Parenting can be the most joyful experience we can know. It can also be the most difficult, heart-wrenching trauma in our lives.
Before a diagnosis is made, we know the confusion and despair we battle hourly. After an evaluation is completed, and therapy has begun, there is finally hope. But we still have a long road ahead of us in terms of coping, patience, and managing the day to day strain of living with these disorders. How do we survive this? It’s not easy, but we can do it. All that can be asked of us is the best we are capable of.Now, how to discover our best? We need to work on ourselves as much as we work with our children. We feel overwhelmed, anxious, hurt, angry, guilty, and sleep deprived, usually. What to do?
1.) Take a good honest look at your emotional and physical state. Are you suffering from depression you can’t shake? This is common, and most of us have dealt with this. Before you can be of any help to your child, you must help yourself. A depressed parent is no good for a kid. Face it. Physically, prolonged anxiety and worry can result in the manifestation of physical problems. Ulcer acting up again? Recently learned more than you ever wanted to know about chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia? Migraines get you down? See your doctor, and get treatment.
2.) Make the call. Whether you call a local mental health agency, a support group in your area, or an individual therapist, force yourself for the love of your child, if not yourself, to make that first phone call. After that it gets easier. The hardest step is admitting that we may need help just as much as our children. But it is absolutely vital to attend to our own needs. You will find that you enjoy that time spent each week in reflection, or letting off steam. You will begin to feel stronger, and your ability to cope with the hourly burdens will improve as you begin to take care of yourself.
3.) Start a YOU list. A real, on paper, list of things that occur to you each day that used to be things you enjoy. Put that list on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror so you are forced to look at it. Add items as you think of them. This may begin with a simple “I want to live”. Increase the number of things you enjoy. Rediscover yourself as you remember who you are and what you like, apart from anyone else. Some thoughts could be: “ I like a bath all by myself. I like to eat a meal without bickering. I like to read a good book.” In time you will expand that list, and include wonderful things you had forgotten yourself. Did you once like to make crafts for the holidays? Work in the tool shed? Remember who you were before, and think about who you are now. Think selfishly, for once. Allow yourself to just remember the songs, activities, and events that please and calm you. Write it on your list.
4.) Each day do something on that ever-growing list of you. At this point it doesn’t even matter much what it is, just do it. Begin to think of yourself as a person who is worth a moment of your time. We cannot take good care of someone else if we are at the bottom of our own totem poles. It is easy to rationalize that we cannot make the time, or that we do not have the opportunity. But ask yourself if you want your life to get better? If the answer is yes, then you must create the time and opportunity to let it happen.
5.) Now start a stress list. Note as the day passes, which events, or difficulties, bothered you the most. Were you yelling? Note why. Did you lose it and smack little Johnny? Write down what was happening. Forget the guilt for a moment (we can always find time for guilt) and work on identifying what is blowing your cool. We all want to be composed parents, who never lose our tempers, right? The path to that ideal is, first, take a look at the most immediate stresses, and help ourselves with them. This is how we begin to learn coping skills.6.) Take that stress list to the therapist. Yes really, your child’s therapist. Let her know that these behaviors in your child are the most difficult ones you are dealing with right now. You will be amazed at the wonderful, positive ideas that they will offer for you to try. And do try. The “1-2-3-MAGIC” video worked well for many parents. You will begin to find positive discipline that works, and that will work for you. As you literally take note of each thing that causes you anxiety throughout the day, ask yourself these questions: “What can I do to make this easier? Is this something within my control? Is this a situation where I need to learn how to say no? Is this issue strictly my child’s problem?” Can you admit to yourself that we cannot control other people or their actions, but we can certainly limit their influence on our lives?
7.) Hold your temper to the count of three. That’s all you need to do to begin increasing your coping skills, and lowering the threshold of steam accumulation. Let your child know that her behavior is unacceptable to you. You will give her to the count of three to cease and desist, or she must go to her room, and may come out when she is ready to behave properly. And mean it. Draw that line in the sand. They need it, you must have it. Insist in a loving way. Brook no opposition. You may count very fast if the situation warrants it, or if you feel yourself sliding into insanity. Later, as therapy progresses you will work on helping your child learn to think through her actions, and consequences. But in the beginning, or when you are emotionally too depleted, you may want to try a simple 1-2-3 YOU’RE OUT! This is a safety net for your child as well as you. They need to know that you will do them no harm, and you need a stop-mute button, to be able to calm yourself. When the child re-enters the room or family, as long as the offensive behavior has stopped, do not chastise. That was all you asked for, after all. Stop that madness, and when they do, let it go. It worked.
8.) You pick your battles. Separate the severity of your child’s behaviors. How important is it, really, if little Susie wears different colored socks? Will the world come to an end if you are three minutes late for anything? These children have so little in their lives under their control. Not their bodies, not their emotions, not their fears, and they desperately need to feel in control of something. So ask yourself, is it really worth the battle? Is this a truly nonnegotiable issue? There may be reasons for their behavior you do not yet understand. Maybe they truly cannot bear something you want them to do. Or maybe they just need to feel they can make some decisions about something. Allow yourself to give them a break, by asking yourself just how important is this battle, anyway. Ninety percent of the time, it isn’t worth it. The other ten percent, kindly stick to your guns.
9.) Throw away the guilt. I mean it. You are SO NOT alone. All of us, at some point, criticized our child for behaviors, we later discovered he could not help. We crawl in guilt. We cringe. We curse ourselves. We believe we must be the worst parents on the face of the earth. You know we do. Because we care. Because we truly love our babies, and die a little inside when we know we have hurt them, even unintentionally. It is time to get better. Time to let go of all that, and help our children, our families, and ourselves. We no longer have the time or luxury to wallow in it. As you heal emotionally, beginning to make time for yourself, working on alleviating each stressful thing one by one, you will see, slowly, surely, that your child is improving, and there is no time or room for that, anymore.
10.) Teamwork is essential. You, your child, his doctor, the therapist, and his teacher are a team. Think of them as your co-parents. You will help each other, support each other, confide in each other, until they truly become family. You are not in this alone. You can accept help, because by now you have realized that you need it. You can allow it, because by now you know it is really helping. You are learning new ways to relate and help your child, and new ways to help yourself. You can reach out to other parents who are just coming into therapy, and smile. You look back six months, and see the wonderful changes in your lives. And you will find yourself telling the next anxious, tired, overwhelmed newbie parent that it will be okay. Hang in there. It will get better, and find you truly mean it.
Copyright © Michelle Morris. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author:
Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with a Sensory Processing Disorder. She is whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families with SPD children. She has published over 30 articles supporting and educating parents about SPD.
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