It’s okay to go around a problem instead of solving it. At least for a bit. I hear it’s called a “workaround.” I am trying to make it feel like less work, but whatever . . . the point is you don’t have to be fixing everything, all the time! It’s exhausting for both you and your child. You can’t just let things slide (well, you can and must some of the time for your sanity), but you can develop some workarounds.
Even with just a few learning or behavioral diagnoses, your child can have A LOT of challenging behaviors. For example, say your child has a “disorder of regulation.” You have the child who feels EVERY emotion strongly. Happy is over-excited, angry is furious, and anxious is terrified. There is no lid on THIS child. Plus, the sensory system is a little too awake. Every noise, every touch, every taste, even every smell comes on too strong for this one. Most foods are met with revulsion (no small emotions remember). Most activities are met with aversion. And trying paying attention when every emotion, every noise, every touch, every smell, every THING is a distraction. This child is constantly called out for not getting something done that every other child seems to breeze through. The teacher is trying to be subtle, but you can sense medication is on her mind.
The challenges of each day seem overwhelming.
This child with little ability to regulate emotions, sensations and attention is hard to wake up and then irritable in the morning. Breakfast is a challenge because of texture issues (the first tears of the day), getting dressed is tough because clothes trigger tactile anxieties. You are now running late for school, but this child does not have a hurry button. Try using a firm voice and this child thinks you are “yelling” (more tears and curled up into a non-moving ball). You make it to school, so now this child spends the day distracted and disorganized by the noise and demands. It is exhausting. The teacher e-mails about some concerning behaviors . . . again. Lunch in the stinky, clamoring cafeteria is a no-go. No lunch = Hungry. The afternoon is a wash for your child. This child gets in the car starving and irritable; complaining all the way home. Anything any sibling does in the car is worth lashing out physically and verbally. There is no desire for soccer, or dance class, or chess club or Scouts. Your child wants to go HOME! Once home, television seems to be the only consolation. Pulling away for homework is a battle, as is homework itself. In desperation, dinner revolves around what this child might eat. Maybe a calming bath after dinner will help. Everyone is exhausted, but it is hard for this child to settle to sleep. By 10, things are finally quiet, but you know that 10pm is too late for a complete night’s sleep for this child. Tomorrow looms.
If your child has a lot of challenging behaviors, it feels like the day is non-stop management. And really, you have been told that management of the problems is not enough. You need to fix them. But being a full-time therapist/mom is not really an option when running a household, managing other kids, and working (as is often the case). So guilt is your constant companion.
But really, you can’t fix everything at once. And often you simply can’t fix everything.
It’s okay to set some priorities and find some workarounds for the other problems. Some might be permanent workarounds, some might be temporary while you work on other things. But keep reminding yourself, “YOU CAN”T FIX EVERYTHING AT ONCE!” Cut yourself some slack because, really, it is the only way to survive sometimes.
First, set some priorities on the most challenging behaviors. These might include:
- No physical hitting or hurting others – Have a pre-set plan for hitting/hurting with a simple consequence that has been discussed in advance. Use your calm voice because meeting disregulation with anger likely doubles the disregulation (this child really can’t help it).The plan needs to include noticing every possible time the child does not hit (but might have) and compliment that. This may sound like, “I hear from your voice that you found that irritating, but you did not hit. Be proud of yourself for that.”
- Limiting screen time to two 30 minute segments in a day – Too much screen time makes regulation issues worse. So screen time might include some time in the morning, once the child is ready for school, and in the afternoon for a bit. It would be helpful to have a timer on the device so that it shuts itself off without a parent having to intervene.
- Not bickering with siblings (wouldn’t that be heaven) – This is a team effort and will take team discussion, but is a worthy goal. Bickering can likely be reduced. Start with some “data collection.” When does bickering happen the most – in the car, at breakfast, at bedtime? See if there is a contributing factor – someone is hungry, someone can’t bear to be nudged when over-tired, someone is hot? Try to fix that contributing factor first. Then have a frank discussion of what can be done to reducing the fighting (do this when everyone is calm and NOT fighting). Then start practicing and complimenting. Its best to point out the “no bickering” times because the kids have to learn to recognize and appreciate those as well.
Some of you are snorting, “My child could undermine any one of those in under two minutes.” Yes, I know. It’s hard. And if it is that hard, do see a parenting therapist. Parenting tough kids requires some professional support.
But the real point of this post is “the workaround.” Sometimes we need to just go-around the problem for at least awhile. Some examples include:
- Wearing the “wrong” clothes – For the sensory child, just skip clothes with tags, internal pockets, tight elastic, rough seems. For the apraxic child, skip buttons, zippers or anything complicated. Heck, skip variety. Find the clothes your child is comfortable wearing and get enough to last all week. A lot of clothing issues dissipate in adolescence with the strong desire to fit in and wear what everyone else is wearing.
- Getting dressed in the morning – Mornings are rushed and many kids can stall on getting dressed. Simply eliminate that problem in pre-adolescent children by letting them sleep in their comfy sensory clothes. After an evening bath, put on some comfy leggings, sweat pants, or gym shorts; add a comfy top and you are done for 24 hours. Before the age of body odor, the clothes can be slept in and not be stinky. In the morning, there is one less things to worry about.
- Doing ALL of the homework (or any of it frankly) – Depending on your child’s challenges, the end of the day may be a point of exhaustion. None of us do our best work at that time. Talk to the teacher and ask for permission to “sign off” on what was possible on any given night. Sometimes that may be nothing. That’s ok. If your child is exhausted, what learning is happening? Compliment your child on any work completed because sometimes any work is an accomplishment.
- Eating a wide range of foods – Yes, I believe in eating from all the food groups, but that is not the same as eating a wide variety of foods. Cut yourself and your child some slack if you both need a break. Do let your child know that fruits and vegetables, as well as proteins, are important and will be on their plates every day. But then only put what they will eat at this time. Don’t push the “just one bite” of other foods. If they will only eat two fruits (and one of those is apple sauce), so be it. Those foods should show up twice a day at least. If there is only one vegetable (carrot sticks), then so be it. Meals may be repetitive for this child, just make sure they are easy for you. Continue to remind children that you will continue to help them get used to textures and it will get better. Useful “pre-tasting’ strategies include having them just touch new foods, handle new foods (e.g., can you grab me a tomato out of the fridge please), and stir or pour new foods. If the problem is really bad, an occupational or feeding therapist may be needed.
- Eating in the cafeteria – It’s loud. It smells funny. And you might touch something slimy. It is hard to have a calm, enjoyable meal (even though 200 other children seem to be doing it, sort of). See if your child can have lunch elsewhere. Maybe a friend can come along.
- Skip the after school activities – If your child is exhausted and dreads after school activities, just skip them right now. Therapies, yes. Those should be geared to your child’s needs and abilities. But soccer or piano or swim team, maybe not. For some kids, the right activity is a life saver and a treat. If you find it, great. But be willing to forego the ‘well-rounded’ child until you find the right activities. There is a lot to be said for downtime. It promotes creativity.
There are as many workarounds as there are kids. You have to find the right ones for your child and your family. You may also have to let go of some strongly held beliefs about meals, pajamas, and being well-rounded. When your child is different, you do things differently. It does not mean you can’t slowly nudge your child towards more typical expectations.
But cut yourself (and your child) some slack.
(And Child Decoded is here to help)