Are you parenting differently-wired kids through a crisis? Here’s how to help them – and you – thrive.
Of all the areas in which life excels, throwing curveballs is the front runner.
You know what I mean – you’re floating along, settled into a routine, making plans and taking care of business (every day!) and then –
Line drive to the head from a 2×4 disguised as a regulation ball.
Like someone gets sick, really sick, and will be for a long time.
Or the main breadwinner of the house is laid off.
Or after months of evaluation and testing, your kiddo receives a life-altering diagnosis.
Or a pandemic spreads across the globe and you’re confined to your house.
Life throws curve balls with exceptional regularity, and, because you are a parent, you find yourself not only desperate for survival in an uncertain situation but desperate to raise children in that uncertainty, too –
Children who are intense, creative, quirky, and singularly focused; children who are a challenge to parent even on your best days.
Curveball life – crisis life – is anything but your best day.
Living through a crisis is exhausting. It picks at the threads of your resolve until it snags and unravels what is left of your sanity. It’s hard enough for you to get out of bed in the morning and face the freight train as it barrels toward you.
Only now there are children – yours – wandering ahead on the tracks.
Don’t get me wrong: your children are perceptive. They are differently-wired and often wise beyond their years. They can see the train coming; they can feel its vibration through mud-caked sneakers.
But they don’t move. They don’t listen to what you’re telling them. They shut down after blaming you for ruining the fun.
Parenting in crisis mode is hard on you as a parent. The truth is, though, it’s hard on your kids, too. Their irrational, developmentally inappropriate behavior seems like a personal affront to everything you’ve taught them (or demonic possession for which you bring out the holy water, because plausible rationality).
Why is crisis parenting so hard?
When you and your children are in crisis mode, there are three factors that impact your emotional health.
You are and your kids are human, and as such, you like to be able to make plans. Life’s curveballs, however, make it that much harder to add anything to the schedule, to say nothing of looking to the future with promise.
Everyday life carries a bit of stress with it, naturally; stress you are able to manage with moderate effectiveness because, on occasion, you are able to get a break. Crisis living, though, means a certain amount of global stress is consistently present. It’s always there, hanging above you, waiting for the last shoe to drop.
Before your family went into crisis mode, you probably had a familiar routine. A change in your global situation is capable of throwing everything off-kilter, from executive function to emotional regulation skills.
For adults, these three factors are somewhat easier to mitigate (or, at the very least, manage in an appropriate way).
Let’s go back to the train tracks for a minute. You would assume your kids would listen to you when you tell them to get off. Unfortunately, crisis mode takes uncertainty, global stress, and routine disruption and throws them right back at your children.
It heightens their sensitivities, intensifies their needs, and widens the developmental gap.
Differently-wired kids are subject to a number of neurodivergent traits. From Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities to Twice Exceptionality concerns and asynchronous development, you’ve usually got a highly intellectual constellation of complexity. Crank up the external pressures and your child’s behavior becomes even more out of the ordinary. Traits you’ve been working on – or perhaps even conquered – come roaring back in spades.
- your 6-year-old might see a recurrence of perfectionism in her hobbies, her interests, and her schoolwork
- your tween might sink into an existential bout of depression, seemingly unable to pull himself out of despair
- your angel baby who’s generally on top of chores and responsibilities now fights you to get out of bed
- your child’s lack of motivation is not unlike yours during this emergency situation, and if you think about it, you’ve definitely got some irritability yourself
- finally, you notice your kids are way more distractible than they ever have been, frankly, and the selfishness that courses through their bodies? Not a pretty sight to see.
All of these behaviors are par for the course when you are living through a crisis, and not just in the kids. You probably see them in yourself, too, to some degree, making it even more difficult to shepherd your children through this particular valley.
Here’s how to parent in crisis (even when you’re falling apart):
Because uncertainty is ever-present, don’t try to set and achieve big goals. Take small steps, putting the literal one foot in front of the other: “Okay. Let’s take five minutes to pick up the floor in the living room, then we’ll move to something else.” (Side note: you do not have to know what that something else is.)
Let there be leisure:
It is okay to rest, and it is okay to be kind to yourself. Show your kids that leisure time (a good book, a fun TV show, a favorite album on the speakers) is restorative and good for managing emotions. The more your children have downtime, the easier responsibilities and tasks will become.
Keep a routine:
You don’t need to keep to a strict schedule; just focus on the natural rhythms of your day. Start with breakfast, a quick read aloud, and then maybe a few academic tasks in the morning. Move on to lunch, perhaps some board games, and then a family walk.
Even if you are an introvert, personal connections are integral to mental health. Your kids don’t have to hang out with friends or even talk to people if they don’t want to, but do encourage them to at least be present in a communal room.
Take time for physical activity – whatever that might look like for your family. Bike rides, tossing a ball, or just a simple walk around the neighborhood would suffice.
Remember the value of suffering:
Suffering is redemptive. It’s not a meaningless hell devoid of purpose; rather, it shapes and molds you into the person God designed you to become. Teach your children this lesson by reminding them of other times they struggled and emerged victorious. It will help them (and you) ride out the current storm.
Life does have a fondness for giant curveballs, but their subsequent crises don’t have to keep you in the dugout for long.
It is possible to parent your differently-wired children through a crisis with hope, grace, and encouragement.
Take each day as it comes and make the next small step forward; you’ll all come out stronger in the end.
Need a little extra encouragement? Read on: