Changing your parenting style Have you ever thought you were doing something right only to later discover you were doing it wrong? I am 42 but recently found out that I have been misspelling a word all my life. I felt embarrassed and a bit silly but none of us are perfect. I thought I had an idea of how to parent. I knew children needed consistency, at times discipline, and boundaries. I knew that it was important to look at the future as well as the immediate present and help mold children who would in turn develop into respectful, tolerant, kind adults. Then it turned out my child was not only autistic but he also had a genetic condition, visual impairment but even harder, he had challenging behaviour. He would scream when told no, cause hundreds of pounds of damage daily, rip things off walls, kick, punch, scratch, pull my hair and throw anything he could. So how did I react? Well I did what I thought any parent should: I tightened the boundaries, became firmer and established consequences for his actions. Did it work? No. Things went from bad to worse and he started self harming and causing more damage. He started to be angry, screamed for longer and even became more aggressive. I felt such a failure. I dreaded the phone ringing and his school once again saying he had caused more damage. I felt so alone, isolated and embarrassed. I thought I was doing it all right but actually for ten years I had been doing it all wrong without even realising. Then I heard about a radical but proven way of parenting children like my son. I honestly had nothing to lose since things could not have been any harder for us all. With the support of the professionals working with us I set about changing my parenting style. It very much was a case of out with the old and in with the new. Out went consequences and removing of things like iPads. In came understanding, patience and working together. Out went shouting, fighting, and tension and in came calm voices (from me not him as he can’t speak), peace and settled behaviour. From an outsider’s point of view, it looked like I had given up and let my child dictate. I actually have done exactly that! I now parent using a technique known as ‘low arousal’. What that means is I put as little demand on my autistic child as possible. I respond to his needs quickly, whether those are sensory, routine, or just the need for space. I don’t fight it when he wants his bath at a certain time or if he wants breakfast before getting dressed. I have laid aside all my pre-conceived notions of how I should be in full control as a parent and allowed my son to have control. I have ‘flipped the narrative’ by saying to him in my actions that he matters and I am responding to his needs patiently and calmly. As a result, he feels validated, understood and accepted for who he is. I am creating a home where he can relax, therefore we can all relax. I am keeping his anxiety low which means he no longer feels the need to attack out of fear and anger. I have taken what was a live bomb on the verge of exploding and defused it by completely changing how I parent. I was told my son’s challenging behaviour was his problem. Even though my son has severe learning difficulties and severe autism, even though he has a genetic condition and sight difficulties, I was still expected by society to parent like super nanny and control him. All that did was make everything worse. Every child is unique and there isn’t a one size fits all way to parent, especially when your child has any additional needs or a disability. Things are so much better now. My son’s school don’t call anywhere near as often. He is calmer, happier, sleeping better and his sibling isn’t afraid of being attacked. My mental health has improved but more importantly his has too. Don’t be too proud to say ‘I got it wrong’. Parenting a child with a disability is so much harder than people think. Sometimes the best way we can really help our children is to be willing to change how we parent them. Having the courage to do so can be life changing for everyone. Read more blogs by Miriam and our Family Fund bloggers.