Matthias was born having had an in utero stroke as well as prenatal drug exposure. My son is deeply sensitive, big-hearted, resilient, hard- working. People love him and his gentle character. Unfortunately, my son has brain damage. Some of the challenges he faces every single day include (among other things): short-term memory issues, being easily overwhelmed, raging, social and emotional dysmaturity (gaps between chronological and developmental age), and inability to perspective take (lack of empathy).
One of the most challenging behaviours is his need to vent about and process a past topic or issue for the 300th time! The technical term is perseveration. Each time I “fall short” and he is hard done by. I am the bad guy. He is the victim. It is brutally painful to see my son’s brain get stuck and rehash the same issues again and again while he is unable to see that his moods and behaviours are harming himself and those closest to him. He wants independence; he also wants, even demands, that someone else “fix” this for him.
I have learned that when he is dysregulated and near the edge (point of no return), what I say and do can either shove him over the cliff or can slowly bring him back to safety and calm. You see, like a very young child, Matthias has a brutal time self-regulating (managing his emotions). If I even think about being irritated when he is raging and barely hanging on, his ultra-sensitive antennae hone in and Mt. Vesuvius blows.
I must suspend my feelings, thoughts, and emotions. I must find my deadpan, calm, quiet voice, and pull out all the empathy stops. With these tools, and a silently whispered prayer, I knock on his bedroom door and calmly enter. He greets me with a loud irritated bark. I move deliberately, quietly, slowing my breathing. I ask if he still wants to talk. He launches, loud, intense, angry, blaming. His words are deflected by my invisible shield. Eyes averted from his face, I listen and empathize. He lashes out more. My words are carefully chosen. Inwardly, I sigh and roll my eyes; this again. Getting emotionally pulled in would mean falling on my own sword, so I don’t. He baits me. I resist. This is not about me. In his deep emotional pain he strikes out. I remind myself that he never gets a break from his broken brain and that I am blessed because I do not live in his skin.
Thankfully, these days it takes less time for his mind and body to calm. What once was a three hour process can now be as short as 10 minutes. Now as his body quiets and his venting runs out of gas, I bring out a concealed coveted snack. When agitation and anger consumed his brain and body, he missed the hunger cues and his body desperately needs fuel. Now as he eats more tension seeps out, dissipates. There is calmness. Now my son is returning…until next time… and then we will do it all again.
I did not always parent this way. When I didn’t, the process was awful. Yelling! Screaming! Violence. 911 phone calls. The strategies described above have made a world of a difference. They have transformed my relationship with all my kids. Hard work? Yes, but sooooo… worth it. Changed strategies take time to produce results but improved relationships are worth the effort! What do you think?