Growth occurs incrementally. Nothing Earth-shattering about that statement. But raising a developmentally ‘different’ child requires that you have ‘different’ expectations for what, when, and how growth happens. I learn as I go along.
My elder son’s growth was automatic and relatively seamless. I would often sense in myself when he had leap-frogged straight up and into a new sort of consciousness. But my younger child’s development is more zigzag than straight-arrow. A matter of starting off on a fresh path that is long-worn with tire ruts before we deliberately drag the car off the old road and search out a new one.
And because I’m so close to him — too close, but what choice? — it’s difficult for me to even perceive of changes until they’re behind us. Difficult to see if and when change has occurred. Difficult to define the new path once the old one has been identified as no longer useful no longer heading in a forward direction.
I had been working with him and his anger for three years when I suddenly realized one day that he hadn’t had a truly violent explosion in months. Then I acclimatized to the next stage, of para-rages of banged chairs and slammed doors (tame by comparison to previous years!) before realizing, again, that another stage of anger had passed, as well. But in between were steps forward and back…steps forward and back.
Intense & Shape-Shifting
The trouble is that raising this child is intense, extreme and fiery. You can’t let weeks or months slide without full-on attention to all the details. I chose not to have him diagnosed or drugged, so I pay great attention to his diet, micro-nutrients and supplements. Evidence points to the great benefits of physical activity for these types of kids, so I’m mindful that when he’s whipping himself into a storm he needs to be redirected into stair-climbing. Sleep is implicated in brain issues, so I’m strict with the whens and wheres of screens, and regular, early bedtime is not very negotiable.
But even with all that, I suddenly realized this week that he had fallen into some patterns of behaviour that, while comparatively better than previous ones, had now long-overstayed their welcome. Chronic whining and negative speech habits — reflexively howling, “No!” to everything; chronic blaming, the habitual refusal to take responsibility for simple yet unwanted outcomes; and not answering when spoken to. These were some of the behaviours that seemed benign enough compared to their predecessors but were bad for his brain development and incredibly stressful and annoying for me.
A tacit trap in raising this type of child plays on our natural human tendency to acclimatize to wherever we are. Kicking furniture is less violent than throwing it, so we acclimatize. We may need to jostle ourselves awake to the furniture kicking when we are reminded that while preferable to throwing, it’s still not acceptable behaviour. And on and on, from a worst-to-better list of unwanted behaviours.
Every six-to-eight months or so I had to pinch myself awake to the behaviours we had all grown accustomed to. Just this past week I awoke to see that we’d been tolerating some behaviours that while preferable to those that preceded them were still awful to live with and that, not helping our son’s development, left him in a new rut. A lot of reflexive, automatic reactions: whining; saying, “No!” to everything; low-grade rudeness; being chronically unreasonable; refusing to do disliked school work; and a lot of reflexive blaming.
All of that is immeasurably better than the behaviours we began with eight-ish years ago, but we won’t reach the goals we have for our son by allowing these behaviours to continue! Hence a week of figurative kicking and literal screaming to get us all out the current wheel ruts and onto a rutless, smooth new road.
Paving Yet Another New Road
Realizing that we’ve arrived at a new plateau of behaviour, I started to put some new lessons, models and rules into place. We had new conversations about old topics; and since we’re at a new stage I can insert relevant information and vocabulary that is newly age-appropriate. We talk about body, brain, choices, feelings. We make new diagrams and drawings and come up with new strategies, or dust off old classics we haven’t used in a while.
My son has new ideas and new feelings. I encourage him to come up with ideas, methods and solutions. I always think his own ideas, or his spins on ideas I present, are preferable to my spoon-fed versions. I’m thrilled when the process of evolution is collaborative! His awareness and self-awareness is critically important to me.
I was on Cloud 9 when he announced that one book I had thought useful wasn’t helpful anymore; and that he prefers another way we found to look at the problem. I was on Cloud 10 when he told me that he just realized that most other people experience frustration and unhappiness, and that many people struggle with anger. (I realize that I need to communicate to him more often that he’s not very far outside the mainstream, and less so the more he develops.)
Cloud 11 when he offers to write a list of the current behaviours he needs to outgrow. Cloud 12 when he makes a “My Successes” list of what he’s doing right and when he’s doing it. And Cloud 13 when he asks to do the meditation we created for him. So — to stretch the transport metaphor — we’re not just dragging the old Ford out of the tire ruts of the worn backroad. But we’re actually flying — still zigzag, but no shame in that — over 21st-century clouds.
Thus we start and lurch and stall and restart. We drive straight and zigzag and to the right and left and sometimes backwards before turning around again. We get traction on a new road until the tires wear ruts, so we’re moving forward yet developmentally stuck. So long as each new plateau is higher than the last then I believe we’re doing okay.