responsible so that you can reward them. Listen to their ideas, listen to their choices because at school they have very little say in anything whereas at home, let them choose what route home are you gonna go or what should we cook for dinner.
Give them choice, give them power and then they’ll feel valued and they’ll feel listened to or if there’s some compromise you’ve got to come to like how long are they gonna spend on the iPad, instead of a parent just saying, “I’m the parent, you stay on it an hour and that’s that and then after an hour, we have a huge battle”. Have that discussion right at the beginning and say “Well what do you think is reasonable? Do you wanna to it to 3 levels? Or should we time you?” Let the child have some say in their life and quite often that is all it takes. It just takes us giving just a voice so we listen to them, them more in control.
DEBRA: How does that then work with siblings? Because I speak from personal experience that, that idea that one child would get or to do something and the other one might. How does that work?
SOLI: In siblings again is a whole big huge area because our siblings are growing up with all sorts of emotions. They feel neglected, they feel it’s not fair, they feel jealous.
They feel guilty of their life that they’re not struggling. One big thing with our children is that they can’t make friendships and that’s really tricky whereas the sibling gets invited to birthday parties, at playdates, goes to afterschool clubs, so I think, again you have to have a very open and honest discussion with everybody in the family. You go out as a family, go to a restaurant and have a calm lovely meal, then the little one with ADHD or autism has to choose and that’s just how it is.
We all have various things that make our lives happier or will make things take a long without stress and if just making somebody in control of choosing, makes everybody else calm and happy and makes the whole family experience nicer then why not. On the other hand, I think we have to then really make sure that we’re giving the sibling a huge amount of positive attention as well so I have special days just with the sibling. Again, I think this whole thing is about listening and talking and openness and giving everybody just a say and I think if a sibling says “It’s not fair”, the answer is, “You’re right, it’s not fair and what can we do about it?” Again, have that discussion, how can we make it fair that everybody gets their way, gets their choice. I think we need boundaries, I think we need rules and I’m not suggesting that child gets away with hitting or rudeness or swearing, you know, we have to have agreed boundaries and agreed rules and agreed consequences and those go for every child in the family.
DEBRA: It’s not a negotiation, isn’t it?
SOLI: And I think that’s where it comes, we want our child to feel empowered. Empowered that they’re listened to and they feel valued at home because at school they won’t be feeling any of that unless there’s an amazing set up at school and they all felt valued. Sometimes home is the escape, you know, the place where they can feel safe. They need to be in both environments; safe and feel listened and valued.
DEBRA: Do you think because school can sometimes be fitting in, in one way, because you have to fit in to what the school wants, do they then get more play out more?
SOLI: I hear that an awful a lot because also some of our little girls with autism actually keep in a lot and particularly all these sensory overload and communication difficulties and really not making sense of the world so they’re actually very, very quiet school and then they come home where there’s safety. They then erupt which is why some of our parents are just completely frazzled and exhausted.
Again, it’s sort of educating everybody to understand that. So first off, school needs to cope with the problems at school so that she’s not feeling so tensed and anxious and worried about things. So that when she comes home, there’s no need to explode. So, if we deal with school better but then similarly at home create an atmosphere again where she’s going to be listened to and feel safe and it’s important to know that somebody’s fighting your corner.
The more we can educate everybody that they’re not being naughty, they’re not being stubborn. This is how it is. Some children just need things to be done in a certain way in a certain order. They can’t help it. You can’t make them. It’s like making a left-handed person right-handed. You can’t do it. You have to adapt to your environment, adapt your world, adapt your response. So, I say this a lot to my families as well; the onus is on us. The onus isn’t on the child to change. The child can’t change so the onus is on us to change our response to a behavior or to change an environment to make it that it’s gonna be okay. Because in the end, we want our children to be happy and to be confident and to be able to make social relationships. So, it’s up to us to make all these things right.
DEBRA: Do you think then that’s too much of putting a round peg in a square hole then? Because we’re trying to or people are trying to make children, on the spectrum, do what’s normal?
SOLI: Yeah. I mean, this is one of my huge issues as well is our antiquated Victorian system of school; why are we still teaching children to learn times tables? Why are we still teaching children skills that they just not needing? We don’t need hand writing but you know we need to write but we waste an awful lot of time handwriting. We’ve got phones and apps and we’re not even gonna write anymore, we’re even just gonna talk so why are we wasting our time? And it’s just not a system that is suiting our 21st century.
DEBRA: Do you think technology will help people who are in the spectrum then?
SOLI: Yes, 100%. Because a lot of our problems are organizations so we can have checklist, we can have reminders and we can have to talk to text technology. There’ll be apps that will help us; visual signs to show ‘I’m feeling upset and feeling anxious’ because again some children find it difficult to express their emotions. So, a hundred percent, technology is the way forward and the biggest one.
