When nothing seems to be going right.

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Throughout the parenting a child with learning or attention challenges, the only thing that is truly consistent is that nothing is truly consistent.  We know our kids grow and change, and therefore the strategies we use with them need to change.

The hard part is that when a child thinks differently, those changes can seem to come out of nowhere and with no particular pattern to them.  And many of the changes we confront are vastly different than those of our parenting peers.

Meds that work one day, stop working the next.  A favorite food all of a sudden becomes the equivalent of a toxic waste pile, at least in your child's mind.  A happy child becomes an angry child seemingly out of nowhere.

Often in hind-sight we can figure out what triggered these otherwise random changes, but in the moment they're perplexing at best and often they can set your whole family off-kilter.

There is no bright and shiny answer here, since every person who reads this will have a different set a variables to deal with.  But here are some strategies to help move you and your family through those tough times of change:

Accept the change
Depending on what new behavior you're dealing with, sometimes you have to decide if you really need to fight that battle.  So, mac-n-cheese is no longer an edible food from your child's perspective?  What if you just let that one go for now?  You need to prioritize your time on the most pressing challenges and changes, and one food off the approved list might not be the biggest issue right now.  

Investigate for a trigger
Before going into investigator mode, realize that from a developmental perspective, the sort of self reflection and self-understanding that can be necessary to figure out the "why" of any situation may be lacking in your child right now. Keep that in the back of your mind and the following tips in the front of your mind as you embark on an investigation for a trigger for an unwanted behavior change:

  • Never try to question your child when you're in a tense moment.

  • Help your child put names to their feelings.

  • Pull out a spreadsheet and do a 72-hour break down of the three days prior to the change happening (or break down a 24 hours day on its own if you can't pinpoint the change happening). Look at environment, sleep, diet, schedule changes, school routine changes (was there a substitute teacher?), friendships, word choices (yours and others), exercise (or lack of), arguments, sibling interactions, and certainly there is more.

The back-ups for food preference changes
My daughter is a picky eater with a regular changing set of preferences.  It used to be that when she found something healthy she liked I would buy up every last CostCo size version of the food of the moment, and then after a few days or weeks she would inevitably decide she didn't really like the new food anymore.  Solution: the back-ups.  I always have on hand a selection of approximately four healthy foods which represent a good balance of protein, fat and carbs. I know she likes these four foods and they have stood the test of time.  Yes, I really want her to broaden her eating horizons, but I want her to eat healthy more.  So if it means she exists on cottage cheese and strawberries for a time, then so be it.

Enlist help
Depending on the size and scope of the change you are encountering, it may be time to enlist professional help: pediatrician, psychologist/psychiatrist, school counselor, behavior specialist, learning specialist.  Drastic behavior changes might mean it's time for a medication check-up.  As children mature, their body chemistry can changes too and that affects the way a medication is metabolized.

The long view
Sometimes getting through a change cycle can be arduous and despite your best efforts, you don't see improvements.  Some brains don’t shift at the speed we parents might like, so we can't give up on a new strategy too fast even if it seems it's not working.  Often times we have to push out our horizon for success, connect with our fellow moms and weather the storm.