Are there common mistakes that parents make that can provide opportunities to learn? We say yes! (We have made most of them ourselves!)
In our own lives, and in the lives of people who share their stories with us, we see patterns of behavior and choices made that apply to lots of people. How each family or parent applies their philosophy can be as individual as the child or children they parent. That being said, when you zoom out and look at the situations from a distance, there are some repeating themes we see, and we are going to dive into them here.
For just a minute - take a look in the mirror. You know the one; that metaphorical mirror you bring out when you want to take a look at yourself. Drop your guard. Take a deep breath. Allow yourself to be perfectly imperfectly you, for just a quick look.
When we really look at ourselves, we have to acknowledge that, as human beings, we are not perfect. We each have our issues in life, and those affect how we move through situations, control environments, and have expectations of other people in our lives and our world. We want to be comfortable, and we want our loved ones to be comfortable as well, minimizing suffering and maximizing growth and learning. Parents come to the job without an instruction manual or even much cultural training. Parenting is a tough job, and we do it with all our hearts. We sometimes just do not know how to proceed, and we want to do our best. Alternatively, we may think we know exactly what to do, and yet no one else seems to get with our program. We just do not get the results we are seeking.
Let’s face it, our kids have traits in common with us, and we might not understand how they may choose to express them. Perhaps we do not interpret them in the same way. Many items on this list of “mistakes” are actually parents trying to say, “I stepped up and learned how to function in this world, and you will too! If you just do as as I tell you, it will be fine.” We want our children to trust us and try what we suggest because we know it works for ourselves.
What our children need, however, is the opportunity to process and learn in the moment. They need us to hold space for them consistently, even when it is inconvenient to do so. It is amazing how much of ourselves we see in our kids. We want to help them avoid the errors and habits that we have found to be nonproductive. Children do not possess adult level processing abilities. They have a more limited vocabulary, and limited experience facing and expressing difficult concepts. They may use a word incorrectly but they struggle with what they mean to say. Holding space allows you to listen for their meaning, and to ensure you understand.
That being said, just because something we have tried does not work for us as people or parents, does not mean it will not work for our children. You have to set aside what you think you know, and listen, and then co-create solutions with your family, and go on to iterate those solutions for steady, measurable improvement.
Heather remembers: “When my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, we really needed some help. We needed to encourage independence and interdependence. We needed to lessen anxiety, and we needed to make sure important deadlines were kept (school assignments, appointments, and other commitments that required a timely arrival.) We needed help as parents because we both had a few traditional approaches and expectations. We would ask for tasks to be completed and they would not be. We would establish limits and expect that our son knew what to do within those limits. We spoke sharply when those limits were crossed, unsure of the reasons and what to do next. We might get loud. Get frustrated. Get tired. We would then get up the next day and do it all again.”
Could that be our rigidity? Could that be how we, as parents, grew up? By the way, all parents deserve credit; it is a tough job. Parents of kids with Asperger’s deserve kudos. Parenting is hard. It is the hardest job we will ever love. It is also the most rewarding job in the world. Parenting any kid is challenging. Parenting a kid with non-neurotypical development has its own challenges. Our kids who are on the spectrum experience a lot of failure in a day. Failure to understand body language. Failure to understand language. Failure to be able to bend and flex in ways that everyday surprises in a routine can demand. Failure to understand “why?”. Failure to be able to communicate their internal rules, or to understand that others do not share those same rules.
People with neurotypical “wiring” and resiliency find these changes pretty navigable, and coping with them to be pretty straightforward (for the most part.) For someone with non-neurotypical “wiring”, however, coping with these changes and challenges can take everything they have. Eventually there just is nothing left with which to cope, and the result is failure, profound anxiety and Defense Mode.
These failures are frustrating. They increase our rigidity, because whatever safe space remains inside is worth protecting. They shut us down - if all we do is fail, why keep trying? Why push through the difficulty? Why bother figuring life out? This line of thinking can keep a person shut down for quite a while.
This is the time to seize the opportunity for reframing! Reframing is the ability to change one's perspective to look at problems differently in an attempt to understand them and process better solutions. How do we reframe failure? I’m so glad you asked!
Failure is iterative success. That means that when you fail, you get to try again with more information, which will bring you closer to success. It is time to teach our kids the resiliency to stretch into these patterns of trying again and again, ultimately sticking through the entire journey.
Please keep in mind: when meltdowns occur, there are reasons. People and even animals are not trying to be manipulative when they are being “difficult”. They are trying to get what they need. Exerting more control is rarely the answer.