Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ain't Misbehavin'

I read over this before I posted it and it is a little chaotic and hard to follow the timeline, but please bear with me. I had so much to say (so unlike me! LOL)

I think K, from Role Playing With Kids, started something. So I will hop on the bandwagon.

I will preface by saying, this is MY story, and not a commentary on anyone else's situation. My daughter, my parenting style, my feelings, her personality and mine, our relationship and our situation are unique and don't translate at all to anyone else's lives and in no way does this blog cast judgment on anyone. Having made my disclaimer, here it goes.

I don't have a child who hits or pushes or takes toys away from other children. She is usually the one who is on the losing end of those behaviors. She is, many times, slow to warm in a crowd or around people whom she does not know. She is a generally sweet and loving child. However, her mouth and her looks of death are her weapons. She can cut you with her tone and that tongue faster and smoother than a sword cuts through softened butter and those eyes could burn up the devil in one quick glance. People say she gets it from me. My mom would have agreed and surely chuckles from Heaven every time it happens .

Whenever she was fresh or disrespectful to me, it made me insane. I could feel my face getting red, my muscles tightening and it would take every ounce of willpower I had not to do something I would regret. For whatever reason, I was horrified everytime she would mouth off to me, especially if it were in front of other people. The dirty looks from other people and the shame factor added to my anger. It was something I had to put a stop to, but how? And I'll add this little tidbit. I DO NOT need other people, even my closest friends and relatives, to add their 2 cents when it happens. They will often say something to Olivia that is completely useless (i.e. - "that's not nice", "Olivia, you need to apologize to Mommy", etc.) and it makes the situation worse because she then feels shamed and upset on top of everything else. I am her mother and I will deal with it, thank you.

Back to the story.
I thought and thought and observed and thought some more. I analyzed her and me and Cin and our world and everything around us and I thought and thought and thought some more. I came up with this.
When Olivia chooses a behavior that I, and others, deem inappropriate, my 1st reaction is shame, then embarrassment, then anger that I am embarrassed, then lots of emotions follow. At some point, I get lost because I'm no longer reacting to the behavior itself, but to my feelings about it. After I get angry with her, I get angry with me.

I learned a lot about my daughter and myself in the last few months because I have spent more time, more REAL time, with her than I have since she was born. I have talked to her and asked her questions about everything she says and feels and does. She is far from being able to answer some of those questions in any meaningful way. Ahhhhh, my light goes on.

She's still just a baby. She is just beginning to have meaningful language. She is just starting to have all these emotions and barely understands them herself.
I learned that her behavior is not a reflection of what I have taught her, but rather a reflection of what I have neglected to teach her. She can only chose from her repertoire of words and behavior. She cannot use words she does not know. She cannot make a choice she does not know is available. Furthermore, even if somewhere deep down, she knows it's available, she needs practice choosing it. Children are not born brilliant decision makers. They need practice and reinforcement and encouragement. And they will make a lot of mistakes for a lot of years. They are supposed to.

A digression...It was misleading for me to write earlier on that Olivia does not hit. She used to. She learned it from somewhere, or maybe it's just a survival thing that she was born with. I remember the feelings of absolute shame when we would be in a play group and Olivia would just walk up to another kid - always a smaller one and always a girl - and just smack or hit her. No rhyme, no reason. "Mortified" doesn't even cover what I felt. I just didn't understand why she did it. I poured over every instance for hours and days after it would happen. I was at a loss. Finally, I decided I could never know why she does everything she does. So I changed direction. Instead of understanding it, I decided I would just put halt to it.
We worked SOOOOOOO hard on getting her not to hit. She was too young for timeouts and other discipline, so every time it happened, I talked to her about what she could do instead of hitting. "No, Olivia. That's hitting. You CANNOT hit (rather than "we don't hit"). You can rub her arm or touch her hand or tap her shoulder", etc., etc., bla, bla, bla. I thought about whether I should explain that it hurts their feelings when she hits, but I was pretty sure she wouldn't give a shit. Too young for empathy. It was so draining. It went on for about 2 months, then it stopped - all of a sudden and for good. I think her light went on. She got it. It took time and practice and consistency. Every time - the same exact thing. Draining!

Then about 6 months ago, other behaviors started that I didn't like - the talking back, the ignoring me when I asked her to do something, the running away laughing when I asked her to come to me, the forceful "NO!", no matter what I asked or said, and the whining. OH THE WHINING! She had a lot of changes going on in her life and I'm sure she felt like she had no control and was taking it the only way she knew how. What to do? I poured over books and the Internet and asked friends. Nothin'! Well, not true. One friend told me about 1-2-3 and it works like a charm. Not at first, but after she realized there was a consequence EVERY time I got to 3, her light went on again. And I stopped being angry. No loud voice, no angry tone. Just 1.......2......3. Thanks, K - you saved my, I mean her, life. But this doesn't work for everything. I still had that sharp tongue to contend with. Oh yeah, and the bloodcurdling, hair curling, bonechilling tantrums. I had to rid our lives of those as well.

