Home / Health & Wellness / Children's Health 5 smart steps for parenting neurodivergent kids Rather than seeing challenging kids as problems to ﬁx, what if we could uncover what makes them tick? In this excerpt from her new book, ‘Calm the Chaos’, author Dayna Abraham shares a helpful framework. By Dayna Abraham August 15, 2023 Léa Jones/Stocksy In This Article The Calm the Chaos way The Calm the Chaos system The 5-stage family road map 5 stages to move from surviving the storm to thriving every day You’ve got enough on your to-do list. The last thing you need is one more “guru” giving you their magic one-size-ﬁts-all parenting advice. But on the ﬂip side, you don’t have to try to ﬁgure out this whole parenting-a-challenging-kid thing on your own. You shouldn’t need to get a PhD in parenting just to parent your own child. Instead, you need an out-of-the-box approach to parenting that considers your unique child, your background and upbringing, your values and beliefs, and your whole family, combined with best practices for raising a challenging child. You need a framework that simpliﬁes parenting in even the most challenging situations and that can be used no matter what stage of the parenting journey you’re currently wading through. The Calm the Chaos framework will organize and simplify everything you’ve already learned and help you create action plans with your family that actually work. This framework is the culmination of over twenty years of my own work in the classroom, parenting my own challenging kiddo, and working with thousands of other families around the world. It draws from time-tested research and rock-solid science about the brain, neurodiversity, education, communication, and relationships. The Calm the Chaos way I’m here to make a bold claim: More than structure, discipline, or even consistency, your child needs to be seen, heard, understood, and empowered. Whether you’re barely surviving or your family is working together smoothly, you need a way to keep moving forward even on your hardest days. To understand just how revolutionary the Calm the Chaos system is, consider the following paradigm shifts: Rather than seeing challenging kids as problems to ﬁx or, in dire cases, get rid of (by way of expulsion and isolation), what if we could uncover what makes them tick? Instead of parenting with a discipline-from- on-high approach, what if we treated children as fully-ﬂedged members of a team, rather than people who must obey, or else? What would be possible if we made even the most challenging children feel seen, heard, and accepted, and allowed them to express their opinions and preferences while fully being themselves, instead of trying to mold them into who we think they should be? Instead of always searching for solutions to “get kids to behave,” what if we worked together to create safety, understanding, and relationships that allowed children to take risks, make mistakes, and advocate for themselves? The Calm the Chaos way is a family team approach in which kids’ and adults’ needs are considered and you put your heads together to ﬁnd an out-of-the-box solution that works for everyone involved. The Calm the Chaos system Calm the Chaos will walk you through the two-part system needed to go from surviving to thriving as a family. Five-Stage Family Road Map: This will serve as a guide through your family’s relationship-rebuilding journey and will give you the blueprint needed to storm proof your family. Calm the Chaos Framework: Every plan you create includes four essential ingredients known as You-CUE. As you go through each stage, the framework builds on itself, but never more than you can handle, given the amount of chaos in your current situation. The 5-stage family road map Although there is no one-size-ﬁts-all solution for all families, there are clear stages that all families go through as they navigate the journey of raising a challenging kid. My goal is to explain the distinct stages so that you can easily determine where you and your family are. Each stage has a role you must play, a mission, and a plan to follow to create a family that works together. What’s in a plan? You’ll be building a repertoire of plans to solve diﬀerent struggles in your family. The more plans you make and agree on ahead of a crisis, the smoother your days will be. I’ve even created a road map to make sure you go down a trail with the right equipment. Related: 10 things I wish someone had told me about raising a neurodiverse child 5 stages to move from surviving the storm to thriving every day Stage 1: Surviving the storm Your Role: Determined Survivor Challenge: Get Everyone to Safety Plan Needed: Ride the Storm Plan Goal of this stage The number one goal in this stage is safety, which can include physical, emotional, and mental safety. This could include anything from large emergencies that are life altering (such as a death in the family, dangerous outbursts, or drug and alcohol use) to smaller struggles that wreak havoc on your family (such as a new school or diagnosis). In this stage, you will develop a Ride the Storm plan so you can get through the challenges with minimal damage or disconnection. Action steps The ﬁrst step is to create your own safety and calm your nervous system so you can remain calm in any storm and keep from adding your own chaos to an already volatile situation. Next, you’ll make simple shifts in your body language and movements, so you become your child’s safe place. You’ll develop an important perspective shift about your child’s behavior to create a foundation of trust and empathy as you move out of crisis mode. Finally, you’ll develop a habit of gratitude and noticing that will allow you to keep moving forward even on your darkest days. Stage 2: Your energy reserves Your Role: Brave Parent Challenge: Having Energy to Face Another Battle Plan Needed: The Five-Minute Energy Plan