Providing feedback is an essential part of effective learning. For educators, “feedback provides information to students and teachers about learning. It helps to reduce the gap between the student’s current level of understanding and/or performance and a desired goal. Depending on the nature and delivery of the feedback, it can have powerful positive effects on student learning and engagement.” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007)
Here are some of the examples of daily feedback I provide to my son, Petie around our home environment in hopes that some day....he reaches a (my) desired goal:
“Petie, for the 10th time please put your Pokemon cards away, while I am cleaning the house. It would be hard to console your sadness when I vacuum your holographic rare card that the tooth Kerry got you.” (Yes, our tooth fairy is gender neutral.)
“Less talking, more eating. If you’re feeling full, you can save your dinner for the next meal. Your half eaten hot dog for breakfast will be a great start to the day!”
“Petie, please put the toilet seat down when you’re finished with your business in the bathroom. I don’t enjoy sitting down and getting my (ass) all wet from the mess you didn’t flush.”
As I provide these examples of feedback for you, I am slowly realizing that I am constantly frustrated that my attempts to get through to my son are not working. I struggle with how often I can let things slide to make him know that I love him, even when I’m yelling at the top of my lungs.
Striking a balance between the help that seems necessary and the loving, nonjudgmental relationship I want with Petie is so much harder than I ever thought. It was only until a few weeks ago, I was stopped in my tracks by him. I was reminded that providing feedback to Petie goes beyond my mental “nice to nag ratio”. Perhaps my commenting is more than just a balance between correcting, and lovingly allowing.
A week ago Petie and I went to pick Bella up at her clinic. Like clockwork, the therapist brought Bella & Kadence to the waiting room hand-in-hand to greet us. Her therapist that afternoon shared some highlights of Bella’s day, and noted that she was progressing very well with one of her Self-Help programs. For all you ABA-folks out there, here is a glimpse of what her program looks like today (that started in 2017)...
Therapist: “Bella worked so hard today. I’m amazed with how well she is doing with her shirt program. She was very motivated to put on her shirt (for ~20 trials) with me, and was determined to find the hole of the shirt for her head to come out. Bella was able to put on her shirt all by herself with no prompts during her trials in the program this afternoon.”
Narration: Therapist provides feedback to parent on how well a program is being accomplished. Therapist provides information about the processes used to perform her program. Therapist provides information about the student’s ability to achieve the learning goal in the program.
“I’m so proud of your Bella! You are doing such a good job with putting your shirt on. I can’t wait to see you do the shirt program at home for me.”
Narration: Parent provides feedback to the child through verbal praise and her tone of voice to ensure that it is linked to the learning that is expected. Parent continues to provide positive reinforcement to the child and reminds them that there will be future opportunities for them to demonstrate their learning at home.
After this exchange in conversation with Bella’s therapist, we walked back to the car. Once both kids were strapped in their car seats, I smiled from ear to ear and walked my proud-parent strut around the car to get into the driver's seat. As I was about to pull out of the parking lot, Peie says to me...
“Mom, I wish I was Bella. Her life is so easy.”
*Deep breath in, deep breath out*
As I continuously ensure that I provide my strong partnership and involvement with Bella’s clinical team, I drove home with a smack of sudden realization that there was one member of our family system who I have been emotionally neglecting. Oh Petie...
Later that day, I got into a conversation with Petie about his comment. I stepped back and reminded myself that I am a parent, and not a teacher. I asked him why he thought Bella’s life was so easy, because in my head her/my life is hard AF. Petie replied,
“I wish I could just put on a shirt all day instead of going to school. It’s so much easier.”
Behind his comment, I could sense that my feedback to Bella when we picked her up had revealed some invisible stresses that he faces, being a sibling of someone with disabilities. Maybe his comment was rooted from resentment of how much my time is taken up by caring for Bella. Maybe his comment was a sum of his experiences, feeling as though he is on his own to handle his problems to feeling pressure to be perfect. Or maybe he is feeling as though he is forced to grow up too quickly.
I am passionate about my role as an educator, but this event was a clear reminder that I needed to remember to be a parent, to both my children. Of all the things Petie experiences that I never did, his experience of growing up with a sister with significant disabilities is something I struggle to understand, even as I watch it unfold daily. There are many times I feel like I am cheating my son from having normal childhood experiences, as I am required to care for my daughter’s ongoing needs. Yes, I often feel torn. And I fear that my son who is considered typical, will also feel less important and forgotten too.
I know Petie loves Bella. It shows when he is excited to wake her up in the morning, it shows when he adjusts her glasses when they are crooked, and it shows when he sings her favourite nursery songs to make her laugh. However, to better understand and support Petie (and many children in his position), it’s important to acknowledge their struggles too. This is a continuous journey of mothering...
Petie belongs to the Young Carers Program, Young Carers Program (YCP). Young carers are kids under the age of 18, who are in a caregiving role for a parent, grandparent, sibling or relative with a chronic or life threatening illness, disability, addiction, mental illness, or language barrier. YCP aims to provide therapeutic programming to help kids with adult responsibilities cope and interact with other kids who know exactly what they are going through. If you are seeking support for your child who is a young carer, please take some time to check them out.