Why Children Need You to Be Their Champion

(Especially if they’re wired differently)

by | Feb 27, 2024 | Kids and parenting

A thought cloud with a castle in front of a rainbow

I owe my high school graduation to one man. Mr. V. was my teacher, mentor and the head of our school department* and if not for him, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t have gotten kicked out. I cut class (in the final years, probably at least a third of all my classes); I ignored homework assignments unless they were graded; I was perpetually late.

(The other day, we got a complaint from one of my bonus kids’ teachers saying he’s been late to class 10 times over the last 6 months; I’m pretty sure I’ve had weeks where I was late more than that…)

On top of that, I was all over the place. After choosing my major for the final 3 years, I dropped and picked up new classes multiple times. We got to the point where Mr. V. would laugh when I’d knock on his door asking for yet another transfer. He’d laugh. But he’d also make it happen.

Any other mentor would have thought I was a lost cause, or worse – would have tried to fit me into the system. But not him. Mr. V. would just smirk after yet another complaint by one of my teachers and mockingly-stern make me promise I’d show up for class next time (we both knew I wouldn’t). After all, as long as my grades were decent, who cared I wasn’t a model student? He wasn’t just lenient – he was also my champion – he made sure I was able to do my thing in a system not designed for me.

I got lucky. Around me, I see tons of those who didn’t have the luxury of a champion that helped them thrive in school. Many are drop-outs, often struggling with anxiety and self-esteem issues. They are brilliant, talented people who no longer believe the world desperately needs everything they have to offer.

So yes, one person – a parent, a teacher, a coach – can make a giant difference. Which is why I’m such a firm believer in champions. And which is why I’m fully convinced every child, but especially a child that’s wired differently, needs one (or two, or two dozen).

What’s a champion?

A champion is not just someone who supports or cheers on a child as the child navigates adolescence. More importantly, a champion has access to power that the child doesn’t. See, although children surprisingly often have a good idea of what’s good for them, they often find themselves in environments where others just won’t listen. Because adults believe they know best.

The job of a champion is to, well, champion the kid’s cause. To wield the power reserved for adults. And to help the kid thrive, whatever is needed to make this happen. Sometimes, this means making sure the kid gets access to the right support or an environment that’s more suitable for their brain wiring. Other times, it’s allowing the kid to explore their unique talents and encouraging the kid to see their full potential.

A champion’s job

Just caring about the kid isn’t enough. To be a champion, you need to truly see the kid, as well as their dynamic with the system(s) they function in. And you need to be assertive on the kid’s behalf. But when you do, here’s the difference you can make:

A champion creates new opportunities

Not all doors are open for everyone. Kids who are stigmatized because of their brain wiring, might be overlooked for opportunities they’d actually excel at. If you have any influence over offering access to opportunities, whether after-school specials or a sports team, consider the impact you might make on kids who’d be a great fit but wouldn’t normally get in. Just allowing a kid to experience that doors are open for them, might make a huge difference down the line as the kid allows their ambition to roam freely.

(Mr. V. helped me find an alternative for a school trip so I could participate in our country’s chess championship.)

A champion helps a kid accept themselves

Kids who are wired differently, almost always feel different. And while this doesn’t have to be a problem, the kid might get the feeling that something is wrong with them. Feeling they are valued for who they are, especially by adults who aren’t their parents, helps kids embrace their unique selves. Down the line, this helps the kid build confidence and develop healthy coping mechanisms for those who don’t value them.

(Mr. V. would always listen when I’d come with yet another subject I wanted to drop or take; he never made me feel like my wishes or needs were weird.)

A champion works towards meeting (support) needs

Some kids do just fine within the system, but most would do even better if the system could be at least somewhat adapted to their needs. For some kids, this means having access to a low-stimuli environment. For others, it’s the opposite – getting extra challenges to keep their brains sharp and their dopamine flow high. And to protect them from a bore-out.

(Mr. V. understood I was bored quickly, so he made it possible for me to learn in a way that worked best for me, even if that included breaking half the school’s rules.)

A champion is an interpreter

A champion is someone who listens to the kid and dives deep to understand their needs. Kids who are wired differently often communicate differently. It might take them a long time to actually open up, and then it depends on the ability of the surrounding adults to truly understand them. On top of that, many of these kids are perceived as rude, for instance if they have the tendency to ask lots of questions, if they avoid eye contact, or if they speak their mind. As an adult, you’re – even if wired differently yourself – generally better capable of conveying the kid’s needs and intentions, and translate the nuances of often vague communication adults have.

(Mr. V. helped smooth over communication with other teachers so my conflicts with them wouldn’t escalate.)

I know this list is nowhere near exhaustive. That’s okay. I hope this shows you the full importance of championing kids, especially those who are neurosparkly, neurospicy, wired differently. Who will you champion?

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Hey, Neuronaut,

Do you want to empower and support kids who are wired differently? Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop about our posts and the tools we're developing to help kids embrace their awesome selves!