We can’t just accept ‘no’. There is no accepting it for us. It’s not a game we are playing, we’re not trying to ‘win’ anything, we’re not doing this for fun or because we want to. This is our life. We don’t want to act this way. We don’t get to ‘win’ against ourselves. Everyday is a battle to force ourselves to act how we want, never mind act how everyone else wants. We just can’t do it, and it’s not because we prefer not to comply or because we want to sin some imaginary fight or competition, it’s because our brains are truly terrified of doing what they are told, of accepting something as it is. That’s why people have to trick us into doing things, that’s why we have to trick ourselves into doing the things we need and want to do. We can’t just do them, if we could then we just would.
It’s like asking why someone who has OCD doesn’t just accept that they can’t carry out their compulsions. Do you think that person can just accept that? Of course not. Their brain tells them that not doing that compulsion is bad, wrong, terrible, will cause some bad thing to happen. But it’s not just one or two things, for us, everything we want to do or have to do is bad. Imagine feeling like doing anything will cause us some type of harm that we have to avoid doing those things at all cost. Even if the cost to ourselves is actual harm. But our brains simply cannot work out the difference between imaginary harm and real harm. So saying to a PDAer “if you don’t do your school work you will be expelled”, the PDAers brain is telling them that doing school work will cause harm, but we know rationally that it wont but our brains don’t respond to rational thoughts so we end up avoiding doing school work, so we then experience the real harm of being expelled. Our brain then thinks being expelled is harm too so we have to avoid being expelled, so the PDAer then refuses to leave the school, so the police are called who try to force the PDAer off school grounds, so the PDAer’s brain sees being forced as harmful so it tries to avoid being forced by lashing out at the police, who then try to pin the person down to stop them attacking, which the brain then sees as more harm, and the cycle continues. See where I’m going with this.
If our brains see something easy like putting a t-shirt on or writing a line of work or having to say ‘please’ or having a drink, then these things will be avoided. If not doing these things is then seen as ‘wrong’, ‘defiant’, ‘bad’, ‘rude’ etc by other people and we are forced to do these things, then it will simply start a cycle of avoidance and punishment that will just escalate until there is no quick recovery from for either party involved. This is why so many PDA parenting techniques involve tricking the PDAer into doing things, this is why autonomy and letting the child choose are used (and they do work). Because they are needed to work around the brain’s danger alert thinking. We PDAers have to do this too to ourselves. If we had full control over our actions, if complying were as simple as making ourselves just do something, then the label PDA wouldn’t even exist, there would be no need for it. As Dr Ross Green states so well ‘Children do well when they can’, we, clearly, cannot; ‘Cant help wont’ (Jane Sherwin).
So if you tell a PDAer to do or not to do something or that they can’t do something, and they avoid your instructions, then are they really at fault here? Yes, we have some ability to control our actions, by using the same PDA parenting techniques parents use, but as exhausting and difficult it is to use those techniques every single day for you, it is just as hard (if not harder) for us to use them ourselves. We are all only human. You get frustrated and shout “why won’t you just do it”, we get frustrated and think “why can’t I just do it”. In the end none of us are at fault if we are trying our hardest, there’s only so much we can do. But please, try to remember that punishing avoidance doesn’t work, we are already punishing ourselves enough already. That doesn’t mean though, that you give in, that you give us whatever we are demanding or just let us avoid all the time. PDA parenting techniques do work, although not all the time. Adjusting Demands, reducing them where possible, giving us time to accept ‘no’ and allowing us to vent our feelings (though also not allowing yourself and/or others to get hurt in the process), working out what you can accept and what you can give in to, being consistent when giving in (don’t allow us to have something one day and not the next, if you say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ once be prepared to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ every time). Use tricks if they work, games, competition, play, whatever works to get around avoidance as long as it isn’t harmful. We need extra time to do things, we need the ability to say ‘no’ even at a moment’s notice, we need to be impulsive sometimes and we do need boundaries, but we also need fairness and rules and natural consequences. Most of all, we need to understand why.