As I said before, our children find it really difficult to make social relationship but online, the online world is where they’re happy and they’re comfortable. So, this is something even in the last year, I’m having different conversations with. So originally, I would say, “Perhaps we need to curtail how long our child is spending online” but now I’m coming around to thinking ‘Actually, if they’re making relationships, if they’re on an online game and they’re talking or they’re typing and as long as they’re safe.’ I think the only way we allow it to happen is if parents say, “Well I’m going to check because I want to keep you safe” and say the rules why you must never go to meet, you must never say your real name, you must not say your school name. I think being online and being in group chats and finding people who are like you is a great way forward for our children.
DEBRA: It’s good that we’re talking about young children, aren’t we? But we’re particularly interested in what happens when you hit 18. What happens there?
SOLI: It’s very, very tricky. I think parents are just gonna keep up to date. Parents are behind our children and are behind our teenagers. So, I think we need to keep parents involved, keep them educated. The only thing you can do is just keep training young adults and our teenagers to say “You have to be vigilant, you have to be careful.” If you have a family where you’re open and you communicate and you’re building up that trust, and your building up that understanding that you’re there for them and you’re watching their back, then maybe they’ll be more likely to listen and to take your advice on board.
But there’s no guarantees. You know, a 16 or 17 who is experimenting as all teenagers do. You know, we want them to experiment. That’s part of being a teenager. We just have to just to equip them with the put the right language; we have to role model the right language, we have to say particularly to our girls “It’s okay to say no”, we have to empower our girls. But I think we also need to send out that message that you can be strong, you can say no. Similarly, our boys, we can train them that they don’t have to be macho. “It’s okay to show your emotion. It’s okay to support one another.” We need to build up their self- esteem. We need to make them feel amazing about themselves. They need to feel that they can do whatever is that they want to do but if they fail, it doesn’t matter. “It’s okay you just then try something else.”
DEBRA: With the online relationships then, that sounds great. It’s nice for them to build up their skills but do you think they can take those skills in moving them to more face to face interpersonal? I’m not suggesting they meet people that they meet online [Yes.] but are there skills that they learn online do you think that they can transfer to?
SOLI: It’s just having practice, isn’t it? Of how you would talk to somebody. Some of our children are very, very isolated and they don’t get practice. All they do is they make mistakes and then children run away or adults run away. Then they don’t get invited anywhere and they need other people around them to say, “Don’t say that. You shouldn’t talk to people like that. You should not ask about that.” We have to specifically say to my son when he started work, “You don’t ask people how much money they earn or you don’t say to people anything about their personal life until you know about them a little bit better.”
Sometimes we actually have to teach our children those skills. And maybe online, they’ve got more opportunity to practice those and if somebody leaves the chat room, it’s not as devastating as if somebody runs away from you. And then somebody else will come to chat room and we hope some of our children will learn and say “Maybe don’t say that again because this person left.” But I know personally speaking to parents that children who are now going online an hour in chat rooms are feeling happier and they say they have friends whereas before we have this ability to have friends. In real life, there was nobody. And our children get that.
DEBRA: You talked about frazzled parents and we’ve been really talking about how we can help the children, what advice would you give a frazzled parent for themselves, what can they do to de-frazzle?
SOLI: Yes, well. One of the things I say is take time out every single day and do something for yourself without feeling guilty. Even if your day is work-home-children. Even if you think you do not have a minute, you need to find it: you listen to music or you take control of the control and watch TV, watch the program you love or go for a walk, get up earlier and go for a walk or stand in the garden and do something for yourself to make yourself feel better every single day.
And then the other thing is get support because it is very lonely. I was incredibly lonely when my son was at primary school. I didn’t know anybody else who had the challenges I had and I thought I was the only one and it’s very hard, it’s so empowering talking to somebody else who is going through what you’re going through and more often than not, you just need somebody just to say “I get it. I really understand. I know the challenges. So, I think, yes, if a frazzled parent, we really have got to take time out and get support.
DEBRA: Just to finish up, we talked a little bit about your website.
SOLI: My website is soli-lazarus.com and that is sort of the heart for everything I do so I blog. I also have an online training course for children with ADHD. There are some free training videos. One is How to Stop the Rudeness. I also have on Facebook, I have a page Yellow Sun where I share some interesting articles but more importantly, I have a closed Facebook group and I do a live Q&A every Wednesday evening. And that’s great! And then as I said before, we need support, we need to know we’re not alone.
DEBRA: Okay, Soli. Thank you very much for your time.
SOLI: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for asking me.
DEBRA: Key takeaways? Give away some control to your children. When you can, take time to reenergize yourself every single day and get support where you need it.
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