Recently a friend of mine asked, “What should I do when my child does something wrong?” She is a great momma with a young son with autism. He has had the diagnosis for two years, is receiving therapy weekly, and has a fabulous kindergarten teacher and support staff at school. So I think what she really wanted to know was, “How do I respond when my child, who is struggling to learn acceptable social behavior, misbehaves at school? And how do I handle the guilt of not being a perfect parent?”
It would be easy to pretend like I’ve got it all figured out. I’m a teacher and I’ve seen misbehavior in the classroom that stems from trauma, emotional issues, ADHD, autism, or a learning disability. Logically, I know misbehavior doesn’t mean “bad kid.” But at home, my story still sounds like my friend’s. I’m still asking questions. I still feel the doubt and insecurities of worrying if I’m doing the right thing. Yet, I’m battling these questions and doubts as I’m daily trying to be an advocate for my child.
- a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercede
I am not an expert, just a mom. My family is not new to the diagnosis of autism. We have behavioral charts, visual schedules, modifications, and a team of loving caregivers to help teach my child how to behave in a way that is suitable to the classroom environment. But we still have bad days. So I get to practice this on a daily basis from a parent perspective. And practice makes perfect, right?
Imagine it’s one of those bad days. You get the dreaded note or phone call… your child hit/kicked/name called/refused to work. You might even be asked to come pick up your child if it’s been especially rough day. The long walk to the principal’s office. The shame of not being a perfect parent with a perfect child. You may feel judged… even when you are not.
Deep breath, momma. Don’t give a knee jerk response. Just breathe. And these are a few things you can try:
Ask to be told exactly what happened. Was the note home unclear? Send a follow up note or email asking what you would like clarified. Don’t jump to conclusions.
Personal example: My kid had a terrible Monday. It even started out bad at home too. When told he was having a meltdown at school, I immediately placed blame… on myself. That weekend has been unstructured. He spent the night with my in-laws so I could have a date night. I knew he was frustrated that morning. Basically, I guilt tripped myself without even asking what happened at school to set him off.
Whether you jump to place blame on yourself, the teacher or even your own kid:
Walk it out.
Take a walk and ask your kiddo to talk about it. Why was it a bad day? What was the hardest part? How did you feel? How can we respond better next time?
Let’s be real here, if your child struggles with communication, this might be hard. So I ask questions then wait for a response. If there is none, I model my own self talk. “We don’t hit our friends, even when we are angry.”
So we just walk and talk.
I’m sure my coworkers have seen me walk my kiddo in the hallways asking deep questions. This is the same approach I take for my students as well. Conversations have value.
Sometimes we even wait until the next day before asking if it’s been an especially tough day.
At my house, we do Time In instead of time out. Like time out, you find a safe spot away from others to reflect on your actions. Unlike time out, this isn’t an independent activity. A parent or caregiver guides you through reflection and even a calming activity.
Example: My good friend’s son was diagnosed with Aspergers at a young age. Even trips to the store were a struggle to maintain socially acceptable behavior. She would hold him close, calmly whisper in his ear that she loved him, spoke a bible verse, then restated the expected behavior.
This is by far my favorite way to handle misbehavior in public. My parents were a leave the store and you’re getting a spanking when we get to the car type, so this is new to me and I get frustrated more than I would care to admit. But there is NO one who can speak ill of you lovingly redirecting your child. It stops the behavior, calms them, and redirects. (Ideally, it works… epic sensory meltdowns can be way harder.)
This concept reinforces the concept of unconditional love I want to be felt in my child.
I’m sorry notes
Okay, this may seem lame but this has been really successful for us.
I understand hitting and kicking during a meltdown. It’s not okay, but I get it. However, any time my child has hit or kicked in either a meltdown or as purposeful response, it’s not okay. Hurting people even if we don’t mean to has to be addressed.
Example: We write I’m sorry notes. At first, I would write them and he would draw a picture. Then he was able to start writing his name. Now, he can write an entire sentence. The whole time we discuss expected behaviors, what we might do differently next time, etc.
And selfishly, my favorite part is that, the child, teacher, or person effected knows we are trying. Trying to do better, trying our best, trying even though we aren’t always successful. (Can you hear the echoes of my mom guilt?)
No double punishments
When my nephew gets in trouble at school, he gets grounded at home. While this is an excellent concept for a typical kid who only struggles occasionally, this sucks for us. We believe in no double punishments. We will talk it out, address the issue, write I’m sorry notes but I’m just not doing double punishment. My home life would deteriorate and my child would be scared to talk about his day.
Ask for help
Admit when you don’t have the answers and ask for help. To do this best, you also need to monitor and document behaviors.
Monitor and document: keep a log of behaviors. (Our school has a daily behavior chart that is sent home and I keep them all in a binder)
Ask for input. Give the list to a heath care provider or therapist.
Maybe an extra sensory break is needed. Maybe it was just a crappy week? Maybe Mondays are just hard after a weekend and we should just change our expectations for that day or add extra support?
After you have asked the questions, monitored and documented behavior, together you can adjust how you do things if needed.
I know I am not suppose to let my child’s bad days get to me… but they do. Sometimes, I take it personally: I blame myself, doubt, second guess my judgement or just feel like a “bad” parent.
There really is only one thing that helps this: encouragement from others. I text my friend about my son’s lousy week. I expressed how tired I was, and the doubt I was feeling. She quickly rebuked it. She called me out. She told me I was an excellent mom and that doubt creeping in… it wasn’t from God. We all need friends like that.
Another mom, older whose children are grown, overheard my conversation at a women’s conference. She told me about her two children: one perfectly well behaved and mannered the other was in the principal’s office on a weekly basis. This other momma, beautiful, strong and seasoned, had experienced similar struggles and doubt. You know what she told me: it will be okay. She now has two grown law abiding children that love her.
I hope you too can find encouragement. Perhaps, maybe by reading this right now.
Celebrate the good
Even after a crappy day or week; Especially after a crappy week; celebrate the good.
Make time for a date night with your spouse. Have a movie night snuggled under the covers with the whole family. Say I love you to the moon and back. It’s not a reward for bad behavior, it’s a reminder of our unconditional love: we won’t let the bad days define our children … or us.
We aren’t there… yet.
This is hard for me. Sometimes I want everything fixed right now. Sometimes, I want that A honor roll, well mannered, perfect kid. (PS that kid doesn’t really exist… and if he did he would be boring and not near as funny as the kid I actually have.)
We are in a “still figuring it out” season. Our therapist even told us, she was happy he was getting into “trouble” more. It was because he was attempting to be more social but not being successful …yet.
There is power in… yet.
Though you doubt and are filled with insecurities: You are enough.
Though you don’t have all the answers, you can be an advocate for your child.
Though you fall and stumble, you can get back up.
Your child’s successes nor failures do not define you as a parent.
You are tired and worn out; take time to fill yourself back up. Read. Rest. Regroup.
Most of all, give yourself a little grace.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
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