As a parent of a child with PDA I decided through trial and error to follow a path of ‘Radical Unschooling’. This means that my child is not controlled by others or by outside forces and that I allow her to be independent in mind or judgement and self directed. She is free, as much as possible, from external control and constraint. For a child that avoids all demands made on her to a ‘Pathological level’ this has proved to be a rather successful option for us. By placing no controls over her she has, for the most part, set her own boundaries and her level of general compliance, ability to meet others half way, use of inappropriate language and overall behaviour has improved beyond my wildest dreams.
So what does this actual mean in laymen’s terms? Well basically I very much treat and allow my child the same rights as an adult. She does not go to school, any learning is self directed, she goes to bed when she wants, she gets up when she wants and she eats what she wants.
As long as she is not hurting other people or herself, breaking the law, causing mass destruction of property, displaying unacceptable anti social behaviour or emotionally hurting or causing stress and anxiety to someone else then I do not step in. These are my non negotiable boundaries and even when these are broken, which they invariably are although this is getting less, I do not step in with consequences or punishments.
Instead I choose to support, guide and assist her to modify her behaviour. So how do I do this without using parental enforced consequences and punishments?
Natural consequences can prove to be useful but these do need to be natural and not ones that I am in control over. E.G, if she is rude to the parents of her friends they will eventually stop their children with playing with her or if she is rude and hurtful to me I will be hurt and may not want to be with her for a while.
However I can’t leave everything up to natural consequences because although I don’t wish to excerpt parental control over her, because it simply doesn’t work and courses the opposite, I can advise and guide her. Although this will often need to be done during periods when I am likely to achieve the best results i.e. not when she is angry, stressed or anxious.
Disrespectful Behaviour towards Others
We can discuss why some things aren’t appropriate and how these actions may make other people perceive her. We may role play so that she can understand the situation from someone else’s perspective with the hope that this may help her to modify her behaviour. I may empathise that I understand why she said what she said because I understand that she was upset, nervous, anxious or angry and then move onto alternative ways of how this could be handled in the future.
Violence towards Others
If she is violent to other people then we may remove her from the situation. Not as a punishment but merely because I understand that this is not acceptable for her to be able to do. When she is calm we can discuss why this isn’t ok, find out why it happened, what were the triggers and how can we think of alternative option for the future. Simply removing triggers can automatically reduce violent outbursts.
Virtually the whole world swears, you hear bad language everywhere, in the school yard, at football matches, in a family pub at the park. But we expect children not to either pick up on it or use these words themselves. I really don’t have much of an issue with swearing as long as it is used in its appropriate place. However this a personal view only and I fully appreciate that for various reasons swearing may be a non negotiable boundary for many families. I don’t have a particular issue with swearing however that does not mean that I like to hear my daughter swear but I feel that I would be a hypocrite to tell her not to. So instead I have decided to guide her as to when and where it is appropriate or inappropriate to use certain language. In the house is one thing but using it outside of the home will not be deemed acceptable by other adults. In normal conversation or used as an expletive in response to pain is one thing using it to maliciously hurt others is another. If she was swearing in the street when playing out with other young children or within ear shot of adults I would remove her from the situation if I felt that it was bordering on anti-social behaviour. There wouldn’t be a punishment for her behaviour but merely a preventive measure out of respect for others. There would then be a negotiation and guidance as to why this wasn’t acceptable. If she randomly spoke to me disrespectfully or used swear words in a derogatory fashion I would guide her as to why this is not ok. Words can and do hurt, how would you like it if I spoke to you in that way and so on. However this may often be done at a calmer time and not instantly. Other objectives may be my priority at that time. Funnily enough she has naturally reduced her swearing of her own accord over time and now apologises when swear words slip out a home.
Blatantly ignoring other People’s Needs
Again rather than punishing or enforcing other people’s needs on her we seek to encourage co operation in a different fashion. We may discuss how the other person feels if their house is not being respected and is that ok. We may come up with a list of rules together of what would be acceptable to both of us. Discussing at the same time why we need to eliminate some activities but at the same time still making room for others. By working together she is learning how to accommodate the needs of others rather than simply feeling that I am controlling what she can and can’t do.
The end goal for me is to have a child that can self moderate her behaviour so that she can exhibit acceptable behaviour in a variety of settings. For many children this may be achievable by more traditional means of discipline. However, for my child, these traditional forms of discipline only serve to actually increase the undesirable behaviour. Taking a very different, radical and unorthodox approach has actually caused huge improvements in my child. They haven’t been instant improvements, this method has taken time and constant positive reinforcement but the results are there to see.
I think that all parents have the same end goal in sight and that we should be tolerant that there is often more than one method of achieving that goal. How we seek to achieve that goal is unique to the individual child and the parenting style of the adult. This has by far being the most successful method for me but I am by no means saying that this would be the most successful method for another individual. For us the hard line and coming down firm simply does not work, does not reverse undesirable behaviours and does not help my child achieve the best that she can be.
Giving her full control over her life and me actually caused the reverse to happen. She released the extraordinary amount of control she that she needed over her own environment and reduced her demands on me.
By allowing her to have full flexibility over all aspects of her life she now chooses, for the most part, to fall in line with the rest of the family rather than fight to the death over every tiny little thing that was asked of her.
Our relationship, which I thought was broken beyond repair, is now positively flourishing. She can still be rude and fly off the handle but will often, without prompting, apologise and explain why she was so highly strung.
The reclusive and depressed child that wouldn’t leave the home for two years and withdrew from all social contact, including that of her family was in a very dark place. She is now fun, bubbly and appears to be really enjoying life again as well as playing outside in the sunlight.
She appears to be more able to cope with the needs of others and to cope with unexpected disappointment or not instantly being able to have her needs met.
Everything could go all wrong tomorrow but following a total of six years in a very, very dark place the light at the end of the tunnel is now shinning bright. Mollie will always have PDA, she will always be complex, she will always need to be show far more tolerance and flexibility and she will always be prone to controlling and unpredictable behaviour. However, for a child with PDA, she is now, apart from the odd exceptions, very well behaved. This is because I no longer treat her as a child.