The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 160 · Duration: 00:17:00
I Can’t Do Everything
What do you do when you have a Special Needs Child throwing fits while you are struggling to make a living and be a good mother to all your kids?
Today we’re hearing from Martha from Pasadena, CA.
I’m at my wit’s end. We have a 15, 12, and a 9 year old, and while the older two, a son and a daughter, are doing reasonably well in this home learning environment, our 9 year old, diagnosed with high-functioning Autism Spectrum disorder and ADHD and most recently with ODD, is not. He receives special services from the county although right now much less due to the virus. Here’s where I need help. Keeping him focused in school is next to impossible and when he doesn’t get what he wants he throws a tantrum and can break things. Even not getting a snack he wants to eat 10 minutes before dinner can trigger a melt down. He loves physical activities and sports. He is a good athlete but all his sports are on hold, so there’s a lot of pent-up energy. He has a tablet for school and he isn’t into games, but he is using it to see violent and inappropriate things that encourage bad behavior. My husband and I work from home as much as possible and we both need to work to make ends meet. I feel like I’m unable to help my son, give enough attention to my other children, keep my job, and I don’t see how things will get better. Any advice will be helpful.
Thanks for your question Martha, what you are experiencing is painfully common these days. Having your kids at home and needing to help them with their schoolwork, with much less opportunity for them to be active while still trying to make a living, it’s a virtually impossible set of circumstances. And then add to that your situation with a special needs child it can easily put you over-the-top.
So if I give you advice about how to help your child, I run the risk of just adding to your burden, and I certainly don’t want to do that.
Solutions To Parental Burnout
Martha, step number one is to acknowledge that you are suffering from parental burnout and for you to take some steps to address that. Please listen to my podcast Parental Burnout is an Epidemic from 2018. What was true then is only truer now, in some cases like yours, over the top true.
The bottom line here is you can’t help anyone else effectively if you’re burned out. If you are day in, day out putting out more than you are getting back, particularly if you feel ineffective as you do with your 9-year-old, then that’s a formula for burn out. So one way or another, your mental health needs to become a priority. Here are a few thoughts about that.Your mental health needs to become a priority.Click To Tweet
Since it sounds like you’re married and have a partner who can run things for a couple of days, take at least a couple of days off. Go someplace for a couple of overnights, anyplace safe and rewarding for you. It could be camping, or safely visiting with a supportive family member or friend, maybe a cabin by a lake. Bring a book by your favorite author, or paints and an easel, whatever relaxes and fulfills you.
While away, think of all the things you do at home such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and break cleaning down into all the detailed cleaning activities, all those things, then think about what you might be able to ask others to take over. All 3 of your kids could probably do a lot more, maybe your partner too. While it will take some extra time getting them to do the jobs the right way, it would be a lot better to invest that time and energy than to continue the current unsustainable path you’re on.
Plans For A Path Forward
Now for addressing the problem directly: If you can get in-home support from someone who is willing to follow strict virus-safe protocols in your home and when away, that would be great. That person can help with school work and physical activity, or either one of those would be great. If that service can’t be found from the school district or other public option, check your budget and see if you can obtain it on your own.
Next, we need a plan to address the ODD. That diagnosis is a clear signal that you’re in a control battle, that he’s putting his energy into resisting your efforts to provide structure. We need a way out of that so when you set limits, that he manages his feelings about not getting what he wants. If your son doesn’t learn to manage his own feelings and behavior, this will be a longer-term, major problem for him and you. Let’s make sure he learns now. The fact that he can participate in sports teams and has an ODD diagnosis says he can learn this.
If wanting food is a central issue, I recommend that you get all the unhealthy foods that he throws fits to get out of the house. Keep vegetables like carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or jicama cut and available for him to help himself to anytime without needing to ask. Even a lite healthy dip can accompany it. And by the way, if you are unfamiliar with jicama, it’s a delicious root vegetable grown in Mexico and Central America that has a great satisfying crunchy texture, it’s slightly sweet, great with lime squeezed on it, and is very healthy. It is on the YES list for diabetics, too, since it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels.
Now two basic things to change out of the Control Battle.
- You need to have an ongoing positive message going his way. "Nice job. I like that. That’s impressive. That’s interesting. That’s creative. That’s helpful, thanks. Wow, I didn’t know you could do that? Amazing, you’re talented." This messaging needs to come far more than it is now or that he’s allowing it to come. When you’re in a Control Battle, it’s hard to think of your child or teen in a positive way so it’s hard to have and communicate a healthy vision of them. Yet it’s a critical element in ending a Control Battle.
- When he gets ready to throw a fit or throws one, he needs to take a time out. If "time out" is a loaded term, call it something else, such as personal time, or self-control time. I recommend a short amount of time for a kid with little awareness of time just to get him the idea that getting out of control isn’t acceptable and he needs to control his emotions and his behavior, and he needs to cooperate with parental structures.
This is going to be difficult to get started with if he gets violent, but there’s no way around this. There’s no medication that will do this job and no out-of-home service that will address this. Here are some pointers:
- Have him take a 5 minute time out to get himself under control.
- Now, of course, cooperating with the time out would mean that he generally cooperates period, so he will resist this. You likely will need to have a parent guide him to a pre-designated timeout space.
- If he gets violent, a parent will need to hold him in the time out space until he controls himself and the 5 minute time out doesn’t start until he does the time out on his own accord.
- If he requires physical parental control to take his timeout, then the timeout goes to 10 minutes. Since I don’t know your son, I’m not sure of the best time intervals but you do know him so whatever times are reasonable and meaningful for him should be chosen.
- Even while needing to use parental control before he uses self-control, the messaging to him needs to be positive and encouraging such as, "I only need to do this until you can take control of yourself. I know you can do this, I believe in you. You are growing up and we need to expect you to use self-control, we know you can do it. You’re a strong-minded kid and you’ll use self-control when you’re ready to."
- Once you’ve done this a few times, he’ll get it and use the time out when required to and will need it much less when you simply say, "I need you to use self-control now."
- For more on how to use these time outs check out Raising Lions, a book by Joe Newman, or go to his website raisinglions.com and review his videos.
So folks, parents, and practitioners who are listening or reading this podcast, the toll this pandemic is taking on families has entered a new level of pain. Parents are in a position where it seems that they’re responsible for everything in their children's and teens’ lives and everything else they’ve been responsible for. And there is no clear endpoint for any of this. There, of course, will be a time when COVID-19 is managed and under control. And life can go forward maybe with a new normal, but certainly without sheltering in place and our kids going to school and participating in sports, music, dance, theater, and more. Yet right now we don’t know when that will be, next spring, next fall? We just don’t know.
Until that time, we are going to have to find ways to address the challenges facing us in this extraordinary time. Everyone’s coping style, everyone’s solution, everyone’s choices will be different and be the one that's best suited to their families’ needs. Give yourself permission to make choices work for your family and include your needs. And as you do, problems may still crop up and when a problem becomes chronic as this situation did for Martha, then use your ending Control Battle skills.During these extraordinary times, give yourself permission to make choices work for your family and include your needs.Click To Tweet
A special thanks to you Martha for raising the issues of pandemic parental burnout.
My heart goes out to all those teenagers and young adults who are being limited in their chance to be with peers, pursue careers, and live independently. This will end, but for right now, it’s really hard, so don’t hesitate to reach out and get help and support. Your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms, and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well.
If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.
If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.
Please, take care of yourselves; you desperately need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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