Saturday, January 28, 2006

Oy, what am I doing wrong?

Here's what happened: One of Jake's pet millipedes died. He fusses over these critters to no end, spraying them once or twice a day with water, giving them bits of lettuce. He didn't seem too upset by the death, but he kept talking about it. He wanted to show his mom the dead millipede, and she refused, saying it was a yucky, dead, decaying millipede (based on Jake's description of brown stuff oozing out of its body). Jake got insulted and demanded an apology. Karen wouldn't apologize. Meanwhile, he was supposed to be reading his biology, and he kept turning the pages with his feet. Or something like that. I wasn't there, didn't see it happen. All I know is, I came upstairs, saw wrinkly pages in his nice new biology textbook, and said, "Um. You know, I wish you wouldn't mess up your new book." No anger. I didn't realize Karen had already said something to him about it. Next thing I know, we're in Tantrum Central. Then he kicks me in the shin. Now, I've almost never hit this kid. One little slap on the butt to get his attention (at about 18 months old), nothing since, and he's ten now. So I sent him to his room and told him if he DIDN'T get down to his room right away, no computer for a day. For three days. For a week. (I'm upping the ante because he's standing there, refusing to go downstairs.) I think he misunderstood me, because he thought he had to go to his room AND was getting booted off the computer. Next thing I know, he pops out of his room with his pillow, blanket, and flashlight. He leaves the house and begins running away. Slowly. My parenting skills are exhausted at this point. In the old days, you were supposed to just let the kid go, right? Let him have his temper tantrum and wander back sheepishly. But this isn't the old days, and besides, we live on a street where folks barrel down in their trucks at 50 MPH. Nevertheless, I had Karen come downstairs (her pelvis has mended well enough that she can get around with a cane, but still) so she could see Jake running away down the driveway in slow motion. "Go after him," she said. "Bring him back. I don't want him walking down the road." I met up with him at the entrance to the driveway. Another 'don't you think you're overreacting' speech, to no effect. He wouldn't come back. "I'll carry you back if I have to," I said, and he said, "You can try." I lifted him up and carried him back, with him kicking me in the shins as hard as he could all the way. We put him in his room and left him there. That was about an hour ago. Karen's thinking we should punish him extra (for all the shin-kicking): no computer, no TV. But I don't think we've seen the end of this insurrection. Look, folks. My parenting skills are for sh*t. As a kid, I didn't get much of an example, and neither did Karen for that matter. Dr. Phil me, people (tell me what to do). Thanks. D.

17 Comments:

Blogger Blue Gal said...

This. Too. Shall. Pass. Jesu Christi, he's not even a teenager yet. Tell him you love him and let him get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, take him to his favorite eating establishment, even if it's gag, Chuck E. Cheese. Raise a glass of lemonade to the millepede. He did name the millepede, n'est-ce pas?

One thing you will learn when he DOES become a teenager, is that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a crisis and a power struggle. That's okay. It's NORMAL.

Don't forget that the crisis of his mom's being sick plus the powerlessness he must feel over watching her health problems exacerbates it all, too.

This is gonna sound really trite, but I'm gonna say it anyway. Keep loving him. That constancy is the most important thing you can do. And don't let him have his own car until he can buy a big chunk of it his own self.

That's all the parenting advice I have.

1/28/2006 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks. He's better now -- the time out actually helped. He didn't even squawk about the punishment. I apologized to him for making light about the millipede dying, and he apologized for kicking me.

I guess it just freaked me out that he wouldn't just accept the time out in the first place. STUBBORN like his mother.

1/28/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

I moved out several times as kid, but we lived in a place where that wasn't dangerous.

1/28/2006 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

He had to do it and you had to do what you had to do. When everyone's better, you talk. You say if it happens again, what should we do? Let him help you set the limits when he's in a good mood.

Don't do what I always did--let the talking and arguing start when the problems were in full swing. My kids will rant and shout and talk until the sheer weight of their drama makes me lose every shred of sanity. They can scream the pictures off the walls. Their hot air could peel the paint off the ceiling.

