The Little Scientist Effect

I just called Sarah, asking for a strategy.

I explained to her that my tiny terrorist kept asking me to play with him, and despite the need to get a bunch of laundry folded and put away, I actually decided to play instead. I don’t do this often.

I went upstairs to play with our “magnets” with him, and we were building cool things. Every time I would build something neat, he would knock it down, gleefully, but he would never let me knock his down. I asked him not to several times, telling him that it made me sad when he knocked down my cool stuff.  He continued to smash my magnets. Eventually, I got up and walked away, telling him that I didn’t want to play with someone who would keep breaking my toys.

I came downstairs and sat on the couch and realized that I was REALLY hurt that he was being so unkind to me while I was playing with him. I took it REALLY personally. So I called the Toddler Whisperer.

Sarah is right on top of it.  I told her what happened, and we talked a little bit about what to do in the future. She told me that as soon as he starts breaking down my (or someone else’s) magnets, he should be ‘interrupted’ – removed from the situation. I can choose to sit with him or leave him while he is understandably upset that he has been removed from playing, but once he is calm, I am to explain that it is not okay for him to break MY magnets. I shall tell him that he is free to crash his own as much as he likes, but only his own. He would then be allowed to play with the magnets again, so long as he followed those instructions. If he were to crash my (or anothers) magnets again, the magnets would be put away.

“It looks like you can’t play nicely with the magnets. We will have to put them away. We can try again tomorrow.”

There will likely be another period of upset while he protests that his magnets have been taken away, but sticking to the consequence is paramount.

It was then that Sarah dropped this parenting DIAMOND of advice upon me.

She said:

“Children are like little scientists. They are doing experiments to see what kinds of reactions they will get.”

(This, I was familiar with.)

“The thing is, every time they get a DIFFERENT reaction, it gives them more data to work with, which increases the length of the experiment. The more consistent you can be with your reactions, the less data they are given, the quicker they will move on.”

Mind = blown.

I mean, really, I knew that you want to be consistent, and I knew that you need to have firm boundaries. But the whole idea of making sure that you are giving them the same results every time? So that the experiment can be concluded and they can put that one to rest? I hadn’t heard it phrased in those terms before. It makes perfect sense.

So there you have it. I will be putting this into effect immediately, and see how quickly we can get some of these challenging behaviors to extinguish themselves.

Perhaps it would be helpful for mama to rearrange her thinking of Ryder as a “tiny Scientist” instead of a “tiny terrorist.”

 

A Beautiful Resolution.

It was 5:00pm. We had eaten an early dinner, and the kids were sitting on the couch watching Pete’s Dragon. Ryder was acting up and I knew it was because he was tired – he hadn’t had a nap, and his crazies were coming out.

After jumping on me several times, and hinting that he would like “boob-couch” – to nurse – I told him that he wasn’t going to get ‘boob’ again until it was bed time. He immediately went into urgent, melt-down mode, insisting that it WAS bed time, and he wanted boob-bed immediately.

Brock and I had a quick, hushed conversation about the dangers of letting him go to bed for the night when it was only 5 o’clock, and decided that it was too early. I told Ryder that he could have boob-bed in 30 minutes, and we could go to bed if he waited. The baby gate was blocking the upstairs, so he wasn’t able to just head up the stairs. I told him several times to play, or sit and watch the show until 5:30, and we would go upstairs together.

In traditional Ryder fashion, he decided to PUSH ALL OF THE BUTTONS. Because Rory was sleeping upstairs, I didn’t want to let him go up and play/jump around to pass the time. Instead of listening to my suggestion, he went and got a small chair and climbed over the baby gate. On his way up the stairs, he laughed tauntingly, “I over the baaaaaby gaaaaate.”

In order to keep Rory from being woken up, I went with him. At this point, it was probably 5:10. I kept reminded him that he only had x number of minutes until we could go to sleep.

I suppose, in retrospect, there was no harm in letting him go to bed early, but the principal of him getting to do something just because he throws a giant fit is really what we are trying to avoid here.

Upstairs, I sat by the entrance to his bedroom and told him I would come lay in bed with him as soon as it was 5:30. He was jumping around and acting like a maniac – well beyond any sort of normal level of maniac. He kept yelling at me, “I. WANT. BOOB. BED.” I ignored most of his behavior. Eventually, I went into the bedroom with him to keep the noise sequestered to his room (again, trying to stop him from waking Rory) and sat by the door. Jumping and flipping around in bed, it didn’t seem like it was should be that difficult to wait the remaining 7 minutes to 5:30.

