When I look at my own childhood, I was always eager to please and was happy to help in any way I could. I was rarely badly behaved and if I ever got in trouble I was devastated. Still to this day if I get pulled over by the police for speeding I burst into tears. (Well until recently when I started playing roller derby and now I just feel like a rebel.) From as young as I can remember my personality is who I am today.
So if you see a child at seven stealing from his peers, deliberately hurting others and being constantly disobedient does this mean the child is likely to end up in jail, as that is the way his personality dictates him to behave?
The way they performed in my stomach now reflects how they sleep at night. Number one has a cocoon of doonas that must be just right. Number two sleeps curled up and soundly; he slept at the end of my bed for years. Number three is a nightmare if he ever crawls into bed with me as he’s either in starfish formation or re-enacting a fish out of water. My oldest was also the only one when I was pregnant not to kick me or squirm when I ate ice cream or drank ice water. He is undersenstive to cold and still doesn’t react to it.
Personality is indeed present from pre-birth but what about behaviour. Is behaviour part of personality or something that is taught? You can indeed teach a child to behave in an appropriate way but for some children it is much, much harder than others.
A great deal of my time is spent teaching my children how to behave. Sure, that’s what parenting is all about, right? Well here’s the thing. Some children need to be told once (me as a child), some twice (my husband as a child) and for some, even after 5000 repetitions, they still don’t learn. It’s exhausting. No, it’s like REALLY exhausting. That’s why so many children on the autism spectrum end up in early intervention programs because it takes a specialist with four plus years of training to teach these children how to behave appropriately. I would need degrees in speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, and paediatrics to be able to raise three perfectly behaved children. That’s about 20 years of study. I had my first son at 25. A degree in Photography didn’t really cut it, even if I passed with Honours.
Parents should not be judgemental of other parents as they have no idea what end of the instruction spectrum their children belong. If you’re blessed with children who respond after one request, congratulations, job well done, put your feet up and have a cup of tea. If you’ve been blessed with children who come from another planet and need to be terraformed into compliant humans, be prepared for a lot of training, and several cups of strong coffee, on the run. If you’re an outsider looking in at the non-compliant child having a meltdown in the supermarket just remember, it takes time to educate an alien to fit into society.
The burn out rate for families with children on the spectrum is significant. Eighty percent of marriages fail when you have one child on the spectrum. Having three on the spectrum no doubt increases those statistics, but since there’s no such thing as a 240% divorce rate, my husband and I just acknowledge that we’re so far past crazy that the pathological giggling in the house is normal, and we go with the flow.
So if nature provides the personality and nurture helps mould the personality into socially accepted human beings, then why doesn’t society focus on teaching parents to nurture their children in appropriate ways?
Every generations complains that “our generation didn’t behave like that when we were kids”, and “the kids of today have no respect” or my favourite “parents of today don’t discipline their children enough”.
Previous generations had wooden spoons, belt straps and firm hands to “nurture” their children, some children needing more “nurturing” then others. We all know “that child” who had a wooden spoon broken across their backside. The “nurturing” was then followed up by schools with structured rooms, and long canes. Yep, they had nurturing down to a fine art, but was it effective? The violent crime rates in the 1970’s were three times as high as they are today. Violence just bred more violence.
So if physical “nurturing” doesn’t work to change behaviour, what does?
Here are my top 10 tips.
1. Start by looking at who your child is. What end of the instruction spectrum do they sit on?
2. Check for any physical issues that may be contributing to your child’s behaviour. Can they hear, can they process (lots of children diagnosed with ADHD actually have an underlying auditory processing disorder), do they have allergies that send them loopy, or sensitivities to their environment (sensory processing disorders) or do they have an intellectual disability.
3. Provide a loving and safe environment. Loving doesn’t just mean the occasional cuddle but is also means speaking kindly to the child and not being harsh or judgemental of their every act.
4. Do a positive parenting course. Yes, being a positive parent makes a huge difference to your child’s life and behaviour.
5. Reward charts. It’s just a fancy way or reprogramming your child to behave how you want them too. They work.
6. Logical consequences. A smack is not an appropriate consequence for a child who has hit his brother. Time outs, quiet time and thinking corners where he can’t have fun, are a much more logical approach.
7. Being there. Yes, parenting is hard work and requires a lot of time and energy. Don’t expect your nanny, babysitter or childcare center to do it for you.
8. Attention. Some children do just misbehave to get attention. So try and give them lots to begin with. My third child is a bad behaviour attention seeker, he requires a lot more attention then the other two. I’m sure he’ll be an actor, or on a stage of some kind.
9. Don’t loose your cool. The moment you loose your control, you loose the right to parent. Remove yourself from the situation until you are back in control. The child rarely remembers why they got in trouble, only what you did in response.
10. Get help. If it’s not working, see a professional. Your child may just need that extra help to allow them to learn right from wrong. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
Embrace your child’s personality, don’t beat it out of them. Nurture them to the best of your ability and if all else fails, get help. Parents, don’t be judgemental of other parents, you have no idea what they’re dealing with. And finally, when you see one of those parents in the supermarket with their child from another planet behaving in an unearthlike manner, just hand them a coffee, they’re going to need it!