a black and white photo of a woman with her hair in a messy bun is leaning forward with her head in her hands

The fine line between abuse and frustration

It doesn’t matter if you are the parent of a neurotypical or neurodiverse kid, they all know how to push our buttons, and when.  It may be something that they can control or it may be something that they have no control over.  And at times, it feels that we, the parents, have no control over our response.  This is normal, however, there is a fine line between abuse and frustration with our kids.

I am sure we have all thought about that line a time or two when you are ready to pull your hair out when your child has done (fill in the blank) for the 100th time after you have told him NO 100 times.  Thinking about that line does not make you a bad parent.  Choosing to cross that line is another story, regardless if it was done deliberately or in the heat of the moment.

person wearing red hoodie and screaming

Tonight’s frustration

As I am writing this post, I am sitting in my son’s room where he is in bed. He is alternating between slapping himself on the forehead (which isn’t allowed) or scratching his arm until it bleeds (which isn’t allowed).

I can’t tell you how many times tonight I have told him to stop and get ignored each and every time.  I can feel my frustration levels rise until my fight or flight response is triggered.  Because I am the only caregiver on shift right now, I cannot choose flight but I also cannot choose fight.  My son’s behaviors are not necessarily something he can control.  I know that.  But the sound of him slapping himself every 15-30 seconds causes a trigger response in me.  I am not sure why, but it is a huge trigger.

My reaction

Yes, I want to duct-tape his arms to the side of his bed, but am I going to do that?  No, I keep telling myself that behavior is communication.  Yes, we have been trying to figure out what this behavior means and have employed a Behavioral Therapist to help but we still don’t have anything more than flimsy theories, which adds another level of frustration for me.  The techniques that the Behavioral Therapist has suggested don’t seem to have the desired effect either, which of course, is another level of frustration.  

I am not proud to say that on days when my internal resources are low, I picture myself taking out my frustrations physically on anything that is around me; his wheelchair, his ventilator, the million and one trach supplies that are carefully stored around his room.  Those I imagine throwing on the floor and jumping up and down on them.  I never do it, but I imagine it.  And I know that it is a very fine line between frustration and abuse.

What should we do?

So what do I do when I get to that point?  Well, I tell you what I should do… but haven’t.  I should find myself a therapist to talk to. Someone who can hopefully help me deal with some of the triggers that I have.  This has been on my to-do list for the past two years but I can always come up with an excuse for why I don’t have time to cross that item off my list this week.


Right now, I am doing some redirection on myself.  Normally I do that on C-Bear but tonight it is my turn.  I am using writing to distract myself from his behaviors.  My stomach is still clenched but the flight response seems to be simmering down.

Take a coffee break and read the newspaper if you are getting frustrated

Take a break

If another caregiver or my husband is available, I will have them take over temporarily. Then I can go outside and take a walk up the driveway to get a breath of fresh air.  Most of the time when my frustrations are ratcheting up, it is because I have been cooped up in the house too long without a break.  When I am not working with my son, I am working (from home) my job.  When I am not doing either of those, I am working on my blogs or my Etsy shop.  Right now, I just am not getting the mental breaks that I need, and now that I am aware of it, I am trying to make sure that I am able to get outside for even a 5-minute break and stretch my legs.

Change of scenery

Sometimes, both of us will have a change of scenery.  I have a theory that some of his behaviors are boredom. Sometimes, I will pack him into his wheelchair and we will go outside (which he hates!). Or we will go next door and visit Grandma and Grandpa.

grayscale photo of acoustic guitar

Change of focus

Sometimes, I bake.  Sometimes I paint or play one of our many different musical instruments.  Occasionally, I go to the workout room and burn off the fight or flight response.

Pick your battles

I recently read an article over at Meraki Lane that talked about how to stay calm when your child is yelling.  One of her strategies is to be proactive.  Have a plan in place for the next time you become frustrated such as deep breathing, counting to 10, journaling, or doing something productive.  I really like that idea and I guess in a way, I have been doing that to a certain extent.

Over at Mindfulautismmama, Magui Moreno basically states to pick your battles and to do some situational analysis on yourself to see why you are being triggered into frustration.  Are you and your child tired?  Do you feel like you aren’t a good parent? Or are there other stressors from outside your situation that are having an impact?

I like what she says here, 

So frustration comes from RESISTANCE. Either not accepting that we can’t change something that isn’t up to us. Or, actually, that we have to DECIDE between different options that somehow call into question a core belief or expectation and do the inner work that this choice entails.”

I had not thought of it that way and maybe in my next frustration cycle, I will pull that thought out and chew on it a bit.

You are enough and you are not alone in this

I am sharing this so that hopefully whoever is reading it realizes they are not alone.  This is another battle that we are all going through.  But what will win this war will be our resilience and our willingness to do whatever we have to in order to keep ourselves from crossing that fine line.  Deep down, we know we are the parents that our children need but we have become used to society silently judging us and our children for our lack of their ‘perfection’.  Maybe this is the resistance that is a leading cause of our frustration but we just haven’t looked deep enough into ourselves yet to find it.

Well, I want to thank you for distracting me tonight.  My son is now peacefully asleep. We did our little “I’m going to kiss your head!” routine that put both of us in a good mood.  My fight or flight response is mostly gone but the acid stomach remains.  Time to break out an antacid and get ready to go to bed. Technically, I am ‘on duty’ for another 7 ½ hours when the daytime caregiver comes on shift.

If you have read some good articles on this topic that you could recommend, please let me know.  What do you do when you have these situations yourself?  Do you have a go-to response/activity/mantra that works?  Let me know!


From kidshealth.org, If you are worried that you might hurt a child in your care, make sure the child is somewhere safe, and then speak with a friend, relative, or health care professional. You also can contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). 

Other recent posts:
Power to the people!
Halloween for a kid with disabilities

Similar Posts

One Comment

Comments are closed.