I guess at that point, Ryder decided it was time to up his game again. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he demanded I give him boob-bed. I reminded him, calmly, that I don’t give him ANYTHING when he speaks to me that way, and that he needed to calm down. He took a deep breath, and assured me he was calm. I told him there were 5 more minutes before we could go to sleep… and he lost his shit. He picked up the fan that was sitting next to the bed, and threw it at me. In the very dim light of the bedroom, I didn’t see it coming, only heard it.

When it hit me, I immediately went to level 10 rage. In a monumental demonstration of self control, I didn’t immediately beat the shit out of him, which was the very real, very physical urge. I stood up, and walked over to the bed, and sat down next to him. Voice cold as ice, I told him, “NOW, you will not be getting boob. It’s time to lie down and go to sleep.”

Not one to be dismissed, Ryder launched into a full on physical and auditory assault. He screamed, he punched, he flipped and kicked. He alternated between, “I WANT BOOB” and “I WANT TO GO BACK DOWNSTAIRS.”  He promised me, “I will not do that again!” and in the next breath told me, “I’M GOING TO BITE YOU.”

I was deeply entrenched in my rage, and not giving an inch. I held his hands and didn’t let him hit me. I stopped him from biting me. I resisted every urge to punish him physically, and sat stoically as he threw the most epic fit I have ever witnessed. I kept telling myself to hold space for his calm to come back, kept swallowing my rage and disgust.

At one point, when he became physically frightening, I pinned him down on the bed. He was screaming and throwing his body around, and I let the weight of my body keep him from hurting himself or me. It was a matter of minutes, but finally his screaming quieted and his breath slowed down. He was still demanding that I give him boob bed, or let him go back downstairs. I was still insisting that neither was going to happen, and we were embroiled in a full-on power-struggle.

I rolled off of him, resolute that he was NOT going to be leaving this room, NOR was he going to get to have boob, and it SERVES HIM RIGHT for being such a JACKASS.

He scrambled away from me, out of breath and talking harshly. I knew that he was talking, but I wasn’t really listening. I was still deep in my anger.

“I. WANT. GO. DOWNSTAIRS. COME. BACK. UP. START. OVER.”

He said it through clenched teeth, and it didn’t immediately register what he was asking. And then it did.

For the last several weeks, I have been using the technique of escaping a power struggle that allows both of us to get what we want: when we are in the middle of a fight for something, I offer him the choice of ‘starting over.’  For example, when I am tired of waiting for him to get in his car seat, and I want to scream at him, instead I suggest, “Let’s go back to the beginning, and I will ask you to get in your car seat, then you can show me how you SHOULD get in your car seat, and everyone will be happy.”

He was asking for a do-over.

My rage was immediately gone, and I took a deep breath.

“You want to start over, Ryder? You want to try again?”

Real tears this time, instead of the angry rage tears. “Yes. I want to try again.”

So together, Ryder and I held hands and went downstairs. We sat on the couch for a minute, and I told him to ask again. He said, “Mama, may I have boob bed please?”

I nodded and said, “Okay buddy. Go upstairs and get in bed and I will come lay with you.”

He excitedly got up, ran upstairs and jumped into bed. He was smiling as he waited for me, and I laid down next to him. I let him nurse himself to sleep at 5:47pm, and it took mere minutes.

I honestly did not expect that beautiful resolution. I didn’t expect the solution to come from him. I have never been more proud. And I never, ever, cease to be amazed by what my children can teach me about being generous, forgiving, and kind.

The Changes I’ve Seen

I haven’t had a blow up in days.

When I feel myself get mad, I’m able to recognize it, and (sometimes) let it go.

My level of calm has been reflected in my kids.  I’ve seen fewer meltdowns, less yelling, and more patience with each other.

My level of calm has been able to diffuse situations when my husband is upset.

Upon finding that Ryder had destroyed a set of my bamboo double-pointed knitting needles, I was able to tell him calmly that damaging mama’s stuff hurts my heart. He put his hands on my cheeks and looked in my eyes and said, “I’m so sorry, mama.” and we hugged. There was no anger involved. I didn’t even feel the flash of it.

