I reckon I’m a good listener, and I’m good at following instructions (it’s my ‘thing’) but I lack a depth of understanding at times. For example; I’ve been told many times, that it’s crucial to understand my son’s ‘triggers’. You know, those things that set us off, big time! For me, it’s certain noises like someone chewing their food loudly or someone treating me like a child (although occasionally there’s some substance there) and for my son, Finn, I created a list of his triggers (I love lists, like I love research and gin). There’s not much point in identifying triggers if you’re not going to actively manage them on a daily basis. It’s a bit like buying the latest gym gear but maintaining the same sedentary lifestyle.
Finn’s list of Triggers:
- Being pressured to do something that has come from another person.
- Being in a situation where he is expected to behave in a certain way, use manners, be polite etc. This extends to birthdays and special occasions.
- Being asked too many questions and expected to answer them.
- Behaving inauthentically.
- Being told no.
- Being made to follow rules that are stupid.
- Lying or being unfair.
- Not having an escape route.
- Changes of plans.
- Questioning their authenticity.
- Disagreeing with him.
- Being too loud (particularly sudden loud noises/celebrations e.g. at football matches)
- Sensory overloads (particularly smell and taste).
- Sarcasm or micky taking.
- Sibling rivalry (a tricky one with a competitive sister).
- Feeling out of control, especially if I’m not there.
- Being praised in authentically, voices that are too enthusiastic.
Finn struggles with his birthday every year and no matter what we do to avoid disappointment, we inevitably fail. ‘What normal child is scared of their birthday?!’ – his words, not mine (I’m on a mission to ban the word ‘normal’).
A birthday is more than one demand, it’s a whopping terabyte of a demand full of lots of giga demands and mega demands: For one, it’s immovable – you can’t change it. Then there are a host of expectations to deal with from the insinuation that you should be ‘Happy’ (a cacophony of ‘happy birthdays’ all day long) to the expectation that you should be grateful for your presents and therefore act in an expected way. We have seen many a present nonchalantly tossed to the side which, before we understood the Demand Avoidance of our ingrate, was a big trigger for us parent dragons. Of course, if you let on that you’re disappointed in him…..well, you guessed it, that’s a trigger for him and the snowball gathers momentum.
I’m writing this on his birthday and it’s been an interesting (for want of a better word) couple of days leading up to it. Despite my efforts to distract him, the pressure surrounding the impending big day mounted and it was palpable. I went from ‘preventing the fire’ to ‘fighting the fire’ to full blown ‘run the heck away from the fire’ and when he eventually erupted, it was traumatic for everyone. His eyes glaze over (as if brimming with tears that can’t escape) and he has a look of helpless terror about him that cuts at my core because we both know there is nothing that will stop it. The adrenalin kicks in and he starts throwing, punching and swearing. This is not my son, it’s not the same boy who cries when he sees an animal in pain or the happy go lucky boy who can light up a room. This is a pure amygdala fuelled PDA meltdown taking him away from us and it’s very hard to remind myself, in that moment, that I’ll get him back.
The speed and agility required to fend off an attack, has equipped me with some unique skills over the years (Anthony Joshua, eat your heart out!). He usually goes for the knives first which is why we are now the proud owners of a combination locked box, where we keep all sharp objects (and chocolate). His next victim is invariably the clothes horse which is the ideal weapon of mass destruction. It can take out anything or anyone on its trajectory, and it leaves behind an impressive scene of complete chaos. His sister (aged 12) knows the drill by now and escapes the house with Mack (the Springador) to our friend and neighbour, two doors down – she has a key, and I’m immensely grateful that she has a safe place to retreat to until the coast is clear. My friend (afore mentioned neighbour) happens to be with me on this occasion and we both take the flack with the scars to prove it.
Fast forward to the day after his birthday and he’s come out the other side, having passed the period of self loathing that inevitably follows a meltdown. He’s singing out loud, cracking jokes, climbing into bed next to me, asking his sister if she wants to jump on the trampoline with him, feeding the dog and planning his social life. The slate is clean again and I have the opportunity to improve my trigger management skills. I like shortcuts, quick fixes and flying by the seat of my big pants, but if I want to earn that Michelin star in PDA Parenting, some good old fashioned diligence is going to have to be on the menu.