Where to Start
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
One of our first blog readers recently wrote the following question:
I'm wondering if you'd be interested in taking on the enormous topic of: Your child meets the PDA criteria. There are no doctors or official "examinations" that prove PDA is "real" or that your child has it. What does the parent do to start helping the child now?
- Lauren, Newton Square, PA
As I started writing a response to Lauren, I found I couldn't really stop myself, because it was as if I was writing a pep-talk to myself a year and a half ago. There was so much I wanted to say! What came out was much longer than intended, and sort of like if tough love and gentle validation had a kid together. My sincere hope is that these pages will provide a starting point to PDA parents who find themselves at the "What the heck do I do now that I think my kid has PDA?" stage.
The good news about the approach outlined here, is that it is something you can do in the home, according to the unique constraints, culture, and values of your family, and the individual nature of your PDA child. It is really about learning how to connect with a child who has, until this point, been extraordinarily hard to connect with and perhaps exhibited violent behavior.
It does not require "proof" of Pathological Demand Avoidance as a diagnostic category, nor does it require any diagnosis at all, because it is simply premised on re-establishing a new relationship with your child and adjusting the structure in your home to accommodate your PDA child's unique needs. Additionally, from my perspective, none of what is outlined here will "hurt" your child if they don't have PDA. At least in my own family, I have found many of these ideas to also be beneficial to my other, non-PDA child.
So even if you don't know if your child has PDA -- but has behavioral challenges that haven't responded to traditional parenting models and reward-sanction systems -- this might be worth a try.
The pros are that it is gentle, child-led, based in non-violence and respectful of individual difference. The downside is that you can't outsource it. This approach takes time and work on the part of the parents (and from what I've seen this usually ends up being led by the mother). It also requires tuning out others' and your own inner voice that says, You are being too lenient, You are rewarding bad behavior, or You are letting your child run the show. Just put those voices on pause for a few weeks, and see how you feel and how your child is doing.
Below is an initial roadmap for parents that think their child has PDA. Each section is accompanied by examples of my own journey with Cooper, to illustrate how it looks in the home.
Good luck and feel free to contact us if anything is confusing or doesn't make sense.