Before I knew that my eldest daughter was autistic, I knew that she was a terrible sleeper, and presented very challenging behaviour. My hubby and I read numerous books, blogs and websites over the years to try to be better parents. In the hope that the knowledge they imparted would put us ahead of the game, and enable us to deal with the tough bits in life without ending up completely broken.
I'd like to share the three most useful tools that we've learnt along the way. As far as I'm concerned they are absolutely essential ace cards for all parents to have.
Eye Contact and Appropriate Physical Contact
In one book I read quite recently the author talks about a child's emotional needs being akin to a petrol tank in a car, and how we need to fill their emotional tanks up when they start running empty. By talking to them at the same time as doing a million and one other things, we are giving our children the message that they aren't important. By downing tools, looking them in the eye and giving their arm a gentle pat while having a chat, they walk away from us feeling loved.
This makes so much sense to me, but also made me feel more than a little sad. I realised that I had fallen into bad habits, and was rarely getting down to their level when I was speaking to them. Worse still, he says if you are pretty much only giving eye contact to tell them off, it could do lasting damage to their self-esteem. I've definitely been guilty of that in the past, and have been making a concerted effort to rectify this since reading the book. The great thing about small children is that negative parenting behaviour is very quickly forgotten once we parents start turning things around.
I read about reflective listening for the first time a few years back. This is all about truly listening to what our kids are saying - not trying to enforce our opinions onto them, not trying to solve their problems for them, just listening to them and letting them know we have listened.
It might sound like a no-brainer, but it's actually much harder than you would think (well it certainly was for me at first). It's all about just sitting with them, letting them talk, and validating their feelings with simple generic phrases such as the examples below.
- 'I can imagine you felt really upset when X left you out today'.
- 'I can understand why you are feeling angry about that'.
- 'You must be very disappointed that you didn't get an invite to X's birthday party'.
This is all about honing in on the positive side of your child's behaviour, no matter how much of a challenge they are being. I'm a huge believer that when it comes to parenting we should choose our battles carefully. It can be so easy to fall into the negative cycle trap - which goes a little something like this:
Child is misbehaving - parent tells child off, maybe gives them a time out, or starts taking their things away - child sulks and parent gets angry - parent starts nagging the child - everyone gets cross and a full scale meltdown ensues.
I don't think we should ignore our child's naughtiness, and tell them they are being wonderful anyway because that would be lying, but there comes a point where you do have to let some stuff just slide. We have a zero tolerance policy on violence in our house, but Hubby and I are learning to ignore a lot of the smaller grievances and squabbles. By not giving them any airtime they are much sooner forgotten.
I find the absolute best remedy for our family is to take eldest out of the equation, calm her down and give her some attention (eye contact, physical contact, listen to what's troubling her). Of course this is all so much easier said than done, and with three to consider orchestrating that one on one time can be impossible when I'm on my own.
I'm aware that I've made it all sound like a piece of cake, and that I have it completely nailed, which trust me is not the case. We have dramas and meltdowns daily - some days I'm cucumber cool and others not so much.
I'm learning as I go, and trying my best.
Just like everyone else.