079: I Like You Just the Way You Are

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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I just finished the Finding Fred podcast, all about Fred Rogers, or Mr. Rogers as most of us know him. And I'm inspired! He was always telling children and his television audience, “I like you just the way you are.” Remembering what that felt like when watching his show and diving deep into what that means and how we can apply it to our lives and our parenting, I realized that we and others in our kids' lives are very often sending the message that we don't like our child just the way they are. That message is clearly harmful. 

We can't change our children for the world, so we must change their world for our children. Join me in this episode to understand when and how this message is given to our children with ADHD and/or autism and what you can do to make sure your child knows that you truly like them just the way they are. 


Some of the resources may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Finding Fred Podcast with Carvell Wallace

The Insider's Guide to ADHD, by Penny Williams

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

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Work with me to level up your parenting — online parent training and coaching  for neurodiverse families.


Penny Williams: 00:00 Hello, my tribe. Welcome to this next episode of the parenting ADHD podcast. I'm really excited to have you here. As always, recently I have been listening to the finding Fred podcast and it's a podcast all about Mr. Rogers, ,Fred Rogers and his influence and his insights really on the world in general, but definitely on kids and on parents even. And it has been so inspiring, enlightening, profound at moments. But one thing that I have realized as I've listened to episode after episode over the weeks is that Mr. Rogers really told us everything that we need to know about life, about the world, about parenting, empathy, compassion, being our authentic selves, and so much more. There's so much that we could unpack there. But one of the things that I was most struck by is the reminder that Mr. Rogers always said, "I like you just the way you are."

Penny Williams: 01:15 He was telling kids that and I think parents by extension all the time consistently in all of his episodes and all of his speaking engagements and all of his work, that was kind of his mantra. I like you just the way you are and I really never thought about it to the depths that this podcast has started to really analyze and think about, you know, the ways that that is translating in the world and the ways that we can use it ourselves in today's time with the struggles that we're having now. And it just reminded me when he says I like you just the way you are, that there's really some correlation there for us with our parenting of kids with ADHD and autism and other challenges. But you know when he said, I like your just the way you are, there was never any qualifying a denim to that.

Penny Williams: 02:27 He never said I liked you just the way you are if you're a good kid. I like you just the way you are if you obey. I like you just the way you are. If you fit in with your peers or I like you just the way you are. If you get good grades in school. It was simply I like you just the way you are. Full stop. That was it. And he truly felt that and believed that. And it got me thinking about how much we and really the world give our kids with ADHD and or autism. These messages that we don't like them. Just the way they are, the message that there are things about our kids, we want them to change often things that they can't change because they're just being who they are. They're a kid with ADHD or autism or challenges.

Penny Williams: 03:31 They're spunky, they're hyper, they're talkative, they're passionate, they're determined, they're dedicated. They know. There's so many ways to look at those symptoms that we struggle with as something else. Dr. Edward Hallowell calls them mirror traits, and I talked about this some in my book what to expect when parenting children with ADHD. You know, there are different ways to think about our kids' behavior in those symptoms of ADHD. And I talked a little bit about that in the podcast episode on changing the language that we use to describe our kids' behavior. When we start looking at stuff differently, it changes so much. We cannot change our kids for the world. We cannot change our kids to fit with the neuro-typical world. We must change the world for our kids. Let me say that again. I want you to really, really internalize this. We cannot change our kids to fit in the world.

Penny Williams: 04:48 We must change the world for our kids and yes, I understand that just you or just me. We cannot actually change the world as much as I would like to. We do not have that power and I am well aware of that. What I'm talking about is changing our children's world, the environment that they're in, the places that they go, the attitude that they have, the feeling of competence and confidence that they have. We their parents have the power to impact, influence and change that so we can change our child's world for them and that that is the magic. That's the key. That's what we're supposed to be doing as parents of children with ADHD or autism, but we seem to still trying to change them, right? We seem to be still trying to change ADHD to change our kids and that is such a mistake.

