Due to demands being so hard for PDA people to take, the way you verbalise demands is very important. Since every child is different, even within PDA, what might work for one may not work for another. PDA children also have a tendency to prefer novelty, which is why new tactics may work for a short while but will soon stop working as the child becomes accustomed to it and/or works out that it’s a veiled demand. Some PDA children may be okay with having demands presented to them as a choice while some tactics might never work for others.
Here are some tactics which I’ve come across which seem to work:
- Asking nicely. Who doesn’t want to be asked nicely, after all, if someone said to you ‘pick that up right now’ you’d probably look at them like their head had suddenly turned to mush (I know I would). So why should our children be any different? Asking ‘please could you pick that up for me’ sounds much better and is more likely to be favoured.
- Respect their no. If someone asks you to do something and you say no then they get mad at you, wouldn’t you be a bit annoyed? It’s important to teach all children that’s it’s okay to say no. If we don’t then how can they refuse to give in to peer pressure when they’ve been taught that their opinion doesn’t matter? If it’s important that they do it and no isn’t an answer that’s available then don’t ask them to choose. One of my pet hates is when people frame a demand as a choice and then get annoyed when the answer is no as they were expecting a yes. This is different to giving PDA children the illusion of control over a demand in the form of a choice because the child still gets to choose, the options just aren’t a yes or no choice.
- Give them a choice. Open ended choices and questions are difficult for PDA people. When giving options it is usually best to stick to a choice of 2 options. Unlike yes/no, this tactic doesn’t allow the child to choose whether they do the demand or not but rather allows them some control over how the demand is done. ‘Would you like to use the green toothbrush or the red toothbrush?’ The child is being ‘told’ they have to brush their teeth but they get to choose which brush they use.
- The non-offered choice. Whenever my partner asks me if I would like a tea or a coffee, quite often my reply is a hot chocolate. This is for one of 2 reasons, the first is that I actually wanted a hot chocolate and the second is that sometimes my demand avoidance won’t let me choose even one of the options given. Parents of PDA children have also commentated on this. One example is where a mother asked if she could have a sweet from her child, the child seemed to think for a moment before saying ‘no, but you can have two sweets’. This isn’t because the child is being manipulative or defiant, but rather that the need to avoid the demand (giving of a sweet) is so great but the child’s want to follow the demand clashes and the only way out is to work around the demand (by offering 2 sweets instead). It might sound strange to those who aren’t used to PDA. So if you give a choice of 2 options and the child picks a third option, unless it goes against the demand, then it’s usually best to let it go. The child is showing that they want to work with you, but they really struggle to do so in the way a typical child would.
- Countdowns. Giving a countdown in the run up to a transition and/or demand can help prepare the child and give them time to get used to the change and/or implementation of the demand. Imagine being told you have to give a speech to a hundred people right now. You’d probably panic. You won’t have time to prepare. One second you’re doing nothing and the next you’re thrust on stage and expected to talk. Well transitions and demands are like that for PDA people. Because of our heightened anxiety and emotions, even small things like getting dressed and eating lunch feel like being told to get on stage and make a speech. Overwhelming, right?
- ‘The wait was worse than the actual event’. Sometimes, the lead up to something is worse than the actual thing. Our minds go over what’s going to happen and what could go wrong, the longer we have to dwell, the worse the event appears. It’s only afterwards that we realise the wait was worse. I’ve found it’s sometimes easier to tell a child about a demand shortly before it’s due to happen, rather than days/weeks in advance. This is especially helpful for things like dentist appointments, hospital visits/operations, holidays, meetings, and other unpleasant and unpredictable events. It’s important to give enough of a warning (ie not seconds before leaving the house) but not so much warning that the child starts to worry about all the things that could go wrong.
- Race to the finish. Some kids find making a demand into a race to be a good motivator. Saying “I bet you can’t get dressed before me” can get them up and moving in their need to beat you.
- Pretend play. PDA kids often use role play or pretend play to cope with everyday demands. Some talk through their toys saying “Charlie bear doesn’t want to eat his food”. Often the parent/s can cajole the child to do something by talking back through the toy. Saying “can Charlie bear get dressed?” This means the child can accept the demand because it’s not directed directly at them. They may blame a character or toy for any mistakes they make, it might be easier for parents to go with this and discipline the toy instead of challenging the child. The child probably already knows that what they did was wrong and are anxious about being told off, so blaming something else is often easier. This can make is easier for the parent to explain why what the child did was wrong, what they should have done instead and how to make things right, because without the medium of the toy, the child may become overwhelmed by their emotions and may not hear what’s being said.
- Asking the room. Direct demands can create an immediate refusal to comply in many PDA people, sometimes it’s best to use an indirect way to communicate demands. One way to do this is to ask the room “I wonder if Annabella could get dressed now?” Similarly, asking “Is there anyone who can help me tidy this up?” This might not always work and may be ignored, since this isn’t a direct demand, any refusal to comply shouldn’t be challenged.
- Reducing and increasing demands. Anxiety and the ability to cope with demands changes everyday, sometimes even hour to hour. This means the parent has to become tuned in to when their child is struggling and when they are able. When anxiety and demand avoidance is high, it is best to reduce demands, as they will struggle to cope otherwise and this can lead to meltdowns/shutdowns/panic attacks. When the child is managing fine and their anxiety and demand avoidance is low, then you can increase demands as now is the time when they are most likely to be able to comply. It’s important to be careful when increasing demands though, as anxiety can quickly escalate, making it difficult for them to cope. With practise it will become easier to judge how and when to increase and decrease to make the most of what the child is can do when they are able.
- Give them breathing space. Everyone needs breaks from time to time, this is more so true for PDA children. They need room to relax and get their emotions under control. It might be helpful to give breaks in-between demands so they have time to recharge. When anxiety is high, it helps to give them more rest than usual, as this is when they’ll need it most.
- Don’t rush them. Everyone works best when left to their own pace. Some people work best when given lots of time, others work better under stress. Some PDA kids leave everything till the last minute then jump into action in a panic. While this may seem unhealthy, it’s one of the ways some PDAers manage demands best, as the panic overrides the anxiety making it possible for them to act. Other PDAers need lots of time with no deadlines to be able to act, as deadlines and panic make them unable to do anything at all. You will know best what works for your child.
- Let them stim. Stimming is a form of self-soothing, it can be flapping hands, spinning in circles, touching everything, clicking pens, watching lights, rolling objects like balls, jumping up and down, etc. There are many different stims. Stimming is very helpful, especially for concentration and as a coping mechanism. As long as the stims aren’t harmful (some stim by banging their head on walls) then it’s fine to let, and even encourage stimming.
- Remember… demand avoidance is not a choice. Every child wants to do well, they struggle because they can’t help won’t.
Read the first Tips for parenting your PDA child here.
Hopefully more tips to come soon.