The two most effective questions I need as a parent are: why is something happening? & Does it really matter? It is so easy for us to jump from what is happening to how we need to deal with it. If we don’t take a step back and focus on the why then things are not going to change.
As parents it’s our responsibility to teach our children what is ok and what isn’t. It is so easy to find ourselves parroting phrases we heard as kids ‘You need to finish your meal before you leave the table’, ‘I have told you a thousand times’. But when we stop to think about what we have said do we actually agree?
I also know this is easier said than done but it has made so much difference to me when I have taken time to look at why and if something matters. If something keeps happening then I find its really important for me to spend a bit of time on why it is happening.
Sometimes it is pretty obvious why something is happening. For example we can usually spot hangry signs! When our kids are tiny and crying it usually comes down to being tired, hungry or in pain. Even as adults this is always a good place to start when someone is angry / snappy ask yourself are they hungry / tired or in pain. As our kids get older there are a lot more reasons behind behaviour making it harder to always know ‘why’.
You may be familiar with the Iceberg model, this is where we often focus on what we can see above the surface. However if we don’t look beneath the surface we are missing quite a lot! So look a little deeper!
When you know why something is happening it can be easier to avoid stressful triggers or at least be prepared for them in future.
So how do I work out why something is happening?
This is the hard bit and when its something complex it will take time to work it out. You need to become a detective and start collecting that evidence. It is really important to avoid making assumptions and spend time considering all the evidence.
Think about what is actually happening, what is the actual behaviour you want to stop i.e. child hitting sibling. It needs to be specific. Then start collecting your evidence:
- What – what is actually happening, what was said?
- When – when did it happen (time of day, is it a school day, is it every week after PE?)
- Where – where are you? inside / outside / in the kitchen?
- Who – who else is there?
- Environment – what is the weather like, is it noisy, is there sensory related triggers?
You also need to make sure you have your autism hat on, if your child is autistic they will likely be experiencing the world differently to you. Could it be sensory related? A communication issues? Trouble with transition, social expectations and so on. This is often where we can find the why difficult because it may have been something less obvious to us.
I find when I get really stuck asking advice from other parents is usually a great place to start. My Facebook group The Autism Page Network might be helpful for this.
Does it Really Matter?
When you have thought about what is happening and why, you will need to take the time to consider if it really matters. So often we conform to social rules because it is the norm without even considering if it matters. When my kids are struggling with food issues I’m not going to force the use of a knife and fork if they are happy eating with their hands. In that moment what matters most is that they are eating.
Having said that what matters and when it matters will be very different for each family and setting. You need to work out what matters to you and why. Also consider everyone involved and where compromise might be necessary for everyone involved.
Who does it matter too? When I am walking round Tesco and my son is making noises that make people look at him he couldn’t care less. In fact he probably isn’t even aware people are making faces at his noises. The person that it matters to is me, because as much as I shouldn’t care, I do get embarrassed / stressed when people are judging me / my child. However this is an issue for me to work on not my son, he is perfectly happy and no one is being harmed. This is just an example to show why we need to think about if it matters and if it really needs to change or how / who needs to change.
I know time is not something many of us have but when you are struggling with something it is really worth taking some time to work it out. It will save you a ton of time in the future.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to sign up to The Autism Page mailing list while you are here.
I always find the ‘Does It Matter?’ part of parenting quite tricky and remembering that sometimes you just have to let the little things go. As you say, something for me to work on rather than my children! #KCACOLS
Took me a while to get better at asking myself if things matter. Once it started making a big difference I did it more often.
Your posts are thought provoking#kcacols@_karendennis
As an autism parent, these tips are perfect. The why behind the struggle and what else is happening around it are so important. Unfortunately, we can’t necessarily trust what the kid says is behind the behavior…they might not really know so we have to act as detective. Great tips. #KCACOLS
Oh my, this is a great plan for kids AND adults. Does it really matter? Who does it affect? Why? This is a great conversation to have with self and spouse and kids. Being metacognitive and mindful of our choices, societal expections, and triggers is important. #KCACOLS
This is an interesting and very important post. I think it’s easy to get lost in the small things when you’re striving for perfection, but stepping back and applying these tools really makes you assess the situation with rationale. #KCACOLS
Thank you 💓
Interesting. Good reminder -for everyone, not just those with autism. #KCACOLS
Very true, makes a difference for everyone
Great post. Being able to pick your battles and let some things go is such an important skill for everybody to learn, not just in parenting #KCACOLS
Thanks so very much for saying all this! My parents and even some mental health professionals so often skipped the “why” step even when it was pretty obvious at least to me and went straight to behavior-modification/punishment. I remember one situation very clearly when I was in my early stages of being in a psych hospital in which one nurse had promised me on Thursday night to discuss something with the doctor Friday morning, but by Friday morning she not only dismissed me but told me she wasn’t my assigned nurse for the day, then when I had a meltdown the staff sent me to time-out.
As for your child’s noises, that’s so true that you’re the one feeling embarrassed about it and, since no-one is harmed, why should he change? Again, I was told, by my autism-diagnosing psychologist nonetheless, that I should unlearn to stim by twirling my hair, because it was a “severe social handicap”. This was while I was in a mental crisis and struggling with very dark thoughts, so I had better things to work on. #KCACOLS
Thanks Astrid. It’s so sad that so many people just don’t understand that there is always a reason behind behaviour and it is really rare for behaviour to be actually targeted at others it is almost always a reflection of something going on for the individual. Such a vital thing we all need to understand. I am sorry you have had to deal with this so much and I know I have been guilty in the past of misunderstanding behaviour. Thankfully I get it now and hope this will make a big difference to my kids. It’s so important that they are supported when finding something difficult not blamed or shamed. The stimming thing is so sad I really wish I didn’t feel any embarrassment about it but I guess that’s years of being socialised to believe we behave a certain way. I love watching the joy my kids get from stimming and hope that society gets better at accepting it.
Really thought provoking post x #kcacols
Thank you for reading x
Awesome post! I think it’s so important to consider what the behaviour communicates, what’s behind it. And as you say, is it actually a significant problem? If it’s just ‘unusual’ and not harmful to anyone, then it’s probably best to just accept it (or meet the need it signals, if that’s the case). Trying to change behaviours that are purposeful to the individual, and not hurting anyone, can often cause other (potentially more problematic) issues x #KCACOLS
It’s the best way to look at any situation makes so much difference when you can step back and look at why and if it matters. Really changed my outlook on life in general