My son Reuben is 6 years old and was diagnosed as autistic three years ago. My kid is not so different from yours; he is just an exacerbated version. Reuben gets scared of the dark (mostly when he doesn’t want to go to bed), doesn’t want to eat brussels sprouts (who does?), and smacks his sister when I’m not looking (though sometimes I think she might deserve it).
The difference is in how difficult it is get him to modify his behavior unlike your kids (although I am sure you would disagree).
When Reuben was first diagnosed, he would tantrum between 20 to 30 times a day, each lasting about 15 minutes. I had no control. He hit, kicked, and disobeyed me at every turn. He was totally in control of our house. I either needed to get the control back or run away and become a truck stop waitress with pineapple earrings (hey, you have your dreams, I have mine).
With help from some incredible behaviorists, my house is a paragon of tranquility and peace (ok, slight exaggeration but I am Jewish, it’s in my blood). When my son has a tantrum, decides to bodyslam his sister, or wants to have a sleepover in our bed every night for a week, I now have the tools to help me solve the problem. I use these same tactics with my daughter Sadie who certainly knows what she wants, and what she wants is EVERYTHING! That is how I know some of these gems will work for you:
1. Be Positive. Focus on smiling and rewarding good behavior; it goes a lot further than yelling and punishment do. Reward the behaviors you want to see when they least expect it. If they think you are always watching and a reward could come at any minute, they are more likely to keep doing good things. Rewards can be anything from kisses and cuddles to their favorite cookie–only you know what will work best.
2. Give Them A Head’s Up (or as behaviorists like to say, “Prime” them). Kids like to feel in control, even though they aren’t (we are, right?!?). This is a major problem for my son who gets anxious when things are unexpected. Letting your kids know ahead of time what to expect can alleviate a lot of problems.
3. Beware: It Might Be You. If your kid only tantrums when you are around but not at school, with daddy, or the babysitter, well then sorry Moishe, but it’s probably you. You might need to realize that your child is getting something from acting out with you that they don’t get elsewhere. It could just be they like the reaction they get from you, or that you give in… which leads to the next one!
4. Never EVER Give In! One of my behaviorists said it best: “Behavior is like a slot-machine, what they want is the jackpot. They are gambling addicts, and you are the slot machine! They will keep pulling the handle to get that jackpot. If just once, they win it, they will continue to pull that handle again and again.”
The reason behaviorists use these strategies over and over again is because they work! Try them out for yourself. You might be shocked at how quickly and dramatically you see change. Get ready to have more time on your hands for hugs and kisses, and much less on time-outs and arguments. We all deserve a bit more nachus, right?