Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making Bad Choices

One of the hardest things for Andy is making good choices when he's in a tough sensory situation. It's also one of the hardest things to parent. I know he's making the bad choices because he's overwhelmed so I feel for him, but at the same time I need to parent him in a way that teaches him the appropriate way to respond.

The perfect example of this occurred this past Friday. Our school district was hosting a "battle of the buildings" at the high school basketball game. We wanted to go and take the boys because we feel it's important to instill a sense of school spirit, and we thought it would be fun for us to do as a family. I of course knew that it may be difficult for Andy sensory wise, but he's been to several games before and tends to do pretty well.

It was about half way through the first game when the "incident" happened. Andy had gone to the bathroom, and on his way back to his seat on the bleachers, he knocked over a stack of coats that another family had piled up in front of them. Not a big deal. However, Andy just kept walking. I immediately said, "Andy, apologize and pick up the coats you just knocked off." He shook his head no, walked to his seat, and sat down.

Now, I feel it's important to point out that normally, Andy is very polite. Almost too polite in fact. He often apologizes for things that he shouldn't apologize for, thank people repeatedly for things even when it's no longer appropriate to do so, etc. (For example, last week he thanked me for something and I told him he was welcome. Then he thanked me for saying that he was welcome, etc.) Since I normally wouldn't have to prompt him to apologize, I knew this was a sensory situation.

I made him look at me, and told him again that he needed to apologize and pick up the coats. He refused. Sound familiar? It was very reminiscent of the situation that happened last month in OT.

By this time, the poor lady who owned the coats had picked them up and was looking at me with a strange look on her face. I couldn't tell if it was a "your child has no manners and I can't believe you let him behave that way" or an "it's really not a big deal why don't you just let it go" look. But either way, I didn't care.

I told Andy that he had 3 seconds to apologize or we were leaving. He refused. I collected our things, took him by the arm, and proceeded to walk out of the gym. By this point he was yelling, "NO!! NO!!! I don't want to leave. Please, Mommy, DON'T MAKE ME LEAVE!!!" Of course he also dug his heels in to make it close to impossible to move him.

We went out to the lobby and found a quiet corner where we could talk. I told him that under no circumstances would we stay unless he could make the right choice and apologize. He said he would do it, so we walked back over by the family who owned the coats.

Andy immediately hid behind me and refused to speak. I turned around and looked at him, and he said he would not apologize. We went back out to the lobby. He said he would do it, we went back in, and he again refused. This happened three different times.

For the record, I'm not usually a Mom who gives her children several chances to do the right thing. However, I was torn here because I knew he was overstimulated and in fright/flight mode. I was giving him multiple chances to make the right choice.

By this time, he was stemming pretty badly, jumping up and down, and he was tearful. My heart was breaking for him. I gave him lots of hugs, stayed calm, and tried to explain to him that he needed to do the right thing, no matter how hard it was.

Andy said he was too embarrassed to say he was sorry. I calmly explained to him that if he had apologized right off the bat, that would have been the end of it. He then said something that broke my heart. He said, "I wish I could turn back time and just say I was sorry right from the beginning." If only it were that easy.

It probably took a good 10 minutes of us standing in the lobby, him crying and jumping, me giving him lots of bear hugs and doing joint compression, before he finally agreed.

We walked back in the gym and over to the family. By this time they looked extremely uncomfortable. I wasn't sure if it was an "OMG this child is terrible and bratty" look or a "really, it's not a big deal at all/we've all been there/why are you making him upset" look. Again, I didn't care.

Andy sheepishly whispered "Sorry" and gave a completely inappropriate bilateral thumbs up sign. He then quickly turned around and asked Daddy to buy him a piece of pizza. Incident over.

As we were leaving after the game, Andy said, "Mom, you were right. I should have just said I was sorry in the first place. It would have been a lot easier."

It was a terribly difficult parenting experience. Should I have pushed it? Should I have just let it go and apologized for him? Should I have quietly explained to the people that he has SPD? I'm not sure. I felt it was important to teach him that no matter what, we need to be polite and respectful. And I accomplished that. So I think I probably did the right thing.

But sometimes it's just hard to make the right choice. Even for us parents.


  1. What a hard situation for you as a mom! I think you handeled it perfectly.

  2. Brandi you are such a wonderful Mother to Andy! I love reading how you handle different situations that you and Andy are faced with. I learn something from every post you make. Thank you!