Every parent doubts themselves at times and for parents of children with additional needs this goes tenfold. We see other children meet their milestones while ours seem to be following their own bumpy paths. We face an often daily barrage of dirty looks, well meant advice and sometimes outright rudeness.
Choosing to seek help and a potential diagnosis for your child is an emotional decision. You are admitting that your child is different, that they aren't quite what you expected. The last thing you need is to feel as though your parenting is in question and, worse still, to be given advice that looks at your child as a naughty kid and not a good one overcoming complications.
Part of our journey through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) was to be sent on a 'Triple P Parenting Course'. We were informed that it is not compulsory and that our CAMHS worker was not concerned about our parenting. However, we got the impression that it was encouraged and that jumping through these hoops would help us be looked on favourably as we navigated the complicated referral system, so we agreed.
Now, I appreciate that we parent outside of the mainstream, but I have been really disappointed by the majority of the information given in the first weeks of this course. A few pieces have been worth some thought but the Positive Parenting moniker appears rather deceiving. It is positive with an undercurrent of arbitrary punishment and a lot of inane drivel masquerading as praise. Examples of this can be found in the handbook given out to parents.
Page 49 of the handbook states:
"Time-out is a positive strategy... the area should not have interesting things to do... Don't talk to your child or give them any attention until they have been quiet for the set time."
Please don't get me wrong. If you feel you are at risk of losing control of yourself and hitting out at your child then the sensible thing to do is to walk away. However, if you are using time out as your go-to punishment then I recommend reading books and articles by Dr. Laura Markham and Alfie Kohn (among others) who have written eloquently on the disadvantages of this technique.
The Triple P DVD shows a girl completing a jigsaw and the mother going over the top with praise - well done, clever girl, good girl, you did it, good job!
Your child knows when you are being insincere. We don't practice Unconditional Parenting (which Alfie Kohn is best known for) but we do try to limit our use of 'good job' or 'good boy' if instead we can describe what he has done or ask him if he is proud of himself.
Our overall aim is not to train our child to display certain behaviours for fear of reward or to receive a gold star. I want him to learn *why* we treat people kindly so that when I am not there to threaten punishment or tempt him with reward he will do the right thing because he is intrinsically motivated. I am not perfect, and sometimes I don't manage to keep to these principles. If I am rushed off my feet, tired, late and Small is not cooperating I should stop, take a deep breath and find out why. But yes, I have been known to offer a reward if it will get us through that tricky moment. However I know that the majority of the time we are taking a road that may not have instant results, but one that I believe is the best path to follow in the long run.
I am not trying to train a naughty child to be obedient, but raising a human being who has additional needs.
So next week I will be going armed with print outs of studies which explain why we parent the way we do. I will be politely explaining that I don't think this course is appropriate for us and that we appreciate the time spent but will be using that time to spend with Small instead.
We are very lucky that we have a community of friends who understand our methods and many who have been through this course before and also found some of it insulting and unnecessary. Some have implemented the advice, only to realise it increased their child's anxiety. Most parents do not need to be told to talk to and play with their child. We are not inadequate parents, we are families seeking help for our children.
Life is challenging enough when you are on the steep learning curve that autism brings. Perhaps the pressure to attend a parenting course could be removed for those who are not in desperate need of it and this could open up more spaces for those few families who really don't know where to start.
If you are the parent of a child on the autistic spectrum and have felt pressured to complete the Triple P course I would be very interested to hear from you.