Getting to Calm


When a child is stressed and upset, he/she cannot think rationally so trying to talk your child out of their behavior or change their behavior in the moment feels useless. Sometimes the consequences we give, like “time out” or taking away a preferred object, are anxiety producing and accelerate already difficult behavior. So what is a parent living on the spectrum to do?

If you watch your child carefully, you will discover those things that promote calm. This may be a movement activity, a blanket, a toothbrush, a favorite toy or video. The list of things I have heard from parents is truly endless, which proves the point that every child is unique. Diversion or “re-direction” is often the preferred method of returning a child to a calm state. So your child often rocks himself, then get him in the chair and rock away.

I think all of us worry that we may be encouraging a child to keep doing just what he wants, and he won’t learn anything new. But using tools that comfort allow you and your child to return to a place where positive things can happen. Once you and your child are regulated, it is time to introduce new information, toys and ways to move.

As an occupational therapist, I have come to believe that most children do well if they can. There is very little intentional misbehavior in young children. When children do upsetting, oppositional, and hurtful things, like hitting, kicking, crying, screaming, or running away, they do so for a reason. Sometimes they think it is funny, sometimes they are asking for attention, and quite frequently, they are acting out of fear, anxiety, and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

They move into the mode of fight or flight rather than listening and trying to understand what is going on. We need to find ways that help to keep our children from feeling overwhelmed and disregulated. This does NOT mean that you do not provide limits and create a routine and structure that you want a child to learn and follow, but it does mean that you consider your child’s needs in the moment and address them. We’ll talk more about sensory processing and structure in the future.

But for now, discover those things that will return your child to a state of calm. This is where progress begins.

Author: Kathy

Kathy, MA, OTR, works with families living with autism, using her expertise in occupational therapy to inform her whole family interventions. She has been working through organizations and public education for over 40 years. Read her full bio here.

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