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The reason behind a child’s bad behavior

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

Shared by the mom of one of our patients:

The first time I saw this quote, I burst into tears. It was like it had been written just for me, at that exact time. I had just survived (barely) an epic tantrum with my daughter who has autism, ADHD and overall developmental delays. I had scrapes on my arms and chunks of hair had been pulled out of my head. She had a self-induced scratch across her face. We both looked and felt like we’d been in a battle. And, I guess, when you think about it, we had.

I don’t even remember what started our war like situation, but everything exacerbated when I put her in timeout and deprived her of the thing she craves the most … my attention. That’s when the scratching, pinching and hair pulling began.

While these types of fits occur less and less these days (thanks to hours upon hours of therapy), they don’t hurt me any less. And I’m not talking about physical pain. I can take being punched all day but the damage it does to my heart is unbearable.

The ironic part of me seeing that quote at this particular time was that nine times out of 10, I maintain my cool. I remember that she can’t help it. I remember that this isn’t really her. This behavior is a result of her autism diagnosis. But this time I didn’t maintain my cool.

For probably the fourth or fifth time in her life (she’s only 5), I had lost my temper. It had been a tough day and I was simply out of patience. The second I yelled at her and saw her face, I burst into tears. I felt awful. Instead of being angry at her for the blood running down my arm, I was disgusted with myself. I’m a 39-year-old woman who knows better and she’s 5 and can’t help it. Ugh.

I quickly pulled myself together and went through the protocols I knew to follow to eventually calm her down. But, that disgust with myself continued to linger. Luckily, for us, me raising my voice is the worst that it gets. But, for many kids, it doesn’t stop there. Children with behavioral challenges like autism, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder and other diagnoses are at much higher risk for child abuse because they’re not able to control their behaviors like most neurotypical children are.

One of the trickiest parts about autism and other behavioral diagnoses is that triggers for the kind of tantrum my daughter had just had can happen in the blink of an eye. And even if you know what those triggers are, sometimes you can’t always catch them or just like all children, autism is unpredictable, and those triggers can change.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Several reasons actually … It’s partly therapeutic to give people a glimpse into this “secret” part of our life that few people see. Luckily, these types of intense tantrums happen mostly at home and mostly with me. They always say moms get the best and worst of their children and she is no different.

Another reason is that I want other parents who may be in similar situations to know they’re not alone. Our world of “special needs” or whatever the politically correct term is these days can be so isolating. We don’t want people to know our dirty little secrets. But I feel better already by sharing mine with you.

The most important reason I’m sharing this with you is for those people out there with neurotypical children. Those who may have handled their share of tantrums but not ones like we see in our world. Believe me, I’m not trying to “one up you,” all tantrums are awful but sadly for children with behavioral diagnoses, they are much worse. If you happen to witness one in person, you may unknowingly pass judgment on that child or even the parent. It’s a natural reaction and I can’t say that I haven’t done it myself.

But, if we go back to the quote at the beginning of the article, and really think about the WHY behind the child’s behavior, it probably would break our heart. And more than likely, at that particular point in time, it’s breaking that parents’ heart.

So, next time, you witness an epic meltdown by a child, don’t judge, don’t roll your eyes and think to yourself “my child would never do that,” give the parent an understanding smile and ask them if they need help with anything. They may say no but remember, it’s the thought that counts.

Interested in hearing more stories from our patient families, receiving parenting tips and advice? Follow our blog on Facebook.

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