Penny Williams: 06:01 It's an easy mistake. Don't get me wrong, I am not scolding you. Here I am opening your eyes wider a little bit or shifting your perspective some. You know, this is something that I have struggled with as well. We naturally want our children to fit in and be accepted, right. For who they are and when they're not. And we're getting this pushback from schools and pushback from friends and family. We feel compelled from that feedback that we need to make change, but we don't because we cannot change our kids and we shouldn't want to change our kids. Yes, we want to make life easier for them. Yes, we wish they didn't have to struggle, but we shouldn't want to change our kids and yet we're trying. We're trying. We're trying to change our children. We send them to schools designed to create conformers and ask them to do whatever it takes to succeed there.

Penny Williams: 07:08 We ask them to sit still at the dinner table. We asked them to quiet down when they're talkative and loud. We beg them to just follow our instructions the first time and get things done. We scold them when they're the class clown. We push them to spend time in social situations and learn to fit in with their peers. We asked them to do so many things differently out of our own fear for their future and to simply try to make everyday life for them not quite so hard. Our intentions are good and pure obviously. Of course our intentions are great. We're trying to help our kids, but the underlying message that we're sending is that we don't like our kids just the way they are. I don't have to tell you that this is wildly harmful. Sending messages to our children that they're not good enough.

Penny Williams: 08:12 They're not quote normal enough. They're not meeting our expectations. They're letting us down. All of these messages, whether intended or not, are super harmful to our kids. They cause poor self-esteem, lack of confidence, feeling bad or broken or less than and years of that in your childhood, during the time where you're growing and maturing and figuring out who you are is so very harmful. We are truly harming our kids and their childhood by pushing so hard for them to fit. When they physically can not do it. We are giving them an attitude about themselves that is very ingrained for the rest of their life. They're going to live their adult life through that lens of not being enough of never succeeding instead of from the perspective that we like them and they are good enough just the way they are. So what do we do? What can we do about this?

Penny Williams: 09:38 We can't change our kids to fit in the world. They have the neurology and the brain that they have, so we have to change their world for them. We have to let go of the expectation that they look, act, socialize and perform academically just like their peers. We offer them opportunities to succeed. We let them guide what they want to spend their time doing and who they want to spend their time with. We stop putting so much pressure on our kids over grades and going to college. We stopped stressing our kids about their weaknesses and differences and start focusing on their strengths. We change our attitude about who they are and we show them that we truly do like them. Just the way they are. Imagine how life changing that can be. Imagine for a minute, put yourself in your child's shoes and visualize what it would feel like to go to school every day and know that people expected more of you than you could physically give because you've tried your hardest and then some and nobody ever knows that you are truly trying.

Penny Williams: 11:16 Imagine working really, really hard and people still telling you day in and day out that it isn't good enough. Imagine on the playground wanting so badly to play with the group of kids and walking over and trying, trying to talk to the other kids, wanting to be included and yet day after day at recess, they still leave you out. Imagine what these things feel like. Imagine in your, in your home if you never felt a sense that your parents were proud of you and I'm not. Again, I'm not scolding you. I'm not saying that this is your intention. What I'm doing is showing you that this is likely how it's received when we're trying so hard to help with ADHD and all of the weaknesses and differences and not fitting. Our intention is to help. But what's happening is we are sending the message to our kids that they are not good enough, that they have not succeeded.

Penny Williams: 12:38 So let's flip that around. Let's think about for a minute this different way of going about parenting our kids. Let's think about parenting the individual child that we have not worrying about society's expectations from school and grades and act and sat scores and getting into a four year college and getting a degree. We need to throw all of these things out. This is our issue is that society is parenting our kids because we're just following along with those expectations. And society as a whole doesn't know our kid. They don't know your kid from my kid, from Adam because it's just this one giant expectation for the millions and millions and millions of kids in the United States. How is that parenting the individual? How is that even seeing our kids as individuals? I had this T shirt when I was little, there was a picture of me somewhere when I was about five years old in this T shirt and it said "kids are people too."

Penny Williams: 13:54 And I remember wanting to wear that shirt every day. I wanted to never leave the house without that shirt. I was very proud to wear that shirt. It made me feel important. It made me feel seen even at that super young age, there was impact to me empowering him, hacked from a shirt that said, kids are people too. It's just the tiniest little thing felt empowering to me and it felt like it was describing that we're individuals and that we matter. You know, here we are. We might be little but see us, we matter. We're going to be one of you one day. And to kind of give that respect to kids, even little kids, that's what that shirt really meant to me. And I loved it. I loved it. I wish right now my family and we cannot find that photo, but one day we will and I absolutely will share it with my readers.

