Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hugs Update: Moderate Success

So anyway, Ryan and I have been struggling for the last few days. There's really too much to write about, and most of the details are unimportant, but I'll just say he's been really mean and uncooperative and belligerent lately. I'm tired. He's even acting out physically--we had to literally carry/drag/hold him away from an outing last weekend while he hit and kicked at us. On one hand, it's so irritating that he is doing this stuff at 7.5. On the other, he has self-control and really didn't hit hard--it was clearly a Test, Only a Test.

I have to wonder if some of this is a way of releasing stress from our recent travels and the disruption to our morning routine because of Brendan's new job. I think it's safe to say that these two things are definitely factors. Because Morgan has been really out of sorts lately, too, with not one but three full-blown tantrums yesterday alone. Now that she's 4.5, her tantrums don't last quite as long and are not quite as intense (and she's never really been a huge one for tantrums in general). I suppose that's the upside to having this behavior happen when they're older--they do have and exhibit more self-control than they did at 2 or 3. (Hey, I'm doing anything to find an upside lately!)

So yesterday, Ryan and I had another problem. I think I handled it well, and I even incorporated the Hugs PD Tool Card, although it wasn't in a tantrum situation. Bear with me; it's long!

Every other Wednesday, we have Cleaning Peopleguys come and do the vacuuming and other light cleaning. We've done this for years, mostly because although my allergies are much better after five years of allergy shots, I'm still pretty allergic to dust mites and vacuuming (even with a HEPA filter) is bad news. Also, to be honest, it's kind of a treat for me!

Since every other Wednesdays are cleaning days, every other Tuesdays are picking up days. So we pick up all of the toys and papers and other crap off of the floors and put them away so the vacuuming can be done (and so I feel like I have a clean house at least once every two weeks). The older children help me with this task, especially in their bedrooms.

Our deal is that you can keep your room any way you like, but at least once every two weeks, everything needs to be picked up so the vacuuming can happen. Morgan's room is rarely messy, since she does all of her playing down here (well, apart from painting with pink latex wall paint). Ryan's room goes through ups and downs with messes, but with my help (and I'm generally willing to provide it), it takes less than 10 minutes to pick everything up.

Yesterday, he was so mean to me and argumentative and uncooperative and mean (yes I'll say it again), that when it came time for our Tuesday pick up, I was all out of patience and didn't want to help him clean up and told him he was on his own. He rudely demanded my help. I told him that after being offered unkindness from him (in the form of rude words and non-cooperation) so many times today that I didn't want to offer him kindness (in the form of help with room-cleaning) in return.

He angrily shouted: "You HAVE to help me pick up my room!"

And I calmly said: "No I don't. I might have considered helping you even now, had you asked me in a kind way. But I do not have to help and I do not WANT to help. It's up to you to get this done."

By the way--I was all kinds of proud myself for remaining so calm throughout the entire incident!

So of course he refused to do it at all, which didn't surprise me in the least. I reminded him of our longstanding agreement and that I expected him to honor it, that the floors needing vacuuming. He then told me with a smug Checkmate kind of look on his face "Well, I'm not going to do it, so I guess you'll have to help me after all!"

ARG. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH. And still I did not lose it.

I thought for a moment and then told him that yes, I was willing to pick up the toys off of his floor because I needed the vacuuming to get done. But that didn't mean I'd put them away in his toy bins. Because I was worried he'd just take them out again and mess up his room (because somewhere during this argument--which I'm condensing because both Ryan and I were involved--he'd threatened to do just that).

So I gave him a choice to make: "I'm going to fold some laundry and take a shower. You have until I'm all finished with those things to clean your floor. If the floors aren't clean, then I will clean them up myself and put the toys somewhere out of your room, so that I can feel confident that those toys will not go right back on your floor."

More arguing ensued--a day later, it's all kind of jumbled in my memory, but the main themes were:

  • "I need you to help me!!!!" My response was always something along the lines of "I already told you I'm not helping this time. You haven't been trading me kindness today and I really don't want to help you."
  • "It's MY room! These are MY things!" My response: "Yes, those are your things and this is your room. But this room is in my house, the house Daddy and I pay for. The carpets belong to me, and I need them vacuumed every so often to keep them clean and for my allergies." I don't think he quite understands the idea of a lease yet, or I would have compared this to an apartment rental (not that he pays rent, of course).
  • "It's not fair! I'm just going to mess this up again anyway!!!! You can't make me!" Etc. My response: "This is fair. Our agreement was that you would do this every two weeks. Normally I help you, but not today. You have a chance to show me that you will honor our agreement by handling this. What you choose to do now will show me how much you value your toys because you'll get to keep them in your room, or not. The carpets will be vacuumed. The toys will be picked up. It's up to you--your choice--where your toys will go until the carpets are vacuumed. If you value having them in your room, you know which decision to make."

And after several rounds of that, I finally broke free and got my shower and laundry done. Let me tell you--he was ENRAGED. And I was pretty mad, too--but staying calm. Which was really quite remarkable, since I was wrangling the other two kids at the same time, and one of them likes to dangle over the top of the staircase because evidently he's completely forgotten about his tumble.

