What is that saying that we hear so often? If an airplane is going down, should the mother put the oxygen mask on herself or her child first? The answer as we all know is, herself. Why? Because she can’t save her child if she dies. It is the same idea when a child is overwhelmed by anger and anxiety. It is hard for a parent. We feel like we are going down in that plane with our child. We are scared. We panic because we are not the impartial therapists who can afford not to get emotional with the child and do stay calm. This is OUR child. It’s all about emotions. The thing is, and I’ve learned this through personal experience and occasionally still have to, we need to get control of our parental anxiety first before we can help our child get control of their child anxiety.
What does that mean? Well, first it means we have to remain calm when our inner and outer world is falling apart. There is nothing worse than watching your child suffer and not knowing how to help at first. The second thing is we have to put in on our parental strategies for handling our anxiety and not lose our cool yelling at our kids or worrying too much. This is the hardest thing to do parents, but the payoff is huge. You are able to show your child that you are holding it together and they will be able to also. Thirdly, when you and they are both in relaxed moods, offer strategies that you think might work. If you’re not sure, ask them what they think you could do for them when they are anxious or panicking. Ask them what they need from you and what they could use to help themselves.
Our Exceptional Kids have different brains from us. The wiring is hooked up in a way that is not like a neuro typical adults. Neuro diverse kids need neuro diverse solutions, so what would work for a neuro typical child may not work for them. Elements of a strategy may work, but adjustments will most likely need to be made. Fine tuning. As a parent, you know your child best. You know their mind. If there are things you haven’t figured out due to the fact that they process things in life differently, you may want to consider asking an adult with a neuro diverse brain how they handle anxiety. There are great blogs and books written by people with Autism and ADHD that educate the rest of us on what our exceptional kids need. Read and learn. As a parent and professional, I am always reading something about autism and ADHD as well as anxiety. I try and see how best to understand my Michael’s uniqueness, with some of the way he thinks due to different brain connections.
I also remind myself not to panic. He is still my little big boy as I now call him, though there are days I worry that with puberty and growing up he is growing far away from me understanding him. In reality, I know that is not the case. It is simply that he is having to learn new ways to regulate, self-soothe, and handle his emotions. Even on the toughest days I vow to be there oxygen mask on me and one on him, breathing together and coming out unscathed on the other side.
Exceptional Parents, how calm are you in the eye of the storm of your child’s anxiety or anger? Yes, there will be days you lose your temper and mess up. You are human, after all. Just pick yourself up, learn from the experience, and remember that the calmer you stay as a ship’s captain does, the smoother the ride will be for your child and yourself. Until next time.