B is for Behaviour

Bad behaviour is something I don’t abide by, especially coming from my children. What constitutes bad behaviour in my books? Well, when the children ignore me when I’m talking, tops the list. When my children walk away in the middle of me telling them what I’d like them to do, is another, albeit this doesn’t happen often.

I don’t tolerate rudeness either. I consider my children raising their voices at me as rudeness. I also feel that eye-rolling and sullenness when they’re being told off as showing rudeness. And the worst thing my kid can do is to hit me. This has happened when one of them was little.

But what if they weren’t doing all my pet behavioural peeves on purpose? What if these behaviours were a response to something else, like triggers in the environment, for example, and they were merely instinctive patterns of behaviour?

In the book, Open lashes out at a classmate. He’s had enough and there wasn’t enough time for him to register his emotions and his automatic response—the fight response—kicked in.

Children don’t come with instruction manuals, unfortunately. There is no STOP button to press when they’re pushing all your buttons. As you respond to their challenging behaviours either negatively or positively, children also respond in their individual ways when their buttons get pushed. Open’s buttons got pushed that day when he hit out.

The many parenting guidebooks out there are good for tried and tested ways of managing bad behaviour from your children. I’ve read a few and to date, I haven’t one that I could recommend any parents. Don’t get me wrong, all the books written are written with good intentions. But…

…Our children are all different. They are all individuals and one method that worked for your elder kid may not work for the second and/or subsequent children. I know this because my elder child is different from my second. Thank goodness I only have two when the second manifests one of the bad behaviour patterns that I abhor. She throws a face at me when she’s been told off. Yes… I understand: who likes to be told off, right? To date, I still find this challenging behaviour hard to ignore. I try my best but I must admit that I’m almost always close to hitting that elusive STOP switch that could possibly “beam me up” somewhere. There are times, I behave rather badly too. I throw a little fit or tantrum because I got reactive rather than proactive.

At the same time, I’m thankful that my kids are neurotypical children. They come round soon enough and will apologise for their perceived bad behaviour. Then, mummy-guilt sets in and I too come round to how I’ve perceived their behaviour as bad. I ask for clarification, I explain why I was ticked off and they tell me why they threw a face at me…. slowly but surely, we patch things up and come to a place of understanding.

But what if you’re someone parenting an individual on the autism spectrum? What do you do? My heart goes out to these brave and courageous folks who have to deal with challenging behaviours constantly.

I’ve been researching challenging behaviours lately because my second daughter has entered her tweenie years and is starting to get quite challenging.

From time to time, all children can and do behave in ways that parents and carers find challenging to deal with. But kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are more likely to manifest challenging behaviours. But it is good to know that children and teenagers on the autism spectrum do not purposely:

  • ignore or refuse to listen
  • throw tantrums
  • behave in a socially inappropriate manner
  • engage in repetitive self-stimulating behaviours or
  • hurt themselves and others for no reason.

There are reasons for the behaviours they manifest. Knowing what these reasons are will help you to manage them. Finding out strategies will help you help your child cope with his or her emotions.

If you’re parenting an autistic child, don’t despair. There are many support groups in your communities that can offer assistance and advice. Additionally, besides being a great resource, support groups are spaces where you can reach out to even if you only want to moan about a bad day. Support groups are also great for asking questions to other parents who may have had similar experiences to yours—“My child had a meltdown in the supermarket, what do I do to prevent this?”, “My child finds it hard to go to sleep at night, what can I do?” and/or “My daughter can’t stop biting her hand, help, anyone?”

Children often behave “badly” [notice I’ve placed this adverb in inverted commas] for many reasons that they cannot explain to you verbally. Understanding what triggers these behaviours is very useful in managing or even pre-empting such behaviours. They don’t mean to be bad, they are just trying to tell you something.

I know that my elder child gets very grumpy, edgy and anxious when her sugar levels are low. This is usually when she’s hungry and food is late being served. Hence, mealtimes are consistent in our home—we eat at the same time every day. If we were out and about, I made sure to carry healthy snacks with me, so that she gets replenished without spoiling her appetite for the big meal that’s coming soon.

My other kid gets anxious about social activities and when she’s around friends, and will often pull a face when I’m talking to her. I’ve come to understand why after many conversations and we have come up with a sign between us as a “warning” signal for her to stop or to tell her I’ve had enough.

One strategy I read about to help autistic children who find it difficult to communicate verbally is signs or messages written out that they can use to tell you when they’ve had enough. This is what Victoria of Starlight and Stories have to say:

“MAKE SOME TIME OUT CARDS

Often when students start to become upset they find it difficult to put their feelings into words. They can find it difficult to approach the teacher appropriately and worry that their friends will laugh at them. Their fight or flight response therefore kicks in, and you are left wondering why a child has just run out of your classroom and whether they are going to be safe.

A simple piece of paper saying ‘I need to leave the room now please’ printed or handwritten and then laminated can make all of the difference. Agree on the rules for time outs, where the student needs to go when they leave your room and how long they can be gone before needing to catch up on work (I usually say ten minutes, as I want students to have a chance to be able to calm down properly). Then when they become upset they simply need to hand over the card – no words are needed.” (source)

Since Victoria is an Autism Specialist Teacher and mother to an autistic child, this strategy pertains to classrooms. However, I find that this way of communication between parents and children could work too.

However, there will be times when it’s all too late and your child has had enough but haven’t had enough time to register what’s bothering him or her and throws a gigantic wobbly that you can’t stop. I’ve had moments like these too and my kids are not autistic.

When this happens, take a deep breath and let your child get on with it. Ignore the stares from passersby and let your child get on with it. I’ve had moments when I’ve had to hold on to my second daughter when she has had a meltdown. Hugging her tight helped her calm down. Of course, this is a strategy that worked for me. Do what works for you because you know your child best.

Here’s to every parent who is trying their very best—kudos to you.