What does and doesn’t work for Polar Bear
In this blog post I share what parenting strategies do and do not work for my eldest son; Polar Bear (currently 12).
In the previous blog post I explored what things impact my parenting strategies, you can read this Here
What does work
As I mentioned in the previous post, logic and facts work best. If there’s something that needs doing I find explaining what it is and why it’s important, is far more likely to result in compliance. Of course, since we have a low demand environment here, I only use this strategy when it’s something that is neccessary. This includes health and hygiene issues, safety issues and going out places (appointments for example). Before using this strategy I will consider whether the demand is truly neccessary and I will make it as accessible as possible for him. For example, bathing is important for hygiene reasons, I insist on a bath as infrequently as is healthy and I will make it accessible by running the bath for him, getting shampoo and towel ect out and making sure his brothers are not around to disturb him while he bathes. This increases the likihood of compliance.
Like most PDAers, reducing demands has the most positive result overall. We have few rules and few restrictions. Polar Bear is mostly able to come and go as he pleases, further helped by the fact that he rarely wishes to go anywhere alone. Keeping the kids safe is of utmost importance so if Polar Bear were to want to go out alone more regularily then I would need to change my strategies to keep him safe, this would increase the demands placed on him. At the moment, few demands is required so this lessons the stress placed on him. He has access to every part of the house and is able to make his own food/drinks, use the bathroom alone, use screens whenever and basically have free reign. While there are age restrictions and safety features on all the screens, his lack of interest in age inappropriate content means these restrictions don’t affect him. Basically, demands placed on Polar Bear are as low as they can possibly go at the moment, this means parenting him is far easier than ever before and results in higher cooperation when demands are neccessary and an overall happier child.
One strategy that is effective is using annoyance to get him on my side rather than have his ‘as an enemy’. For example, when he needs to have patience or when plans change and there is no way to adapt to this, some children can often blame the parent and cause a disconnection which results in difficulty dealing with the problem at hand. By being sympathetic with Polar Bear during these times and by being annoyed at the actual problem on behalf of Polar Bear, I can show him that I am on his side and he is more likely to direct his frustration at the problem rather than at me. This means we can better work together as a team to deal with the issue, rather than fighting each other. Often this means I need to ‘get angry’ at the problem “stupid internet, how dare it stop working” and emphasise with Polar Bear “you must be so annoyed” and present a ‘way out’ “maybe if we wait a bit it might come on by itself”, that will help him know how to handle the situation while feeling comforted and understood. Usually I will try to explain the situation factually as I’ve found having an explanation for why something has happened, works best. For example “there were some builders doing building work down the road earlier, maybe they accedentally tripped one of the wires. If that’s the case then they’ll try to fix it as quickly as possible”.
When a demand is needed then I’ve found that sometimes giving as little information about the demand helps most. For example, if we have an appointment, I will tell him a day or two in advance that we have an appointment, who it is for and what time generally we will need to leave at. Sometimes he will ask what the appointment is for and/or where it is. Overall though, he usually doesn’t want to know and so I don’t tell him. I’ve learnt from experience with things like this that the more information I give, the worse his anxiety gets. I don’t specify an exact time to leave at because this overwhelms him and he starts to panic if we are early or late. Often I need to explain why we have to go to the appointment at all, there’s nearly always a valid reason and reminding him of what it is means he’ll be more likely to go along with it.
Having some incentive to do the demand can help too, but this is always an optional incentive. So, say we need to go to an appointment, I may suggest that we could go to McDonald’s or stop off at a shop he likes afterwards, but I make sure to say that it’s completely his choice and if he doesn’t want to then we won’t. Thankfully Monkey and Ton usually don’t mind if we decide to go somewhere else as well or decide not to, this is because I also use the above strategy with them, giving them as little information as possible. If I say to Monkey that we are going somewhere after an appointment, that Polar Bear has chosen in advance, but then he changes his mind on the day, then this causes anxiety for Monkey and ends up with one of them having a meltdown, as I then need to choose whether we do still go or not. It’s hard juggling 3 seperate needs and wants, especially when they contradict. So keeping plans as loose and unknown as possible helps a lot in these circumstances, and having the option of a treat that Polr Bear has full control over, works well to help meet demands.
Giving plenty of time inbetween informing Polar Bear of a demand and when it needs to be done is a good way to give him time and space to get used to the idea of the demand and helps him work through his own demand avoidance. It’s important to set things up for the kids to make complying as easy as possible. If I insist on him doing the demand as soon as I’ve told him it then it will quickly be met with panic, anxiety and refusal.
Giving as much choice and control as possible. If it’s a demand that needs doing but can be altered by him to make it easier for him then I will take that option. For example, eating is a demand, but he chooses what he eats, when, where and how. I make sure there’s plenty of food in the house that I know he likes and also ones he may like or hasn’t tried yet, regularily ask him what he wants from the supermarket, offer to buy/cook/fetch any food he wants and give lots of different options for when we are eating out. This makes it easier for him to meet the demand of eating by keeping the whole experience as stress free as possible. If I were to insist that he eat whatever I decided to make and sit where I decided he must sit then he woukd become anxious, stressed and feel under immense pressure. It would make eating food an unpleasant experience which would increase the demand of eating making him avoid it even more. By giving him as much control over demands like this it makes the chances of complying with the demand far greater, and when it comes to demands that involve health, it’s extremely important they are met overall, and less important how, when and where.
