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Even the Smallest Detail Can Derail Our Day

Our daughter’s pickiness, it seems, is not a choice; it is a neurological directive. And if the right towels aren’t laid out just so, or the closet doors closed tight before bed, or the soup served in its proper receptacle, she can’t control her reactions. We, however, can.

It’s 6 am on a school morning, and I’m deep scrubbing the tub so Jasmine can take a bath. If she sees any speck of dirt, grime, or even her own hair, all heck is gonna break loose. As I’m scrubbing, I make a mental note to set out both a body towel and a head towel for when she gets out of the tub. This is because if her wet hair drips on her bare shoulders, all heck is gonna break loose. Then while she’s getting dressed, I’m gonna fix her waffles and make darn sure the maple syrup is in a little bowl on the side for dipping. Because if I pour the syrup on top of the waffles… well, you get the idea.

Jasmine is picky, and always has been. We’ve got photos of her as a toddler crying for what we thought was no reason, or defiance. Perhaps she was fine at lunch, but when we changed her outfit, she would burst into tears. Once she learned to talk, she could articulate, “This sweater is itchy.” She didn’t pitch any fewer fits, but rather she added words. Once she’s triggered, her hyperactivity kicks in and an otherwise good day quickly derails.

Laurie and I have tried to parent some of this behavior out of her. Sometimes we play hardball with her. We tell her, “Get over it.” And more often than not she responds with, “I can’t!”

Other times Laurie and I trade off, in a kind of “good cop/bad cop” tactic. This might mean Laurie picks out Jasmine’s clothes for the day and diplomatically tries to explain to Jasmine her choices. When that doesn’t work, Laurie will tag me in, and I’ll either tell Jasmine to get dressed or I will dress her myself.

Often times Laurie and I trade off because we have only so much patience — a finite number of calm attempts in our system before one of us storms over to the other one, hands over the hairbrush, and shouts, “I’m done! She’s all yours.”

[Self-Test: Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children]

To this day, we use any one of these scenarios to de-escalate. We don’t want to send the message to her that losing composure over a pair of shoes is OK. We will die on that hill, but we also know it’s important to recognize her discomfort and that she can’t help a lot of it. Our ultimate goal is to avoid as many stand-offs as possible, and keep our composure calm and kind when we do butt heads.

Our family still speaks of the infamous Soup Incident. I came home one evening just after dinner time and found Jasmine had already been put to bed, by which I mean she was put IN her bed, where she was loudly sobbing.

“Uh oh,” I said to Laurie. “What happened?”

“She wouldn’t eat her dinner.”

“I thought she was having her favorite soup,” I said.

“Right. And she refused to eat it out of a bowl.”

I immediately knew where this went south. “Yeah,” I said, “She eats her soup out of a coffee mug.”

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“Well, she didn’t tell me that. She just flipped out. Why couldn’t she just ask nicely instead of spazzing out?!”

This is a common question in our house. Ultimately, we know there’s no answer. The only solution is to set her up for success when we can, and try to keep our cool when she loses hers.

So tonight I’ll tuck her in bed with two pillows arranged exactly how she likes them. I’ll find her favorite Pandora lullaby channel on the tablet. I’ll close her closet doors, leave the bathroom light on, and check on her a few minutes later. And if I forget any of these things, I’ll take a deep breath and keep my cool. Because otherwise, all heck is might break loose.

[Your Free Guide to Ending Confrontations and Defiance]