Things weren’t going well this morning. Tosh hasn’t been eating breakfast the past couple of weeks, and today was no exception. I even let him choose his breakfast (gluten free freezer donut – cringe), but once it was ready, he refused to eat. I let him choose again (pancakes), but when they were ready, he picked up a piece, gave it a sniff and shook his head no.
It was only 8:30 am, and I was already suppressing my impulse to yell. It wasn’t just my aversion to wasting food. Or that my inability to throw food away was forcing me to eat a carb-heavy breakfast when I’m trying to lose a few pounds. I also knew we were in for a grouchy morning with a hangry little boy.
On a Saturday, no less! This was supposed to be an easy day. Like all parents, I had managed to hold myself together all week long while balancing a heavy workload and an even heavier workload at home. I was exhausted and at my wits’ end. I knew I needed to turn things around.
So I gave myself a time out.
I’m wound pretty tightly compared to other people. Some would call me high strung. Others would probably use a less flattering words to describe what is probably a mild autism spectrum issue. Learning about Tosh’s nervous system has been a blessing, because I can apply his calming strategies to my own anxiety and agitation tendencies.
When he is overwhelmed, I give him some space. And when I’m overwhelmed, I give myself some space, too.
I go into my bedroom, shut the door, and meditate for about 10 minutes. I tell Tosh that I need some privacy, that I’ll be in my room for a little while, and he needs to play by himself until I’m finished. If he’s not already engaged in play, I set him up with a movie or something that will hold his attention.
At first, this was difficult for Tosh. Like anyone, he’s curious. When you tell someone you need privacy, of course they want to know what you’re doing. For the first few months, he would burst into my room after about 15 seconds. I would calmly redirect him back downstairs and assure him I would come find him when I was finished.
“I need to calm down my body,” I’d tell him, using the same words I use with him when he’s agitated. I also take some exaggerated deep breaths, because deep breathing is a technique he uses to self-soothe. This combination of words and actions communicates to him that he’s not in trouble. I often remind him that everyone feels grouchy sometimes, and that’s okay. When you feel grouchy, you calm your body so you can feel better.
It’s unreasonable to ask our children to regulate their emotions if we don’t also do the same. It’s also unreasonable to think you can regulate your emotions without giving yourself the tools to do so. You can’t pull appropriate emotional reactions out of thin air. You may be an adult, but you need a calming space, and you need to take breaks when you get overwhelmed.
Author and speaker Gabrielle Bernstein has written some excellent books about self-discovery. This is one of my favorites which you can buy on Amazon – click the photo for a link:
A few months ago I watched her give a fascinating speech about living in positive alignment. She talked about how negativity can gain momentum if you let it, and it can not only derail your day, it can cast a shadow on your entire life.
The first step to turning things around is to slow down that negative momentum. She suggested these four steps:
It’s okay to allow yourself a time out when you need it. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s crucial. You’re giving yourself the tools you need to be happy and, in turn, be a better parent. You’re also setting a good example for your kids by modeling the behavior you expect from them.
The result will be a happier, healthier family.
And isn’t that why we are all working so hard in the first place?
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!