The thing I used to hate the most when Michael was little was hearing him cry. The long crying spells and tantrums used to make me feel inept, helpless and desperate. What was I doing wrong as a mother that my baby would not stop crying? I used to marvel at other Moms in parks, shopping malls, at church. They seemed to keep their wits about them and not die a thousand deaths every time their child cried. Both my mother and mother-in-law tried to reassure me. That is how he is communicating. They were right of course. The calm Moms I witnessed all around me were right too. But then so was I. You see, Michael did not know how to self-regulate, and I did not know how to teach him to do that until much later when I realized that kids with special needs take longer to achieve these milestones than other children.
I think it all stemmed from my own childhood. I had been an EXTREMELY sensitive child who would cry whenever upset. Self-regulation had been challenging for me at that time, but I learned to shed tears to a supportive mother and later on my own as an adult in the comfort of my own room. I suffered a lot until my thirties though, until I learned how yoga, exercise and meditation could help curb stress and anxiety. I also learned that it had to be ME who fixed my problems and no one else. After a burnout I realized if I didn’t learn how to be responsible for my own emotions, I would continue to suffer. There was no such thing as superwoman. It was not a healthy place to be in.
Fast forward to motherhood. I knew I had to teach Michael self-regulation and didn’t want him suffering till adulthood before he found his way, but after coming to terms with his diagnoses, I couldn’t help but worry, could he do this, could I teach him? I was feeling overwhelmed and wondering how to teach a child whose brain was so different than mine. Where would I start? I was helped by great psycho educators as well as other therapists who gave me good tools. I also picked the brains of my Mom friends and found out what worked for their kids.From all those wonderful individuals (as well as doing some of my own brainstorming) here is a list of ways to help your child self-regulate:
- Let them cry or feel anger: This is the hardest thing to do, but remember crying and getting angry are not what the problem is. It is not being able to stop the tears or the anger from growing. That is where the destructive parts come in. Having them come up with strategies like stepping away to breathe, going for a short walk, squeezing something can help calm the storm of anger or anxiety.
- Talk about when you’ve lost control and how you reacted to fix it: Depending on how much your child understands and can communicate, it is important to share your own experiences with anger and sadness honestly. This does not mean every detail. They should not bear the burden of your emotional issues, but telling them what you did that worked or failed will be helpful for them to find strategies.
- Ask them what they think would make them feel better: When your child is calm, ask them what they like to do to be happy. Also, observe what they seem to gravitate to when upset. Do they like hugs, movement, deep pressure? These are indications of things you can suggest as self-regulation tools.
- Teach them how to show unconditional love to themselves: Sadly, this is something most adults lack or have difficulty with-self-love and acceptance even when our faults rise to the surface. Before you can teach a child to love him/herself unconditionally though, you must show them how you love yourself unconditionally. This means that even when you mess up as an adult, you take responsibility, calm down, name what you did wrong, and start the healing process. We all make mistakes. It is ok, and is part of life.
- Give them choice and remind them it is THEIR job to calm themselves down. Too many exceptional kids are told what to do by the adults around them. Yes, adults need to guide them, but it is important that in guiding them, you do not tell them HOW to calm down. There is not one way. There are many. They have to (with gentle loving guidance), figure out what tools will work for them. Another thing to remember. It is their job to calm themselves down. Not yours. Not their therapists. Not their teachers. This is so hard for a parent, but invaluable to make your child accountable for how they feel and who they are.
Exceptional Parents, how many times have you wished you could take back a stressful event or events from your Exceptional Child’s life? It’s not a good idea. The thing is, resilient kids are made when they are forced to find ways to handle their own individual stress. Our kids need to be given tools to handle their anxiety, anger and depression. But we can’t be constantly rescuing them. If we do this, we will make them feel as if they can’t do it on their own. As hard as it is, parents have to be offer support, tools and their own life experiences as guides and suggestions. Then it’s time to step back, let your child fall and pick themselves back up. Eventually they will learn what they need to do to succeed. Remember, a different brain is not an inferior brain. Your child can and will come in their own if they see you believe in them and love them for all they are. Until next time.
I am a writer, speaker and parent coach. I blog about how my exceptional son with Autism, ADHD, OCD and Type 1 Diabetes is raising me to a better human being and exceptional mom. My mission is to empower other exceptional parents to trust in their parenting instinct while letting their exceptional child open their eyes to all that is possible! For more information on my coaching services and to download a copy of my FREE EBOOK “5 WAYS TO HANDLE EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY ANXIETY” see my website, http://www.creatingexceptionalparenting.com