I woke up this morning to a flurry of text messages sent during the wee hours of the night from my son who just started college this past week. They began with an urgent health question to me because health services was closed.. They ended with this,
"Going to the hospital about this, probably nothing, thought I should let you know."
And this an hour and a half later, "I'm fine, there wasn't anything to worry about. Just letting you know."
2. Provide the right amount of challenge: When my son was in middle school, his most challenging environment, I remember a teacher telling me that it was good he had a lot of frustrations in his day and that we shouldn't eliminate or minimize them, because he had to learn how to tolerate them. The problem with that "all or nothing" approach for my son, and many kids with Asperger's/Autism, was that he was already on overload and getting more frustrated and anxious each day the situation remained overwhelming. He wasn't learning coping and problem solving, he was feeling incapable and helpless. It was only once we gave him a manageable amount of frustration and taught him coping/calming strategies that he began to learn how to solve the problems he faced. Always start from what your child can tolerate and build from there.
3. Normalize glitches and problems: Every single person faces glitches and problems in daily life. They can range from minor annoyances to life threatening. Sometimes our kids, because of their perspective taking and emotional regulation challenges, don't see that the problems they face aren't all crises. When a problem feels life threatening, it's hard to stay calm and figure out what to do. We can help our kids learn that not every challenge they encounter is an emergency and increase their ability to tolerate glitches that cross their path by actively teaching and practicing coping/calming strategies.
4. Keep parental emotions in check: When hard things happen to our kids, it's important that we don't let our emotional response to the situation shift the focus or make the problem worse. It's normal to have very strong reactions when our kids struggle, but laying all that out on the table doesn't help our children process the situation and figure out how to get through it. As parents, we help by staying calm, validating their experience, helping them think about problems and ways to solve them, offering support and comfort and encouraging their efforts to solve problems they face.
5. Encourage self-understanding and self-advocacy: When my son had this health scare, he had to communicate his needs and explain himself. He shared his diagnosis with medical professionals so that they understood his anxiety and communication style and didn't make incorrect assumptions about his behavior or reactions. Our kids need to understand themselves and be able to express that to others. Using a diagnostic label isn't required, but knowing what you need, being able to ask others for help and explaining yourself helps tremendously.
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