We figure out proper consequences to various behaviors when we're all in good moods and then in a calm (ha!) manner inform the kid that the consequences will begin if he doesn't stop. One warning. And then after that whooops--there goes the computer for the rest of the day. No talking is allowed, unless they can offer a calm, reasonable explanation.

Any attempts to negotiate in anything other than a calm, reasonable manner at that point count as another consequence. THey know it and will sometimes try to talk in a quiet quivering voice with tears streaming down their faces. Ah lost computer time! It's enough to break yer heart.

The thing is the rules have to extend to everyone. That's how I got my oldest to understand it's really fair. If I lose my cool and say something like shut up, there are consequences for me, too. Time out is my favorite.

Oh and do you have a neighbor that he can run away to? no? we have one up the street. After one of my kids ran away, we had a discussion and decided that everyone needs to be able to escape now and then. IF that neighbor is at home, it's okay to run away to their house. Thank god for L!!!!

1/28/2006 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mary Stella said...

I think you and Jake both need hugs. I'm not a parent, but I've watched my bro and sis-in-law with my nephews. My brother stays calm in the face of crises and tantrums. I'm sure being a psychiatrist helps. As an aunt, I always try to remember that what sounded over-dramatic to me was deeply serious to them.

1/28/2006 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Gal said...

I guess it just freaked me out that he wouldn't just accept the time out in the first place. STUBBORN like his mother.

Oh, and WELCOME to the whole father/son power dichotomy. I don't even pretend to understand that action. Everybody else has given really good advice, tho.

1/28/2006 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

The ironic thing is, I can remember having these tantrums (especially at school, with my teachers). I know what this feels like.

Well, we did what Kate suggested. He had his cool-down, we talked. I think life is getting back to normal.

Thanks, folks ;o)

1/28/2006 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous ROF said...

Good Evening, Mr. Hoffman --

As a parent who "survived" the raising (or helping to raise) 6 daughters, I wish you much luck & buckets of endurance leavened w/ a lot of love to get through what awaits you. Now that it's mostly over (it's never really totally "over"), we can look back & say we did a pretty good job. But there sure were times when we felt the issue was in severe doubt.

I would pass along that getting angry w/ your child is something I doubt can be avoided, & it probably shouldn't be -- there's valuable learning that goes on in angry interactions. But, taking action in anger is probably one of the least productive & most destructive things that can affect your relationship w/ that child. Avoid -- avoid -- avoid.

However, firmness & resolution should not be interpreted as angry action. The application of consequences for inappropriate actions has to be consistent, logical & fair -- & over when they are over. No "grudges" or "carry-overs" go to the next incident. It's a high wire act all the way. Good luck.

1/28/2006 09:38:00 PM  
Anonymous fiveandfour said...

Boy, I missed all of the fun. My husband and I were talking about our solution before I clicked through to see what other people had to say - because our daughter is quite the stubborn one, too.

My daughter (aged 9) told me that from the kids point of view, she would want mom and dad to commisserate with her over the millipede. Sounds like you did that, which probably went a long way for helping Jake through his mixed up emotions.

To me, time outs are the world's greatest parenting technique - taking some time to cool off and try to understand I'm not the only one frustrated and ready to scream really can do wonders for keeping my sanity as a parent.

1/28/2006 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger mm said...

I think you have to stand behind the week without computer. Empty threats are surely the most self-defeating of parenting technique. (Based on personal experience.)

When he's calm, explain that you aren't psychic, and you didn't realize how upset he was about the millipede - so he'll have to tell you next time somthing is bothering him.

AND I think kicking dad is WAY over the top, and he needs to acknowledge that - probably in the form of an apology. Because raising your child to take responsibility for his behaviour is one of your most important jobs (IMO).

Good luck - it's a dangerous job.

1/29/2006 04:59:00 AM  
Blogger Dean said...

Oh, man. I feel your pain.

Sometimes you just have to go through these blowouts. They are the standard by which you are tested: will Dad remain consistent in the face of all of this? You have to stick to your guns.

