I don’t think I realized my temper was an issue until I moved to the country. I guess that’s because everyone around me also had tempers and although most were very nice people we all reacted similarly when pushed, fight over flight. City life will do that to you. Unfortunately for a parent of a child with autism a temper is one of the worst things I could have modeled.
During one of J’s tantrums, at the height of his rebellious behavior, I caught a glimpse of myself arguing with him. I was trying to rationalize with him but my face said otherwise. I looked like I was arguing with a stranger who threatened my personal space, not my child. My tone was cold, detached from kindness and fairness just straight attitude. My face was so full of anger, eyebrows furrowed, jaw clenched, nostrils flaring. I just looked overall menacing. In my eyes, I was a monster towering over this cowering little innocent who just couldn’t find the words to express himself. And how could he with me scaring the life out of him. Mom, the one person who sort of understood him in this world turning into Mrs. Hyde right before his big frightened eyes, all because he refused to go to school. I knew in that moment that if I saw myself as a monster I’m sure J saw me similarly or worse. I never wanted to be that to him again. I had to find another way to discipline J rather than intimidation and empty threats or I wouldn’t be the only monster, I’d have a mini monster and no one to blame but myself.
Puberty has been a rough transition for J as it is for most teens especially those with special needs. I decided not to medicate him since his behaviors are manageable as of now and he does not pose a threat to himself or others. I was also seeing this new-found awareness of life around him and I did not want to squelch any progress. He still lacked the verbal skills to express himself but J understood what we were saying about him. He also knew when we were annoyed with him even if it was through something as subtle as an eye roll. I could see it affected him like it never did in the past. We had to change just as much as J was. We had to acknowledge him as a young person growing into an adult and not a child that the world had no expectations for. He was creating his own expectations of what he wanted out of life now. He wanted to be treated like an adult, like most teenagers do, he wanted responsibility and the negotiation of compromise. He wanted to be included in the planning of his day and have his choices discussed with him.
Here’s how I discipline my child with mutual respect to foster a relationship of understanding and trust:
- I pay attention to his emotions and try my best to acknowledge them so he feels understood and validated. That doesn’t mean I give into them.
- I give him good reasons for my actions, simple reasons but usually fair.
- I fight the urge to physically dominate him when he resists, I let him go through it and then try to state my needs at an eye level distance, not towering over him.
- I check my ego and let go of the feeling that since I am the parent my child must yield to my every demand. Instead I take deep breaths, check myself to make sure I’m not projecting my issues on him and empathize before I act.
- I inform J of the rules for every situation be it house, school or bus rules. I inform him of any new ones that may be part of a new experience or place we are headed.
- I always give J a warning before handing down a punishment to allow J to redirect himself.
- Punishments are given calmly, sternly and fairly. The punishment fits the crime and he is aware of it before it is dealt. Ex: if he is misusing his tech, he will lose time on it. If he is misbehaving somewhere he will lose TV privileges when we get home.
It sounds simple but keeping calm when J is not, can be a challenge of my own discipline. Once I had these options for myself I found that I could redirect my own frustrations, stay focused on the facts rather than my own feelings, follow through and be a calmer mom for him. It’s not always smooth sailing but we get back on course quickly sans casualties. Hope this helps anyone out there dealing with discipline troubles. Please share if this works for you or if you have any ideas you may want to share.