I sat there on the bench watching my little guy on the swing. I was excited and a little apprehensive. Next to him on the other swing was another little boy, about his age. I waited. What would Michael do? Would he say something strange? Would he stare and then look away? The old me would have walked over to help troubleshoot this social situation. The new me knows better. The new me knows my son is learning to navigate these situations just fine. And that he did. He asked the boy’s name and gave his. They talked a bit. They interacted like two little boys would. And my eyes filled with tears. My little boy is learning what to do. And even when he makes mistakes now, he asks for help.
It was not always this easy, and even now I sometimes forget how he sees the world very concretely and if we change something last minute, his anxiety goes up. He handles it though. And I always try and remember to praise him, tell him I am here to remind him how to use his calming strategies to navigate the difficult situations that arise. And it’s working. The other morning he asked me if he could go to our dry erase board and see what was happening again. Seeing the dry erase board was enough. The token system we use so he earns a reward has also been tremendously useful. He is beginning to understand right from wrong, good and bad consequences, and will even confess when he has thought angry or insulting thoughts. I always ask him if he thinks he will have a good consequence if he does that. Of course, he knows that no it will not.
What does this mean for me as his parent and caregiver? It shows me how much more independent he is getting, but how important it is at the same time to remind him to use the tools he has at hand to navigate complex emotions like anger, jealousy and stress. And then to let go and let him handle the situation. As with everything else, we are both growing this summer and becoming closer in many ways. He is opening up to me about his fears of the future, worries about the past, and excitement about things to come.
Exceptional Parents, how does your Exceptional Child navigate social situations and their emotions? Are they struggling with this? Are you? It’s alright if you are. The same things don’t work for all parents and their children. The important thing to do is use the tools you have at hand to have some sort of structure at home that works for your child and family. Once that is in place, as parents you will know the next step your child needs to take to handle stress and anxiety. Never forget they are resources out there to help you: other parents, community centers where counselors can offer many tips, and most important of all, your own heart and parental instinct that knows your child and yourself the best. After that, let go and let your child lead. Until next time.