Keep Calm and Carry On: Maintaining Peace During Tantrums
You can probably tell from other topics of mine, that my precious girl with Aspergers (or high functioning autism) gets overheated often. The Asperger Experts people would call this “Defense Mode” and I think that’s pretty accurate.
She’s already feeling intense, and has mild anxiety throughout the day, and then I come along and suggest she exchange that really dirty shirt she’s been wearing for three days for a clean one. The nerve!
Things get out of hand pretty quickly. Not only is this not a good habit for her, and unsafe for my other kids, it greatly disturbs the peace of our home and our relationships with her. Think of it as taking coins out of our love bank accounts. After awhile, we’re all feeling pretty drained.
Today was one of those days. It started difficult. Breakfast wasn’t right. The fun song we started our pre-school dance party with wasn’t fast enough. Seriously. It just got worse from there. Forget doing actual book learning. She was a tough customer, and I was pretty much on edge all morning.
I stepped into my office, otherwise known as “the bathroom” and put my head in my hands and waited for inspiration.
I’m joking. But I actually did come up with something that allowed me to resume normal activities back in the real world.
I reminded myself that she is different. Pretty simple. I spend a lot of time intentionally treating her the same, loving her the same. That’s appropriate for outward expressions. But the reality is she is different. If I expect her to respond to mild corrections like my other girls, I will continue to be sorely disappointed, or even incredibly frustrated. She’s simply not able to.
My new plan was to expect her to be different, and also to not respond to her bids for attention like I would if she were able to have self-control.
For example, if my youngest, neurotypical daughter were to whine about her milk and shove it across the table, I would give her a mild verbal correction or take her milk until she was ready to have self-control. I would react at an appropriate level. The challenge with children with Aspergers, is they react to SO MANY THINGS, sometimes ALL THROUGH THE DAY. I do not have enough energy in this body to handle it all.
So, this time, I did some serious ignoring while she stayed in tantrum mode. She slammed doors, she played the piano loudly in the next room while we were reading, and she basically tried to tell us in 100 ways “I’m mad”, oh and also “Stop ignoring me!”
I’m not minimizing the fact that she does need attention and that she’s not yet able to communicate in a more mature, controlled way. We do work on those things when it’s appropriate. But I also don’t want her to control the atmosphere of our home and allow her actions to rule my own emotions. Finally, I don’t want my other girls to constantly feel like they are second fiddle.
It’s a tough balancing act, no doubt.
When I take this laid-back approach to my daughter with Aspergers, something happens every time. She comes to me. Ultimately, she is a kind and loving person inside, who wants to be part of our day, and she wants to reconnect with me and know she and I are okay.
When I stay really cool and ignore her difficult behavior, she comes around. Recently she even apologized of her own accord, which was a FIRST EVER. She is gentle. She is sincere. She comes down. THEN and only then can we talk about what happened and how we both can do things differently. Today when we talked I even noticed she was staring right at my eyes. I can’t remember seeing that before. It was a little unnerving.
My calm and humility encourages hers. Everybody wins. I didn’t correct every thing she did or freak out that she broke something, even though my other girls would never intentionally do that. She’s different. And in this way I’m going to treat her differently. It seems to work. Most importantly, she feels loved and respected despite the upheavals, and we can re-connect more easily.
What do you do to manage your own emotions when things heat up?