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Q

How do I make my home environment a happy, safe place for my child?

I am a working mother of 4 and my 5-year-old son has ASD. I find that when I get home from work, I walk into a very stressful and tense environment. It seems that everyone needs something and I feel like I am being pulled in a hundred directions. It is very hard to stay calm and collected, and inevitably the tension rises and I lose my patience. This puts extra stress on my children, especially my 5-year-old son with ASD and he often starts to show signs of the stress. Once the night is over and my children are finally asleep, I feel so guilty that I am not providing them with the happy and calm environment that they each deserve. I want them to feel safe at home and not feel like they want to run away because of all the tension.

A

Answered by

Sara Bauer, Ph.D., BCBA-D Encore ABA Supervisor

First, being a working mother and raising a family is not easy. Being a working mother of a child with ASD is even harder. Trying to balance it all and provide for the needs of everyone at the same time is almost impossible!

It is not unusual for a working mother to come home and lose patience at the end of the day. It is also not unusual for your children to want some (or all) of your attention once you are home. To keep things flowing during your evening routine, try to avoid all of the hullabaloo by using some antecedent strategies to help you avoid or even prevent some of the stress.

First tip: Take a break before even walking into the house. Allow yourself at least 2 minutes to take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and collect your thoughts before walking inside, especially since you know it’s going to be hectic. Once you are calm, you can then try to implement a few key tactics to keep your evening moving smoothly, and your home calm and happy.

Second tip: Try to identify what the major stressors are. When you mention the tension builds up and things get stressful, what do you mean? Try to pinpoint what exactly makes the evening so stressful. Perhaps if you can figure out the main cause of the stress (e.g., getting homework done, stopping fights between siblings, or even just getting dinner on the table), you can do something in advance to alleviate this problem.

Third tip: Try to identify what each of your children need. It is more than a little likely, they each just need some time and attention from you. Plan a “Mommy-time” schedule the night before. This schedule should allow each child a few minutes during which they, and only they, get some time alone with you to tell you about their day. You can write out the schedule on a piece of paper, hang it up, and indicate during which time slot each child gets their special “Mommy time” so that they can follow it themselves too. Doing this can help create a calmer home environment, in which each child feels wanted and loved.

Fourth Tip: Positive Reinforcement. Try to catch each child doing something right over the course of the evening at least once, or even many times if you are so lucky ;-)! When you see them doing something right (this could be just sitting calmly and eating dinner, or sharing with their sibling), let them know by praising them that they are doing the right thing. Reinforce the good behavior instead of only focusing on the challenging behaviors that you normally end up focusing on when the tension builds. Doing this focuses on the “happy” aspect of the home. The more you reinforce your children for appropriate behavior, the happier the environment will be and the less likely you will encounter challenging behavior.

Fifth Tip: If you would like to try something more structured, you can implement a Mitzvah chart. In applied behavior analysis (ABA), Mitzvah charts are also called “token economies” which are behavior modification systems designed to increase desirable behavior while decreasing undesirable behavior. Token economies work by delivering “tokens” or checks on a paper/stickers for desirable behavior that can later be exchanged for some other prize or privilege (e.g., a trip to the ice cream store once a child gets 5 checks on their chart). This type of a system focuses on getting praise and positive reinforcement for doing the right thing and generally results in happier children, and happier parents, and therefore a happier home environment.

To sum up, the key is to take some deep breaths, walk into your house calmly, and instead of getting stressed by all of the hullabaloo in your household, try to pace yourself, and focus on the good things. When you focus on the good behavior instead of the stress in your household, you create a calm, safe place where everyone can be themselves and be happy.

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