Last night, at bed time, I laid with my kids and talked to them. I told each of them, privately, my favorite things about them. I whispered secretly to them what I see as their greatest strengths, what I find beautiful. I loved to hear what they loved about themselves. And then they went to sleep – with no yelling, and no anger.

This morning, I was able to successfully tell my husband something he was doing that was bothering me, without making him upset. I communicated my emotions, and my needs, without making him feel blamed or at fault. It was fucking fantastic, and I felt heard.

Today, I had a realization based on a book that I am reading that asserts, “In general, everyone is doing the best that they can.” In the past, I have believed it to be true, and always think it about myself, but haven’t always applied it to others. Today, I applied it to Continue reading

To Lose It.

This morning, I was laying in bed after Brock and the kids had gotten up. Snuggled up against Rory, who was sound asleep, I was drifting back off for an extra hour of sleep provided by my generous husband.

I heard the growing thump, thump, thump of Ryder’s feet coming up the stairs. In his usual fashion, he busted into my bedroom and ran over to my side of the bed. Without modulating his voice, he asked, “Mama? I have boob bed?”

Following our daily script, I told him, “No buddy. You have boob couch when Mama gets up. Please go back downstairs.”

On a typical day, Ryder would immediately run back out of the room and pound back down the stairs until I woke up… or until he got impatient again and we would repeat the entire ordeal.

Today, for some reason, he decided to shout, “NO!”

I stayed calm and told him that he doesn’t get boob bed in the mornings, but he can have boob when I get downstairs. It just so happens that I was sleeping shirtless and didn’t have my bra pulled up, so there was actually an exposed boob present. He crawled over to me on the bed and started begging, “Please mum. Please I want boob bed. Please?”

At this point, Rory was stirring. I told Ryder very firmly, “We don’t have boob bed in the morning. Go down to the couch.”

As I was speaking, he lowered his head down to my breast and latched on despite my words.

It was like touching a hot burner. Like when something sweet contacts a sore spot on a sick tooth. Like when you step on a lego. INSTANT. Without any sort of build up or warning, my brain went from tired and sleepy to MAD.

I immediately threw him off of me and yelled. There seems to be no self control, no regulation in this state of anger. I can’t convince myself that I’m waking the baby more, or hurting the feelings of the child that is acting like a child. There is no rationality and no moderation.

“GET OUT OF HERE. YOU MAY NOT DO THAT. THIS IS MY BODY, AND YOU DO NOT GET TO TOUCH ME WITHOUT PERMISSION.”

Ryder immediately starts crying, a mixture of sorrow and fear.  Some small part of my brain tells me to grow up, he’s two and he wants boob. But the angry part of my brain is louder and shouty-er. I tell him to stop crying and go downstairs.

“Mama, I just want a hug,” he sniffles through his big tears.

Empathy still can’t break through the anger. “I don’t want to hug you. I’m very mad.”

He leans over to me and hugs me anyways. “Mama,” his broken voice implores, “You’re breaking my heart.”

“Yeah well,” my anger snaps back, “mine’s already broken.”

Crack. The anger cracks. Finally, regular Mandy comes back and empathy is present. I hug him back, and smell his hair. I stroke his arm, and tell him I’m sorry.

“I shouldn’t have yelled, Ryder. I’m sorry I made you cry.”

“I just want you to be a nice mama,” he tells me sadly.

“I know buddy. I’m trying to be a nice mama.” Regret and sadness. Immediate painful remorse. “Please go downstairs,” I request sadly, “and we can have boob couch when I get up.”

Ryder struts back downstairs, seemingly none the worse for wear, but I can’t help it – I wonder if I have put yet another notch in the armor of his psyche. I wonder what small damage I have caused this time. I wonder how hard it’s going to be for him to recover from a childhood where his mother is like a live-wire, and the unpredictably of her response is a minefield.

That instant hot second, the one where the anger goes live and takes over… I need to find a way to interrupt that. To block it. To pause before the rage, and insert some compassion. Some peace. Some ANYTHING. Because I have to be better than this. I have to be bigger than this.

A birthing affirmation comes to mind about contractions – how they are not stronger than me because they ARE me? My anger is not stronger than me because it is me. My rage cannot control me because it IS me. I can fix this because I can. It is me. And I will.