What To Say (And Not Say) To A Parent Whose Children Have Challenging Behaviors

autism parenting self-care Feb 06, 2023


"How can I help?"

If our child is in the middle of meltdown or panic attack, we may need help getting other children to safety or getting support for this child. A nonjudgmental fellow adult who steps in with hands-on help is the best thing in this situation. If you offer to help, please be ready to follow our lead, whether it's what you would do or not.

"That looks so hard. Do you want to talk about it?"

It's okay to acknowledge the difficulty. Sometimes a gentle invitation to talk is magical. Stories may come pouring out. You just need to listen. Please don't try to solve it. If the solution was obvious, we'd have already done it.

"What's that like for you?"

We will probably talk most about our kids because this is where our minds are 100% of the time. It's okay (and lovely really) to be gently encouraged to shift the attention to our own hearts and minds. You may stump us with this question. Let the silence linger as we wonder and probe. Holding space while we consider this question is a gift in itself.

"How can I be a good friend to you in this?"

Many of our friends and family members have subtly or not-so-subtly distanced themselves from the challenges we experience. We assume that our story is too overwhelming for others to face. Make it clear that you want to stay involved, but don't assume you know what we need. Asking is glorious.


"I don't know how you do it."

We don't want to be in this situation. We don't want our child to be suffering like this. We don't want to be suffering like this. Hearing that our situation is so different from yours that you cannot even imagine how it could adds to the loneliness.

"If I were you, I'd..."

Your advice, while well-meaning, is not what we need. There's a reason we are parenting the way we are. We need support for the choices we are making, not more things to consider. There's tremendous judgment on parents whose kids have challenging behaviors. Our heads swirl with advice. Please don't add to our load.

"That kid just needs..."

Remember, no matter their behavior, we love this struggling child with our whole heart. We do not want to hear your anger with our child. Recommendations that involve harsh punishments are painful to hear. Judgment toward our child reinforces their belief that they are "bad," which leads to more shame and more challenging behavior.


We are struggling and in a really hard place. Compassion, gentle curiosity, and practical offers of support are all we need.

Why is everything so hard?


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