Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How to (mostly) have patience when your child acts up

"In one post (I can't remember which) you mention having endless patience for your child. Really? I struggle with this so much," the email read. "My little girl is 3 1/2 and her more challenging behavior makes me want to scream with frustration. The refusal to eat by herself (even though she can), the fits of screaming in public places when we take her to something we had hoped she would like, the running away when we ask her to come, the constantly taking off her clothes (although I'm obviously proud of her new skill)... small things mostly but frustrating nonetheless. I end up feeling angry and resentful with her and wishing that life were easier, then guilty and wretched for not accepting her as she is. If I don't, who will? Endless patience? I wish! Do you have any advice?"

I instantly: 1) Knew how this mom felt; 2) Realized she must have mistaken my blog for one Mother Teresa used to write, or something like that. I most definitely do not have eternal patience, I told her, and have felt similarly distraught when Max has screechfests or refuses to do stuff I know he can do.

If we're at home, my go-to solution is to put Max in a place where he can lose it safely, like his bedroom, and let him cry or shout it out for a few minutes. Bonus: This gives me time to regroup. If I run out of patience I often let Dave take over, especially if we're in a public situation; he is less emotional about dealing with meltdowns. If we're at a restaurant, for instance, he'll grab Max and head outside.  

We've also learned that timing is everything. Max is most in danger of losing it when he's hungry, so we'll leave the house only when he's well fed—and give him a snack before we hit restaurants, so he's not starving. Headphones have helped with transitions. When Max screeches, I've been known to put them on myself. This has the effect of cracking Max up; distraction can work wonders, though it's not always possible.

Taking care of me helps, too. I try to grab time to relax every week, whether it's girls' night out or having an iced latte in a coffee shop and reading for a half hour. When I recharge, when I have treats to look forward to, I'm better equipped to handle whatever the kids throw my way. A time efficiency expert I once heard at a seminar recommended that on Sundays, you plan something fun for next weekend instead of leaving it to, say, Friday; it helps power you through the week.

Yes, sometimes I wish life were easier. But that comes with the gig of parenting a child with special needs, and it's nothing to feel guilty about. You'd be hard-pressed to find a parent who hasn't wished her child would behave differently—special needs or not.

What tactics help you deal when your child has a meltdown or acts out?


  1. We have left family functions without notice when it gets too hard on Sarah. She just can't tolerate all the chaos and noise. If we're at home and she gets that way, I know I need to put her on a computer chair and spin her (SPD). It seems to totally mellow her out and takes the stress out of her. Sometimes she needs a tight hug as well. Food is important. I'll glance at the clock and realize that it's been a few hours since she ate (she grazes all day) and once I give her some crackers or a banana, she's good!

    We all have our 'off' days. Five years old and I still get frustrated.

  2. I like your go-to solution everybody needs to vent, cry and whine once in a while :)

  3. When my daughter (2 1/2) starts throwing a fit or tantrum, I grab one of her dolls and make the doll do exactly what she's doing, crying and all! Once she sees how silly it is, she usually stops and starts laughing. Works like a charm!

  4. I think the world of blogging has something to answer for here... there are endless blogs about families & children and many (but not all) seem to screen out the harsher side of parenting, with or without special needs.

    You know them... the perfect dresses, the gorgeous captured moments, the artfully decorated rooms, the loving brother and sister shots, because that's the story that the blogger chooses to share with the world. Don't get me wrong, we all have permission to write our life stories as we choose on the 'net. But I'm sure there is a whole other side of family life for these bloggers - the 250 outtake photos where the kid looks awful, the never-written blog entry about the family day out that was a total embarrassing disaster, the lack of mention that that no one generally plays with your kid or how far behind they are on some milestones.

    In the Down syndrome community there are some blogs that showcase the superstar kids and mostly just make us parents of your 'average kid with downs' feeling like we've failed. Honestly, I love these kids and I read these blogs and I'm genuinely happy that the family is able to advocate for full inclusion or that their kid is somehow able to continue to read at grade level (tho' I'm skeptical) or has 65 best friends who invite them to all the parties. But I'm not sure that they all tell it like it really is - or more accurately, that they tell the good side like it is and choose not to share the bad side(s). Which results in many parents feeling alone in managing the very frustrations that this post shares - stubbornness, running away, tantrums, inappropriate behaviours and so on.

    Please don't misunderstand this comment - every blogger has the right and freedom to share whatever stories they want. It's just that some families are left looking at these blogs and photos and wondering where they have gone wrong. it's a whole new 'keeping up with the Joneses'!

