So the latest stage Michael is at is kind of a cool one, yet difficult at the same time. As I mentioned before, he is testing us with pushing the limits on things his Dad and I ask him to do. Yesterday afternoon, a heated battle was waged concerning wearing a winter coat out in the park as it was sunny (though chilly), then another battle was waged on the tennis court and pool grounds. Michael ends up doing amazing during tennis games and swimming one on one with his instructor, but does not like the rules he has to follow in these games or when Dad and I ask him to do something. It is not that he has no control. We understand how anxious he is and that he needs to be in control of many things. So we have given him these opportunities to be in control. He is old enough to choose his own clothes, lunch items (within reason), parks he wants to go to as long as not too far away, and bedtime routine is flexible to a certain degree if we start on time. Still, we have come to this power struggle. He has SO MUCH stress and worry. And when we ask him he just keeps saying that he wants to make the rules and decide.
Dad and I have repeatedly told him that even adults have to follow rules in society, at jobs, with family, with friends, but at times it is still frustrating for all of us to grapple with this. I am now trying something completely different from tokens and rewards, at least for a little while. I want Michael to tell me and his Dad what he is feeling. I am asking him to use his words to explain to us, and to be calm doing it. I remind him of his options to calm down; breathing, rocking chair, kids yoga, swing, sitting on couch, crying. He is better able to cope after a good cry and I always encourage crying so he can get his feelings out. Sometimes, I get annoyed and frustrated myself and will tell him stop crying. But yesterday, after a fight in the park he rightfully called me on it saying, “but you told me crying is good to get my feelings out.” So, I backtracked and told him to cry on the park bench and not on the see-saw where he was. As always, he is smart and observant.
So what ways can a parent find the line between control for the child and nipping challenging behaviors in the bud?
- Look at the child’s overall well-being: If the child is happy for the most part, you need to clamp down a little more tightly on the rebellion. If they are feeling a little lost though, it’s a good idea to take a tiny step back and see why? Are they sleeping enough? Do they have pain or are they coming down with something? Are they scared about something at school? I am at this stage with Michael where I am looking to bridge the gap that has arisen between our closeness since school began.
- Don’t be afraid of child and stay calm no matter what: This is a toughie, and one I am still mastering, but is so important. No matter what cues a parent has misread, it is mandatory that they not fear the child and that the limit they put out stays as a limit no matter what. The child needs to know Mom and Dad love them enough to be firm, but also listen to their point of view.
- Bond closely with child whenever you can: I am learning that my son misses me even if he is bigger and says he does not need me. I am looking for ways to make little rituals of time for us where we can reconnect. This is hard to do in a busy household, but mandatory for helping get behaviors under control and bond with your child again.
- Tell them you love them, but NOT behavior: I hate when people have said, “you are a bad girl or boy.” It’s the behavior that’s bad, not the child. I correct Michael all the time on this, and remind him that he is always a good person, but that he CHOOSES good or bad behavior.
- Continue to model positive coping mechanisms over time: This is so important. I now model to Michael how I regain control; breathing, calm corner in another room, lying down, walking etc. They will emulate in time.
Exceptional Parents, what have you done to show your Exceptional Children that you love them, but expect them to follow rules? It’s a tough place to be, but one which we all have to face as parents of all types of children. Just remember, honesty is the best policy of all, and as long as your child knows you love them, set firm but reasonable boundaries, in time they will come around. Patience is a virtue, and one parents must practice themselves and pass on to their child. Until next time.
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