Sometimes the stress is too much for us and the only response is to scream and cry. This is usually when we have not taken the time to listen to our inner voices and ask for what we need. When Michael reaches his stressful breaking point, I am always aware of what he didn’t pick up on along the way to becoming upset, or, because I am his Mom and caregiver, what signs I didn’t see to try to get him to stop, regroup, and use a strategy to calm down. Anxiety is such a difficult thing to handle for exceptional kids and adults, and let’s face it, even for neuro typical people. But I think a lot of misunderstanding occurs when as parents, we try to smooth everything over and fix things for our child. That used to be me. Now, as hard as it is to watch Michael struggle and me struggle watching him try to find his way out the other side, I let him “own”, as they say, his anxiety.
How do I do this? I let him talk about what bothers him, and remind him that if he focuses on what he can control now, he does not have to worry about the future. I also try my best to acknowledge his discomfort and fear, even if initially I do not catch why this particular incident is scaring him. That is my Mom bias, as all adults sometimes have a hard time remembering what made them scared as kids. The funny thing is , a lot of times when Michael is scared and anxious I recognize myself at his age. I was a scared and anxious tween and teen, and later early adult until I learned strategies that worked for me. I also hear my Mom, and the things she said to try and help me. Some of them were helpful, some were not. I unfortunately make the mistake of saying both too, but then I will take a step back and remind myself of something. What is the harm of letting Michael own his emotions-good and bad? As long as he is not hurting himself, property or anyone else, it is truly important that as a parent I let him feel the feeling, then find his way out himself with a strategy that works for him. Only if he is really stuck, do I gently suggest things.
Now on to the next thing; helping him find a strategy that works for him. The professionals have given him great advice over the years, but none of them gave him one hundred percent perfect advice on what he needed to do to calm down. We have used snippets from everyone, and those snippets change as he gets older. The reason for this is that none of them see things through his eyes or brain, or can understand how terrifying the world can be when it is coming out full steam ahead to a neuro diverse kid. I make that mistake of misunderstanding how scared he is too, sometimes and will give him bad advice or yell. If I get to this point, and thankfully for both of us it is not often, I will usually remove myself from the room staying close enough to help, but letting Michael figure out what he needs to do.
Afterwards, when we have both apologized for yelling and overreacting to one another, we will talk about strategies Michael could use to stay and get calm. After that, I will always tell Michael he knows his body best, and that he needs to choose what works best where and when. I remind him I believe in him and that he can do it, but it will take time.
Exceptional Parents, how do you react when your Exceptional Child is winding up to an anxiety attack or meltdown? Do you let them vent and try and handle it, or do you give advice right away? It’s important no matter what the age, to let the child own their emotions and feelings before rushing in to save the day. Most of the time our children will surprise us and know what they need to do to regroup. Then, it’s up to us to talk with them about how reading our body signals in advance is the best way to handle any emotions. It’s also the best way to learn about what we tools we need to stay balanced, parent and child alike. Until next time.