    P.S. This blog? Tells it like it is :)

    1. I feel the same way. Sometimes I feel like--because of some of the blog posts--that other mothers got the "easy" kid with special needs and I got the difficult, challenging one. Sometimes, when I post "realness" I fear people will feel that I'm complaining. It's not complaining. It is real life. Thanks FunMumx3 for this. I thought I was the only one who sometimes felt this way. I do try to find the humor in raising my girl. But at times, that isn't easy either.

    2. FunMumx3 - my friend just wrote a post about this very thing on her blog. Check it out if you are interested. It is a good read :-)


  5. Oh, and my thoughts on the actual issue? :)

    Work as much as you can on signing or picture communication if speech is an issue - it's amazing how much frustration disappears with the increased ability to express needs and wants in an appropriate way.

    Regular practical parenting stuff - don't go to the grocery store with a hungry kid, don't to to restaurant with a kid who has an empty belly either. Nothing I love more than having a raging hunger and sitting down to a great meal, but doesn't work with kids - any kid.

    Share the load - find a trusted caregiver and go do the groceries/errands, etc. by yourself.

    And remember... it will pass. Probably a lot slower than with your typical kid, but it will pass. Stay calm and eat cupcakes.

  6. If we are at home when my son throws a fit we try the usual (see if he is hungry, has dirty diaper, etc) but if he persists in the fit we put him in his bed until he settles down. If we're out and about then we try to remove them from the situation if possible. Tag team w/ my husband or whoever if I have another adult with me. If necessary we'll pack everyone up and go home.

    I appreciate knowing I'm not the only mom who wants to pull her hair out (or my child's) sometimes.

  7. if i'm out and about i put my 3.5 yr old in his carseat (strapped in) for tantrums and it works well because he can't be destructive. getting him to the car is usually quite the show.

    at home, he has a corner that works sometimes. when he's in a really aggressive and destructive mood, i put him in a room where he can do the least amount of damage, and come in every 3 minutes to see if he's calm(er). this can go on for ages... but his psychiatrist recommends checking in so there isn't any abandonment stuff going on.

  8. I mostly keep reminding myself that ALL 4 year olds have tantrums out in public places, and I shouldn't expect him to act any differently from all the other kids his age just because he's in a wheelchair and has CP. That said, I seem to feel more bothered when he has these fits in public, because I feel it reflects poorly on his disability, and makes him appear less capable then he really is - like people blame the disability for his tantrum, not just the fact that he's a 4 year-old.

  9. Depends on how tired I am and how bad the meltdown is - I either let her just get it out of her system, but if it goes on for long enough and I am afraid that she will explode etc., I might take her on to my lap and just comfort her through it. If I am in a bad mood already, I will occasionally yell right back at her and tell her that she will have a time-out if she doesn't calm down, but that doesn't usually help.

  10. When the girls were tiny, singing their favorite songs--over and over and over--usually helped relieve their stress. Now the "silly strategy" --acting in a goofy way to crack them up (not much of a stretch for me, really) helps cut short a spinout, though not always. We also make sure they're well-fed and not tired--like any other kids, they get grumpy when sleepy or peckish; they're just grumpy at a much greater volume :).

  11. My husband will try the battle of wills strategy--without much success. My kids are like Everest like that.

  12. Beautiful post Ellen xx at 8 Coop is relatively tantrum free but intensely stubborn, strong willed and sometimes a real twit! I have no patience with whining, I mainly just act like a kid too until Andrew steps in as the adult! ;) I totally agree with "me" time really supporting positive parenting xx

  13. I second everything that Ellen said. And forgiving yourself when your patience is thin and you lose it. ;)

  14. My daughter with special needs is now 33. She still has melt-downs. And at this point, it hurts my heart. I shut down. Big time. I guess I thought it would get better, easier as she aged. And it has. It truly has. She is living an independent life, but at times, she explodes. Mainly at me. Once she told me she felt she could do that because I was her Mom. At that moment, I wanted to be removed from that position and take a different one. Who likes to be yelled at or screeched at or verbally abused. I don't allow verbal abuse from my daughter, but once she explodes, it is difficult to pull her around until she calms. Most of the time I quit talking and leave the room (if I can). I tell her when she is calm we will discuss her issue. And again, my daughter is doing so much better than in the past. I guess I see this huge improvement and have hope. Then another explosion, and I feel like we are back at square one. Thank you for not being Mother Theresa. Neither am I. I'm just the best mother I can be at any given moment in time. :-)

  15. I'm 13 and frustration is hard for me because I can't always get my words out. I also feel stupid in new things, so I may be afraid to try.

  16. I don't have much advice because there are many times that I feel the same way, I just wanted to thank you, Ellen, for writing about this and posting this Mom's question as it makes me feel better knowing I am not alone.


Thanks for sharing!

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