By Emilie Leeks
Our oldest child, who is 8, has Asperger’s Syndrome and, as is often the case for people on the autism spectrum, he tends to be quite anxious about change.
We focus on connection and honesty to build and maintain trust between us. We manage transitions by giving a little extra prior warning, along with a few reassurances during the process, and things generally go smoothly enough.
However, today we obviously didn’t get the delicate balance right!
Making a Change Upsets Our Oldest
We’d decided that we wanted to be more connected at night as a family, and wanted our children to have the option of sharing a family bed. Our children start the night together in one room, and gradually through the night one, two or occasionally all three of them wander through and end up in our room.
We don’t mind this in the slightest, but we were struggling a little for space on nights when they all came in!
We discussed the options of how we might change the beds over breakfast. The children listened and occasionally chipped in with their thoughts, but everybody seemed up for the idea of us being able to sleep together.
Whilst my other half took the children out for the morning, I spent hours emptying, cleaning and rearranging our bedroom, ready so that we could fit all of us in there if the children felt they would like to sleep in with us.
There was only really one way to arrange the beds that meant we could all sleep on one level. We had briefly mooted the idea of bringing in the bunk beds and having our oldest child sleep on the top, but we’d ruled it out because we really wanted it to be a flexible, open space, where people could pick and choose their neighbours for the night.
We didn’t want him separated from everyone else, looking down on us from on high, as that would kind of defeat the point.
Unfortunately, that was the bit that had stuck in his head! So when he saw the level sleeping surface I had spent hours arranging, he expressed his disapproval extremely strongly!
Why My Effort at Connection Went Off-Track
He shouted that I should put another mattress in and that he wanted his own space (beds were still available to them in their own bedroom if they wanted this, so this wasn’t a problem), and screeched about the fact that the bunk beds hadn’t been included in the plan.
Now, by this point in the day, I was very tired, and added to that I was downhearted that all my hard work to make us a more connected family had completely flopped as far as my son was concerned!
I started to respond to him quite crabbily, but luckily my husband was in a better headspace than me. He told our son that he was sorry it was hard for him, and listened as our son spoke crossly about the plan and about what a stupid idea it was.
I (wisely) kept out of it!
How Offering Support Over Solutions Helped
Our son then took it into his head that he would measure the remaining corners of space in the room, to see if he could indeed fit another mattress in – which ended up being a resounding no!
He went to my husband and cried, which is unusual for him, about how stupid it all was, and how he didn’t want the room to be like this, and how we should put it all back. My husband just listened, occasionally warmly saying things like “We aren’t going to put it back right now,” and “We’re going to give it a try like this.”
He listened for only a few minutes, and then our son said he would share the bed if he could sleep in a particular spot. We said that spot wasn’t going to work because there wouldn’t have been room for us adults, but that if he shifted around a bit then he would have a solution that would be just fine.
He accepted that with no problem.
After Listening Comes Reconnection
Then, almost as suddenly as his emotional release had begun, it was over!
He excitedly brought in his pillow, blankets, and teddies, then brought in a stool as a bedside table for his book and drink. He even made another small bedside table out of toy construction materials for his clock, because there wasn’t quite room for it on the stool!
He said that he was excited to be sleeping like this, all together, and was then supremely cheerful for the rest of the evening – reading to his little sister, giving his little brother cuddles, and even, when he settled down for the night, saying that he loved the new arrangement!
I am so glad that my husband mustered the energy to make sure our son felt listened to in that moment of struggle – our son managed to release some of his fear about the new situation. He was able to recognise that it wasn’t so scary after all, and even enjoy the experience!
Read more about Emilie’s experiences using the Hand in Hand approach with her family in You Can Do It! Setting Limits That Help Kids Achieve and Respond To Children’s Hurts in a Way That Builds Confidence,
New to Hand in Hand? Read this post about the approach and five tools you can use to bond and build connections with your children: Learn Five Tools That Will Transform The Way You Parent
Listen to a section of our book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting on audio.
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.