Whew. Just weathered a Mammoth Meltdown (one of many in the last three years, but this was definitely in the top ten), courtesy of my three-year-old. The better part of an hour of screaming/crying, along with intermittent hitting/kicking. All this – at least initially – because I wouldn’t let her put the cap back on her toothpaste. (Actually, I did let her, and then when she took it off again so she could lick the inside of it, she lost her chance.)
MAN, it’s hard work, sticking to your guns. But the worse things get, the more you have to stick, because otherwise you’re telling the child this works – this gets you what you want.
I don’t really want to talk or write about it. But I do want to mention my gratitude for my Hubbibi today. For being level-headed, for being my tag-team, for being a good sport, for being a great story reader, for being willing to listen and improve, for helping me improve, for being straight with me, for taking straight talk from me, and for giving the best hugs in the world. Oh, and for cleaning the eavestroughs today.
I started writing a blog post in your honour just over two weeks ago, when you turned five. Part of the reason it didn’t get done in a timely manner is because your birthday happened to fall between two disparate weeks of insanity.
The other reason is that I wanted to write something full of love, something oozing with your unique five-year-old cuteness, and – well… I was having trouble getting in the zone.
You are an adorable, lovely little guy. Except when you’re a whiny and/or insolent little turkey.
Most people are amazed if I share with them that we have difficulties when it comes to your behaviour. We do appreciate that you are so well-mannered in public most of the time. I’m pretty sure you’re nicely behaved at school, overall – at least, we’ve never been told otherwise. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to abort a shopping trip, or lecture you at a friend’s house, or peel you off the floor at Funmazing.
But there are days when I fervently ask myself, “Did I really raise this kid? How did I?”
It’s the apparent sense of entitlement, along with a rude attitude, that shocks me every time. Particularly in contrast with the sweet version of you. I try to tell myself it’s just a phase, normal development and all that… but some of it must be avoidable, right?
We try not to spoil you (well… Daddy forgets sometimes, but mostly we don’t spoil you). We make sure you know that you can’t always have your way, and there are reasons why. We express our love in all kinds of ways, especially words and cuddles. We have taught you the socially-accepted manners that will help you along in the world. We feed you good food, limit your screen time, and make sure you get ample (opportunity for) sleep.
And somehow, most days, you are quick to complain and quick to anger. This morning, you got up to the breakfast table and said, your voice seething with annoyance as if you were barely tolerating my incompetence, “Mummy. WHY did you put my lunch bag HERE??”
I have noticed a new trend where you fly off the handle about something and start yelling, and when I remain silent or respond calmly, you say, “STOP YELLING AT ME, MUMMY!! YOU ALWAYS YELL!!”
Out of the blue, I am accused. Like, every day. Multiple times a day.
Yesterday, I was dropping you off at school when one of your sunny-faced little classmates skipped by and said joyfully, “Hi! It’s Playday today!” You did not smile back. You said, “I KNOW!”, complete with irritated hand motion, as if she were insulting your intelligence. I was appalled. I hope this was just because your irritating Mummy was present, and not because that’s your M.O. at school. I know older kids whose default mode is nasty like that, and trust me: nobody wants to play with those kids.
This sentiment of “The world and especially my parents are determined to abuse me!” does seem to be your default mode right now. Most of the time, simply taking things in stride is a non-option. You use your highly-offended (and offensive) tone of voice on a regular basis.
Small injuries make you screech. The tiniest irregularity in your food leads to deadlock. You (like your daddy) are so used to doing things well that you have a fit of pique when you don’t master new skills instantly.
Unfortunately, Daddy and I easily get fed up with of all this. That means we’re not as patient with you as we should be. We raise our voices at you more often than we mean to. We’ve been known to plunk you in your room and close the door, just because we can’t listen to any more shrieks. And now, you’ve taken to running to your room yourself and slamming the door (sometimes twice or more) when you’re mad.
It’s not a good sign that, lately, I’m letting your words and sounds get to me. Since I have a job in which I work hard to achieve a listening audience, repeat instructions ad nauseam, and spend time amid noise levels beyond what I’m naturally built for, sometimes I get home and I don’t have enough energy and composure left for you. I know what kind of reaction I should have to your unappealing behaviour, but I can’t summon it.
