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When your child drives you crazy!

A doctor today told of his treating a child with Autism, who had a fever, and once dealt with, he turned to the Mother and asked how she was? She burst into tears and said - 'Nobody asks about me usually!

This post is dedicated to all those amazing Mums - and Dads - who care for their autistic children with incredible patience and tough / gentle love, day in, day out, on and on and on and on ......

It is World Autism day ‪on 2nd April.

I recommend a short film called 'Lemonade', about an autistic young man in Dubai which was made by his family. 'My name is Ibrahim' has become the slogan taken up here in Dubai by Sheikh Mohammad, to help us all identify ourselves with those who have Autism, somewhere along the Autistic Spectrum...

Perhaps some of the hardest children to care for are those with autism, because their condition manifests so unpredictably. This Parent needs to learn asap what triggers her child to rage or panic - and how to calm the child if an episode like that occurs. And so many people with Autism have sleep disturbances, which adds to the tiredness of the family, especially the Mum.

When I see parents courageously dealing with these challenges, I feel very bad that sometimes I lacked patience and reacted with anger, when my children were small. Though all my children are 'typical', there were occasions when I reached my limit of being able to cope, – something they did, or my own weariness, and suddenly my calm response was unattainable.

Keeping our Cool

Whilst saluting the Mums of children who have particular difficulties, such as ADHD or Autism, I would like to think in this post about how hard it is to keep our cool with our children all the time.

Here are some scenarios I have witnessed or heard about recently. I am sure you could share many more.

1) The ‘I don’t understand why he did this?’ situation

The other day, a lady was chatting about her wee son, who is in nursery. She said ‘Sometimes I just do not understand him, why he does the things he does! – he just seems so naughty. And I am tired from work, and can’t cope with his behaviour, then I feel bad, I only got angry because he gave me extra work to do.’

When I asked what he had done, she told me he had taken the toothpaste from the bathroom and squeezed it all over the kitchen table, then was putting his hands in it and messing everything up! Oh dear! Why would he do such a thing?

What she didn’t know - and I was able to tell her - was the WHY? - I had been in the nursery the previous day, and saw the fun the children were having, with shaving cream and paint colours, making pictures and shapes with their fingers, and hands - getting it all over the place - wonderful games that had fired this little fellow’s imagination! When he saw a tube in the bathroom at home like the one they used in school, he knew just what to do with it!

2) When my kid just will not stop going on about something ….

Another special person I know, who is a teacher herself, told me that she occasionally finds her son’s behaviour so frustrating, that she has to take urgent action herself to avoid hitting him. She told me how one day she was so cross with him, she stopped the car and got out and left him in it, moving away from the car to give herself time to calm down.

That same person told me that it was only when she became a Mother herself,

that she understood some of the why of what her Mum did when she was small.

These are all real situations. I can recall many times, when my children were small, getting to the point of screaming, and having to find a safe way to deal with my stress. My children were ‘being children’ and my busy schedule just had not allowed for that factor.

Nothing prepares us, as Mums, for the stresses of being a Mum. Even when we are not out at 'work', the children are with us all the time. We have no moment to ourselves. There is no other adult to chat with when we do get our rare moments – at some totally unsocial hour, to catch a breath. We are fully immersed in the business of being Mums, and making sense of these little offshoots of ourselves who often seem so alien – (was I really like this when I was small?)

3) The Mum feeling incompetent, un-pretty, worn-down

Another wonderful Mum I know with small children all under five struggles to feel good about herself - yet she is a highly qualified professional, who had a great career before she chose to leave it and become a full-time wife and Mother, a beautiful woman with gorgeous children.

However, she always 'puts herself down' , finding it hard to accept complements, even on her kids or her cooking.

Perhaps her view of herself is coloured by her husband’s denigrating way of speaking to her and about her, embarrassing for other people to hear. When this happens, the reaction is likely to be a shake of the head at the man’s way of talking – ‘What a cad!’ rather than ‘What a wimp! Why doesn’t she give him as good as she gets!?’

But sadly, her children are growing up with that view of their Mother constantly reinforced by their father.- and her own acceptance of it.

