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Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Five techniques to calm an angry child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition affecting between one in eighty eight and one in one hundred children. It was recently redefined in the new diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) and many people are confused about how to understand the new criteria.

People with ASD must now show “persistent deficits” in two separate “domains”. These are (1) social communication and social interaction impairments and (2) restricted, and repetitive patterns of behavior.  There must be at least two repetitive behaviors in addition to social communication deficits. These can include “stereotyped or repetitive motor movements”, “insistence on sameness or inflexible adherence to routines”, “highly restricted, fixated interests”, or hypo or hyper reactivity to sensory input.

Parents of children with ASD are familiar with the phrase that if you have met a child with ASD, you’ve met one child with ASD. The severity of the condition is so variable, that it is impossible to present any stereotype of an ASD that makes sense, but there is still good evidence that parents of children with ASD live with behavioral problems on a semi-regular basis. Learning to manage these behaviors can make parent’s lives much easier.

Change who’s in control by “Entering and Blending”

There is a concept in the marital art Aikido called “entering and blending” that shows great promise in managing the aggression that can occur with ASD.

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By entering you step towards your attacker, positioning your feet so that they are slightly aside of the attackers path and then making “close and authoritative contact”. If an ASD child is pushing towards you, let their energy come at you as you move to the entering position, then firmly but gently, grasp their wrist or hand, and turn to go with them. In doing so, you are signaling your willingness to engage, whilst still providing yourself with a path to let the energy pass by without harming you.  There should be no pain or aggression in this action.

By entering you have also blended with the child by coming to face in the same direction as they are moving, and most importantly, you are looking at the situation from their viewpoint without giving up your own viewpoint that their behavior is unacceptable.

Entering and blending can also be a verbal technique that allows you to avoid responding to every sentence your child says with a counter sentence and perpetuating the argument. By blending and entering we give a little, turn to see their viewpoint, and try to resolve the situation from that position using their words.

It’s a powerful technique.

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Change the Stimulation Level

ASD may have a sensory component, and increasing or decreasing stimulation can be a useful way to control an explosive situation. There’s a lot of experimentation required, because not every ASD child will react in the same way. For some, turning the lights down may be intolerable and induce profound anxiety, whereas others will find the reduction of stimulation to be soothing.

One clue can be found in “stimming”; self stimulatory behavior where repetitive motions or sounds are made by the child in response to their sensory situation. Stimming can occur when children are happy or sad. My son likes to flap his hands when he’s having a great moment.  He also kicks the floor in a particular way when he’s happy or angry. It’s important to watch well and keep notes about what triggers stimming.

Stimming can tell you exactly what’s going on – or completely confuse you – but it is at least some real evidence of what the mood of the day is. If you can find a “happy” stimming situation, try to adapt the current sensory input to match that situation. If there are only negatives then remove the triggers for these and see if the situation improves.

Change the conversation

One of the key elements of an ASD diagnosis is repetitive behavior or fixation on certain types of objects or concepts. My son has been through a range of such fixations. The first occurred at the age of two when we had to stop every time he saw a flag and take it home with us. This morphed into the world of drains, and he and I spent many a cozy day standing over a drain and discussing its most intricate life story. Then came sharks and we’ve finally settled (for now) on marines.

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While it can be very difficult to maintain a conversation about drains for two hours at a time, I can rest assured that if I can shift the topic to something he is interested about then we can engage. Then I can direct the conversation and tease it around to the problem at hand. Patience is essential.

Change mood through exercise

The literature on the relationship between mood and exercise is extensive. If you can get the blood moving then endorphins will fire, and a euphoric feeling, sometimes called a “runners high”, can change your mood. Nowhere is this more true in children who have fewer filters and access to a more immediate response to endorphins.

You probably aren’t going to get your child to go for a run when they are really angry. Try instead for small gains; keep them walking around after you, even if that means a trip around the entire house four or five times. Chances are they’re so keen to yell at you that they’ll come without even knowing what they are doing. It’s a dirty trick, but it works.

Sometimes simple things like tickling work. It’s hard to be angry if someone is tickling you, but be sure that they aren’t so angry that you’ll just make it worse. Get down on the floor with them, wrestle, tickle and just turn a tantrum into fun. Sometimes they’re really just bored and a little physical engagement can do the trick.

