Recently a number of families I work with have been stymied by their children getting stuck. These are children with Asperger Syndrome, nonverbal learning disability, obsessive compulsive disorder, or some combination of those. During the course of a normal day, these kids hit road blocks that trigger outbursts. Often the cause is a change in plans that seemed inconsequential to you. You might say, “On our way home, I’m stopping at the grocery. Want to come in?” Child: “Nooooo. You always do this, etc.” Or you might say, “Your brother has a friend over.” Child: “I won’t go in the house.” Or on a pleasant family outing to an ice cream store you say, “They’re all out of confetti sprinkles, but they have the chocolate ones.” Child: “Noooooo.”
Any one of these scenarios can trigger an outburst that could last five to forty minutes or more.
You get the picture, and you have been there. It is very frustrating for a parent to deal with this behavior. It can seem as though your child is incredibly self-centered, immature or badly behaved. When it happens in public, it is embarrassing.
You have a child who is wired to be rigid. Imagine what it must feel like to have your anxiety peak over a minor change in routine. Imagine that you are headed down the track on a bobsled run and suddenly the track has new turns. You skid, you careen, and you might be pretty anxious and angry. I think that is a little of what these children experience. The emotional discomfort triggers the outrageous behavior.
So what is a parent to do?
First, consider the last paragraph about what a child experiences. Try to have some empathy for your child. It’s a tall order, but it is very helpful.
When your child is out of control, concentrate only on what will help him or her settle down. This means that you cannot argue or reason with him at this time. You simply do not have a rationale partner for this. On the other hand, I don’t mean offer him the world so he will quiet down. Just don’t make it worse by arguing and scolding. That means that you might be in a fairly awkward situation, but there is nothing to be done about it then – once your child is out of control the “horse has left the barn,” so to speak.
When your child is calm, you can address the situation again if it is still relevant. But the passage of time may have changed this.
Punishments are not helpful this type of problem. Your child needs to learn to recognize his or her emotional discomfort and learn coping strategies. No amount of punishment or reward can teach this.
Using empathy, begin a conversation with your child about how to manage the outbursts. Consult a psychologist if you need to, to help with this. Once your child is learning some strategies, incentives can be helpful to motivate him or her to use them.
Good luck. This is a long process. Because it has to do with neural networks, it will take some time for your child to learn to cope with it. The important thing to understand is that you do not have a spoiled child – you have a rigid one with poor coping skills.
Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. ( http://www.drcarolynstone.com/ ) educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at http://www.drcarolynstone.com/blog/.
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