Summary of the Course for Parents: How can we do things better as parents?
18 January 2011 – Royal Botanical Garden, Madrid
This year we have started our dissemination and training tasks with a Course for Parents. On this occasion we gathered at the Botanical Garden in Madrid with over 150 mothers and fathers of children with difficulties, mainly with attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The President of the Association, Elisabeth d´Ornano, welcomed the attendants warmly. In her inaugural speech she set down the guidelines for the year and the evolution of the Association and its development in the near future. She mentioned that one of the main goals of the Association is to motivate and support parents, first as creators and then as educators. She reviewed the evolution of the Association, from its initial objectives, training and dissemination of information in connection with ADHD and support for children with the disorder and for the adults involved in educating them, and the quest for larger and more ambitious goals that it will try to attain hereafter.
These objectives include a more thorough probing of the process of emotional development of children, from their initial identity until reaching their unique, personal identity as adults. Within this process, the Association, among other topics, is interested in the influence that the emotional environment in which a child is planned and conceived, its development inside the mother’s body, and how it is welcomed in the first few days of its life, will have on its future mental stability. The mother’s condition during pregnancy and all the circumstances surrounding it is one of the influences that the association would like to look at in depth. Along these same lines, the President introduced the activities that will be carried out by the Association this year, such as the preparation of an informational guide for pregnant women, or for all those who are interested, on aspects of the early development of a child even before conception, in particular the development of bonds with its mother and the subsequent emotional development. She announced the II Annual Conference of the Elisabeth d´Ornano Association, which will take place in June and at which these topics will be assessed from multiple viewpoints. This time around the Association will assess topics related to the value of being a woman, their potential as mothers, and their needs in this connection, the psychological aspects of pregnancy, birth and bringing up a child, becoming aware of the importance of this process and its repercussion on the positive development of the child.
Unifying the new developments of the Association with the development and education of hyperactive children, the President pointed out the importance of helping children to develop their own identity, regardless of their parents’ expectations, respecting their innate predispositions, their abilities, the importance of this for the development of adequate self-esteem; valuing our children is the first step towards them valuing themselves. Educating non-typical children, children with difficulties, is a challenge that at best should make us reflect upon ourselves, on our priorities, our preconceived ideas, and it may help drive the change to attain a state of presence of mind and personal enhancement. The President introduced the subsequent speakers and pointed out a common thread for the year—parental love and affection as the essential nutrient for children to grow up being aware of and sensitive towards nature, towards the suffering of others, and in general towards a conscious participation in the cycle of life.
The speeches then followed this introduction. In the first one, the course focused on general aspects of hyperactive children, while the rest of the course, against the backdrop of helping these children, could be considered applicable to many more parents, perhaps to all parents. Two topics were dealt with—the development of self-esteem in a child, and affection and love in the education and development of the child and hence of the person.
‘How can we do things better as parents?’ was the ambitious title of the course. Ambitious, yet full of humility. We can all do things better. Below is the summary of the course contents.
Dr Mara Parellada, a child and teen psychiatrist, provided a summary of some general aspects of Attention Deficit and/or Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), she tried to demystify some erroneous ideas and update the knowledge of the most advanced parents in terms of ADHD. Nowadays we are familiar with common knowledge regarding ADHD, based on experience and expert knowledge in the fields of health, education and psychology. We consider that a child has ADHD when he has difficulty concentrating, controlling impulses and is excessively active, or when some of these problems are sufficiently intense to consider them beyond what is typical for the child’s age and which will entail important, social, family and academic difficulties. We know quite a few things about ADHD, its biological origin, the fact that it is based on a brain maturation that is different from what is standard, the problems that this usually generates in terms of the child’s behaviour, academic performance, learning …. We also know that the origin of ADHD does not lie, unlike what has sometimes been considered, in an inadequate educational approach on the part of the parents, or in a voluntary attitude of transgression or rebelliousness on the part of the child. It is true that success in the life of the child, in his normalised development, will largely be dependent, perhaps more than on anything else, on the family’s attitude towards the problem, on the school’s capacity to adapt to the child’s learning requirements and, generally, on the global development of the child’s personality beyond ADHD. Recent research has focused on a variety of aspects of ADHD. Neurobiological research is furnishing very useful information to understand the brain processes underlying hyperactive behaviour. We can now see, using very modern neural image and electro-physiological detection techniques, how the brain maturation of children with ADHD follows a non-typical course, how these children’s brains find it harder to switch to another task, or how the connectivity between impulse generation and areas and the control of those impulses is somewhat in jeopardy. Very important therapeutic research is being conducted to try to identify what types of children benefit from certain treatments rather than others, in order to increasingly customise the interventions. Also, our knowledge of ADHD is being enhanced by general development research that stresses the importance of early childhood development, and the importance of affective expression in that stage, especially for the moral development of individuals.
Dr Miguel Moreno, likewise a child and teen psychiatrist, focused on caring for the self-esteem of children with ADHD and in the role and suffering of the siblings of hyperactive children. He ended by dealing with the tedious topic of homework and the significance, importance and handling thereof.
Self-esteem is tantamount to loving oneself, although from a broader standpoint it could be defined as a person’s valuation of him/herself. It is the basis of a person’s emotional world and it is decisive in the development of each individual’s personality. It is also a fundamental element in his relations with others.
