The last week or two has not been an easy one with the kids. Which is not to say it’s all been bad, it’s been the usual mixture of ups and downs, but the downs have been particularly low.
It’s amazing how easily we resort to what we are brought up with. I grew up, as most of us did, in a culture of punishment and power. My parents were regular, loving folks but the only way they knew how to handle kids was to punish/useforce. They weren’t harsh about it, but the power dynamic was clear. And despite the fact that I’m completely anti-punishment, and convinced beyond a doubt of the benefits of raising my kids that way, it seems I’m not immune to falling back on my parents’ techniques during times of mental fatigue. Even while I’m doing it and saying it I know it’s not right, and yet sometimes I just can’t stop myself.
The whole cycle starts when I fail to follow the “Get off Your Butt” school of parenting and instead try to issue commands from the kitchen/laundry/sofa. These are inevitably ignored since a) my child has not been trained like a cocker spaniel to perform on command and b) she is unable to comply with my commands anyway. People get so stuck in the behaviour they fail to read what is going on underneath, so it’s easy to just act on the behaviour. This, as I know, and have experienced first hand this week, is completely ineffective.
Example, DD discovered one day last week that it grossed me out and angered me that she spat on the floor. Since that time, whenever she wants my attention (and we’ll get to that diagnosis later), she walks up to me and starts spitting, with increasing enthusiasm as I begin to chastise her for it. The more I say “don’t spit” the more she does it, until I’m outraged. Or I’m sitting on the sofa trying to knit and she’s grabbing at my yarn and needles and the same useless cycle begins until I get up and lock myself in the bedroom, at which point she dissolves into hysterical crying and pounding on the door. And all the while I hate myself and wonder who has taken over control of my mouth and my body, since none of this is anything I want to be a part of.
Well, to cut to the point of this post, I reached a real low a couple of days ago with another incident along the lines of the above. Plus, DS was pretty much whining/screeching/crying constantly. Between the two of them I was going insane. That night, I sat and thought about what I was going to do to get us all back on track. The answer was pretty simple. The childrens’ behaviours were all about one thing: they wanted me. I have been spending way too much time each day behind the kitchen counter, or running from room to room tidying, or doing any number of domestic chores or even “real” work. There have been far too many “Mama, shall you play with me?”‘s followed by “not right now sweetie” or “just a minute honey”…
My little boy is going through a huge stage of development. He just started walking this past Friday, and he is also getting involved in more tussles with DD as he tries to exert his independence and she tries to get him to play by her rules. He has separation anxiety. He desperately wants me, and I’m constantly walking away from him (and putting him on my back in the sling doesn’t help when he starts yanking on my ponytail and digging his claws in my back – it really hurts). I have enormous guilt over the short shrift he’s gotten as #2, and I think all this whining/crying on his part are his way of saying “mama, I need you”. I’m really worried that pretty soon he’s just going to get used to not having his attachment needs met from me and will shut down that part of him.
As for DD, it’s just as simple. She wants her mama. We barely play together anymore, and I’m always putting her off for something else. I didn’t want it to be this way; I don’t even know how it got this way, but all this defiant behaviour of hers is just clearly her wanting my attention. And since asking to play isn’t working, why not try to piss me off by doing something she knows I hate – like hurting me, or worse, hurting DS (which she has done in a very deliberate manner just to get to me).
The “punishment” route, the “command” route, is simply not working. Not only is it not making the behaviours go away, but it’s making them worse. And, they are quite simply against everything I believe in. So…what I came up with was to just give them as much of me as I could until their little cups were filled and they could get on with the task of growing and learning.
That night, despite being exhausted (my insomnia and rough nights on the part of the kids has not helped any of this) I stayed up that night to clean the house so that, the next morning, there was nothing to distract me from the kids. The next day, I sat with them, played with them on the floor, pretty much all day. We went out for a long walk. In short, we had a great day. We even had one “challenge”: DS was playing with a toy and DD yanked it out of his hand. I was right there next to them, so instead of yelling at her from the kitchen to give it back, I said calmly “DD, DS was playing with that. Do you hear him crying? He’s upset that you grabbed it from him. You need to give it back.” She looked at me with that defiant look, and I thought “uh-oh” but I stayed calm and just repeated myself “you need to give that back”. I sat there beside her while she thought about it, and then she gave it back to him!”. Patience was rewarded! I told her I was very proud of her, and I know how hard it was to do that. I really think that my being right there with her helped so much.
Anyways, so all this is just to show that when kids behaviours gets worse, that’s when they need you the most to just drop everything and BE with them, play with them, tussle with them. Guide them through a challenging situation just by being right there and being calm. Even though I know all these things in my head, reliving a learning experience like this makes me feel like I’m that much closer to hardwiring it in my head, so that it becomes less of a concious thing and more of a natural thing, even when I’m tired!