Years ago, when I was working with children with severe autism, I learnt fairly quickly that the best way to avoid a child going into meltdown in the community, was to talk with the child about what we were going to do and expectations (mine and society’s) of behaviour. Sometimes I supplemented with stories, sign language, or pictures from a programme called Boardmaker. Kids with autism have difficulty controlling the flood of sensory information they pay attention to, and it overwhelms them. They often have also had limited experience of the outside world, limited by their behaviour and people’s reaction to it. It was my job to support them to integrate themselves with their experiences and achieve increasing levels of competence and confidence. It didn’t always work out perfectly, they were kids with complex needs, but it helped.
When I had my own kids, I figured that little kids are pretty much the same. They have limited experience of the world. They don’t know what a vaccination at the doctor’s office means, or a dental examination, or how to control themselves in aisle 3 at the supermarket (you know the one). Trying to talk them through it when they in situ and overwhelmed is not going to cut it.
So, I did with my kids what I did when I worked with kids with autism. I communicated expectations. I talked them through what was going to happen. Less anxiety creates happier times. If it’s going to hurt, or be boring, or if it’s scary, acknowledge the feelings and talk about ways you can get through it. Little kids appreciate honesty, it builds trust. I anticipated hunger, thirst, tiredness, and boredom, and packed a bag of food, water, comfort items, and small but interesting activities. Being able to meet kids needs when they arise builds trust.
So far so good. Late last year, my youngest boy came down with a severe but short-term illness. We rushed him to the hospital. He needed a canula in his hand to administer the drugs. It was scary but he didn’t balk because I was talking him through it.
I communicate expectations around the house too. “Ten minutes till dinner, wind up your game.” “After dinner, you will need to pack away those toys.” Life is just simpler that way. As they get older, the boys have grown in competence, and I don’t have to talk as much as I once did.