The development of a person’s self-esteem is influenced by multiple factors, some of which originate before birth.
The first identity of an individual could be defined as the image appearing in the mind of his parents the first time they think of it. Thus, this mental representation in parents who are planning and want to have a child will not even be similar to that of those who arrive at pregnancy without thinking about it, without planning for it and, what is worse, without wanting it.
Adequate expectations on the part of the parents and the establishment of strong bonds with their child from the first moments of its life can favour high and balanced self-esteem. This entails a process in which the reflection on what it means to have a child, respecting the care that the child needs especially at the beginning, when it is an absolutely dependent being, a reflection on what it means to respect an autonomous identity, which quite often is far removed from that first identity, are important factors. If from the onset, those around the pregnant woman share the pleasure of being a mother with her, providing her with the assurance that everything will go well and that her needs will be met, especially during pregnancy, the adequate development of the future being’s self-esteem is guaranteed. Meeting the child’s needs at all times, in terms of feeding, rest, warmth and physical contact, or sensorial communication and then verbal communication, in terms of autonomy, respecting the child’s rhythm, tempo, peculiarities, relations, concerns, hobbies, strong points, etc., will contribute to the establishment of stable foundations in the construction of the child’s personality. Accepting the child’s defects, allowing him the space to grow, following his own path, without invading his space, without overprotecting or neglecting the child, showing unconditional support but without becoming their slave, are the foundations for each person’s future. And providing our child with the adequate resources to be able to face difficulties will lead to a balanced adult, aware of his surroundings and able to believe in himself.
Regarding the relationship between siblings and a child with ADHD, Miguel Moreno set it within the family as a group of people with bonds of affection who seek to operate collectively in the best possible manner, that is, with the fundamental goal of all the members reaching their highest potential. Respecting the space and time of others, distributing roles clearly and fairly, and making all the members of the family partake in the conflicts arising within that family, adapting the way of conveying information at each member’s level, will favour a cohesion that will help to alleviate suffering and to grow in a sharing and constructive manner. To achieve that every member feels loved and respected with his or her peculiarities, fostering a healthy communication without secrets, but rather with a true sense of belonging, will also favour self-esteem among the group (family) and the capacity to love—which will be extended to those who are not a part of the group.
Miguel tackled a third topic, one that is quite tedious and apparently unrelated to the other ones.
Homework arises for parents as a challenge that is hard to assess when the person who has to do the homework lacks motivation, is tired and has a lowly picture of himself (Remember?—Self-esteem). Because of this the first goal is to focus on homework with a responsible attitude: “It has to be done… and we’ll do it as best as we can,” showing enthusiasm for what it means to get it done: “It will help us feel good because we will have fulfilled our obligation.” Presenting homework as something fun, looking for an adequate time and space that are established beforehand, counting on assistance (if possible from someone outside the family), having defined the starting time and, especially, the ending time, pre-establishing rest periods according to our child’s capabilities, with a sequenced and structured plan according to the subjects, from more difficult to less difficult, and conveying all the information on the topic with the enthusiasm of one who knows that what they are doing will enhance them, are some to the keys to overcoming the task in the best possible way. We must try to get the child to become aware of the importance of what he is doing so that he will want to do it well to be better.
Communication with teachers is essential in this respect. We must be committed to accepting their supervision and to meeting the schedules. Respecting the ending time will help us to train mental flexibility and to have our child feel that the reward for doing things well is to arrive at the rest period and the leisure time that they want to enjoy, SOMETHING THAT MUST BE PRESENT EVERY DAY. We must be sincere with our child and with the teachers, in terms of fulfilment and non-fulfilment, in order to mould responsible conduct. We must not forget that a child needs to sleep more than 8 hours a day and spend more than two hours doing leisure activities… and days can only be stretched so far. After the homework period we must find some quality time in which we can help them to build up their self-esteem, for instance reviewing at the end of the day everything that they have done well throughout the day.
Last of all, Paloma Cabadas, a psychotherapist, gave a speech focusing on the challenge that having a child with ADHD represents for parents, on the importance of adults looking within themselves in their role as parents and on the work that is required to achieve an affective communication with others in order to favour their personal development and that of their children. It was an emotional, vehement speech, in which she conveyed the importance of emotions and reflection for personal development. Some of the key points of her speech were: the importance of helping ‘different’ children to develop as individuals, as unique, special persons. Accordingly, the speaker questioned the homogeneous intention behind education, stating the need to individualise, to adapt to the time and tempo of people who are different. And she also pointed out the importance of the quality of the time dedicated to children.
Paloma underscored some of the essential aspects in the successful development of an upright person, beyond the difficulties they may face in a specific area such as ADHD. For instance, knowledge of oneself, of one’s own limits, creativity, the good things about the time that one uses and enjoys on one’s own, with concepts such as the time that is felt (a useful, entertaining and enjoyable time) or the energy of loving.
She also reflected on how children challenge adults, activating certain emotions in them, which are like signals for working on themselves as parents and as individuals. Last of all she reiterated, as others had done throughout the afternoon, the importance of loving the child, of making him know it and of valuing and trusting the child’s capacity. She also mentioned the power of dialogue, of limits and awareness, and of the acceptance of knowing and feeling that one is a unique person and respecting oneself for that reason.