Navigating the Unique Journey of Parenting a Neurodivergent Child

Navigating the Unique Journey of Parenting a Neurodivergent Child

Navigating the Unique Journey of Parenting a Neurodivergent Child

Parenting special needs children takes a different set of parenting tools.

If you are a parenting a neurodivergent child, you know it can be a hard road. You deal with challenges other parents do not need to face. You know typical parenting does not work, but you may not know what you should do instead. Parenting special needs children requires special parenting. With a little observation and work your parenting can become easier.

4 Tips for parenting your child who has neurodiversity or trauma

1. View neurodiversity and trauma as a culture

You would not travel to another part of the world and expect them to act like an American. Nor would you be surprised when the people in another country acted in very different ways. You would automatically assume the difference was due to culture. In fact, you might even adopt some of the behaviors and language to try to fit in or show respect.

Neurodiversity and trauma are the same as visiting a new country. They should be treated as a culture. Neurodiversity and trauma both come with their own way of doing things. Both behave in a way to meet their needs.

And just as you would try to learn about a country’s culture, you should learn more about your child’s culture. Each neurodiverse child and child who has trauma is unique. How they react in different circumstances and their personal challenges are unique. But it does not mean that you cannot learn how to best interact with them. Learn what accommodations are the most helpful to them and what their limits are.

Often our children who are neurodiverse or have trauma are expected to fit in to our typical culture. Challenge yourself to meet your child half way. You will both be a lot more successful and you will have less behavior problems from your child.

2. Learn how your child communicates

Get curious and find out what is their why. Why do they act the way they do? It may seem like quirkiness or out of the blue, but all behavior has a reason why it occurs. Here are some examples for why behavior occurs.

Many children with neurodiversity or trauma struggle with eye contact. For children with neurodiversity it may be too distracting or intense. For children with trauma eye contact can feel too vulnerable.

Does your child have repetitive movements? Remember, these are things children do to cope and self-regulate in their environment. It’s what they do when they are feeling overwhelmed. If you want your child to reduce their repetitive movements you must first understand what is causing them stress. Changing the environment to better meet their needs can lead to less of a need to self-regulate.

Does your child have an intense need for movement? Movement and learning are intertwined in all of us, but especially in children. When we try to separate them, some children can’t figure out how to stop the motion while keeping their brain engaged. So they either need regular movement breaks or a way to stay moving while engaging.

By figuring out the why for your child’s behavior, you can better adjust your expectations. This will lead you to understand what your child can or cannot do. You can also plan in advance to help your child be more successful.

3. Learn how your child shows you their love

Neurodiverse kids and kids with trauma may have big and extreme behaviors. This makes parenting especially difficult because we tend to take the behavior personally. Especially when their behavior is extreme and includes physical violence or destruction.

But when things are calm, do you know all the ways your child shows they care for you? Take this week to write down when you notice your child being kind to yourself or another family member. Did they do something without being asked? Did they climb into your lap to be close? Did they do something that made your life a little easier?

Their big behaviors may eclipse the good times. They may not show their love in neurotypical or non-trauma ways. But that does not mean it is not there. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to look at their love from their eyes.

4. Understand your child’s need for rest & recovery

When a child with neurodiversity or trauma experiences an intense or prolonged activity it can be exhausting. And this exhaustion can lead to meltdowns or withdrawal. Even if they enjoyed the activity.

This result is because participation in the activity required them to use a lot of mental effort. They may have been masking, dealing with sensory input & overload, having to do more manual processing of data and emotions because of how their brain is wired, or navigating a heightened state of stress, just to name a few.

So this may mean your child needs lots of breaks or they need big resting periods after an activity. It might also mean that there are some activities that your child cannot do because they are too taxing. Not knowing the mental effort needed for an activity or the need for rest can result in meltdowns and withdrawal.

Keep a record of what activities your child can handle and which ones are a no go. If it is a no go, don’t try to force your child to do it. If you absolutely need to do it, then have a plan for bailing when your child indicates they are done.

It is also important to find your child’s activity to rest ratio. This will keep you from over scheduling your child and help prevent behavior issues. You can also help your older child take notice of what they respond well to and what they do not. This will help them learn to advocate for their needs.

Taming Tantrums & Meltdowns: Parenting Tips for a Calmer Household

Taming Tantrums & Meltdowns: Parenting Tips for a Calmer Household

Taming Tantrums & Meltdowns: Parenting Tips for a Calmer Household

Minneapolis Parent Coach Jen Kiss gives 3 tips to decrease meltdowns and tantrums


As a parent, you know meltdowns and tantrums have a way of ruling the roost when they are in full swing. Whether your goal is to stop tantrums and meltdowns before they occur or have a quicker resolution, here are 3 parenting tips to help you minimize tantrums and meltdowns.


Why does your child throw a tantrum or meltdown?


The key to minimizing tantrums and meltdowns is finding the source. To do this, you have to do some investigating about why your child’s behavior is occurring.

At first glance, you may think the answer is obvious. For instance you may think it was because they didn’t get their way. Or you may have no idea because it feels like it came out of nowhere. But the key to solving tantrums and meltdowns is to look a little deeper into your child’s reactions.

Because all behavior is communication. When your child has a meltdown or tantrum they are trying to communicate with you that they are struggling.