Penny Williams: 15:08 And podcast audience, all of you. But you know, that just kind of speaks to what I'm talking about here, about seeing our kids for who they are as an individual. Honoring that and giving the message clearly giving the message that we like them, just the way they are. We like them just the way they are. Imagine you as a child thinking you know that your parents really saw you, they really understood you... And that might be your childhood or it might not be, and there's all sorts of shades of gray in the middle of that. We have all grown up very differently. But most of us had some pretty significant expectations put on us as kids. And my family grades were super important to my parents and we were intelligent and that meant that we should be getting A's and B's and that we should be taking honors classes.

Penny Williams: 16:17 And I did. And you know, I got one or two C's in my life and I was grounded. I was punished for that because they saw how smart I was and felt like I just wasn't applying myself if I didn't get an a or an a B or a B in something. So there was that message about how much grades mattered. There was that stress and pressure around grades because they believed that the grades in school, I mean, you get into a good college, you get a degree from a good college, that means you get a good job and you're successful and happy. You know, that same mantra that society gives us, you know, for kids like ours, it just isn't necessarily true. Yes, there are some of you listening right now, your kids are wildly successful academically. And I applaud that and I think it's amazing and I hope that they get a sense of how truly amazing that is.

Penny Williams: 17:19 Because most kids with ADHD, no matter how intelligent, they super duper struggle with executive functioning at an extremely impactful level and they just can't show that they're learning and gaining the knowledge in a successful way. And you know, getting that feedback just in school. A kid like my son who has a very gifted IQ and with a ton of help, barely gets B's and C's, D's you know, he is getting the message that he is misunderstood. He's getting the message that he's not good at school. He's getting the message that he doesn't measure up. Just because he learns differently. That's it. He's a good kid. He tries his best and he gets the message that we don't quite like him the way he is academically because he's getting poor grades even when he's learning the material. I mean, that's the crux of it is that he's learning and he's just not doing the output and showing it and performing well on tests.

Penny Williams: 18:33 So, you know, that's just one example of how we are giving our kids the message that we don't quite like them just the way they are. I learned many years ago that the expectation of good grades out of a gifted kid was not an appropriate expectation for my child because he learns and performs academically different. He has learning challenges that the public school system does not address very well and does not accommodate for very well. And so that was me seeing who he really is and saying to him, I see you and it's okay to struggle with this and I still like you exactly the way you are. You know, accepting that he's not going to get A's and B's, he's not going to take honors classes and giving him the message that that's totally okay is sending him the message that we see him who he is and we're good with that.

Penny Williams: 19:45 We want him to be himself. We want to celebrate who he is. We really struggle. I think with that friction between societal expectations of us as parents and of our kids and wanting to really celebrate their creativity, their ingenuity, their individuality, we want to celebrate that, don't we? I mean really being different and not just being like everyone else is a good thing. It's a great thing. It is what we want and yet we're getting this pushback and this rub from society, from our school systems, from you know, the coaches on their sporting team, wherever it might be, and that's a problem. And then we're stuck in the middle of that. That's where we're getting all this friction because on one side we're being told that our kids should be doing things a certain way and meeting a certain measure. And on the other side, our little voice in our heads and the love in our hearts is saying, no, my kid is who my kid is.

Penny Williams: 21:01 And being different is awesome because he has a lot to offer the world. She has amazing things to offer this world. We have to do the work to live in that space. We have to do the work to have that mindset and that perspective so that we can be saying to our kids blatantly or subconsciously, I like you just the way you are. And Mr. Rogers, he just had this amazing ability to see kids as little people. He had this amazing ability to see how their today and right now was going to translate into their adult life, into their feelings of fulfillment in life. You know, that's the ultimate goal, right? That's the ultimate goal in life. What do we all want more than anything? What's the top of the pyramid? It's feeling fulfilled. It's feeling like you have purpose and feeling good about yourself. Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is something that you study if you take a psychology class, and I think it's really a great tool for our kids as well because it lays out in order what a person's needs are.

