You arrive at swimming lessons/dance class/little kickers or whatever ‘fun’ activity you are paying through the nose for your child to ‘enjoy’. But you already have a sinking feeling that no one is going to enjoy this experience. Not you, not your child.
And that’s the toughest part right? You look around longingly at all the other families; excited children, relaxed parents looking forward to cheering their little ones on.
But you are not relaxed, because you know what’s coming. Your child already has a vice-like grip on your arm. They’re whining. Dragging their feet. Maybe they yell because you didn’t put their sock on just the right way, maybe worse, they hit or kick you or a sibling. Everyone is staring now. You just KNOW they think you’re a terrible parent for not disciplining your ‘naughty’ child. You wish they knew; your child is not naughty, they’re scared or over-simulated, or really struggling with having to “sit still” or “wait”. Maybe all of the above.
And I promise, mums and dads, you are not bad parents. You are not imagining that your child is challenging. Some kids just ARE harder work. Your child might fall on the autism spectrum, be struggling with the effects of ADHD or battle with anxiety.
So, what can you do to help your child (and you!) get through the day-to-day obstacles? Here are 5 (kind of) simple ideas:
1 . It starts with you.
I know, I’m sorry, it’s not what you want to hear. But I’m sure many parents can admit that sometimes their reaction to their child’s challenging behaviour looks a lot like what their child is doing (oops). And that’s totally understandable. Parenting in general pushes buttons we didn’t even know we had. So next time you’re gritting your teeth and entertaining the idea of selling your child in a garage sale try thinking like this:“They’re not giving me a hard time, they’re having a hard time.”I know it’s not easy in those moments when it really does feel like they were put on this earth to ruin your day, but this simple switch in thinking can honestly help you see the situation differently. If this mindset shift works, it then gives you the space to model the behaviour you do want to see from your child. And let’s be honest, your reaction might be the only thing you actually can control in that moment.
2 . It’s not about elimination, it’s about management.
Ok, so if you manage to calm yourself down to the point where it’s clear to all involved who the grown-up in this situation is, now you can start to take action. Every child is different, but no matter their personality, behaviours or even diagnosis, one thing remains true: parents can’t magically make challenging behaviours, or the events that trigger them, disappear. This is especially true for children with a disability. What we can do, is help them manage those big feelings that arise. For example, if your child’s behaviour escalates during drop-offs to daycare or school, unfortunately just never going back isn’t an option. Life must go on. Instead, you can come up with a goodbye ritual that works for you and your child, and here’s the important part: do it every. single. time. This leads me to the next two points…
3 . Plan ahead
I know it seems really unfair that some families seem to be able to just spontaneously, you know, leave the house, without a multiple step plan in place. But if you know that simple tasks can end up being a complete nightmare, putting in a little preparation will make everyone’s life easier.
- Perhaps start by identifying one challenging task, something like grocery shopping for example.
- Establish some simple rules and expectations before you leave and ask your child to explain them back to you.
- Practice. For example, going out for a couple of items at a time instead of a whole week’s worth of shopping to start with.
- Depending on your child, you could give them a task or responsibility for the outing. If not, maybe have a toy or activity to keep them engaged.
- Actively acknowledge the successes! Tell them how well they did, show them affection, even thank them so they know how much it means to you. Even the most defiant kids really do want to please you.
- Debrief with a chat afterwards. What do they think they did well? Or what shouldn’t they have done?
4 . Be consistent
I’ve consistently (sorry) mentioned this one because it really is just so important. Whether it’s your routines, expectations or reactions, try to keep it as structured as possible so your child can relax, knowing what’s coming. Obviously, there are some things you simply can’t plan for. Or some children really do need allowances or adaptations to be made for them, that’s completely fine. But just have your basic non-negotiables in place. For example, it is NEVER ok to hit a sibling, etc.
5 . And finally, be kind.
Remember how in step one I said it all starts with you? Well, we’re back there. Yes, of course, be kind to your child. But most importantly, be kind to yourself. You’re doing a great job. Hey, you did a google search that lead you here right? You care so much.
And you know what? It’s ok to let other people care for you too.
Breakaway Retreats could be that care you need. They can customise the perfect holiday for patients AND carers, either in one of their beautiful properties on the Sunshine Coast, or a location of your choice, fully-funded by the NDIS.