Sunday, October 18, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking

One of the most challenging moments in the day-to-day life of a parent is the unforeseen meltdown. Sometimes, kids just have the wrong thing happen to them at the wrong time and they just explode.

This isn't just true for autistic kids, although I notice it more readily with mine. He doesn't like surprises; when he doesn't get something that he's expecting (recess, dessert) or when he has to change his schedule without warning, those are the days when he's more likely to melt down.

And yes, he's ten. Meltdowns still happen when kids get older. They just take different forms.

I worry sometimes about how I respond to him after a meltdown. I can't talk to him during the meltdown - he's flooded with emotions, and all I can do is to keep him from getting worse or doing damage to something (i.e. throwing a remote control across the room). 

So I talk to him afterward, once he's calmed down. We talk.  

Usually, too much.

I'll explain to him patiently how the rules are the same as they've always been. And how he has to take school/weekend responsibilities/chores/whatever seriously.

Sometimes, I'll talk to him about how he reacts differently than he used to. How he's gotten so much more mature than he used to be, and how moments like this don't come as often as he used to. 

Sometimes, I'll ask him if there was anything I could have done differently. Wait, what?! Am I really asking him what mistake I made when he freaked out? No, not really, but yes, sort of. This is a dangerous avenue, but sometimes I go down that path anyway. I get talking, and look, I'm still a dad that hates to see his kid upset. 

And I think part of it is that he's getting older. I'm so aware that he's not the same little boy he used to be. I can't see ten-year-old him without seeing two-year-old him reflected in his eyes. And sometimes, the conversations we have are really conversations I have with myself. "How can I solve this problem? How did this maturity blossom in you without me noticing?"

Sometimes, the questions I'm asking can never be answered by him. "What are you thinking when these things happen? Do you still trust me?"

I need to shut up sometimes. I know that when it works best, he gets upset and I just step back and let him work it out. He can do it. He doesn't need coaching from me as much as he used to. And he doesn't need me to relentlessly dissect every moment of conflict with him. What he needs to know is that I love him, and that sometimes that love means cracking down on the rules and not apologizing for it afterward.