One of the most important things we can do as parents is to monitor our ‘internal dialogue’ about ourselves and our kids. What I’m calling ‘internal dialogue’ are the things you say silently to yourself or otherwise think about over the course of your day. If you haven’t noticed yourself doing this, you probably will now, and you’ll find you do it a lot.
These things can be worries about the present (“We’re never going to be able to pay these bills.”) or the future (“He’s never going to be in a regular classroom is he?”). Or these can be concerns about your child’s progress (“He still hasn’t figured out how to put two lego blocks together.”) or how she’s falling further behind her peers (“Our neighbor’s son is now speaking in paragraphs, but she’s still barely using one word at a time.”) As you listen to your internal thoughts, you’ll hear these and countless other kinds of things going through your head.
The key here is that much of what goes through our minds during the day isn’t very positive. When things are difficult, this is just how it often goes. As a result, the weight of all this can make managing things that much more difficult, plus it makes it nearly impossible to maintain your perspective on life, your family, and your child. You know you need to marshall every bit of energy and drive that you can to do what your child needs you to do.
Here’s about the best and quickest way I’ve found to regroup, focus on some positives, and reset your perspective. You may think at first that this sounds a bit contrived, but to me it works. Plus it has made a big difference in my life.
What is it? Write down your concerns about your child or yourself and start rephrasing those statements as strengths.
Here are some examples of concerns and then one idea for how to rephrase them. Obviously, you’ll need to come up with your own and the way to rewrite them that works for you.
“Every time we get together with family, she goes off and paces on the other side of the room and won’t interact with anybody.”
Rephrased – “She’s aware enough of herself and her own needs to know when she’s overstressed, and she knows that going off by herself helps her regroup. We can build off her awareness and look for new coping strategies.”
“He’s so fixated on rocks. He could stare at them for hours, and he just collects them until they pile up in his room.”
Rephrased – “He has the kind of focus, analytical skills, and curiosity that could really benefit him someday if he finds a career as something like a researcher in geology. Plus, he’s been able to teach me all sorts of things about rocks that I never noticed before.”
“She can only communicate by pointing at pictures or dragging us to what she wants; she barely knows any words.”
Rephrased – “In spite of not being able to use ‘normal’ means of speech and verbal communication, she has developed and learned a way of communicating her needs and wants. It’s not easy to learn how to get your point across without words, but she has. I know how hard she has worked to do that.”
“He’ll just out of the blue melt down and start banging his head, and I don’t know why and it scares me.”
Rephrased – “He has discovered this way – as scary as it is to me – of telling us through his behavior that his sensory system has gone completely haywire. I can only imagine how scary and painful this must be to him, but the more we look for his cues and respond to them accordingly, the more he’ll be able to show us the signs before the meltdowns come. We can take that insight and build on it and figure out ways to address this. If we can hang in there and ask people for help, we’ll get through this.”
“He struggles so hard to figure out how to act appropriately in social situations. We have to review and rehearse and practice everything down to handshakes and saying ‘hello’.”
Rephrased – “He has been able to develop an incredibly complex internal database of social stories, appropriate responses to so many different things people might say to him, and lists of reminders for every situation, like always remembering to shake hands and make eye contact. How amazing it is that he can remember and manage as much of that information as he does!”
I think you can see what I’m getting at here. No matter what you think about this approach, sit down and try it. In some cases, this can be very hard to do if the behaviors or issues are particularly painful, like self-injurous behaviors. Try and stick with it.
Sometimes just saying, “This is really hard for me to deal with and I don’t know what to do, but we’ve made it this far and I’m going to ask for help to get us through this,” is a big step forward and can really change how you look at things.
Try writing down the first five concerns that come to your mind, and then work on rewriting each one as a strength, even if in some cases this requires a big leap. I believe that with a few minutes of work, you’ll discover what I’m talking about.
From there, the important thing is to take time often to continue working on this. Improving our outlook and perspective on things is one of the keys to helping our children overcome all the challenges they face. They rely on us, and the more of ourselves we can bring to them during the day, the better they will do. Plus, this is like running a marathon. The more we can regroup and refuel, the better off we’ll be.