Maybe you are like many of us mothers who happen to have one child in particular who needs to be handled with kid gloves. This child may have been labeled ADD or ADHD at one point. He may be a textbook ‘oppositionally defiant’ child. Maybe he’s just some sort of loose amalgam of brilliance that makes conventional child-raising methods a little tricky to employ. I have one such child and I have frequently referred to him as my “path to Heaven.” And I believe this with all sincerity. The difficulties and the abrasiveness my son presents to me allows me to think of him as sandpaper: he is scraping and polishing off so much of my impatience and imperfections. Even if it hurts and is uncomfortable, we all need sandpaper people in our lives; I’m blessed to have one living with me every day whom I love dearly.
I’m not an expert on behavior deviances. But I do know that sometimes my days feel so brutally unforgiving when dealing with this child that there has to be something out there to offer a bit of reprieve. I’ve identified ten small reminders to myself that I call “shortcuts” on this ‘path to Heaven’ that has been laid out for me. There are certainly counselors and internet articles galore that can offer more than this anecdotal advice, but I thought it might to be worthwhile to hear one mom’s perspective who lives this (and sometimes fails this) advice and has seen remarkable improvements.
1. Distinguish between disobedience and inability. One mistake I used to make so often was getting very irritated and exasperated at having to repeat myself to my son over and over again. I’d say his name when he was simply across the living room for me—know that everyone else in the room heard me— and he would seem to ignore me. By the time I would finally get his attention, I was at a full yell and he was startled to see me angry with him. When he is playing with something detailed or immersed in a project, the world inside his head is so loud, that he literally can not hear me. It’s not fair for me to get angry with him for “ignoring me”, when he’s so caught up in his mind that he doesn’t even hear me. This is me needing to find another way to reach him.
2. Speak at eye level, using their name. This is how I have to get his attention. Sometimes, it’s inconvenient to stop what I’m doing, rather than call across the room, but if I want to avoid repeating myself over and over and avoid the temptation to anger, I have to stop and find him, crouch down if he’s on the floor playing Legos, say his name, wait for him to meet my eye, and then continue.
3. Don’t raise your voice. One of the most damaging things for my son, despite being explosive himself, is to have others yelling at him. He is either overstimulated by the reciprocated noise or he is incredibly sensitive to feeling that he did something wrong. Whatever the case may be, so much of his behavior can be controlled simply by my husband and I controlling our behavior. We have to sometimes stop and employ breathing exercises before responding to our boy but it helps. He is even sensitive to hearing strain in our voice.
4. Keep tasks short and manageable. I used to have the ideal of getting all our schoolwork done in a certain block of time or all our chores done all at once. This feels overwhelming to my child. He responds best to doing an assignment then having a short break before doing another assignment. Whenever tasks pile on, he feels crushed by the perceived urgency and mountainous pile before him. So, even if it’s annoying for me and my schedule, I have to sacrifice my plans to accommodate his needs if I want a peaceful household.
5. Find his currency. When the need to punish my child comes up, I sometimes have to consider very carefully what the consequence is. Many of our other children respond very well to being sent to their rooms or getting assigned extra chores for disobedience. These didn’t make a mark on deterring my son’s poor behavior at all. He could spend all day in his room or get assigned lots of extra chores and not care a bit. But once it was discovered how much he hated missing out on playing football with the neighbor kids in the park… that was our leverage point. Change was much more apparent then.
6. Consider diet. Many allergic or sensitive food reactions don’t just show up in a physical way but can be seen in behavior as well. This was news to me when I heard it! Common culprits are wheat, corn, dairy, and even eggs! If you have the fortitude to undergo it, try to do some elimination dieting to see if you notice improvement. This is not easy, but it may be worth a try. When we tried this, I made sure to be on the special diet with my son so he wouldn’t feel so ostracized from the family. It can also be helpful to supplement your child’s diet with high quality fish oils, A & D vitamins or essential oils as well.
7. Rest. Children of all temperaments suffer from having overstructured days, but especially ‘special’ kids it seems. If we try and do too much or are ferrying him from one activity to another, he starts to melt. Overstimulating environments are something else we try to avoid as much as we can. After going to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese years ago, our son was handed a cup of coins and set free to party. He just stood there shell-shocked for quite some time before getting into it. Then, trying to bring him down off the party high afterward was really, really difficult. So we do our best to make sure our children are getting ample rest and free play or reading time during the day.
8. Do as much preliminary expectation clarification as possible. Our days run much more smoothly when our boy knows exactly what the routine is and what is expected of him. Even though we shouldn’t have to keep telling our children to be good, it is remarkable what a 30 second conversation can do before going into the grocery store and reminding them that there will be no begging for treats and no running amuck, etc. Sometimes we bring this down to a smaller scale too. Instead of just ordering my son around, I will often preface things with something like “_______, I’m going to ask you to do something for me and I know you can do it cheerfully and promptly, right?” And then I say it. More often than not, he responds beautifully when I take the time to ease him into it like this.
9. Deliberate kindness. I learned this lesson the hard way. One day, after I had been laying into my son about something or other, his eyes welled up with tears and he said to me, “It feels like you don’t even love me. You are just mad at me all day long.” And I was immediately sorrowful. He was right. When I took an honest look at my interactions with my son, most days I had been nagging him, exasperated with him or irritated with him… in addition to talking at him rather than with him. It was heartbreaking. Now, I make it a point to have a few moments of just kind moments with him. I don’t always feel like being kind to him and I may be harboring sentiments of exasperation, but I absolutely HAVE to take time to hug him and listen to him and tell him something he’s doing really well that day. Otherwise, all his memories of his mother will be horrid ones and I desperately want to avoid that.
10. Don’t despair. Don’t blame yourself. Entrust your child to the Blessed Mother. Know that this child, perhaps more than any other, is one way to unite yourself to her sorrows and those of Our Lord as well. Surrender all things, and especially your weaknesses to Christ. He wants to carry your cross. Give the broken pieces of your day to God. And try again tomorrow. It’s your faithfulness that pleases Him, not your success.