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Change the Scene

We’ve touched on the fact that some anger is a product of boredom, and one of the best antidotes to boredom is a change of scenery. Walk outside. Don’t ask them to come and they probably will anyway because they are bored. Sit down on the grass and start picking daffodils. Pass them carefully over and ask them to pick the petals off and place them in a pile. If they ignore you – fine.

Changing the scene is almost never something you want to ask the child about. Just do it, and you’ll ignore a load of negativity and pointless banter.

It’s important not to treat changing the scene as a reward for bad behavior. Do not take your child to the lego store because he had a tantrum. Instead have yourself or your husband make paper airplanes with him and try to get them all in the fireplace. Start a christmas list. The options really are endless in the modern day and age.

Don’t think that there’s a different, better child ‘hiding’ behind the autism. This is your child. Love the child in front of you. Encourage his strengths, celebrate his quirks, and improve his weaknesses, the way you would with any child. You may have to work harder on some of this, but that’s the goal. – Claire Scovell LaZebnik

Featured photo credit: Jonathon Kos Read via media.lifehack.org

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Published on January 24, 2020

5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Parenting is hard. It takes a great deal of effort to be even a decent parent. My husband and I are raising our three children ages 6, 6, and 7.

Yes, I have my hands full. Twin six-year-old boys and a seven-year-old girl keep me on my parenting toes, so to speak. It is not easy, but I do my best to be a good parent. Having a PhD in psychology is helpful, but I still devour plenty of parenting books and research articles to continually try to do better. I am still a work in progress just like all parents.

    It would be great if we knew exactly what to do and how to do it with our kids. But not all kids are the same and they are not born with a manual that provides us with instructions on how to raise them right. However, we do have research on parenting and psychology that can help us out and point us in the right direction.

    Below I have five tips on how to improve your parenting skills starting today! These tips are backed by research. The first step toward being a great parent is knowing how. It is difficult to be a good parent without knowing first and foremost the how and why.

    1. Practice Loving without Conditions

    Loving unconditionally seems like a given that we all assume we are doing as a parent. However, we may have behaviors or words spoken that undermine our ability for our children to feel unconditionally loved.

    For example, asking our child if he wants another mom when he is acting out is not practicing unconditional love. The message that is being sent to the child is that if they act out or misbehave, they are at risk of losing you as a mother, since you ask “do you want another mom” or “do you want to live somewhere else?”

    If you have ever made these statements, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent. However, if we want our child to feel loved unconditionally, then we need to stop saying things that make the child feel like the relationship could ever be severed because of their behavior.

    Another way to look at these threats is comparing them to threatening divorce. If you have ever been married, or lived in a home with married parents, then you know that when one person threatens divorce, it cuts to the core.

    Threatening divorce damages the relationship, because trust is lost. The other person begins to feel that that their relationship may not be forever, and that the relationship can be ended because their spouse is threatening divorce. Even if the person threatening doesn’t really mean what they are saying and they truly love their spouse, the words are damaging none the less.

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    The same principles go for parent and child relationships. If a child has been threatened with loss of their current home life, the parent leaving them, or being placed in foster care, then that child does not feel loved unconditionally. They will believe that love from their parent is contingent on their behavior. It is conditional love which means that they are only loved under certain conditions.

    My son Charlie has recently gotten into the habit of saying “I love you Mom” every time that he gets in trouble. He kicked the dog the other day. Not hard, but nevertheless he kicked our family dog. I was fuming. I yelled at him and he was sent to his room for a long time out (I know the yelling was not a good thing to do). I couldn’t even think of a consequence in the heat of the moment so I said “go to your room, I don’t want to see you right now, I will think about your consequence later.”

    He cried, and as he was running up the stairs and he was saying “I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy.” Why was he saying that? Because in his six-year-old mind, he is worried that I will stop loving him if he has bad behavior.

    Kids don’t know that we love them unconditionally. They are learning though and we must teach them that we do. My response in this situation and always is to say “I love you too.” I then usually follow it up with “I don’t like your behavior right now, but I will always love you.”

    Kids need to be told that they are loved regardless of their behavior. It needs to be ingrained that they are loved even if they act out, break the rules, or misbehave.

