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Mom Decides To Try 'Low-Demand Parenting' — Lets Her Kid Make His Own Rules & Play On IPad Most Of The Day

Photo: marchenko_family via Canva Pro
mom holding son while he plays on a tablet

A mom and therapist named Gretchen Winterkorn admitted that she has transformed her parenting style with her neurodivergent son upon realizing that he requires a different approach.

In a TikTok video, Winterkorn revealed that she and her husband have completely pivoted to a "difficult" parenting technique that she brands as "low-demand parenting." 

The mom decided to try 'low-demand parenting' by allowing her homeschooled child to make his own rules.

"We're trying a new thing in my family called low-demand parenting, which is a pretty radical swing for us," Winterkorn began in her video. 

She explained that before this shift, they were raising their kids "relatively Waldorf," meaning extremely limited screen time and eating all meals together, among other aspects. However, she came to the conclusion that this type of parenting style wasn't working for their son.  

   

   

She began learning more about her son and how his autism manifests, which is a form called pathological demand avoidance (PDA). PDA is a pattern of behavior in which kids go to extremes to ignore or avoid anything they perceive as a demand, and is mostly seen in people with autism. 

"I'm also seeing myself in that profile as well," Winterkorn admitted. "So, we've swung to do this very difficult low-demanding parenting. We bought Amazon Fire iPads for our kids two weeks ago, they've never had anything like that."

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Before she only allowed an hour of screen time each day on the weekend, but now, her son can pretty much watch screens for as long as he wants without being disrupted. They don't make him come to the dinner table anymore either.

While this type of parenting may seem unsettling, Winterkorn insisted that she has seen some major improvements in her son's behavior. In a follow-up video, she explained that, due to her son's autism, when she "regulates for him" and makes decisions on his behalf, "that doesn't work, because he's experiencing the loss of control of his autonomy and whatever choice I'm taking away from him."

By letting her child do things like designate his own bedtime and decide what and when he eats, they "are allowing him to regulate himself rather than taking that over, because taking that over doesn't work."

   

   

Despite the positive change, it's still an uncomfortable avenue to go down as a parent, especially since Winterkorn has done a complete 180 from how she previously parented her son. "It's super unsettling and we're seeing really positive effects," she shared.

"If you took a snapshot of my son right now, I would look like a ... neglectful parent," she continued. "But actually, we're learning a lot about his nervous system, his neurodivergence, and trying to support that."

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She admitted that this shift is helping not only her son but everyone in their household. She also noticed that the pressure and tension in the house had gone down considerably. 

She shared that taking up low-demanding parenting has reminded her of her own childhood.

"I started to notice as my son was eating ice cream on his iPad we bought him two weeks ago, watching whatever he wanted on my sofa, not coming to the dinner table, that it reminded me of my father's house," Winterkorn said. 

   

   

She shared that her parents separated when she was six, and her father moved down the road. While Winterkorn's mom was "super controlling," going to her dad's house allowed her a reprieve from the demands. "He was doing low demand before low demand was a thing," she said. "[His house] was this place where you could play."

She reminisced about watching unlimited movies, eating raw cookie dough, drinking soda out of baby bottles, building fires, and climbing onto the roof of her dad's house. In stark contrast to her mom's house, the mantra at her father's was “If it feels good and no one is unsafe … we can do it."

Now that she's taken up low-demand parenting herself, Winterkorn noticed how much it matches up with how she was raised at her father's. “I think it really did a lot for my nervous system and it’s really helping me feel confident when I’m looking at my own parenting or fearing other people looking at my parenting," she shared.

It's not easy parenting a child with autism (or any child), and finding the right tools that work for your family can be tricky. But while low-demand parenting may not work for everyone, it does work for Winterkorn's son and that's what is important. Her journey proves that parenting choices should be guided by the well-being of the child and while certain techniques may seem unconventional, they can have a hugely positive effect on a child's development.

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Nia Tipton is a Chicago-based entertainment, news, and lifestyle writer whose work delves into modern-day issues and experiences.