The need to be in control can cause significant anxiety for children and young people with Pathological Demand Avoidance. In order to relieve that anxiety we need to give them more ownership and control over their lives.
Sadly all too often in a desire to decrease anxiety and challenging behaviour, demands are often reduced at the expense of expectations. Something which doesn’t need to the case.
With the right support families and educators can reduce demands whilst keeping their expectations high. Here are our top tips:
Think about your language
Often without realising it we make multiple demands on our children. Demands which we can avoid. ‘Take your coat off’, ‘clean your teeth’, ‘eat your breakfast’, ‘pack your bag’… and the list goes on. Without a second’s thought we reel off a list, it’s no wonder therefore that our children can see us as demand machines – always telling them to do something.
It doesn’t need to be this way though, thinking creatively about the way we present things, from checklists and schedules to make the morning run more smoothly (and get rid of the human demands), to the way we phrase what we are asking we can keep our expectations high whilst drastically reducing the number of demands young people feel as though we are placing upon them.
There are times we all have to do things that we don’t really want to do, and our children are no exception, but giving them choices about the things you can makes a big difference to making them feel more in control of their lives, and thus in reducing their anxiety levels. Think about for instance giving them a choice about the place you sit when going out to eat, or the way they choose to record their knowledge. The key is that the more anxious they are feeling at a given time, the more likely they are to need a higher level of choice in order to feel in control.
Provide an escape route
If children and young people feel that there is a way out they often feel more able to cope with a situation. And if they get to a point where they can’t are more able to leave gracefully rather than waiting for their fight or flight response to kick in. So whether you give them a safe place they know they can go when things get too much, give them a time out card or agree on a word you both know means it’s time to go, make sure you give that escape route. Adding that element of control will vastly reduce anxiety making it easier for young people to leave the house.
Technology is one of my favourite ways of giving young people control over their lives. Whether it’s alarm clocks in their own bedrooms, timers to show them when an activity is ending, or allowing them to take their iPad when they’re doing something challenging (that way although they don’t have control over the wider world they do over their screen) technology can be a way of reducing the constant stream of demands we make and therefore not only reduce anxiety but improve our relationships with our children.
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