What's working and what ain't

A while ago, a good friend and person I would put in the 'successful' column of the parenting chart said that she believed children want to do the right thing and it's our job as parents to let them know what that is. It feels like a clear statement, but the devil is in the details. When do you teach discipline and when do you teach mercy? How do you convey what's appropriate without nagging or yelling because, let's face it, there's a lot of corrective action that needs to happen wherever children are involved. Recently we've gone back to a strategy we used very early on and kind of got away from.

We often give the kids choices and affirm when they make a good choice, but now we've started telling them the right answers. When things heat up, they really have the capacity to be weighing their options.

We used to give answers when the language barrier was more of an issue, as a "Repeat after me and you'll be rewarded" kind of game. This worked really well for hammering down the "Please" and "ThankYou's " and now it's coming in really handy for discipline. First of all, if you state the right answer in as part of the 'escalation dance' (You know what I'm talking about... when your button gets pushed so you push back, etc, etc...) it adds one more non-combative layer that allows the opportunity for things to simmer down. You give them a cheat sheet when you stop and say, "The right answer here is 'Yes Dad' and then don't wander off again." They no longer have to read your mind, or feel like they're in a lose-lose situation. You've already told them how to win, now they just have to follow through. We've averted a couple meltdowns by stepping back and just stating, "The right answer here is 'I'm sorry mom' and then we can all move on." Good cop- bad cop can play into this too. Chris has had to step in and say, "The answer daddy wants to hear is 'No Thank you.' Nobody will be angry or sad if you say that." It's worked well for us and we haven't had to add the OR ELSE at the end of it, even though sometimes I really really want to.

What seems to be crumbling is our sleep routine. Yordi has begun being 'scaried' in the night again. After several months of relatively few incidents, she's gotten up multiple times in the past week. Actually, part of the problem is that she doesn't get up, and just lays in bed yelling for us which inevitably wakes up her brother. I knew it was going to be bad the other night because I hadn't even gotten down the hall when she started calling. Now, we live in an old house which makes old house noises. We also have four nocturnal, semi-domesticated animals prowling around all night, so it's not as if we don't understand getting wigged out by bumps in the night. But why now? It just seems a little too convenient and Chris and I have come to the conclusion that we're rewarding her 'scariedness' too much. Too much chitchat. Too much attention. It's an easy routine to fall into, because you want to be there to the reassuring voice, but it's come to the point where during bedtime she'll actually say things like, "Tonight maybe scaried, yes?" Which sounds like something that needs to be addressed, but I think she's actually just testing how we're going to respond.

The worst was two nights ago where we were already late getting to bed and then H got spooked twice. Y had already gotten the fear ball rolling, but this was the first time she successfully handed it off. Habtamu heard something scary (later revealed to be the downstairs toilet lid being raised) that was enough to get his imagination going. So we turned on all the lights and went through both their rooms and closets to show that everything was clear. Then after settling down again, Y decided to get up and creep downstairs as quietly as she could. He rolled over saw she wasn't in bed with a slowly shifting shadow in the hallway and immediately came screaming and crying downstairs. I'm talking the sleep deprived, pupils the size of hams, manhood clutching, pure fear, screaming and crying. The only good thing was that he was still consolable, and allowed me to hug him and stroke his hair, but frankly I was starting to get weirded out. I mean, even spotting the bat last summer didn't send them into this kind of panic. So, we decided to set up the airmattress downstairs and let them sleep together.

Oh and does anyone know how to break the martyrdom cycle? When our kids get grumpy they insist that the world collapse around them. We have the occasional conversation like this:

"I asked you once already to help me put the dishes away, do it now please."

"Ok Ok! Me only BAD! Take plate, break, cut my neck, ok! OK?!"

"Wait, what?"

There are variations on that which involve wanting the dentist to pull all their teeth or breaking arms and legs but the 'I deserve decapitation' logic is my personal favorite. We try not to answer too harshly to that stuff, and sometimes we've deflected it with the, "The right answer is..." response, but yet it feels like underneath it all there's a legitimate feeling of worthlessness that should probably be addressed. Anybody else got martyr wanabees?


lorismusings said...

