Responsive Parenting with Autism: How Staylistening Helps with Separation Anxiety

A Guest Post by Emilie Leekschild hugging her mom and smiling in post about helping separation anxiety with an autistic child

“I want to be a peaceful parent – but can it be done with autistic children?”

I often get asked questions along this line. Our oldest child is 8 years old and autistic, and we have been trying our best to parent in a responsive, peaceful way since he was born – although it hasn’t always been easy!

When we discovered Hand in Hand Parenting he was 5 years old, and we were seeing a lot of aggressive meltdowns and really struggling with knowing how to handle it. We have been successfully applying the Hand in Hand principles and tools with our whole family (we have one autistic child, two neurotypical children) since then, and life is a whole lot better now on so many fronts!

As I spend some time pulling together information for a more in-depth look at responsive parenting with autistic children, I’ll be sharing practical stories about parents using the Hand in Hand tools with their autistic children.

Here is a beautiful one from a wonderfully thoughtful mother who used Staylistening to effectively counter her son’s separation anxiety.

Why I Listen Instead of Distracting or Scolding

“I was dropping my two autistic sons (7 and almost 4) at Granny’s so my husband and I could go on a very rare morning out together.

They both love Granny, and love going to her house, but my little one has been going through a tough patch and wanting me – no one else will do.

My 7-year-old ran into Granny’s house and went to find the toys. Normally my 3-year-old would too, but he knew I wasn’t staying and so he clung to me like a limpet saying “Mummy don’t go.”

little boy in his moms arms in a pinterest image about supporting an autistic child's separation anxietyI knew I could just scrape him off, say goodbye and he’d be ok and having cuddles with Granny in a few minutes. But I know that we can do better than just ‘ok’. Plus he’s due to start school in September, so I saw this as an opportunity to help him work through his separation anxiety.

I sat down on the doorstep with him and we had a lovely cuddle. When he’d relaxed a little, I set a limit: “You stay here with J and Granny. Daddy and Mummy are coming back later.” Of course this prompted lots of crying and more limpet action, but rather than telling him to be brave, or distracting him with toys or biscuits, I Staylistened. I held him close and just let him cry, letting his emotions to do their job.

Listening Helps Emotions Do Their Job

When the sobbing started to subside, I gently held the limit: “Are you ready for me to go yet?”

More crying and lovely cuddles.

After about three minutes, the tide started to turn. He looked into the house and said “I want to go to Granny’s house. Mummy you come too. Bye bye Daddy. Come on Mummy!”

I held the limit, gently: “No my love, I need to go but not until you’re ready. Are you ready for me to go?”

‘Noooooo!!!!’ More crying. But the crying was not the desperate wailing you get when a kid is trying with all his might to stop something happening, it was more like a deep cathartic crying that feels healthy. I welcome all feelings, but especially these big cries that clear the air like a good thunderstorm.

After a minute or two more, I asked again: “Are you ready for me to go?”

He hopped up, walked slowly and contentedly into the house, followed by a stunned – and frankly relieved – Granny. They both waved goodbye and blew ‘candle kisses’.

When we returned later, he was lying on the floor, focussed intently on a colossal jigsaw puzzle. He hopped up for another cuddle, this time all smiles. Granny told me what a wonderful morning they’d all had, and we all had lunch together.

I know that if I’d forced him, he would have put up twice as much resistance next time, and I would probably have put off going to Granny’s again for as long as possible! Now I know that he’ll either go happily next time, or I’ll get another opportunity to Staylisten.

Either is fine with me.

For more on the science of Staylistening read this post

Setting limits gently means partnering with your child to make things to happen. Get your guide to Setting Limits here

Get a free chapter of our book Listen. You’ll discover a unique tool that is guaranteed to bring you closer to your child

Meet The Instructor

Emilie Leeks lives in Berkshire, UK with her husband and three children. She is a certified Hand in Hand Instructor with additional experience in speech, language and communication issues.

This post was originally published on Emilie’s blog Journeys-in-Parenting. You can also contact Emilie through her Facebook page.


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