4) The ‘If I ignore it, it didn’t happen’ sort of Mum

Another day, as I waited for my medicine, a little boy rampaged around the pharmacy, pulling hair slides and bubble bath off the shelves and putting them into his Mum’s basket, and playing trains with the chairs lined up near the dispensary. His mother ignored him, paid for her goods and went to the door, shouting ‘Musa!’ loudly, and opening the door. Then something in her own language that was accompanied by the tones and voice of, ‘If you don’t come this minute I will leave you here!’ The Pharmacist raised her eyes in resigned horror, and commented ‘They are like this every time they come in here!’

5) The Calm in the Face of Danger Mum

Here is an example of how my own Mother dealt with what must have been a shock, calmly and without getting angry. One day, in India, when I was about 8 years old, I came back home with my hand wrapped up in a blood-soaked cloth, and my friends the twins, Imbu and Umbu, accompanied me holding a knife.

She made the twins wait, took the knife, and dealt with my hand, finding that my thumb was badly slashed, and asked no questions till it was bound up. Then she asked how it had happened, without me feeling she was telling me off. - though I knew i should not have been using a knife.

We had decided to make potato chips that morning, and took the knife, potatoes and a small saucepan, together with matches, off to the area behind the bungalow where we used to play. We never got as far as using the matches, fortunately – that might have caused a huge fire.

I learned my lesson well from the way my Mum talked it through with me, asking me what I should have done if I wanted to cook dinner myself, assuring me that if I had asked for her help to do it, she would have told me or shown me how to do it safely. She never made me feel bad for trying to do something that ambitious!

There is one key thing that all these Mums have in common.

Stress management problems.

Here are a couple of possible ways to retrieve your sanity and the children’s behaviour in situations like the above.

1) Just as we teach children with impulsive or angry reactions to count to 10 and think about something special, - we need to do that. When faced with a situation that we do not understand, like the Mum with toothpaste crisis, stand still, take a deep breath, and don’t start yelling till you have given yourself time to take in what has happened – but also, to ask ‘why?’ Then check for safety issues, and start the inquisition without any instruments of torture, but with a gentle ‘Wow! My goodness what is all this about? What are you making?’ so it may provoke an explanation rather than a huge guilt trip in the child.

2) Some children more than others, and some days more than others, seem to have whines, provoke / pick fights, or demand, demand, demand… I think the response of leaving the child in a safe place and putting a bit of a space between yourself and the child is a very wise one in situations like that where you get to the point of feeling like hitting. It might even be helpful to go and hit a tree or a wall, to take that sense of frustration out of yourself.

3) We unfortunately do not all have partners or others who help us feel good about ourselves. As Mums, the whole motherhood thing often wears one down so much that you no longer feel pretty and you cannot look after your appearance as you used to – there just are not enough minutes in the day, let alone hours!

A wise friend once told me, look in the mirror each morning, Margi, and tell yourself – 'You are beautiful - You are worth it! ' (in true L’Oreal style!) Just doing that will help you to hold yourself a little taller, and think of yourself more kindly.

And you do need to give yourself a pat on the back, a treat, not always the chocolate treat! – find a quiet moment, to do something that relaxes you, listen to some music you love, or read – a treat I very rarely gave myself. And give your children an extra cuddle, let them know they are special, too.

4) This Mum is probably not reading this blog anyway, so perhaps it isn’t worth addressing her about this situation where Mum ignores the problems her child is making.

Sadly, it is this sort of child, who hasn’t been taught by her Mum to listen and obey, who will have - and be - the biggest problems in school – and often, may be mistaken for a child with ADHD or other problems, because of her undisciplined behaviour.

But it is also likely that this Mum is facing her own demons of low self–esteem, and does not feel confident enough to discipline her child effectively.

She may well be a Mum who resorts to saying, ‘I will tell your Dad when he comes – you wait!’ thus abdicating her own authority over her child.

5) The example of my Mother speaks for itself, but the first reaction after shock is often to shout at the child or get angry.

I guess the most common example of this is when a child gets lost even for a short time – the very relief of finding your child sometimes makes you get angry at him!

Certainly it is best to calmly deal with a crisis, when a child was hurt or in danger, without immediately shouting and getting upset. Take time to talk it through once the crisis is dealt with, and getting the child to self-critique what caused the crisis, helps to deal with it in a non-blaming way.

Have a great week, and do share your thoughts about how you deal with stress!

Margi Kulsoom

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