Another lesson from my son

Tulika Prasad

Every morning we get up to a barrage of inspirational images and quotes filling up our social media pages and text messages, teaching us the best way to lead our lives. In spite of this, I highly suspect if we learn much from those sunset images with calligraphic texts. What we really learn from is life and our personal experiences.

So here I was, getting yet another lesson from my favorite teacher--my son! To those who frequent my blog, I might appear, well...kind of sorted, but the fact is, I am not. I am just as confused as anyone out there. So, although I keep telling everyone to try harder to understand and interpret their child’s behavior, even more so when they are speech-challenged, I forget this very advice every quite often.

This was the day of Rakhi--an Indian festival--and I wanted to dress him in our traditional costume. He, though, was clueless about all the fuss and had no idea that the day was going to take a stressful turn. I took out the brightest, most colorful, and beautifully embroidered tunic for him to put on. I knew he looked adorable the last time he had it on, so I was looking forward to another set of clicks in it.

I nonchalantly went on to slide the tunic down his head when I felt the resistance and then an anxious shriek. My first thought was that an embroidery or a button got caught in his hair and so I pulled the tunic out and tried sliding it back in again. Same resistance, same frightened expression, as if he was scared of something. I paused for a moment, let him touch and feel the tunic, and then tried again. He wouldn’t let it budge. I decided to turn the tables and let him try putting it on by himself. I would be lying if I said he did not try. He did. But he seemed really stressed about having it on and would try putting it on and then immediately take it off, giving out a cry!

We tried this for over 30 minutes. I tried forcing him to wear it, then letting him try it on his own, then letting him feel the tunic and explore it, giving him a break, giving him the “I mean business” look, trying again and finally I gave up after a half an hour-long fight over a piece of clothing. He had worn this on one previous occasion. I remember that it was not easy then as well, but we did manage to put it on, so I could not understand why it was turning into a battle now. I left the room and just sat on the couch and cried. I was exhausted from the whole tussle and emotionally worn-out. It was after all just a blue cotton tunic, a gorgeous one at that. How difficult was it to put it on.

Just the other day, I tried to trace his foot on a sheet of paper to measure it. We had a similar fight before I gave up. He would just not let me touch his foot and when he finally did, he would not place it on the sheet no matter what. I tried reward, punishment, allure, request. That memory was still fresh in my mind and then today happened.

I was frustrated over all the anxiety he had over the most mundane thing. I sat on the couch, slightly enraged, but mostly drained. I wondered why everything had to be this difficult. I wanted to believe I was not being stubborn over this and only trying to help my son get over his anxiety and unreasonable fear. Boy was I wrong!

So, while I was wallowing in self-proclaimed misery, my son stood puzzled over my overreaction and clearly stressed over what transpired between the two of us. All he did was refuse to wear a tunic. He probably could not understand what the big deal was!!! He walked up to me and said, “I want Mumma”, and gave me a really sloppy kiss. He has been doing this lately. When I am upset, he would come to me and say “I want Mumma” which, I am guessing, implies, he wants the previous, non-upset version of me -- the Mumma he knows; the mom he prefers. This almost invariably melts my heart. It worked again. The self-pity that had suddenly appeared with my tantrum, now dissolved in that wetness of that kiss that still made my cheeks feel moist. With my rage vaporizing in the warmth of the moment, I could now see clearly.

I went back to the closet and picked up another tunic. This was a plain denim one, soft and with nothing fancy on it. Still apprehensive, I went up to my son and tried putting it on him. It slid right in--easy peasy. No struggles, no anxiety, no stress - like it should be. He looked absolutely precious in it, just like I had hoped he would look in that blue tunic. I had to remind myself that it’s he who makes what he wears look adorable and it’s not the other way around.

The blue tunic had tons of embroidery in all conceivable colors. That might have been too overwhelming to look at for my son who deals with sensory issues on a daily basis. How could I not see that! It was not that he was against wearing a tunic. He was just scared of wearing that blue one. I should have figured that out when he gave out that nervous cry the very first time, but in my relentlessness, I completely overlooked that.

I keep reminding myself that not every behavior is a tantrum or when my son insists on something, I need to give him the benefit of the doubt. His words fail him so his actions will be doing the talking and I need to do the listening right. My son was telling me over and over again that something about the tunic made him uncomfortable. I was not ready to listen. It was me who was throwing a tantrum. Not him.

The incident with the blue tunic was a reminder that if only we learned to pay more attention to what our kids are trying to communicate with their behavior, there would be so much frustration that we would be able to avoid. It’s easy to label a behavior as maladaptive and a meltdown a tantrum. It takes a little more effort and a lot more patience to know what lies underneath.

Every time I fail to understand what my son is trying to communicate and shroud my judgment with my preconceived notions, I fail my son. I fail his belief in me. I failed him again this time. Although he was the one who was under stress, it was me, not him who went into a meltdown over his anxiety while he calmed me down...and they say my son has a disorder!

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