My passion is to support families, and the individuals within them, by equipping them to connect, communicate and have fun together.
Families of all shapes and sizes struggle with the same fundamental issues of different agendas, standards and expectations. Every member of your family may need something entirely different to the rest, especially in families with neurodiverse members who can often struggle to feel a sense of belonging.
Embracing the values that make your family unique by learning to connect (or reconnect) through communication, compromise and prioritising relationships within the family can take your family from stress to a place of family joy and happiness.
One of the first steps towards healthy family communication is mastering the I-message (not the phone variety!). This starts with recognising the problem is not the person you are speaking to, but rather their actions and how they impact you.
I-messages are a simple form of communication that are particularly helpful in conflict situations, or encouraging children to adjust behaviour without punishment. I-messages comprise three parts:
- A non-blameful/non-judgemental description of the child’s (or adult’s) behaviour
- How you feel about the behaviour
- The impact or cost to you or some other person
E.g. When you twirl around in the lounge room, I feel worried because you may hit the television and we cannot afford a new one. If it broke, none of us could enjoy the shows we wanted to watch.
Using these I-messages, instead of blaming with ‘you-messages’, we explain to the other member of our family (yes, this works with adults too!) how their actions impact us. If it doesn’t work in the first instance, actively listen to their point of view or needs, then move towards a solution that works for both parties.
No Lose Method – Compromise!
Traditional (or might I say old fashioned?) family models focus on parental discipline and child obedience. This win-lose conflict resolution style may compel behaviour choices in the immediate, but it seldom influences values and choices next time. Unfortunately, this parent wins/child loses parenting style often leads to children who resent their parents.
The opposite style of conflict resolution, where child wins/parent loses, is similarly ineffective, as it leads to parents resenting children (yes, it happens) and children who become selfish and inconsiderate.
The trick to having a happy family is to compromise and you meet the needs of both parties by finding a solution that is acceptable to both. In so many cases, between adult members or between adult and child, the act of both offering a solution, discussing and then actioning a win-win option can bring you closer together.
E.g. When a child wants to twirl, and an adult wants to keep the TV safe, the Child can twirl outside or in their room.
Put the Relationship First
I know from personal experience that shifting family dynamics is challenging, and long-held behaviour patterns are particularly so. But I also know it is worth the effort. Many of us parent as we were brought up ourselves and have to unlearn before moving forward. It helps if you focus on the end goal.
You are reading this because you value your family. You want to know the secret ingredient to have a happy family. I’m here to tell you that the secret is to prioritise your family relationships. Once you have done so, the changes and shift in dynamics will seem easier, and your neurodiverse family will become the happy family you want it to be.
If you would like to learn more about how you can have your own happy family, I invite you to join me at my FREE Recharge Family Joy Sessions with Wendy Marman. In Canberra on Wednesday 16, 23 & 30 March from 7:30 – 9:00 pm at Western Community Hub (also available live online).
There are three simple rules I keep coming back to. I recommend them to my clients and I try to remember them myself. They are essential for neurodiverse families at this holiday time of the year. So my Christmas Tips are similar to my everyday life tips.
1. You know your family best.
2. You are your neurodiverse child’s best advocate.
3. Keep your own cup full to benefit your whole family.
The pressure of Christmas expectations, long summer holidays, visiting family or friends that may not know your child as well all deplete your child’s energy bank. This is especially true of neurodiverse children. My Christmas tips help my family and many of my clients.
You Know Your Family Best
Many families experience the challenges of different personalities and often unwanted parenting advice over the holiday period. For families with neurodiverse members, including autism, ADHD or any number of diagnoses, the judgements from these large gatherings can be painful and lead to meltdowns or confrontations. There is no one solution here, but I want to remind you to trust your instincts.
You know your family best. Even if you don’t have a solution all the time or an easy way to avoid triggers as they change. Trust your instinct as a parent.
Perhaps you think it would help if you stayed in a hotel rather than with family, so there is a quiet place at the end of the day where your autistic child can recharge. Maybe you realise that the sugar for Christmas Breakfast triggers ADHD reactions in your child and can offer to cook up a savoury special for everyone instead.
Planning ahead and listening to your inner voice will help your child have a neurodiverse friendly Christmas that everyone will enjoy.
You Are Your Childs Best Advocate
Advocating can be difficult, but it is also rewarding. As parents of neurodiverse children, we get used to advocating on their behalf to schools and other child based activity groups. It’s much harder at Christmas when it becomes our job to advocate for our child to our parents or grandparents, even to our crazy Aunt who cannot understand difference at all.
I have been there. I have chastised my child for behaviour when I should have been more empathic. I have chastised my child for behaviour when I should have chastised the other party for disrespecting my child. And I have felt guilty later. So have many of the parents I work with.
You may experience a moment of discomfort respectfully explaining to your parents/or other awkward family members that you are taking your child for a quiet walk instead of punishing them.
For your child, this could become the most significant part of their holiday. Knowing you had their back. Others will have to get used to modern parenting and respecting children too.
Keep Your Cup Full To Benefit The Whole Family
I have spoken about this before and will likely again because it’s so important. It can be challenging to advocate for your child to other family members or pre-empt meltdowns or confrontations. It may feel like I am asking too much of you, and it is adding more worry. Please love yourself more than this. I want you to feel empowered, capable and to know that it is ok to make mistakes!
You will be more capable, more empowered, and more forgiving of yourself if you fill your cup too. If you love Christmas with your family, then go forth and enjoy. However, if it is a day filled with arguments and judgement that depletes both you and your neurodiverse child, can you alternate years? Spend the alternate on holiday at the beach filling your cup?
If you can look after yourself as a parent, you will better advocate and smooth the path for your child. Neurodiverse or not.
Christmas tips take away: take that bubble bath on Christmas Eve, limit your time with family members who wind you up, or take a long walk before you see them. What you need is important too.
Sending you peace, love and joy this festive season.