I have realized for some time that my son’s intense reactions to things often have to do with sensory overload and the anxiety that it can trigger in him. I recently read Peaceful Parent, Confident Kids’ article on Supporting Your Child Through Rage and realized that while I do accept these feeling from him, I have also developed some significant tools to help him manage these things. I knew all the things to say, I knew all the things to do. I knew how to listen with acceptance, I knew about HALT and STOP and other emotional management tools. However, once I began to look for resources for him to start managing it on his own things began to change. He needed some skills that would allow him to develop the important life skill of managing his stress and he needed to depend on me less to help him do it. I was confident that he could because, as with anything else he does, when expectations are very clear and concise he can overcome his obstacles. I knew with some work, he could do this too.
I noticed while we were on vacation that he would frequently go into repetitive questioning mode. He would ask A LOT when we were going swimming, to the beach, to get ice cream…whatever it was that day. “Is it time yet?” “Can we go now?” “When are we going?” ” Are we going to go soon?” It was driving me nuts. Finally, I had a realization and saw that this was a situation I needed to listen to more closely. He was not trying to pester me, which it definitely felt like, he was trying to tell me something. He was worried! So, taking my hint, I Active Listened:
Me: You seem very concerned about going swimming today.
Son: Yes! I’m worried we won’t end up going! I don’t know WHEN we are going!
Me: So you are uncomfortable because you think we might end up not going at all.
Son: Yes! I can’t tell time yet and sometimes you say we’ll do some things if we have time. I don’t want to wait to see if we have time. I want to know!
Me. You sound really worried we will run out of time even though I promised we would go.
Son: Right! I don’t trust that we will go so I can’t stop thinking about it.
Me: And you can’t stop asking me questions until you know the answer!
Son: Right I don’t trust that we will really go!
Me Ok, I understand…..what would help?
Son: If we wrote down a plan so I could see when we were going.
Me: You would like a schedule? That would help?
Son: Yes! Then I wouldn’t have to ask you, I would know.
And there came the brilliant idea. We use this tool religiously on vacation because everything is so different. For a child that has a hard time with change it makes traveling so much easier. Several months later – I began seeing similar behavior at home. He was doing a lot of things that told me he was not feeling as secure as he needed to feel. He was showing signs of overwhelm and anxiety. I did some research and I asked some friends in the field, but the person who came up with the idea that helped the most was him. Once again, he knew himself best. We had a problem solving meeting and decided on the schedule once again. We already used visual routine charts for morning and nighttime routines, so he suggested a more complete daily schedule so that he would know just what to expect every day. We moved the regular routines as permanent additions to the new schedule and made several copies. Each night we fill out the next day’s schedule together.
Now, typically even the thought of a schedule makes me roll my eyes. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants and enjoy life’s little surprises, but admittedly, I am realizing…it doesn’t serve me that well. One of the things that I really love about him coming up with this idea is that it was his. I didn’t give him 4 choices and allow him to pick one like many parenting strategies recommend and because I’m skilled in Parent Effectiveness Training, I know that the enormous benefit of Active Listening and No Lose Problem Solving is that it doesn’t solve children’s problems for them. It allows them to think of the best solution for themselves, not for the parent. ( I never would have thought of a schedule because – gag! Not my style!) But this is why it works and is honored by the child – it’s the solution that works best for the child as their own person. It IS my son’s style and well, he’s not me. I could have easily imposed something that he “had to” stick to, but because this solution was an intrinsic thought, the follow through is pretty reliable and done with pride and self-awareness.
This schedule thing has become a really wonderful evening ritual. My son likes to write his own down, my 4 year old daughter does hers by drawing hers out and I keep the master on the fridge. It is a time of connection and intention for the whole family. It helps me schedule in self-care for things like the exercise, rest, writing and even what to have for dinner the next day. We schedule in two periods of “Free Time” that each family member gets as time alone – meaning twice a day we can all do whatever the heck we want! Having it on the schedule means it is planned for, expected and agreed on mutually so everyone respects it. It’s WONDERFUL! But hands down the biggest benefit of this schedule is that my son has RELAXED. He has some control over his world. He has something concrete that can take away his worries. I have stopped over-promising things because the schedule keeps me on track. He has stopped worrying that he won’t get to do the things that are important to him. Everybody wins. We have a plan and we have peace. Mostly 🙂
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