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Article Teaser: Coping with adversity lays the foundation for almost all true greatness. Parents can encourage their special needs children to become the heroes they are destined to be. Author Lisa Greene uses the Disney movie 'Finding Nemo' to teach and inspire.

Keep reading below...

Finding Nemo, Finding a Hero: Empowering and Inspiring Children with Special Needs

Copyright (c) 2008-2017
(See This Article in its Original Format.)

If you ask me whether I've seen a particular adult movie, my response is likely to be "No." But if you ask me about any kid movie, I could tell you about the characters, plot, and punch-line all in one breath. That's how it is when you live with young children.

So, it shouldn't be too surprising when I tell you that it was in the Disney movie "Finding Nemo" that I saw a great metaphor of what it is like to live with kids with special needs. You see, both of our children have cystic fibrosis so I know what it's like. And, like the clown fish dad on Nemo (named Marlin) I have journeyed from the place of over-protective and "worried about everything" to "still worried about everything but handling it a lot better."

I suppose there is always room for improvement in most everything in life, especially parenting. The problem with parenting is that we may not realize how much improvement we really need until it's too late (ie: our teenagers become hellions and we wonder what happened). The problem with parenting kids with special needs is that "too late" doesn't mean just a dented car or some experimentation with booze or sex- it can mean the difference between life and death. The stakes can be so very high...

The struggle to resist the powerful parental impulses to rescue, hover and over-protect are played out in "Finding Nemo." The paradox is that it is in letting go of the intense need for protection that actually gives a child the freedom to become a hero and to unlock the greatness of spirit inherent within those who have learned to cope well with hardship and suffering. Just like Nemo!

We begin Nemo's story with a happy little fish couple embarking one of life's greatest adventures- having children. Then, tragically, the mommy fish and all eggs but one get eaten by a bigger fish. Here, the real story begins with Nemo and his dad "picking up the pieces" of the initial trauma. To make it all the more poignant, Nemo is born with a deformed or "lucky" fin. So, here we have initial trauma and physical disability- a perfect recipe to create an over- protective, hovering parent who is understandably oozing with concern for his son's welfare. He limits, rescues, protects and controls Nemo; his expectations are low for Nemo's ability (due to his disability); and he does not trust Nemo. He is worried about every detail in Nemo's fishy little life. In fact, Dad's life completely revolves around Nemo. Sound familiar?

The first big event in Nemo's life is his decision to rebel against his father's controlling, over-protective nature. No surprise, there. Nemo has no choice but to exert his independence in way that opposes his dad because he has never had the freedom to make any decisions for himself. So, he defiantly touches a boat just to prove to dad, friends, and himself that he can do it. And, in doing so (if you haven't seen the movie), he gets swept up by a scuba diver and appears destined to become a part of a fish collection in a dental aquarium.

How many kids with special needs have no choice but to rebel against parental authority by refusing to comply with medical requirements? Children, just like adults, have a strong need for control. Wise parents share the control by giving their children lots of choices. For example, a parent might say, "Would you like to do your breathing treatment before or after your homework?" or "Will you be doing your insulin shot in five minutes or ten minutes?" or "Do you plan to take your pills with juice or milk?" A lifetime of small choices creates a savings account of shared control that can be "cashed in" when it's time for the big choices of life- like whether or not to live.

The movie now becomes the story of a parent struggling to let go, learning to trust and accept and, as a result, the child becoming more than either had ever dreamed possible. As Nemo starts to make his own way around the aquarium, he gets stuck in a filter. Immediately, the other fish around him leap to pull him out. But, Gil, the seasoned old master, stops them and forces Nemo to rescue himself. Nemo says (in panic), "Can you help me?" Gil responds calmly, "No, You got yourself in there, you can get yourself out." No rescue, no over-protection. Gil gives Nemo ideas about how to get out, encouragement and high expectations and Nemo gets unstuck all by himself. Now, Nemo is proud of himself. His self image soars; he can do it!

Effective parents do not hover, rescue and over-protect (Helicopter Parents). They don't demand or command (Drill Sergeant Parents). Instead, they are Consultant Parents. Consultant parents guide their children to solve their own problems by giving loving support rather than answers and quick fixes. They share the control and decision-making. They express sadness and sorrow instead of anger, frustration or worry when children make mistakes. They set appropriately high expectations. They allow empathy before consequences to do the teaching for misbehavior rather than punishment. They ask good questions instead of give lectures and criticism. They use encouragement- not praise. Consultant parents teach their children how to think instead of what to think. They give their children the foundation and skills to become the heroes they are destined to be. Just like Nemo!

The climax of the movie brings us to the re-uniting of father and son after Nemo finds his own way out of the aquarium and back into the ocean. When first re-united, Dad immediately adopts his old attitude of over-protection and control. However, Nemo's compassionate spirit will not allow his father to stop him from rescuing the many fish caught in a gil net which was about to be brought to the surface of the water. Now, Nemo has the opportunity to become a hero. His Dad has no choice but to let him go and to trust. In doing so, Nemo is able to release the hero that was bottled up inside by his father's control, over-protection and rescue. By freeing that hero and courageously rising to the occasion, Nemo changes the lives of those around him.

I think that deep down inside the soul of every special needs child is that same hero just bursting to come out. As parents, we can encourage our children to become a hero: someone who faces life courageously and joyfully in the face of adversity and suffering. In doing this, we also become a hero- both to our child and to others around us. In modeling this, we teach our children how to release that hero inside themselves. It is not an easy journey, but a worthwhile one. Just ask Nemo. And his Dad.

(c) 2008 by Lisa C. Greene

Permission to reprint is granted for personal use


About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
From the book "Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions and Other Special Needs" by Foster Cline, M.D and Lisa C. Greene. Dr. Cline is a well-known child psychiatrist, author, and co-founder of the popular Love and Logic parenting program. Lisa is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis and a certified parent coach. For free audio, articles and other resources, visit http://www.parentingchildrenwithhealthissues.com.

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Internal ID: #5737
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