Children on the spectrum are brilliant at finding loopholes and replaying what you said, 3 years ago in the car one time, word for word. They are like little miniature lawyers, so be very careful that you are consistent in any boundaries you set – otherwise, they may come back to bite you! This strategy is great for them, as it gives certainty about the choices offered, promoting a feeling of ‘known’ that equals safety and predictability.
Freedom within limits takes away the parents being perceived as ‘controlling’. Giving your child these simple ‘freedoms’ allows them to develop their sense of self-worth and independence and to feel like their choices matter. By simply allowing your child these little freedoms, you will notice so many less tantrums! Win! This strategy is perfect for children with Pathological Demand Avoidance or Oppositional Defiance Disorder as it ‘puts the ball in their court’ so it reduces their stress response to a perceived demand – because there is no demand or outright command, only options that they get to choose from.
An example of freedom within limits might be that you give your toddler the freedom to choose what they want to eat for morning tea. The limit that you might set would be choosing between an apple or an orange.
Giving your toddler unlimited choices of what they want to eat would be very overwhelming for them and would probably cause a tantrum from frustration or them eating chocolate biscuits for every meal! The idea is that you give your child two to three options to choose from that YOU are happy with. It is important to remember that too many choices can also be overwhelming, so keep it simple. Keep redirecting the child back to the options you have given if they suggest something else.
With older children, you can hear their negotiations and ask them to problem solve and work together to change the parameters. When doing this, it is essential to let them know that you have changed your mind because you have reconsidered their points and not because of any tantrums, nagging or pressure on their behalf (never give in to these – these are learned behaviours and will only escalate!). You can learn more about this in the module ‘Creating Independence in an Older Child’.
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