    An article by Elite Daily examined several research studies on unconditional love.[1] The findings from these studies showed that children become more well-adjusted, emotionally healthy, and physically healthy adults when they experience unconditional love in childhood. When children are exposed to conditional love in their parent-child relationship, the research showed that, children have higher levels of anxiety which in turn negatively affects their long-range health, such as heart health.

    Loving unconditionally means loving without conditions. Unconditional love is loving someone just the way that they are, flaws and all. Tell your children that you love them, even when they break the rules, misbehave, or they tell you that they hate you (most kids say this to their parents at some point in time).

    You must always respond with “I love you regardless of your behavior.” It doesn’t mean that you are accepting or allowing the bad behavior. There should always be reasonable consequences to match the behavior. However, they shouldn’t ever be made to feel that the love of their parent can be revoked because of bad behaviors.

    2. Develop a Bond That Will Last a Lifetime by Creating Memories

    You need to spend time with your kids in order to create a bond. Quality time matters, but so does quantity time.

    Kids want to be with their parents. Spend time together as a family. For example, make it a point to have dinner at the kitchen or dining room table at least a few nights a week. Make a rule that no technology is allowed at the table during that time, so that you can talk and spend time together.

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    Before you know it, that child will be grown and out of your home. Take the time to spend meal times together, talking and truly getting to know your child before they leave your home as an adult.

    Barking Up the Wrong Tree looked at research on how to create happy memories that last a lifetime. Some of the things discovered in the research included:[2]

    • Memories are made when our senses and emotions are elevated.
    • If we are pulling out the camera phone, it is likely an elevated experience that you want to remember.
    • Celebrating milestones and praiseworthy moments (graduations, winning seasons, etc.) helps to create positive lasting memories.
    • Struggling together creates a bond. If you have worked through conflict in your relationship and made it better in the process then you have created a bond. Fraternities haze, soldier fight together, and families overcome struggles together. These all make for lasting bonds. When you struggle together as a family, celebrate the success at the end of your victory, once you have overcome the challenge together.

    Take the time to make memories with your children. They are only little once. Go on those vacations, hike to the top of a mountain together, sail across an ocean, go camping, or teach them to ice-skate.

    Do anything and everything that will help create memories, bonds, and experiences that will last a lifetime in their memory. Those memories are what will carry them into old age with happiness in their heart.

    3. Stop the Yelling

    Yelling at our kids is not good parenting. Yet it is still happening on regular basis in most homes. I admit, I am still continually working on this one. I think this quote summarizes the situation.

      However, I know I need to continually work to not yell or raise my voice, as I would prefer a household with zero voices ever raised.

      Yelling causes our children to become anxious. It also affects them emotionally and mentally in a negative manner. If you have ever been yelled at by a boss or superior, you probably remember it and it is not a fond memory. It made you feel bad. It is hard enough to be reprimanded in a calm voice.

      When someone, whether adult or child, is yelled at while being reprimanded it causes anxiety, stress, and negative emotions to abound. When the yelling involves name calling or insults it becomes emotional abuse.

      Heathline Parenthood examined research on the topic of yelling and found that parents who yell at their kids end up with children who are more aggressive verbally and physically.[3] Children learn from their parents’ example. If yelling is a regular occurrence in your household, then your child is learning that when dealing with behavior or situations that they don’t like, it is appropriate to yell. None of us want to teach that to our children, so we must take action to stop the yelling.

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      Healthline provides some tips on how to stop yelling:

      • Know what triggers the yelling. What are the behaviors occurring or situations where you find yourself yelling at your children?
      • When you feel that you are going to yell, give yourself a time out or count to ten.
      • Practice responding in a calm, even tone. Practice makes the action a habit.
      • If you do yell, then admit the mistake and apologize to your child. They will then learn that it is not an acceptable behavior and that they too should apologize if they make a mistake and end up yelling. (Yes, I apologized to Charlie for yelling and he had to apologize to our dog Max.)

      My article about yelling less at your kids less is also helpful: The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out. This article outlines the steps to use the “one-ask” parenting approach. This approach is used to help parents follow up with consequences more quickly so that situations don’t escalate to worse behavior by the children and yelling from the parents. Some tips from this article on talking to your children without yelling include the following.