What doesn’t work
Making it a race or competition rarely works, unless it’s something he’s initiated. If I were to say “I bet I can get dressed before you” he will look at me like I’m crazy and ignore me. The chances of him getting dressed at all would reduce. Usually, any competition he does initiate with me are ones where I do all the work. Competition and races he initiated with Monkey are, I suspect, his way of helping me to get Monkey to comply with something. Such as when he races Monkey home to see who can get to the house first, this helps because Monkey sometimes struggles on trips home and has a need to be first home. I suspect this is Polar Bear’s way of being in control of who gets home first while making sure Monkey does, Polar Bear often will pretend to fall over to let Monkey win. If Monkey initiates a race with Polar Bear, Polar Bear usually refuses.
Role play was something that never really worked for Polar Bear anyway, but these days is met with disgust. If I even attempted to use role play to get him to do a demand I would be mocked and my attempts would be ridiculed.
Leaving him to do a demand in his own time doesn’t often work either, he will ‘forget’. I need to give him multiple reminders, either direct or indirect, and plenty of time in between each reminder so as not to stress him. If I leave him to do something after just one reminder then it won’t get done, and often the reminders need to be indirect. Such as, reminding him to brush his teeth, I will remind him by telling him I bought him some new toothpaste or by reminding him of when the next dentist appointment might be, or causally saying how I’ve just brushed Ton’s teeth. It needs to be things that remind him of the demand without actually telling him to do the demand. This can be tiring as there are only so many ways to say the same thing without repeating yourself.
As mentioned above, being specific when it comes to some demands doesn’t work for Polar Bear. While some PDA kids need to know what’s happening, when, where, with who, why ect, Polar Bear does better by not knowing. This makes it easier for him to also deal with changes to demands. If I were to inform him of all the specifics within a demand it would only cause him more stress as he’d be worrying about everything happening as exactly as I’ve said it would.
Polar Bear doesn’t do well with constant input from others. While some kids might want someone else constantly involved in what they’re doing and have their attention, Polar Bear prefers to be left alone to do things more independently. This isn’t for every demand, there are some things he wants support with. But for most things, I try to give him space to deal with but be close by enough for when he needs help. If I try to get too involved in demands with him he will refuse to participate at all.
He doesn’t like it when I’m too emotional. When it comes to managing demands with him it’s usually best not to act too happy/excited/cheery nor too sad/unhappy/angry. He can tolerate when I’m in a good mood as long as it’s a very mild good mood, too much of a negative mood makes him anxious. This can impact his ability to cope with demands, so it’s important that I maintain a middle ground emotional state when dealing with difficult yet neccesary demands. When demands are low then I don’t need to adapt my mood as much, because it’s still important to have autonomy, adapting my mood when needed is just one tool I can use for when needs are higher. Some PDA kids struggle unless adults act like a happy tv children’s presenter, if I tried that with Polar Bear he would be extremely irritated and this might lead to a meltdown.
Distraction, too, does not work. While, with some kids, you can distract them from the demand they are doing, taking their attention away and allowing them to complete the demand without realising it, this doesn’t work for Polar Bear because he sees right trough the technique. Indeed, Polar Bear is quite adept at using the distraction technique himself, to distract adults from imposing demands on him. Something he has found only works with me when I allow it to, or I’m having a particularly brain foggy day. If, say, he was refusing to eat some food and I attempted to distract him from the avoidance by talking about something on tv, rather than being distracted and start eating like some kids might, Polar Bear would utilise the distraction and use it to distract me from the food instead. He would then attempt to either leave or remove the food in the hopes I would forget to insist he eats it. Thankfully he rarely feels the need to use this technique as I only insist on demands that are important, and I am as flexible as possible with them, giving him as much control over what happens as I can.
Overall, what does and doesn’t work is never 100%. Something that hasn’t worked in the past might work once in a while, and something that nearly always works might suddenly stop working. Nothing works fully everytime, and I often need to mix things up, even adapting each strategy a little bit to make it seem different so it works again.
It helps to be as flexible as possible and to limit the demands that are needed day to day. A lot of the demands Polar Bear faces are ones he places on himself and ones that are impossible to remove (using the toilet, eating, sleeping). By keeping the demands I place on him to an absolute minimum, it makes it easier for him to deal with his own and the immovable ones. If the demands I place on him have to increase, then I try to make them as easy to do as I can and accept that other demands might be avoided, he might not eat as much or sleep as much that day, and so I will try to pave the way to making those demands even more accessible than usual (buying takeaway for example).
Managing demands placed on Polar Bear and adapting my strategies to help him is a daily balancing act, too far one way or the other can lead to outright refusal, avoidance or meltdowns. But if I keep the balance as level as possible, I find Polar Bear is able to cope better and with more overall, meaning the demands are able to be increased somewhat, making way for things like fun activities that were previously inaccessible. Some of the things he has been able to achieve because the balance has been stable include baking (cakes, sushi, scrambled eggs), tidying his bedroom by himself, having his hair cut, going to the park, buying a build-a-bear teddy, painting, asking for help with something, trying new clothes and having his picture taken.