How can parents learn to be compassionate rather than empathetic, as you suggest? And why is this important?
When you come from a place of too much empathy, it limits your ability to advocate for your child. When you’re too in their experience, too judgmental of their experience, it impacts your ability to be objective. When you can shift to that place of compassion where you trust that your child will learn how to do this, you can come up with strategies to support them.
I imagine that’s easier said than done—and that for many parents, their child’s heartaches become their own.
Absolutely. The other thing I often see as a professional organizer is a parent getting stuck in the belief of what parenting looks like. The right and wrong, the punishment for not doing a specific behavior, and what’s really hard but very important is that, instead of flexing your parenting muscle after an experience, you’re going to flex that muscle before the experience: in the preparation, in the visual aids, in the social skill training. It’s a pretty powerful shift, if you can make it.
You also help adults get organized. Do you use similar tools for special-needs children and adults?
Absolutely. I work with a lot of small companies and now also with adults with home offices, since that’s become so mainstream now. When I started working with sensory families, I started to see that a parent would have a similar challenge that a child would have. It’s not out of the ordinary at all, if you think about the genetic component that comes into play with AD/HD or anxiety disorders. There would often be more than one family member I’d support. The same strategies worked. Breaking a task down, creating a visual aid, eliminating external stimuli—those are the same key principles for adults and children. It also helps if the parent and child are learning this together.
You place a huge emphasis on visual tools to help sensory children get organized. Can this help children will all kinds of different behavioral needs?
The core tools of sensory organizing support all kinds of profiles. If you have a distracted child, the visual homework example will help keep them on task. If you have an anxious child, the visual homework will help them know what’s coming. If you have a rigid child, the homework plan will give them a map of the desired and undesired activities, giving them a mix of doing something they love versus doing something that’s harder. For the child with executive functioning challenges, a visual homework map will give them a plan. It’s a small tool that supports all of those challenges.
While learning to parent your own child, or in researching this book, have you found any theories or books particularly influential?
One of my all-time favorite books is The Explosive Child by Ross Green. He addresses similar profiles I aim to support. I loved his general philosophy that kids will do well if they can, versus if they want to. It made a lot of sense to me. When I started believing that kids will do well if they can, it made me understand why sensory organizing was so important. If I spent the time beforehand to give my son a map of what to expect, he will be successful; he has the tools. It was a life-changing book for me.