Goal of this stage Let’s face it—without any time or energy, you can feel overwhelmed, leading you right back to stage one, Surviving the Storm, which might be worse than when you ﬁrst started. So often, parents want to skip this stage and jump right to the “let’s ﬁx it” stage, but I assure you, this stage is vital if you’re going to have any long-term change. While you might feel like jumping into solving behaviors and working out what to do about all the chaos, this is actually when you need to focus on your needs. Your number one goal here is to get out of feeling overwhelmed and have a path forward that feels sustainable and possible. During this stage you will create a Five-Minute Energy plan that allows you to regularly shift your mood from disempowered to empowered. Action steps You’ll start to prioritize the things that are most important to you so you can ﬁnally kick the whole “balance” myth to the curb. This means putting yourself back on your to-do list and ﬁnding time for yourself (even if only ﬁve minutes to begin). Next, you’ll ﬁnd small ways to boost connection and build your support system. You’ll identify what boosts your energy, while removing things that drain you each day. Finally, you’ll build tiny habits for taking care of your own health (mental, spiritual, and physical) so you can weather any storm to come. Related: I’m the mom of a child with autism. Here are 3 things I want people to know Stage 3: The calm at the center of the storm Your Role: Chaos Wrangler Challenge: Defuse the Chaos without Adding Fuel to the Fire Plan Needed: In-the-Moment Plan Goal of this stage Your number one objective in this stage is to defuse the situation quickly without creating more chaos. You and your children are building trust and deepening your connection while creating a safe environment for big emotions, outbursts, and mistakes, not teaching and skill-building (this will come later). This stage is where parents spend the most time, rebuilding, rediscovering, and rewiring from the inside out. Trust and bonding are the foundations of any future skill-building or change. Action steps The ﬁrst step in this stage is to challenge your deep-seated thoughts and beliefs about your child and their behavior, swapping the disempowering thoughts for more empowering ones. Next, you’ll work to defuse the situation before it spirals into more chaos and mayhem by creating connection and empathy in the heat of the moment. You’ll do some detective work and start to become an expert in your own child by digging under the surface to ﬁnd the root cause of their outbursts so you can understand your unique child and their challenges. Finally, you’ll craft an In-the-Moment plan for exactly what to say and do in the moment to defuse the outbursts and get through the battle unscathed. Stage 4: No more storm chasing Your Role: Problem-Solving Partner Challenge: Stop the Whac-A-Mole Parenting Approach Plan Needed: Ahead-of-the-Moment Plan Goal of this stage This stage is a turning point for so many families and is where long-lasting change starts. Days start to feel easier and lighter. However, in the beginning you may feel as if you’re constantly jumping from one challenge to the next and running in circles. In this stage, your top goal is to become your child’s guide and mentor. You’ll get ahead of the battles, outbursts, and meltdowns before they ever begin. Action steps Your ﬁrst step is to prioritize and focus on the primary chaos causer wreaking havoc on your family. Your connection will grow deeper with intentional connection out of the moment, building your child’s repository of belonging and trust. You’ll spiral out and recognize signs of the storms brewing so you aren’t caught oﬀ guard (heck, you’ll even be able to stop the outbursts before the point of no return). Finally, you’ll problem solve and communicate with your child in a new and revolutionary way that allows you to create plans that work for both of you. Not only will you have an Ahead-of-the- Moment plan to remain calm or solve problems but your child will begin to build the skills needed to advocate for their own needs and get them met without the use of screaming, back talk, distraction, or aggression. Related: 10 things I’ve learned as a mom to an autistic child Stage 5: Building a storm-proof infrastructure Your Role: Team Builder Challenge: Minimize Future Chaos Plan Needed: Family Success Plan Goal of the stage This stage is the ultimate destination of your journey: an empowered family, one that works together, enjoys spending time together, has fun together, and supports each other. Now that you’ve strengthened your one-on-one relationship with your child, the rest of the family needs repair and reconnection. This stage prepares you and your family for lifelong change (rather than a quick ﬁx). By the end of this stage, family discussions will be a daily habit and a way of life. When a problem arises, you’ll notice your children calling a huddle to brainstorm solutions that work for each member of the family. Action steps The ﬁrst step is to swap your child’s struggles (the very thing that makes them challenging) for their superpowers. Next, you’ll work to create a family ecosystem that’s connected and centered on working together as a team. You’ll create a proﬁle for each family member so they understand and accept each other on a deep level. Finally, you’ll create a Family Success plan so everyone is in agreement and your family can run smoothly. You’ll redeﬁne rules, routines, and even personal boundaries based on common family values so everyone is on the same page. Excerpted from Calm the Chaos: A Fail-Proof Road Map for Parenting Even the Most Challenging Kids. Copyright © 2023, Dayna Abraham. Reproduced by permission of Simon Element, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. 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