When parents get in the way of their relationship with their kids…
I often hear about kids showing up with resistance and get asked for strategies we may use to support them through it. Today I want to take that concept a step further and look at, whether some of our obstacles as parents may be at the root of this resistance. We may inadvertently be doing something to contribute to resistance, so it is important to look at ourselves as critical players in the behaviours we are dealing with at home.
We may be the reason our relationship with our kids is fraught.
This is of course a loaded topic with many layers of complexity - way beyond the scope of this post - but perhaps this gets you thinking and playing detective around your own patterns.
- “Getting” instead of “Guiding: We sometimes think we are guiding our children but in essence we end up trying to ‘get’ them to do something alongside us. This immediately produces a performance demand – something our kids are very likely to give resistance to. We should always try to connect first and find an opportunity to coregulate, rather than just completing a task. We need to guide in a way that our kids see the opportunity – that is the sweet spot of engagement and coregulation where the magic happens ☺
The question should therefore not be ‘how do I get my child to… (insert brush teeth, do homework, clean their room, sit still), it should be more along the lines of, how do I guide my child, through understanding their obstacles and adjusting my expectation, to set up for success – wherever that lands.
- Mental distraction/depletion: There are many day to day tasks, that we don’t think of as ‘hard’, that cause our autistic children to use up valuable but limited mental energy. Cluttered visual and auditory spaces can quickly deplete our children’s energy. Chaotic routines, inconsistency, frantic schedules (including hours and hours of therapy) and ignoring a child’s sensory needs all lead to mental depletion. Even things like constantly talking at your child, excessive prompting, instrumental language – asking questions, directing, taking away opportunities to think. When you have a calm, focused and alert child – use the opportunity to guide in a dynamic way!
- Talking too much: This is the Charlie Brown analogy. If we fall back on verbal language we often end up sounding like the teacher/mother in Charlie Brown ‘wha wah wha’. The talking can cause our kids to either tune out or can overwhelm -depending on the child. Be honest with yourself (perhaps you need to watch yourself on video): Do you get too busy or go too fast with your words? Do you overwhelm/outstrip the child’s processing/understanding with too many words? Do you balance verbal with nonverbal?
- Anxiety: are you carrying around anxiety that will affect your child and their level of resistance. It can be under the surface but certainly affects a guiding engagement. Are you anxious about previous instances of resistance? Do you carefully reflect on previous resistance and alter your behaviour (walk away, take 5 deep breaths, stop/pause/access/reconnect in a gentle but firm manner)? Do you take action to decrease your anxiety levels on an ongoing basis (ie: exercise, yoga, go for a walk, play an instrument).
- Patience: Everyone runs out of patience sometimes, but if this happens very regularly, it is time to be a detective about it. What drives the parent’s inability to be patient? Am I strong inside myself to wait for regulation (even with an aggressive child)? Do you have anxiety over your child’s struggles, and/or are you harbouring feelings of incompetence around being able to handle the situation? Are you just too busy and can’t slow down?
- Emotional reaction to the resistance: an explosive parent and explosive child can equal a very explosive situation. Are you aware of your physiological response to resistance such as; your heart rate, your voice, your muscle tension, your posture and other reactions you may have that may cause an escalation in your child’s behaviour? Awareness gives you the space and power to CHOOSE a response instead of being reactive. You noticing your own physiological responses, means you can do something to reduce the elevation – breathe, pause, walk away, make a joke etc – to lighten the moment and start again.
Some heavier topics here and lots of food for thought today! It would be helpful to go over these topics when you have time to be reflective and perhaps in discussion with your partner so you can help each other process what might be happening for both of you. You might come up with obstacles that are more applicable to your situation at home. Do you know how to address these? Questions and comments always welcome!
By addressing obstacles we create more space for relationship and connection through mindful guiding. It is all worth it ☺
Conversation Starter: Take turns telling a story of a time you brightened someone’s day. How did that impact you?
Consider a way in which someone treated you in a way that was disappointing.
What emotions, past hurt or misguided beliefs might be behind that behaviour?
Be kind to yourself when you get it wrong.