Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Can't or Won't

I think this question is the most difficult question in raising children with mental health diagnosis, developmental delays, FASD, attachment issues .... really any child, but especially those with significant issues.

When we expect something from a child and they don’t do it ... is it because they can’t do it? Or is it because they won’t do it?

If we approach a child as if they cannot do something when in all actuality they can but won’t, then we are enabling their behavior.

However, if we approach a child as if they can do something when in reality, it is something they cannot do, then we are frustrating them.

But how do we tell?

And then there are children who have Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder. Isn’t their disability that they won’t because they can’t? I realize this is confusing, but their inability to cooperate is their disability. So it often looks like won’t. But it might be that they really cannot cooperate, cannot make themself do the right thing.

I wish that I had an answer. All I know is that it is trial and error. We have to really know our children and we have to continually challenges ourselves to ask this question. Sometimes we have to play little games. Can a child do a task if there is a reward? Maybe we have to offer one sometimes to see if they are able to complete the task and then work towards getting them to do it without a reward. It involves constant re-evaluating, constant rethinking, constant conversation with the child, the therapist, other family members.

I recommend focusing on one issue at a time and determining if it is can’t or won’t. And then remember to re-evaluate after a certain period of time. Any feedback or discussion on this issue is welcome.