What Causes Tantrums & Meltdowns

Fear or Anxiety


A lot of tantrums are the result of fear or anxiety. From refusing to go to bed or school, to opposing everything you say, fear is often at the core of these very frustrating child behaviors.

Usually fear causes children to try to control their environment as a way to cope. This can show up as being rigid about what they will or won’t do, being clingy, avoiding certain places or people or becoming bossy and demanding. It can also show up as aggressive behavior because the child’s brain is trying to fight against the fear they are feeling.


Sensory Sensitivities


For a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), autism or sensory sensitivities, the world can feel like a minefield. Children can become easily overwhelmed when tasked with something their bodies find uncomfortable.

As a result, many kids with sensory sensitivities use avoidance to manage their sensitivities. And when they can’t avoid, or they become overwhelmed by their senses, it results in a big meltdown.


Stress and Overwhelm


Kids are not immune to stress. In fact, stress often affects kids more because their ability to regulate their emotions, self-soothe, cope and have perspective are still developing.

When a child’s stress tolerance is reached the limited skills they do have go right out the window. This can result in tantrums with aggressive behavior or tantrums that involve running away or refusals.




Big and scary events are not the only thing that creates trauma in a child. Trauma can be a lot of little events that add up over time or a single event. The nature of the event, whether it was overwhelming to your child and whether there was a caring adult to help relieve stress during or after the event, will determine whether a child experiences trauma.

If your child has a history of trauma, they are more likely to have tantrums and meltdowns. This is because their brain tends to be in a state of hypervigilence and stress because they are trying to avoid further trauma.

Like stress, trauma limits a child’s ability to control their actions when triggered. Trauma can be activated from everyday events or sensory stimulus, like smells. Trauma behaviors are usually much more extreme in their aggression or shut down. In addition, tantrums that stem from trauma can last for a very long time.


Neurodiversity Struggles


Children with learning disabilities and neurodiversity may struggle more with tantrums and meltdowns because their brain can’t do what is being asked of them. And while it may appear as your child being lazy or defiant, your child is actually neither of these things.

Executive functioning abilities, which includes focus and attention, impulse control, emotional regulation and predicting consequences, can be delayed or harder to master in children that have learning disabilities and neurodiversity. Research also indicates these children tend to experience anxiety and depression at a higher rate. And all of these factors can make tantrums and meltdowns occur more frequently.


Family  & Friend Friction


We are social creatures by nature. When a child is not connecting to the important people in their lives, it can set off behavior challenges and tantrums. This can appear as provoking and aggressive behavior to demand others pay attention to them.

If your child is struggling with tantrums, start by looking at your relationship. How much undivided connection time you are spending with your child? If your child is low on one-on-one time with you, make this a priority. Spending time with your child would be a good first step to reducing tantrums.

For tweens and teens, their main source for connection are their friends. Rejection by peers can lead to depression or significant behavior issues. If things seem fine in your relationship, check in to see how their friend relationships are going. Don’t push too hard, but let them know you are willing to talk any time.


Parenting Tips to Minimize Tantrums and Meltdowns


Now that you know the why, here are 3 parenting tips to help with tantrums and meltdowns.


1. Spend 5 minutes a day connecting with your child


This time should be planned into your day the same way an important meeting would be. This time is spent doing whatever your child would like to do or talk about. Make sure to keep the time uninterrupted. If you need to interrupt your time to deal with something urgent, let your child know and make sure to circle back later.


2. Reflect back to your child so they know you understand their struggles


Whether your child is struggling with fear, stress, neurodiversity or sensory sensitivities, acknowledging what they are feeling or why something is hard can be a game changer.

Calmly, reflect your child’s feelings back to them when they are escalated. Use short words like ‘mad, you are mad, you are so mad’. After reflecting back, offer to do a coping technique with them. Coping techniques such as a firm, long hug or having them engage in some movement are good options.


3. Provide “just right” accommodations to decrease meltdowns and tantrums


While you do not want to accommodate too much, you do want to make sure you are supportive to your child’s needs. This means you provide just enough support to stretch your child into building their coping and self-regulation skills. For example, you may begin a hard task together and slowly remove yourself over time.

For anxiety and fear, while you do not want to create too much stress, the ultimate goal will be to show your child that they can be uncomfortable and still be okay. This is how you build up their confidence and resilience and reduce tantrums.

Always start with little steps towards your goal since going too fast can make your child resist and throw tantrums. If you want to learn more about how to do this with your child, check out my 3 Ways to Help Your Child with Anxiety.

For sensory sensitivities, accommodations are usually necessary. Like anxiety, the goal is to help them learn to build up tolerance so they can function better in their lives. Because sensory sensitivities can be complex and span all 8 senses, it can be very helpful to figure out what specific things your child is sensitive to and if necessary work with an occupational therapist to make progress.


Final Thoughts


All behavior is communication. If you listen to what your child’s behavior is trying to communicate you can get to the root cause. Once you know their motive, you can parent from a better, more effective place. It also allows you to view your child in a different light and meet them with compassion and patience. And when you do that, challenging behaviors lessen dramatically.

If you need help implementing these tips or customizing solutions for your child, reach out to me. I offer free 30 minute consultations where we will dive right into solutions for you and your family.