Our oldest adopted daughter (she is ten and has been with us almost a year) will ask a question like, "Can I sit by you?" and will immediately answer, "No." for us before we can even speak. It drives me up a wall! She is constantly assuming that the answer will be negative when that has not been her experience with us at all. Of course, we don't say yes to everything, but we sure do when we can - especially when it has to do with something that would show her we love, value, and care about her.

I am sure that it has something to do with her background and a feeling of inadequacy.

The other side to her issues is that she always has to WIN. In fact, if she can figure out a way she will cheat or do whatever she can to set things up for herself to win. It is quite a talent. ha She has to get the most of whatever is being handed out - or at least will practically weigh it or count it with her mind to make sure it is equal. She needs to play the most cards in the game, she needs to win the game, she wants to pick things first.

I think these two issues really go together.

What we try to do when she automatically answers in the negative is we remind her that she did not let us respond and that she needs to let us have the chance. We tell her that she is only hurting herself when she assumes we will say no.

We do a lot of talking with her when we are playing games about being a good winner AND loser and that we need to think of how the Lord would want us to behave with our friends and family and that it doesn't really matter who wins as much as how we play and treat each other. She really does seem to be working on her attitude in this.

I have just finished reading a great discipline book called, "Don't Make Me Count to Three". I wrote a review about it on my blog. It has such a great way to look at discipline and is working well as we deal with the girls and their different issues.

It can be frustrating sometimes. I know! Like with your kids fear issues. It is so hard to know how to handle it - are they really scared? Are they trying to get attention? Our daughter all of a sudden started to express fear about "bad men" coming into our house. I couldn't figure out what the issue was. We would pray with her and talk about the fact that God was watching over us and that all of us, including the dog, were here to protect her.

The thing is, it came out a week later or so that there had been something scary that had happened to her and her sister. I think something must have reminded her of it and it might have been me without meaning to. It is hard to figure out how to deal with kids who have years of experiences that we had nothing to do with and don't know about.

I think our best course is to pray a lot and be in the Word so we can hear the Spirit's leading as we try the best we can. Nothing teaches you to lean on the Lord and be on your knees as much as being a parent!

Lisa said...

Lainey has always had trouble with bedtime. I was discussing it with a friend who said "you need to quit the dog and pony show every night". What?! Me?!! It wasn't until I told her out loud everything we were doing to try to calm Lainey down and get her into bed that I realized we kinda changed the scene every night, so she was waiting to see what the next night would bring. So, we've really reduced what we do at bedtime. I tell her, 10 minutes till bed, brush your teeth, one book, goodnight...the day is done see you in the morning. It's helped a lot.

Also, we've found she really has to have a schedule. If she doesn't get a 'rest' in the afternoon (sometimes she naps, sometimes just quiet time in her room) then she goes to bed an hour early. I am very consistent about 8pm bedtime (7pm with no nap).

If she is overtired and goes to bed late she doesn't sleep deeper, she has a worse night. Bad dreams, crying...etc.

Also, sometimes it's just that she needs to use the bathroom and doesn't want to get out of bed. So, she says she is scared so we will come help her. Lately when she calls us we say, use the bathroom and go back to bed. I don't even get up anymore...and she goes right back to sleep after the bathroom. Of course, that's easier for us because our room is right next door.

We've also found a nightlight she can control works well. She has a dimmer switch on a thing by the bed, so she can turn it on or off. Let me know if you want me to have Ed get you one.

I'm still not sleeping thru the night (and she's 6!)...but it's gotten much better.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I've been lurking for a few weeks now, and I enjoy your blog so much, because it is so similar to my own life. My husband and I adopted a brother and sister, ages 9 and 8 from Brazil. We've been home since May 2008, and we live in the very city that makes you tired and cranky. I could go on and on about all the things I've read on your blog that are so much like what we've experienced (and here I thought we were special!)but to answer your question in this post-yes, we have martyr wannabe's. Here's an example from this week. My husband was trying to get some input from our daughter about a problem with homework- Dad: What would you do if you had a son and daughter that needed help with their homework but didn't bring it home from school? What would you do to help them remember? Daughter: Umm...Kill them?

In lots of little ways, we've noticed that although our kids are pretty well behaved, attaching nicely and are all-round great, they do have a seemingly bottomless well of hurt. Looks like it's going to be a long road we're all on.

Thanks for sharing your blog--It's good to know we're not alone.