Children need rules, and thrive on clearly defined guidelines. Rules set boundaries and help us understand situations better. We live in a world of rules, overt or implied, and they help us know what to expect and how to behave.
Think of a gathering of friends, or a business meeting, or a luncheon. They all have sets of expectations, and yes, some are more fun than others. 😉
For our Asperger kids, however, rules are doubly important. Theirs is a confusing world, full of changing social situations and unpredictable events. These things can be upsetting and cause our children stress and then meltdowns. The Rules need to exist, like sentinels or lifeguards, to be silent keepers of the peace. Predictable, expected rules.
Some of us are pushovers, and love to see smiles, let others go first, and award treats (guilty!). It’s hard to always stick to The Rules.
However, I’ve learned – through painful experience – that we need to do our best. Even if it’s inconvenient. Even if we don’t want to. Or next time we’ll get an earful of, ‘well, last time…’ and a logical, complex, whiny argument from a bright kid intent on getting his own way. Yikes.
And the arguing that goes on at home is nothing compared to what happens at school… and do I want the teachers to see that? Guidance counselors? Or, worse – the other kids?
So even when I want to disregard The Rules – or set them aside just for today – I can’t allow myself that indulgence.
Here are some things we’ve learned to say and do:
- Admit that I want to indulge us both, but can’t, because The Rules apply to everybody, even parents
- Give ample warning, if plans change or the situation looks like it will be changing.
- Verbally walk us through the day, if a major routine will be disrupted
- Keep The Rules pretty much the same everywhere we go. So if we take turns, then we always take turns, regardless of birthdays, settings, games, chores, little kids, adults, and so on
- On the way over to a new place, I ask him to remind me of the rules that are the same everywhere: keeping hands to oneself, taking turns, asking permission, and so on
- Once there, we ask for House Rules, so we’re clear on what the new rules are for that place (no shoes on carpet, no running, garage off-limits, etc).
- Often I’ll ask him – or them, if we’re in a group – to come up with rules to fit the situation. It gives the kids control, and they do a surprisingly good job. Try it.
- Follow through. We have a ‘leave graciously’ policy for Grandparents’ houses. If it happens, we come back ‘soon’ (to be defined as needed). If there are meltdowns or tears, we don’t. And we follow through, even if it means extra trips to reward good behaviour, or no dinner out the next day due to tears. So it works for us.
- Clear, positive Rules just work better, and are easier to understand – Like ‘Keep hands to yourself’ as opposed to ‘don’t lean on, push, touch, kick, hit other people’. Or ‘leave graciously’ instead of ‘don’t throw fits, cry, whine, hide, or hang on people’ and so forth.
- Reward good behaviour. We try to focus on rewarding the good, rather than punishing the bad. It builds self-confidence, reinforces the right lessons, and gives us ample opportunity to cheer him on.
Every person is different, and you know your child better than anyone else… use what works, invent your own rules, and good luck out there!