"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Saturday, January 12, 2013

if it's broken

Before Christmas, the screaming was escalating. There were outbursts, tantrums, and meltdowns of Very High Decibels, and it wasn't coming from me. I was responding to them loudly (hence, my non-resolution of 2013), but they were starting with my children. One, in particular. And these meltdowns were, as they have before, threatening to make this house a very unpleasant place to be. But, like I said, we'd been here before and we'd gotten through it before through a series of behavior plans and incentive/consequence programs. Problem was, the usual stuff wasn't working. His currency had changed. And we were going to need to figure out what his New Currency was if we were going to have a chance at returning peace and order to our home.

Christmas and the New Year came and went and the tantrums continued. Not often, but Ugly....and this was POST-resolution, so the Yelling was only coming from one side of the battle (mostly). About a week ago, a bedtime-battle was waged, which we won (of course, because the parents have to win, right?) only to have it pick up again the next morning. Literally, at 6:07 am, Molly had JUST fallen back to sleep next to me after her 5am pre-breakfast breakfast, and my door flew open. A face, inches from mine, was drawn into Mad Face. "THE NIGHTLIGHT'S NOT RIGHT," he yelled. "Whaaa?" was my groggy response. "YOU PUT THE WRONG LIGHTBULB IN AND IT'S WHITE LIGHT AND IT SHOULD BE YELLOW AND YOU NEED TO FIX IT NOW AND I'M NOT EVER GOING TO SLEEP IN THAT BED AND YOU NEED TO FIX THAT LIGHTBULB RIGHT THIS MINUTE BECAUSE IT'S WRONG AND YOU DID IT."

At first I just looked at him. I was not going to yell. I tried to explain that we only had the new LED bulbs in the house and the light is different but not wrong. It's energy efficient! And aren't you lucky that I am such an organized and thoughtful Mommy to have spare bulbs in the first place so that you will always have a working nightlight. You can imagine how well reasoning with a screaming maniacal 5-year old works at 6:07 am. So, when that didn't work, I started yelling back. Good thing it wasn't a resolution or I would have been feeling pretty pathetic at that moment. Nah, resolution or not, it was pathetic. I needed to say something (calmly) that would diffuse the situation. But what? I needed to find his currency. And because the behavior I was witnessing was some of the nastiest behavior I have ever seen (short of the time one of my students kicked me, spat at me, and called me a "Stupid White Girl"), I was ready to Get Tough.

"If you scream at me in that out-of-control way One. More. Time....." I began, with the Mom Look and Tone, "I will take Everything You Love out of your room. I will pack it up in bins. I will put it in the basement storage room and You. Will. Not. Have. It. anymore. No more Ninjago. No more Ninja Turtles. No more Special Things Bins. No more books. No more buddies. Nothing left."

He looked at me. He wasn't shocked. Did he agree that I was being fair? I don't know. But he knew I was serious. "When will I get it back?" he asked in a not-yelling but not-exactly-pleasant voice. "When you start treating us with respect." And that was it. That was His Currency. Everything he loves. His most prized possessions. The things he keeps, not in the playroom, not out where he can access them at any point in the day, but tucked away in nooks and little spaces in his room. And every thing in its particular place. I need to take care when I dust to lift and replace each item, one at a time, or he'll know that his things have been Disturbed. I would disturb all of it and put it in bins. In the basement. It was horrible to say it...I couldn't imagine how it felt to hear.

But could I carry it out? I had to. I threatened it...if I failed to follow through I would Lose. Parenting Game Over.   And I had to because this was a Big One....coming out of his room at night is exhausting. Begging for screen time is annoying. Playing too rough with his little brother is, to some extent, to be expected. Potty talk? Developmentally appropriate (and sometimes funny). But RESPECT? That's big. It's forever. If he learns that he can scream at his parents, he'll start talking to others like that....like friends. And teachers. And someday, that nice police officer that pulls him over to warn him of a busted tail light and I'll have to bail my baby out of jail for disorderly conduct. And I will be so pissed.

So it starts now.

There will be no more out-of-control screaming....at us. We were very clear in telling him that it is okay to be upset. Everyone gets mad. Everyone gets frustrated. But not everyone screams at other people. We gave him some strategies. If you get so mad or upset that you think you're going to scream, go to your room. Scream. Stomp. Squeeze your pillow. Write in your journal. Cry on your bed. And then, you'll start to feel calm. When you're ready to talk it out, we will be, too. Talk to us and tell us why you're upset, or mad, or frustrated. We can help. We might not always give you what you want or tell you what you want to hear, but we'll listen to you.

In the days that followed, he's been calm. When he starts to grimace or furrow those brows, I say, "You look like you're about to scream. Either find a calm voice and talk to me or go to your room very quickly. If you scream at me, you lose everything." Mostly, he finds his calm voice. Once or twice, though, he's gone to his room. He doesn't scream, or stomp, or yell. He lays on his bed and cries. He's trying. His little body is working so hard. He's exhausted and he's giving everything he has to school, and friends, and siblings, and household expectations.....he's spent. And so he cries. And I follow him up to his room and tickle his back a minute and he calms down. And we move on with our day. No lecture, no screaming.

Success.

It's not perfect. I still feel like I'm diffusing a bomb when he starts to tense up, but I'm finding the words that work with him. And once, he did argue something fierce and lost Ninjagos for the next day, but he never lost control, never screamed, and didn't dispute the consequence that was given.

I'm trying to keep myself focused on what matters: Parents need to teach their children Respect. And they need to show their kids respect, too. I hope we never have to follow through on our Toughest Consequence Ever Threatened, but we will if we have to. But in the meantime, we'll teach him to express his intense emotions in a way that doesn't silence them, but keeps the peace in the house at the same time.

And I'll count to 10. And breathe deeply. A lot.

Lesson Learned:
If it's broken, fix it.

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