So I decided to embark on the journey of knowledge in decision making - helping Olivia to choose words and actions that are appropriate and, more importantly, that feel good for her.
She would so often say to me, after being told no or being corrected, "Mama, don't be mean to me" or "Mama, don't be mad at me." After this happened a few times, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I need to explain things to her - nicely. She's old enough now. She needs - and deserves - to know why and why not. I could no longer go on the premise of "Because I said so." She is a little person with thoughts and feelings and emotions and a brain. That's right - a brain.

So the next time she was "fresh" to me, I asked her to come over to me and talk to me. I told her how it made me feel when she talked to me like that. I told her that there were other ways to tell me she didn't want to do something without being disrespectful. Little did she know she would have to to what I asked anyway (hehe). But we would work it out. So each time this happened, we would have a talk and discuss other ways to get her feelings out without shouting "NO!" at me. And on my end, I felt it was important to be careful with my tone, and to say please and thankyou, just like she was supposed to. She is, afterall, a very sensitive child. And on her end, she would have to learn that she needed to do things that I asked her to do, even if she didn't want to do them. And if she wanted to be mad about it, she could be. And she could and should express it. We went over different ways for her to be angry or upset. We play acted. It was fun. And in the end, she usually did what she was supposed to do with a smile on her face. But there were some tantrums. So what? They end and we hug and kiss and all is good again.

It's been about 2 months since we began our "journey of love" and we are all so much happier. Cin and I are relaxed. We no longer expect a blowup every time we open our mouths to speak to her, or when we have to say no. Olivia is happy too. And we can see it in her eyes, in her smile. She seems peaceful now, no longer in search of the fight, the drama. She is getting the attention, the right kind of attention, she needs and deserves.
Don't get me wrong. She still cries and screams and says,"NO!", runs away and laughs in my face when I ask her to do something and bedtime is still a struggle (mostly because I believe she loves spending time with us so much that she can't bear the thought of being away from us). But now these things only happen once in a while. She only gets a time out once or twice a week, and she will now go to it quietly rather than with a tantrum.
She is far from perfect. But why should she be? Why should I expect perfection from her when I am so far from it myself? I was being so hard on her because I wanted her to be well-behaved and well-mannered and polite. Why? So people would love her. It was crazy. Why do I care if people love her? It's my own insecurity and need for acceptance. So I had to get over it and stop caring what people thought of her and just worry about loving her myself and providing her with the gentle guidance she needs to become whoever she is supposed to be.

I'm pretty sure I blabbed on and on and on in this post, so thanks for staying with me!


Holly said...

You guys are doing a great job! I think it's a parent's first response to think that a child's behavior is what it is at any given time because of a bad parental decision, reaction or even omission on our parts. We already feel like everytime our 6 month old throws a fit or has a meltdown that we've created this behavior.
No child is "perfect" - that's not fun or part of the entire learning experience.
I can tell right now that we are going to have a child with "personality" and it's going to be a lot of work sometimes, but I wouldn't trade that for a boring kid any day.

ECand3 said...

Holly - Thanks. And Amen! to not having a boring kid. Olivia is certainly a character and it definitley started early. The meltdowns at 6 months are funny compared to the 2-year old tantrums. I bet you can't wait! Also, maybe you already know it, but NO WAY did you create the behavior!

nailgirl said...

great post E, it sounds like you and C are doing a great job.

K J and the kids said...

I'm so glad that this is working for you. I remember Syd going through phases...I was certain this now happy child learned something that I was teaching her. That is was sinking in. 6 months later and WHAM !!! Hit with a NEW set of rules...a new set of challenges.

I agree with you. I AM too worried about how others judge me as a mother. I have a different set of problems because my kid is getting physical which DOES involve other peoples I do have to worry about other people to some degree.

Syd has said that to me. Mommy you made me feel sad. You hurt my feelings. You make me VERY ANGRY :) I always like that.

I guess the frustrating thing for me is trying to find out what will work. I take everyone's the internet and I try things that I think will work. AND like I said, for a while it seems to. and then it doesn't.

Thank you for pointing out that NO CHILD is perfect. We need to remember this as parents.
They will have bad days and good days. I will keep searching for the answers to Sydney and then soon enough the boys will throw a WHOLE new perspective on things. (can't wait for that)

Here's to kids with personality !

ECand3 said...

Yes - a toast to kids with PERSONALITY!
K - Your only concern is Syd and you. PLEASE dont worry about other parents. It will drive you nuts. The ones with common sense know that if their child gets hit, it's a part of life. Mine hit and she got hit. And I know that she is fine. As long as you address it when Syd does it, you are doing yor job.
I LOVE when OG tells me I make her mad and things like that. It means she is learning to express herself.
You are more open than me. I only listened to a select few parents who gave me advice,and even then, I didn't employ it. I was a snob and stubborn, so it probably took me a lot longer to deal with things than it should have. It is frusrating when nothing seems to work and that's why we need to come up with the solutions that work for us and our children, no matter how unorthodox or strange. I can't tell you the strange looks I get when I say certain things to Olivia when we are out. But they work for us, so I don't care.
Let's remember, no child is perfect, but they are perfect at being children.
Today OG is an angel, but when I rub her head, I feel the bumps that will grow into horns. When they do, I will be forced to come up with new ideas and solutions. Maybe it's just the Universe's way of making sure parents evolve as human beings and our brains don't turn to mush.