Have you ever stopped to look at how you parent? Ever snatched the toy your kids are fighting over in frustration and then told them off a few days later for snatching? Snapped at a cashier in the shop who you frustrated you, but ask your children to never be frustrated? As I was growing up my mother hated when I spilt things, I was accident prone and unaware of my surroundings ‘you better not drop anything and embarrass me today’ I would get scolded before we visited the grandparents. I would see her giving me the ‘look’ to say ‘No’ when I was offered any food or drink at their house. Yet my own Mother when I was just a few years old was so unaware of her surroundings she accidentally spilt hot coffee all down my back while pushing my pushchair. Essentially she wanted me to no longer be clumsy when she herself is clumsy.
I have this theory though that sometimes as parents we don’t want our kids to think we get it wrong, we want to be their example and this amazing role model to them, yet our ego sometimes gets in the way and thinks that this means we have to let them believe we have it all together, that when you get to an adult it all of a sudden makes sense. Now tell me adults when was the last time you actually felt you had all the answers? Or truly felt you had your whole world worked out completely?
My autistic child has a lot of meltdowns, she hates noise, she hates the oven being switched on, she hates change, she will only wear specific clothes or shoes, and she likes her crazy curly hair to be firmly left alone. On our wedding day this annoyed my Family that I was accepting of these boundaries and did not force her to wear what my other bridesmaids were wearing, I bought her a loose jersey dress, white leggings and her favourite pair of trainers along to the morning of me getting ready. I over heard the discussions of my family members at how outrageous it was that I accepted this and try to take over and get my autistic child into a different dress. Calmly I walked down the stairs into the crowded room of judgment and simply said ‘why does it bother you so that she wants to be different’ the silence was deafening, it made my family realise in that moment that actually it didn’t really matter, it was just their expectations that were causing the disappointment and stress. They had placed value in the way things look, and actually what the concern should be is how them harassing my daughter to wear something she didn’t want to was making her feel. Their actions and expectations were making her feel frustrated. The example I set to her by letting her keep her boundaries and standing up to the people around me is that we don’t move our boundaries for anyone.
I get told a lot that I am too soft on my children, my style of parenting is to get down on their level. I apologise when I get it wrong, and I don’t do times out. If my daughter is about to have an overload and lashing out, I pick her up, I take her upstairs and we have a cuddle, I apologise that I have caused her frustration, I am empathetic to her needs, I explain the importance of kindness. I say things like ‘we love each other’ ‘we speak kindly to one another’ a repetition of this has stopped her lashing out at her younger sister and getting frustrated when she cries to a ‘don’t cry baby we can make you happy again’ I led by example, I kept calm and in turn taught her to be calm. I don’t demand my children to say please and thank you, but I always say please and thank you. They follow suit. I don’t demand they apologise when they lash out or hurt one another, but I apologise if I have caused frustration, I apologise to my husband if we quarrel about something in the house. And so that teaches them the importance of apologies. Lead by example. Don’t demand your children to have values that you do not hold yourself. This has made parenting an Autistic child a little less frustrating. I of course get the rising feeling of anger when she is kicking and screaming and throwing things at me, and in those moments I take a deep breath, what is that feeling? Anger, fear of losing control, frustrated things aren’t going my way, adrenaline causing my blood pressure to rise and heart to pound. I understand what I’m feeling, I label it, it isn’t her behaviour itself but my reactions to it, my expectations of wanting to control a situation and the disappointment that my own expectation has been let down. So my own body reacts, I too am having a sensory overload in that moment but I understand it. I’m kind to myself, it’s ok to feel frustrated you’re only human, you’re dealing with a stressful situation, it’s not ok to act on this frustration though, let’s have a few deep breaths before we react. This way of thinking is incredibly hard and it takes a while for it to naturally occur but it has changed our family life tremendously. I urge anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with tantrums to give it a go. You won’t regret it.