Over the weekend, we joined my parents on a trip to the mountains. My parents have owned this time-shared condo for 35 years. Through the years, the purpose of the condo has evolved. When we were young, the trips were geared towards family hikes and swimming. As teenagers, my sister and I brought friends for the weekends. Even in the middle of the mountains, we were focused on finding other kids for late night swims and ping-pong in the community center. As adults, we used it as a refuge from the busy work week and enjoyed relaxing afternoons and happy hours before a night of board games. Now as a parent, the condo takes on a new meaning. I want it to be a place for my son to swim, walk, and play games and have the same memories that I have and continue to build.
Here’s the difference…
My only child wants to play the iPad instead of exploring in the woods. He wants to watch movies instead of going on hikes. He wants to have my undivided attention instead of letting everyone relax and visit. I know the circumstances are different. I had my sister to play with and we could entertain ourselves for hours. My son’s sensory issues and struggles with flexibility are always present. Being an only child, he has grown accustomed to an excessive amount of attention and when that attention is shifted to something or someone else, my son will fight to retrieve it anyway that he can.
Instead of understanding this, I fought it and this made for an uncomfortable scene. Trying to balance my son’s needs and my own desires pulled me in opposite directions. The loud talking, interrupting and inflexibility spilled over into the car ride home and I felt my own frustrations grow. This week was going to be Mid-Winter break and the idea of this experience consuming MY vacation was depressing.
Sunday evening, I heard my son mumbling words that I thought were the very words we had worked so hard to extinguish. Because I was cleaning up dinner and the clinging of plates and cups muffled the sounds, I couldn’t be sure what he said. I stopped and listened and then there was no mistaking the vocabulary that was obviously being used to shock others. My impulse took over and his actions got the very reaction that was desired…attention!
The next morning, I knew there needed to be a shift. I thought about my own advice to frustrated parents and my own practices in my classroom. Focus on the good attention! “Catch them being good” is not a new phrase and certainly not one that I invented, but it is effective and I decided to do the same at home. This morning, I complimented my son when he did what I asked him promptly, I thanked him for his quiet talking and appropriate language even when he was frustrated with his game. I shared that because I was able to get things done quicker without interruptions, I would be able to spend more time playing Legos with him.
This change in focus shifted our dynamics and the day was enjoyable…even when we went grocery shopping (which he doesn’t enjoy) because we compromised and focused on supporting each other. I got a limited amount of items and he walked next to the cart, helping me with our list to get it finished quickly.
I’m not saying that this approach will always work, but I think there is something to be said for focusing on what you want. I have included pictures of our Lego time together. His favorite thing right now is to incorporate his Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty (both heat sensitive and glow in the dark varieties) into the adventure.