Why do we teach our kids to “behave”?

Are you teaching your child to “behave” for their benefit? Or yours?

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Some behaviors or characteristics of autistic people can be dangerous. Like not sensing danger, and just darting toward a busy street. Or leaning “too” forward on a banister, not recognizing one can actually fall. Some others can get them in danger or can endanger, say, priceless museum pieces. In that category I would put bumping hard into people, which could make the other person respond in anger and actually hit you. Or leaning against a showcase full of antique, glass works of art, in a way that could make them break.

But in many other cases, the behavior is not dangerous, probably makes the person happy, or helps them deal with anxiety. We don’t try to change that behavior for the wellbeing or safety of the autistic child. We do it for us. I participated yesterday in a survey that made this fairly clear. It contained some statements one had to agree or disagree with. Some of the statements read something like this: “We don’t go out in public because my child’s behavior embarrasses me.” “I have to constantly explain my child has autism because of his or her behaviors.”

 

 

This reminds me of the typical scene of a child throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the supermarket. What many times happens is that the parent (normally the mother) is close to the child trying to control the situation, and looking around to see the reactions of the people around. If there is nobody around, or people just smile and go away, then that’s fine. But if people start lecturing the parent, looking at her disapprovingly, and so on, what can and does happen too often is that the child gets punished: spanked in some cases, yelled at, or carried out of the store while the child is trying to free themselves (which can be dangerous, by the way, depending on the agility and strength of the child). And this is the “approved parenting style” in our society.

One of the problems with this is that that societal approved parenting styleMR does not work (and by the by, “time outs” don’t work either). One response that works in the long run is to ignore the child, though how you do it matters… and note that here I’m considering we’re speaking about a temper tantrum, not a meltdown. For a meltdown, you need to know what caused it and what helps the child the most.

Now, if you do a quick search on YouTube, you will see videos shaming parents who are actively ignoring their kids… and also shaming parents who are physically punishing their children. Meaning, you are never free of criticism. Unless you never ever take your kid out into a public space.

The biggest problem is that you pay more attention to the feelings or to the approval of people you don’t know at all. You put their feelings well above your child’s. And you will never see these people again! They will gladly post a video of you and your child to happily shame you. And you’re supposed to love your child more than anything in the world, yet are more invested in gaining the stranger’s approval than in not harming your relationship with your child.

 

Is it worth it?

 

NO.

 

Just stop paying attention to the other people.

 

If your child is on the spectrum (or has ADHD or any of the other conditions that could lead to similar behaviors) the “embarrassing” behavior can happen when they are 2-3 years old like it happens with “neurotypical” kids, but it can also happen when they’re 6, or 9, or 12. So what?

Sure, that person is looking down on you. Sure, they’ll get home and you’ll be the dinner conversation. Sure, they’ll feel superior to you because that would never happen to them, because their child behaves. They are raising their child to obey, and respect their parents, not like these new age/hippie/millennials/whatever parents who don’t know how to properly raise a child. They don’t know you, don’t know your story, don’t know what you’ve tried or not, what has worked and what has backfired. How much you slept last night or if you slept at all.

 

And they don’t care.

 

You. Should. Not. Care. Either.

 

Let them think whatever they want. Let them speak about you. You don’t know them and you would not want to be their friend anyway.

 

Care for your child. Your child is the one waiting for you at home. Is the one having dinner with you. And the one you hug in the mornings, and kiss good night when they go to sleep.

 

The rest of the world is out there, outside your home, and does not matter.

Author: Florencia Ardon

I'm the mom of two amazing neurodivergent children, and have been married to a great guy, their dad, for over a decade and a half. I work at a university as a student advisor, and love reading and hiking. /// Soy madre de dos niños increíbles, neurodivergentes, esposa desde hace más de una década. Soy asesora de estudiantes en una universidad. Me encanta leer y caminar.

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