Every night, my husband and I take turns helping our daughter settle into bed for the evening. She is 13, and doesn't like to be "babied" at bedtime, with us reminding her of what to do at each step. And yet, because of her lagging cognitive skills, she absolutely needs the support to get from point A to point B in the process.
On the busy days, the ones where I've tackled work and dinner and school activities and all the other "things" life throws our way, I am tired and a little short on patience by the time her bedtime rolls around. It can be a mess of physical exhaustion and emotional depletion, a hard combination for anyone. And with all that, it means that sometimes (more often than I'd like), I find myself acting like a bulldozer with the singular goal of getting her through this routine as quickly and effortlessly as possible, so I can have some quiet alone time at the end of a long day. I want compliance, if we're being honest, and I want it to come easily. When this becomes my singular focus, it inevitably finds me reaching for the power and control I hold as a parent and wielding that in all sorts of ways (threats of consequences, bribes, taking away things she values -- to name a few), which typically results in our daughter's challenging behaviors -- like refusal and rigidity and defiance -- becoming more (certainly not less) pronounced.
And it's nights like these, usually when I'm laying in bed ready for sleep myself, that I find myself reflecting and questioning how things would have gone differently if I had looked at the evening routine as a chance to connect and deepen my relationship with her, versus simply seeking compliance. How would she and I be changed if this was the way I approached all my interactions with her? I think -- actually, I know -- we'd both be transformed for the better. I know this because of what neuroscience tells us about the way people and their brains are changed when they are truly seen and heard and connected with another.
Many kids struggling with brain-based differences have symptoms that involve getting stuck (in an idea or behavior), inflexibility or cognitive rigidity, and an inability to see anyone's perspective beyond their own. Often this rigidity increases as more demands are placed on them (yes, even "small" demands like "go brush your teeth!"), zapping them of their brain fuel and leaving them overwhelmed and anxious. If we can practice taking a step back and seeing this brain fatigue, overwhelm and anxiety underneath, we'll be less likely to reach for our power and control and more likely to move forward with empathy and connection instead.
I am sending you so much compassion as you begin another week of parenting your unique child. Remember, you're not alone -- we are all in this together.