You suddenly scream because your sister pinched you, and even though it’s not about me, all I can think is, “OMG I cannot listen to any more screaming.”
Or you cry histrionically, “You are only ever MEAN TO ME, Mummy!!” or even, occasionally, “I HATE YOU!” and I’m unable to laugh it off. I think about all I do for you every day, and just feel tired and defeated.
Or you challenge the limits we set for you, as is your job at this age, and instead of taking advantage of the teachable moments, I just want to shut you down.
I’m sorry. It’s not fair to you.
I know I need to listen more.
I know I need to think more about the underlying stresses that might cause your temper to flare.
I know I need to be the mature one, modelling things like compassion and apology and patience.
School is almost over for the year. This summer, I’m going to work hard to rediscover my calm and put love back in the forefront. I’m going to put in the time figuring out what will work for us, so that Sweet E can be your default mode again.
Because Sweet E is still there. You’re still the boy who loves hugs and kisses, who sits raptly for stories, who draws amazing pictures, who says adorable and enigmatic things when we least expect it, who adores your little sister, who dances like a twinkletoes, whose smile illuminates my heart, and who, five years ago, was born the most incredible blessing in my life to that date.
You are awesome, darling five-year-old, in so many ways. I love you all the time, always, more than you’ll ever know – and even when you can’t tell.
You deserve my best. Here’s to us, and to finding my best, together.
E is a pretty cool kid. He is also quite challenging at the moment.
So far, we have not had any negative reports from his teachers in terms of his behaviour. Aside from that time in the fall when he didn’t want to participate in gym (it was understandably overwhelming, with 30 kids bouncing and echoing around), he seems to be adjusting well to school. We’ve been assured that he’s not a whiny kid at school, and he plays well with others.
I think sometimes it’s hard for him to be around so many kids at once, for such a long time, every weekday. Both his parents walk the line between introversion and extroversion – needing social time but also alone time, enjoying friends but not being overly fond of crowds or mingling.
I’m wondering if this is why he often… loses his cool, shall we say, when he’s at home. Perhaps he just reaches his limit. I know I do sometimes.
Honestly, he freaks out over very small things. Like his sock is crooked, or a Cheerio falls on the floor, or (this is a classic for him) the cheese doesn’t want to stay in his sandwich. And any injury, no matter how small, is cause for screaming.
He’s been like this since before school started; but his reactions are becoming more annoying and entrenched. Typical responses to minor problems these days include:
clamping hands over ears (especially if one of us speaks sternly to him)
delivering a hefty poke or tiny-fisted punch to whatever part of whatever parent is nearest
using a super-attitude-y nasty voice (“But, MUMMY, that’s NOT what I MEANT!”)
saying, with the drama of a teenager, “I hate you!!” (Lately, he’s taken to adding “right now” to this, because he knows we will call him on it later.)
He knows that none of these things get him what he wants. He knows that we don’t approve of any of them (except maybe the first, but only if it’s warranted, i.e. once out of 1.27 jillion times).
I wish I could say we had consistent ways of dealing with the behaviours, but we don’t. Sometimes we hold forth with angelic patience. Sometimes we try to reason things out (ha). Sometimes we snap at him. Sometimes we scoop him up and stick him in his room (I do this when my ears are full – which they often are after a teaching day). Sometimes we use a really scary voice. Sometimes we use a hug.
Most of the time, I feel pretty certain that it’s just a phase and totally normal. Once in a while, I wonder if something is really wrong with him – if his anxiety is actually much higher than it should be. Or if we did something to cause this. And I always wonder what is the parental reaction that we should be striving for – the one that would defuse the situation before it gets all intense. The one that would work.
Baby AB is also pretty dramatic, but at least she usually takes E’s episodes in stride. She’ll hear him freaking out, and gesture one hand in his direction and say, “Cry… cry.” All in a day’s work.
I would love to hear your insight on this one: if you have (or have had) kids who melt down, have you found a technique works for you/them to de-escalate matters? Do you use tough love or sympathy or both? What have you learned about tantrums? Thank you for your wisdom…