Penny Williams: 22:40 At the very bottom of the pyramid is the basics. Food, water, shelter, and you work up to that feeling of contentment and fulfillment and feeling like you have purpose. And for our kids, you know, we're giving them the basics, right? We're feeding them, we're sheltering them, we're loving them. Those are the bottom couple of tiers of a pyramid and we want to help them get to that top tier. We want to help them get to the pinnacle of feeling good about themselves. But there's other stuff in the middle that's kind of making that journey to the top of the pyramid more difficult. And part of that is other people's perceptions of them. You know, it's really easy for us to say that what others think of us doesn't matter. It's really easy to say that I don't care what other people think. I'm going to go to the grocery store in my pajamas.

Penny Williams: 23:43 I don't care what those people think. It's midnight and I just need milk and I'm tired, right? But the truth is we are all, every one of us driven, driven by what others think of us or what we perceive them to think of us on a much different, deeper, muddier sort of level than just going to the store in your pajamas. And that's really, really important here because while we want to say that what other people think of us, doesn't matter. The reality is that it does and it matters a great deal to our kids. That is their measure of contentment, of feeling good about themselves. That's how they're measuring their self esteem. That's how they're building their confidence is from the feedback that they get from others. And when you have ADHD or high functioning autism, you are constantly getting this just constant ticker, like a dripping faucet of negative feedback.

Penny Williams: 25:00 It just happens. It is the reality of life for our kids. There have been studies that say they get like 60 some percent more negative messages in a day than neurotypical kids do. That's a lot for every hundred messages. 66 of them are negative. There was another statistic recently that said that kids with ADHD get 20,000 something more negative messages in their childhood or maybe per year. It was a shocking, shocking statistic and that just proves even more how important and how powerful. Seeing our kids for who they are and honoring that truly is. I talk in my book, the insider's guide to ADHD about these parenting truths and they all boil down to seeing your kid for who they are — accepting that and honoring it. So seeing that your child has weaknesses in some areas, accepting that they may be smart but never getting good grades and then honoring that, finding other ways for them to feel successful, to have times of joy and happiness, to feel like they have purpose.

Penny Williams: 26:32 All of these things are wickedly important, but they're also extremely empowering for our children. Extremely empowering. So I really encourage you first to listen to the Finding Fred podcast because it's absolutely amazing, especially episodes nine and 10. Episode nine was just one long profound bit for me. That was by far the most enlightening and inspiring episode, but they are all 10. Fantastic. And then I encourage you to think about how are you going to give your child the message that you like them, just the way they are. And that's not just saying to them once a day, I like you just the way you are. Okay. Because it's really easy to give lip service. And our kids, they have this amazing radar to see genuineness or to see a lack of genuineness. And so it has to be more genuine and more impactful than just saying to them.

Penny Williams: 27:51 At the end of the day, I like you just the way you are. We have to show them. We have to make them feel it. They must feel it in their bones, in their souls and their hearts. Especially. I am finding myself now in this is crazy, but maybe this is the movement we need in the world. I am finding myself asking, well, what would Mr. Rogers think of this? How would Mr. Rogers handle this? How would Mr. Rogers see this? What would be his perspective, his mindset on what is happening? You know, I am a huge believer that behavior is communication as Ross Greene teaches us. It's the core of all of my work. Coaching parents and training parents, and Mr. Rogers didn't say it that way, he didn't come out and say that he believed behavior was communication, but everything he did, everything he believed in was that same approach. It was the same mindset and viewpoint.

Penny Williams: 29:02 That behavior is communication. It's not good. It's not bad. Kids aren't good or bad. They are doing the best they can in the moment that they have, just like we are as parents and it's our job to help them when we want to elevate their behavior and we want to elevate what they are doing and how they are doing it in the moment. Then we're their guide, their helper, their calm anchor to help them through that. So I hope that maybe we'll start this revolution. What would Mr. Rogers Think, how would Mr. Rogers handle this? Because he was profoundly understanding of children and of the life experience and what it takes to achieve genuine happiness and fulfillment. And that's what we all want for ourselves and our kids. To get the show notes for this episode and links to anything that I have mentioned here, go to parentingADHDandautism.com/079 and I will see you on the next episode.

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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