My youngest son, J, is a gymnast. He is in his seventh year of competing this year. We have learned through the years that boys' gymnastics is a small, supportive community, and we have had the opportunity to meet many families from various gyms and states during this time.
At J's meet this past weekend, I had a mother from another gym approach me. Her first question was, "Was that your son who just competed on rings?" I guess my obnoxious hooting and hollering after my son finished his routine gave me away. [I do need to clarify that he stood his landing up which has been a challenge for him this year since he has a more difficult dismount.] Anyway...I told her that was my son. She complimented his routine (told you - very supportive). Her next question was,
How do you keep him motivated?
I didn't even hesitate when I answered. I don't. My husband doesn't. Everything my son does in the gym and at meets comes from him. We encourage him, and we support him; however, he has to motivate himself. She said that her son is losing motivation, and they are trying to figure out how to motivate him.
That's tricky. I can't make my son work in practice or do his best at meets. He has to want that. He has to work hard. We have told him when it is no longer fun, then it is time to quit. Our family has invested too much time in J being a gymnast for him to continue when it isn't fun - he practices at a gym 45 minutes away 5 nights/week.
This conversation made me think about S and motivating him to do the right things for himself - stretching, becoming independent, etc.
What are the parallels?
The special needs community is a small, supportive community. We have had the opportunity to meet some amazing families throughout our various duty stations, travels, and activities.
No other parent will get what you are going through like that of another parent of a special needs child. They will celebrate that milestone achievement that to others seems miniscule. They will empathize with you when you talk about battles with the insurance company or schools. They will understand your desire to find that "something" that will help your child.
What are the differences?
With J, we tell him when it isn't fun then it is time to quit. We can't tell S that. Most of what he has to go through on a daily basis isn't fun, but he can't quit. It is at that time he must work even harder.
J's activity is just that - an activity. It is something he chooses to participate in. S's disabilities aren't anything he chose as he likes to clarify for us quite often. They aren't an extra activity that he gets to do for fun. This is his life - every day, 24/7, 365.
So, how do we keep him motivated?
This is more of a challenge. Yes, the motivation has to come from him, but it isn't always going to be as easy. We have had to provide a lot of encouragement and some extrinsic "motivation" along the way. That motivation changes as the child grows up.
When S was young, it was easy to make him stretch every day. It was what had to be done whether he liked it or not. If he didn't do it, he lost things. When S was in Pre-K, we stretched before he went to school. During that time, he could watch The Wiggles. If he didn't stretch nicely, we turned the TV off. If he still didn't stretch nicely, he didn't get to ride the bus to school. If he didn't ride the bus to school, the whole school knew he was having a rough morning. The principal would meet him at the front door of the school when I brought him to school. That was motivation to stretch nicely.
Through the years, tactics changed. It became more of "when you stretch nicely, then you will get _____". As he continued to become older, his PT told him that it wasn't up to his parents to stretch him. He needed to stretch himself. This has been challenging.
There hasn't been much motivation for him to stretch himself. He is lacking in the "wanting that for himself" department. He knows why he needs to stretch. He knows the ramifications of not stretching. We encourage him to stretch. We have given suggestions to try to make it more fun. We tell him that we also need to stretch. He sees us stretch and exercise.
He has been better the past few weeks. He can tell a difference when he is stretching. For him, that has to be the motivator - "If I stretch, I feel better." It is that simple.
Regarding his motivation with his ADD, he knows that taking his medication helps him. He also knows other strategies that help him to work efficiently. Just because he knows them doesn't mean he always uses them. He has to be motivated to do so. He has been quite motivated to get his work done lately because he can visualize on the calendar the end of his school year. Although he isn't excited about graduating, he is excited about being done with school especially before his brother finishes the school year.
Regarding his Low Vision, he knows what tools/techniques are helpful. He wants to see better, so he is pretty motivated about using those tools. There was a time period that he wasn't excited about bumping up the font size on the computer, so he could see text better. He now knows it is a helpful technique.
Really, the issue is motivation regarding his Cerebral Palsy. I can understand that. It is taxing on him. It is physically demanding for him to get through a day doing day-to-day tasks. However, not doing the right things for his body isn't going to make it go away. It is just going to make life more difficult. I hope he continues to stretch and remembers that stretching makes him feel better.
I will be on the couch with chocolate encouraging my sons to do their best (and continuing "mom motivation" if need be).