How We Define Our Children

July 17, 2012

Accept, Faith At Home, Time

Maybe some of you are like me.  Raised in a Christian home where I often felt defined by what I didn’t do.  Don’t lie, don’t swear, don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t hang around other boys who do was how I defined myself for the most part.

To no surprise, I find that in my early years of parenting two boys with severe autism that I had been guilty of spending more time on the “dont’s” than the “do’s.”  Looking back over the years I feel like I spent more time catching my sons doing the things that I did not want them to do.   Catching them doing the “wrong” things (i.e., flapping hands, playing with toys in a nonfunctional way, repetitively watching the same video segment over and over, etc.) rather than the “right” things.  There were so many behaviors due to their autism that I didn’t want them to do.  If I had a dollar for every time I said, “don’t!” I’d have enough money to take a trip around the world!

Years later I remember sitting down and reading my Bible.  I came across this verse:

  • “Summing it all up, my friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble,  authentic, compelling, gracious, the best–not the worst…things to praise…” (Phil.4:8/MSG).

Wow!  God, through the apostle Paul was encouraging me to live by the “praise principle.”  Looking back, I could see that I didn’t do such a good job with this.  That’s not to say that the skill deficits that sometimes go along with a child with special needs don’t deserve attention…they do! However, that day I decided that, “I can’t let those things my child doesn’t do define who he is!”

When it comes to your child with special needs, what do you look for?  Do you only notice the lack of skills or what is “wrong?”  Or do you take the time to catch the things you child does well?  How do you break a negative, nit-picking cycle that sometimes occurs in parenting a child with special needs?  Answer:

Determine what you choose to focus on.

Have you heard the story of the farmer who was discouraged with his farm?  He decided to sell out & move somewhere else.  He engaged a realtor to look the farm over & prepare a sales ad.  But before putting it in the paper, the realtor called & read the proposed ad to him, saying, “See if this meets with your approval.” The ad spoke of a good location, a well maintained house, sturdy barns, lush pasture lands, a beautiful pond, fertile soil, & a great view.  The farmer listened carefully, & then said, “Read that to me again, slowly.”  So the realtor read it to him again.  Finally, the farmer said, “No, don’t print that ad.  I’ve changed my mind.  I’ve always wanted a place like that.  I’m not going to sell.”

What you pay attention to and what you focus upon in life make a difference.

That’s the wisdom behind Philippians 4:8.  What would it look like if we parented a generation of kids with special needs who defined themselves by what they did do?  What if they were defined by their actions of love, courage, perseverance, generosity, kindness, and faith?  What if they were to become a generation who lived in the world and proclaimed these Christ-like character qualities not by their words (especially if your child is nonverbal) but by their very lives?

I know that many of you are probably light-years ahead of where I used to be when it came to focusing more on the positive qualities rather than the challenges that come along with parenting a child with special needs…but perhaps some of you are not.  Either way let’s make a decision to parent by focusing on the positive things and supporting our kids in defining themselves by who they are and not solely on what they can’t do. 

In our Special Friends Ministry at First Baptist Orlando I’ve decided to change our children’s Life Group curriculum to a character-based curriculum.  One that focuses on the Christ-like character qualities that we want our children to have…the character qualities that define who they are and what they do.  Along with that change, we’ll be providing ideas and strategies to support our parents in doing the same at home!

If you’d like to receive some of these ideas/strategies then click “subscribe” to this blog or click “like” on our Facebook page!

Michael Woods, M.A. BCaBA CPI

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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