Sometimes we enjoy a time of positive change. Relationships with our challenging child seem to be improving. Things are going almost smoothly at school. The friend situation is steady and we are almost willing to relax. But not so fast. A setback punches you in the gut and causes you to rethink all your progress.
In every aspect of your life, change and growth will sometimes be short-circuited by a setback. Often that setback will catch you completely off guard. You are feeling good about your child and about yourself. Things seem to be stable and you can almost forget that you have a difficult child. You imagine this is how parents of “normal” children feel; successful, competent, and in charge.
Reality catches you by surprise and suddenly, you are seeing the behavior you haven’t seen in a long time. The school calls, your child’s teacher sends a harsh note, the old anger or disrespect that had diminished rears its ugly head.
What do you do now?
The immediate response is to feel completely defeated. You quickly forget all the progress you have made as the old knot in your stomach tightens back up. The voices of failure, insecurity, and defeat start the negative chorus in your head. The voices that tell you that it will never get better, that the imagined progress was not real, that you caused this, and that you deserve this. The despair settles in and lies heavily on your shoulders.
Stop! Do not let a small setback convince you that you are back where you started. Don’t let the negative thoughts convince you that it was an illusion or a false sense of progress. One step back does not put you where you started. It only puts you back one step.
You owe it to yourself, your child, and your family to keep your wits about you. Panic, stress, and negative thoughts will never create good ideas and strong solutions. Shut down the negative self-talk by replacing those thoughts with positive ones. Remind yourself that this is a temporary readjustment, not a total derailment.
Make an actual list of all the positive changes you have seen over the past few months. List each and every one so you can see and feel those successes. Remind yourself and remind your child of how far you have come. Remember every positive comment you have received on the improvements from teachers, family, and other parents.
Your future progress will be determined by how you respond when a setback occurs. You must not give up. Remind yourself that the changes you have made are working. Humans are inconsistent and respond to events in many different ways. Unexpected challenges are part of life.
Talk to your child. Ask about the events and feelings that led to the negative change. If you remain calm and optimistic, chances are much greater that your child will be able to talk freely to you. Acknowledge the current issues and make a plan to move forward. Get agreement from your child on the plan. Determine a way to track progress and stick to the basics.
Every time you come out of a setback, you will build confidence in your ability to regroup and move past a bump in the road of progress and positive change. You will model the importance of reflection and adjustment for your child. Life has a way of throwing things at us that can derail our plans. Teaching your child to overcome those challenges is a highly valuable life skill.
You will eventfully look back and be proud of overcoming the roadblocks that threatened to stop you from helping your child become a productive and successful adult. You will be grateful for the challenges that taught you and your challenging child to grow and improve.