Autism parenting: Active vs. Reactive
As any parent, it is very easy to react to our children with anything they do. A child can get 100% on a test and we praise them; a child can spill a glass of milk and we scold them. When we have a child with behavior problems, such as autism, oppositional defiant disorder, or ADHD, our human nature tends to be more reactive towards their behavior.
When we are reactive towards behaviors, we end up with a lot of raised voices, scolding, and anger. Our children begin to take on these behaviors and react negatively towards anything, such as us asking them to do a chore or get off the iPad.
I purpose to us parents that we change our thinking, our approach, and our parenting style with our children. We need to be active in our approach. We need to look forward and predict what will happen.
Here are some suggestions on how to have active parenting:
- Constantly look for small problems that you can prevent, such as milk being too close to the edge of the table or too close to their hand so they knock it over, excessive screen time in a given day, and overstimulating environments.
- Instead of giving a negative remark about something, turn it to a positive remark. For example, if they take thirty minutes to get dressed, simply state, “Thanks for getting yourself dressed” and be done with the conversation. Eventually, and only infrequently, you can add, “I really appreciate it when you get dressed in five minutes!”.
- If an action does happen that you need to react to, calmly in your head count to five first, then use calm words that are quiet and low. You will be surprised how your child reacts to your calm and low voice.
- Do not verbally unload on them when they are being difficult with behavior.Keep your words very minimal and again, only find the praise. For example, if your child is in a therapy session and had extremely defiant behaviors throughout the session, do not focus on the negative behaviors, but simply say, “It was great that you made it all 50 minutes of your session!”.
- Be sure the first thing and the last thing your child hears in their day is positive thoughts from you.
- Say and show your child you love them. They may not say and show it back, but you are modeling how this is done. This might be writing a note in their lunch box, helping them make their bed, or just sitting with them and watching their favorite television show. Spend a minimum of 15 solid minutes each day with them where your phone is put away and you are engaged in their world.
- You need to model expected behaviors! If you are always being negative towards your child, they will be negative towards you. This also includes modeling expected behavior towards your partner/spouse.
- Reward your child for positive things they accomplish. Rewards do not always need to be candy, toys, etc. They can be extra time playing a favorite video game (within moderation), staying up 10 minutes late for bedtime, or simply whatever it is that seems to catch their individual attention.
Yes, I know changing your way of parenting is difficult! And I understand people may look at you with scorn because you are not always focusing on the negative behaviors your child is doing. But do what is best for your family! Have an open mind when considering how to change your parenting style.
I encourage parents to sit down with someone who specializes in working with children with behavior problems to really get a good idea on how to approach and parent your child. This may be having a parent coaching session with your child’s counselor or another therapist.
Reach out with questions or thoughts! I enjoy hearing them!
Jennifer Edwards, LMHC