Notice the title of this article isn’t: “how to love your autistic child,” or “how to love your SEN child?” That’s because a challenging child can happen to anyone. Additional needs or not.
Cards on the table: I’m going to come right out and say that parenting my own challenging child is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It pushes me to my very limits, whilst simultaneously making me feel like an absolute failure. I have never felt so torn in my life. Every tiny decision I make has to be carefully considered. All options weighed up, to ensure it doesn’t end in complete catastrophe.
The seemingly smallest thing can have the biggest knock on effect. We can be having a lovely time one minute, and the playing field can dramatically shift thirty seconds later.
All emotions are felt. Every. Single. Day!
I have to be on my game, one step ahead, the entire time. Otherwise it’s meltdown central. I probably don’t need to tell you how exhausting it is, especially on such broken sleep.
So I thought I’d write down some of the things I’ve learnt on my journey of loving my challenging child. It’s more to remind me than anything else, but I figured someone somewhere might also find it useful.
In the heat of the moment, it’s best to say nothing
Zip your lips and throw away the key. Honestly, in the midst of sparks flying, it is best for all concerned to keep your mouth shut. I’m not ashamed to admit that this is my own biggest challenge, especially during certain times of the month. It’s crucial though. Which brings me nicely onto my next point.
Don’t be afraid to self-reflect
We absolutely must be kind to ourselves, because we ALL mess up. Me usually on a daily basis. However we must also be willing to look in the mirror and admit when something is our fault, so we can find ways to do it differently (and better) next time. Having a challenging child on your hands will test your patience, strength and faith in life. It’s vital to work as a team though, and find solutions to your troubles together.
Offer comfort, but be prepared to give it on their terms
In parenting fantasies, before I had any of my own children, I used to think that spats with kids would be easily rectified. A few hugs, a few sorry’s and voila, everyone has made up. In reality, it simply does not work like this with a challenging child.
They can be spiky beyond belief, and even when they’ve been the root cause of the destruction, they will more than likely think they are the victim. I always offer comfort, but I’ve learnt that it often isn’t taken up when I think it will be. But when they are ready to accept the love, they will come and ask for it.
Do not, ever, compare your children to each other or to anyone else’s kids
It would be easy for me to get into the mindset that my high functioning autistic eldest daughter Polly is always the most challenging child, but this isn’t actually true. All three of my kids have their moments.
If 3yo Freddy has had a particularly fitful night, and is running on four hours of broken shut eye, he can be exceptionally challenging. If 5yo Clara is unwell or not sleeping great it has a massive effect over her ability to communicate without screaming in faces. They are so different from each other and other kids we know, that it would be deeply unfair on all parties to compare them.
This is obvious, but when tempers are lost and fury is in the air, kindness can all be but forgotten. As the adults however, we need to summon the strength from somewhere, somehow, to rise above it (which I know, is so much easier said than done). If we aren’t being kind to our kids, how can we expect them to be kind to each other?
Start the day with a clean slate
No matter what happened yesterday, or last week, we absolutely must start each day with amnesia. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning if I was holding grudges for the things that have gone on inside these four walls. My husband has a great mantra:
“Only love today”
It’s a good one to hold close.
Respite is utterly essential
Not just for the primary caregiver, but a break from the challenging behaviour is super important for the whole family. We’re only too aware that Clara and Freddy suffer when times are super tough, so it’s essential to give them a break from the doom and misery. A few hours love bombing, going to the cinema or being taken swimming on their own with just hubby or I is a real treat for them. It goes a long way to repair the hurt that they’ve endured.
As for us parents, life cannot be 100% about the children 100% of the time. We all need a break from the norm now and then, and especially when we’ve got a challenging child on our hands. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing for our kids to see that we have a bit of a life outside of them.
Are you parenting a challenging child? What have you learnt on your own journey? I’d love to hear from you!