Becoming Bulletproof Parents
Dan Coulter, March 2006
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Ever been frustrated or embarrassed
by something one of your kids said or did in public? The stares
of strangers can feel like bullets. If your child
has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, you may sometimes feel
like you've been machine-gunned.
Wouldn't it be great to have a way to deal with these situations
that made you bulletproof?
I found something that works sort of like a protective shield --
and it's basically a matter of
Most of us were raised to care a lot about what other people
think. That's generally a good thing. It helps us be aware of
social rules and interact politely
with other people. But when our kids do something embarrassing
in public, feeling those painful
stares can sometimes cause us to get our priorities mixed up.
Maybe your son throws tantrums. Maybe your daughter makes
inappropriate remarks in a loud voice. When my son, who has
Asperger Syndrome, was little, he had
a tendency to pick up and examine anything that caught his
interest. This was a problem, particularly in stores.
People react in a lot of ways to their kids "misbehaving" in
public. Too often, I've seen parents act embarrassed and say
things to their kids that they might
regret later. Most of us don't completely lose it, but I know
there were times when my son was little that I was more
impatient with him in public than I should have been.
Now for the perspective part. At the moment our kids do
something in public that we wish they
hadn't, we're socially conditioned to react by focusing
what other people think. But how important is that
compared to what our kids need at that
moment? Do you have a picture of anyone in the mall crowd on
your dresser at home? Have you held anyone in the supermarket
line in your arms and rocked him to
sleep? Is anyone in sight more important to you
than your child?
When you look at things from that perspective, it's easier to
dismiss what other people think and focus on your child. First
off, why did he do what he did? Many
kids with ASDs are impulsive. Something in their brain
triggers a behavior that's hard for them to control. What
if your son is not defying you? What if he's responding to a
stimulus that may take a lot of
practice to overcome? In my son's case, it helped to remind him
before we went out that he needed to
ask and get permission before he picked things up to check them
out. We'd remind him again just before we went into a store.
Even so, it took quite a while for him to gain control of that
Knowing that our kids are prone to certain behaviors helps us
mentally prepare to stop what we're doing and deal calmly with
the situation. There's a saying in the
retail business, "Customers are not an
interruption of our work, they are the reason for it." I think
the same thing applies to parents and kids. Our job of parenting
doesn't stop when we're busy and
stressed and in a supermarket -- and kids aren't reduced to
"interruptions." If your daughter
grabs a piece of candy from a shelf and screams when you try and
take it from her, the best thing for her may be for you to stop
shopping for a moment, kneel down and patiently but
firmly explain why she has to put it
back. At that moment, being bulletproof to what others might
think of her outburst protects you both.
We don't flip a switch to teach our kids and then flip if off.
We're teaching them with every interaction we have. If I think
of every exchange with my son as one
he may remember the rest of his life, will I act differently?
The twist to this is that stopping to deal compassionately and
fairly with your child will probably make people who witness his
behavior appreciate your parenting
skills. And if they don't understand, that's their loss.
Do we care what other people think? Sure. But never as much as
we care about our kids.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the video:
"ASPERGER SYNDROME DAD: How To Become An Even Better Father To
Your Child With AS," and other special
needs videos. You can read more articles on his website
Copyright 2006 Dan Coulter
All Rights Reserved
Used By Permission
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