And Ryan didn't pick up his toys, but you knew that, didn't you? :o)

When I walked into his room, I didn't say anything and just started putting toys into his big toy box. And he actually had the nerve to say "Oh hey! I guess you're helping me pick up after all!" Arg. After I filled up that box, I walked out of the room with it, and then he flipped his cookies, grabbing it and pulling it. I put the box into Sean's bedroom and went for more. I removed three boxes of toys and got his carpet clean, all the while listening to screaming outrage and fending off the occasional half-hearted kick and attempts to pry things out of my hands. No. Really.

He said some really ugly things to me which I won't repeat here. He threatened to get his toys and go dump them back in his room. I explained that the bedroom door was locked (it's the push-and-turn kind, that you can open with a long skinny key--or shish kebab skewer, in our case). He wanted to know how long I'd keep his toys and I told him that I needed to keep them until his carpets were vacuumed.

And then I went downstairs. It felt like we'd been doing this for days (it was probably 90 minutes). After a while, I went back upstairs and said that I wasn't feeling quite so mad, and that I needed a hug. He refused. So I told him where he could find me and left. A long time later, he came down and said he wanted to talk. I just held out my arms. He stared at me for a while and then leaned against me, with his hands in his pockets. I hugged him but he didn't hug me back. I told him I loved him and that I knew we'd figure this stuff out. He leaned into me some more, and then suddenly broke away, crying. He ran upstairs, crying, "That hug made me cry! I DON'T want to talk any more!!!!"

But then after a little while longer, he did come back down and behaved nicely and more calmly than he had for days. Not perfectly, mind you, but a drastic improvement. And later on during some silly time, he gave me a long hug, which just about melted me. He did take out more of his toys and cluttered up his carpets before bedtime, but when I suggested that his picking them back up might be a good way to show me that he was willing to honor our agreement, he actually did.

And so now that the carpet is vacuumed, he can have them back. And we'll see what happens in two weeks! Or maybe even in two minutes, since I can never tell when something might turn into a Thing worth battling to the death over.

Things I am Happy about:

  • Me, being calm, is a REALLY Good Thing. If I had lost it, injecting more emotion into that emotional chaos, it would have been more awful than it already was. Being calm models good behavior for him (and his spectator siblings) and is really conducive to actual problem-solving.
  • I stood my ground in a non-punishy way. I got the thing I needed (I fulfilled my rational self-interest) which was clean carpets. I did NOT help him because of the way he'd been treating me, even though I was tempted to many times. But I just couldn't give in on this one, because it seemed like it would give him the idea that being an emotional bully is a good way to get what you want. Or that Mommy is a Chump. Or something like that.
  • When I did pick up his toys, I was doing it for ME--not to help him. And so I wasn't in a bad mood about it.
  • I think telling him that I needed a hug was a wonderful way to reconnect with him after our emotional battles. Because I really DID need a hug. I've been feeling so angry with him and that makes me feel distant from him. I wanted to remember all of the great things about him that make him such a neat kid, and I wanted to FEEL my love for him. Hugging him, even when he didn't hug me back, allowed me to feel love toward him again, instead of just anger. And when he reciprocated much later, and made obvious overtures toward reconnecting with me, it was so heartening. I know he is a nice boy, that the little tyrant isn't all there is to him. And it was so amazingly wonderful to see that side of him with my own eyes.

Oh, there's more I could write about why I don't think a traditional punishment would have improved matters and about kids and property rights, but I'm also sure you want me to end this, so I'll get to those other topics another time. Bye!


rachel... said...

Oh, much of this sounds so familiar (not necessarily the staying calm part, ha.) My oldest daughter and I have these kinds of battles of wills constantly. Thanks for the reminder that calm and consistant wins the race! :)

Stephanie Ozenne said...

I'm so impressed! And glad to know that it's normal for my son to be argumentative and a pain like this sometimes. It catches me by surprise because he's so great most of the time.

Beth said...

Oooo boy! That was a rough one.
My oldest is 16, and although the specifics are different, much of the struggle is similar and the skills needed are the same. The one big difference is the necessity of avoiding a physical confrontation of any kind...which just means even more patience and creativity. Good thing they don't get big all at once!!

Lady Baker said...

Yep, I'm there too! It's a good thing to keep the sense of humor in mind for when you can look back more calmly... I heard this one the other day at top volume, "I'm telling the truth. I'm not going to hit you a third time!" (Somehow, that failed to persuade me!)

CMoskal said...

My oldest is also 7.5 and this could have been written about us. I, too, have been proud to (mostly) remain calm in these scenarios. But his latest has me stumped and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts! When he gets angry with us for one thing or another, he has started switching from yelling at us to saying things like, "I am so stupid. I am so dumb. I am the stupidest boy ever!" And he'll rant on like this for a long time. He's not interested in any examples of how smart he actually is, he insists no one else has ever called him these names or made him feel this way and I am at a loss. I don't want to tell him he can't feel this way or shouldn't feel this way but I don't want him to feel this way. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated! I love your blog!