Going out and retrieving him was probably the best thing to do, although at 10 he's got enough sense not to get hit by a car. There comes a time where you have to start letting go, letting them stand or fall on their own behaviour. My girls are 9, and we're reaching that age now. If they decided to 'run away' at 10, we might let them go, we might not.

Hang in there. It gets tough when you get hit with something like this and you start questioning yourself. The truth is that you will get through it, and the ones to come, and you'll probably do a pretty good job. It sounds to me like you did ok this time.

1/29/2006 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Demented M said...

Oh Doug, I feel for you. My brothers were the same way at Jake's age.

I remember I put Zach in a time out because he'd been throwing things and he spent his time out slamming his body against the bedroom door--hard.

My husband finally got his attention by taking him to the bathroom and running a cold shower while calmly explaining why Zach was about to get one. That shut him right up :)

And when he refused to get dressed to go out for breakfast, we told him we would kick him out of our apartment and let everyone see him naked. I've never seen a kid run so fast to get dressed.

We had a solution that you don't, we simply stopped taking all 3 of my brothers at once. Instead we focused on Quality Time one-on-one.

I will say, I have always been a big believer on follow through. My brothers respect me b/c they know I will back up what I say. They do not respect my father b/c my father won't ever punish them.

When Noah wouldn't stop drumming his new drumsticks on his brother and all I had to say was, 'if you don't stop, I will take those away and you'll never see them again'. He knew I would do it too and immediately stopped. I have street cred.

Anyway, there are books out there on powerplays in the child/parent relationship. You might find those helpful.

And maybe look into adding some sort of psychology to the homeschool curriculum? Talk about stress, ways to manage stress, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs--give him tools and ideas on how to manage his feelings as part of a Psychology 101 class. Sometimes I think we just expect kids and people to 'get' all the emotional stuff by osmosis, but I really think there are advantages to consciously exposing children to emotional problem solving methods.

And whatever you do, avoid double standards. He can't be held to a higher standard than you guys or else that will really spark some bad juju. Rules and agreements between you must apply equally.

The kicking is unacceptable and you must deal with that or else it will happen again and escalate. There must be consequences and there are no excuses for hitting. Doesn't matter if you were part of the escalation or not, you didn't smack him, he can't smack you and, if he does-- even if you owe him an apology-- there have to be consequences.

Good luck! You'll get through this!

M

1/29/2006 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Oh, boy! Thanks, everyone. This sort of support is priceless.

Now that I've had a good night's sleep, I can see it better from Jake's point of view. Karen and I were both pretty callous over the millipede, but then, we've been raising exotics for over 20 years, and pets die -- not an excuse for how we treated him, but that's how we could thoughtlessly do something like that.

That said, the kicking was uncalled for, especially the relentless kicking-in-the-shins as I carried him up our LONG driveway, oh did it seem like a long driveway, and all I did was swear. A bit.

Anyway: no computer for a week and no TV for a week except for educational programming WE have to pre-approve. Otherwise, we'd never get him out of our hair.

Thanks again. Remember, you're all welcome to bring your boogery questions over to Wax, Boogers, and Phlegm, since that is something I know about.

1/29/2006 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Darla said...

LOL Oh, poor Doug. Parenting is such a learn-as-you-go deal. Boy, do I remember a few instances of escalating threats until I got the hang of being firm yet sympathetic.

I suppose it's probably too soon to look at this as another milestone in Jake's life, not as fun perhaps as first steps, but important anyway. {{{hugs}}}

1/29/2006 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Stamper in CA said...

You got some great advice here, so anything I have to say is merely support for what others have already said. I had a student (Honors) in full tantrum mode one day telling me I wasn't being fair, etc. Having dealt with teenagers for a long time, I knew it wasn't just me she was pissed at, and sure enough, there were other issues, but I pulled her into the English Office next to my classroom and told her in no uncertain terms, "#1, you need to calm down, and #2, you do NOT speak to me that way EVER." She stayed in that office the whole period (there's your time out), apologized and was fine.
REAL IMPORTANT is to follow through on the punishment.
You know what Daddy would have done...just as unacceptable as Jake kicking you. Every day, I tell myself how glad I am I never had kids.

1/29/2006 10:11:00 AM  
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