      • Get on their level, talking face to face in a calm voice.
      • Don’t make repeated threats about a consequence that is coming to them and wait for the situation to become more heated.
      • Follow through with the consequence (i.e. loss of playtime or time-out) immediately after they violate your warning. Don’t wait for them to repeat the bad behavior several more times. One warning is all that is needed. Then, if they break the rule or don’t obey, the consequence should be immediately implemented.

      If you find that your yelling is so entrenched in your daily behaviors that you have a hard time kicking the habit and you need more support, then buy, or find at your local library, the book Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake. Their tips were even featured on the Focus on the Family national radio program and were rated as a number one show for 2019. Their gentle parenting methods simply work.

      A quote from the book:

      “Peacemaking moms produce peacemaking kids.”

      Wendy and Amber also have a Facebook group that is free to join. It is Gentle Parenting with Amber and Wendy. In this group, you will find thousands of other parents looking for support to yell less in their homes. Check out the group if you want more connected support to stop yelling at your kids. I am a member of this group too. Nobody is perfect, but we can do better as parents by yelling less starting today.

      4. Provide Experiences Over Toys

      Toys are fun. But our kids don’t need an excess of overcomplicated, electronic, and expensive toys in order to be happy or develop in a healthy manner. Focusing on experiences over toys is a way to improve as a parent now.

      The next holiday or birthday that comes up, think about gifting your child an experience, for example, a year membership to the children’s museum or zoo. Another experience is a trip to someplace interesting such as a National Park. These experiences help to create memories. They also help to make your child a more well rounded individual as they are out in the world experiencing activities rather than sitting in their room playing the newest video game.

      Motherly posted a recent article that delved into the science that experiences are better for our kids than toys. Here is a quote from that article that is worth noting.[4]

      And if we need one more reason to cool it on the toy giving, researchers have discovered that gratitude and generosity increase when experiences are given instead of objects. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, conducted many studies over many decades and found that happiness is derived from experiences, not things. Bottom line: The happiness derived from a childhood experience is far more significant than the fleeting excitement of toys under the Christmas tree. Giving experiences that involve spending time together instead of gifting toys brings greater and longer-lasting joy. Don’t stress about the number of toys, mama. Focus on making memories.

      Creating family experiences and making memories go hand-in-hand. Our money and resources get more bang for their buck when they are used on experiences for the family instead of things. The research from the Motherly article shows that families are happier overall when they have more experiences together and less toys.

      5. Let Them Play and Be a Child

      Play and childhood development go hand-in-hand. However, the amount of playtime our children are getting has been diminishing in recent decades.

      We are so intent on our children learning, that we take away from their playtime. Play is learning. We need to get our children back to basic playtime so they can develop and learn in a natural way.

      Increase their playtime and limit the electronics. Research by Very Well Family found that too much technology is damaging to our children.[5] When children get too much time on electronic devices, their research found that children have sleep issues, obesity, behavior problems, academic problems, and emotional issues. Limit your children’s time on technology.

      According to We Can, we need to aim for less than two of screen time per day for our school aged children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends far less time for children under the age of five. We Can offers a free screen time chart so you can track your child’s time on digital devices.

      The goal is to get children playing and off the technology. Playing will help them developmentally. In my book Let Them Play, I explain the importance of play and provide 100 child developmental play activities. Some great play activities that promote development and learning that are listed in the book including Play Doh, magnet blocks, Legos, puppet shows, and hopscotch.

      Parents can teach their children different play activities while they actively play with their children. Fifteen or twenty minutes of playtime together can help to create bonding time between parent and child. Then the parent can allow their children to continue playing the activity on their own. This play time is crucial to the child’s healthy social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

      They are only little once. Let them be a child when they are little. Two-year-old children aren’t meant to sit at desks for hours completing school work. They were made to play, explore, and be active physically. This is how they learn and develop best.

      Final Thoughts

      These are not the only ways to improve as a parent. However, these are five ways that you can begin improving as a parent starting today.

      Nobody is a perfect parent, which means we all have room for improvement. Look at your own parenting methods objectively and decide where you can improve. Then do something about it.

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      Featured photo credit: Jonathan Daniels via unsplash.com

      Reference

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