Parenting without Panic Responds to Readers' FAQs:
Join other parents and family members who are trying to find answers to their top concerns. You can submit questions and comments by email, on Facebook and Twitter and through the Parenting without Panic website. All questions will be posted anonymously (unless you really want your name attached). I can't wait to hear from you!
Our first question comes from a mom of a 12-year-old with Asperger's and an 8-year-old with ADHD. She writes...
"I'm starting to get anxious about traveling to my parents for the holidays. My whole extended family will be there and they have a hard time understanding my boys. They offer me lots of advice about how to make my kids behave better, especially in the middle of a meltdown. I can't get my boys to do anything they don't want to do. It seems like their behavior is so much worse when we're away from home. I'm exhausted just thinking about it. What can I do?"
That doesn't sound like much fun. I'm sorry that your family gatherings have been tough. First, remember that holiday events often cause stress--especially when the people involved have different expectations for how time together should flow. Here are great tips from AANE and Parenting without Panic to help you manage the change in routine.
- Set realistic expectations for kids: How long can your child sit at the dinner table? How long can he manage being in a crowded room full of relatives he doesn't see often? Remind yourself and everyone else (preferably before the holiday) that changes in routine make your child feel anxious--and he may need breaks from all the socializing.
- Set realistic expectations for your relatives: You are accustomed to your child's needs, especially in a new situation. But your extended family doesn't interact with your child as regularly and may easily forget how to be helpful. So let them know what your child needs and how they can help (in a kind way). Saying, "It would be great if you could let Josh sit at the end of the table so he can get up and take a break when he needs one," helps your family understand why you want to shift the seating. Don't expect that they will anticipate and respond to your child's needs in the same way you do.
- Anticipate triggers: If you know certain family members say and do things that make you want to scream, cry or throw furniture, think about how you will stay calm and respond in the moment. Try taking deep breaths, excusing yourself from the conversation or changing the subject.
- Plan responses: You can offer heartfelt direct responses to unhelpful conversations if that's your style and you think your family will respond well to that approach. "Grandma, I agree that Steve needs better table manners. It's really hard for him to handle all the conversation and food smells at the table and he often blurts out the first thing that pops into his head. You and I are able to edit our thoughts before we say them out loud, but Steve isn't able to do that yet. You can help by asking him to "try again," instead of telling him he's rude." If that's not your style, you can just shift the conversation, "I'll file that with all the other information about autism everyone gives me. Hey, what have you heard about the new movies that are out this weekend?"
- Plan for chaos: Holidays and family events can be chaotic--so don't expect things to go perfectly. Think about what's most important and put your energy into participating in the activities that matter most to you and your kids. You might have to explain to your parents that your kids can be part of the big family dinner, but probably can't manage the sing-a-long afterwards. It's okay to give your kids permission to take a break when they feel overwhelmed. And help kids know what to expect by providing schedules (and let them know the schedules may change because you're not in control of everything!).
- Plan for escape: Bring activities that will be calming for your and your children. I used to bring Lego, board games or puzzles that we could set up in a quiet part of the house for those times when my kids needed to leave all the noise and activity behind.
- Ask for what you need: Our extended family members are not mind readers! If you are hoping to have some time to yourself, ask for the help you need. If you would like grandpa to read with your daughter, ask grandpa privately and then provide the book and time.
- Be patient: Remember, each family member has their own set of worries, whether they share them or not. Try to be kind and helpful--you'll set a great example!