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A large part of helping our boys heal and learn is to train myself to be aware of their current emotional states. Watching for shifts, and the accompanying catalysts. Observing their choices and corresponding feelings and triggers.
Remaining in such a hyper-vigilant state of observing their emotions is exhausting.
I used to think of myself as a highly patient person. Ah, the pride.
Note to self: God has a way of dealing with the prideful.
Since then, I have found my patience level broken. Remaining committed to teaching your children and helping them heal is surprisingly difficult. My children test me over and over again, and I find myself irritated and frustrated and hurt over and over again.
After a while, I find that it is HARD to make the choice to act lovingly and in a manner when they can heal. When all I really want to do is give them a punishment so they feel as miserable as I do at that moment.
See what I mean when I say that Therapeutic Parenting makes you confront all the Ugly in your own person? Sheesh.
Here's a recent example.
The other morning, the Mister has his laptop, his handheld device and a bunch of paperwork spread out all over the kitchen table (Note to the Mister: There's a reason why I had a huge counter installed in the office: it's your desk, baby!) I didn't dare touch it for fear that I would somehow turn something off while it was uploading information or other important computing things that are beyond my comprehension.
Of course, it was breakfast time, so I had to set the kids' meal out on the table.
"Hey kids, see Dad's computer there? He has a LOT of really important work stuff out, so DON'T spill your juice this morning, okay?"
Within 5 minutes, the Mister came downstairs and removed all of his stuff. No spills. Whew.
Within a minute of him removing the items, I saw Keenan deliberately put one finger on the rim of his full cup of juice. And slowly, but surely, tip it over. Of course, spilling away from himself and towards his siblings. And of course, I was in the office, so he didn't think I was watching.
Note to self: Sarah, you KNOW better than to phrase anything in the negative. Always, always, always put your requests in a positive framework, especially when requesting anything from a hurt and healing child.
Instead of saying, "Don't Spill!" I should have said, "Let's show Dad how Big and Strong we are and how we can do an AWESOME job of drinking our juice all gone."
My words and actions certainly can help encourage a different response.
By that time though, with Paloma and Hatfield squawking about spilled juice, I really wanted to holler and punish Keenan. I wanted him to feel as miserable as I felt annoyed.
See what I mean? Ugly, ugly, ugly.
I did put him on the thinking step right away. Because I needed to calm down. I went over and talked to him.
"Keenan, why did you spill the juice?" I know that I shouldn't ask a "Why" question. But I had no idea what to ask. Anyone out there with some advice? I'd love to hear feedback.
"Because I wanted to." he said.
"Okay," I nodded. "I get that. But what made you want to?"
"Because you said I couldn't spill juice."
Anytime I tell Keenan that he can't do something, unless he understands that it will have a directly negative effect on his comfort or safety (like, "don't touch the hot stove") he will do it. It seems to loop him into a cycle of deprivation or a cycle where he feels the need for something--a sort of entitlement--and he can't function until he does it. Many times he will wait patiently to seize the moment where he thinks he won't get caught (like the juice, when he thought he could pretend it was an accident), and sometimes it's just too much and he will do it right away, consequences be damned.
At this point, I had to REALLY focus on not getting M.A.D. Because I was. How many times does he have to fall into this loop?
The answer: until we help him heal and teach him other loops.
I then asked Keenan how he thinks Hatfield and Paloma feel about being covered in juice. And he said, "Sad."
"How can we fix this?" I asked.
"Clean up juice." he replied. All right. We're getting somewhere. Once he cleaned it up, I asked him about how he can help Hatfield and Paloma. "Say sorry." he said.
And he did.
Baby steps, baby steps, but I did one huge Mama victory dance in my room.
The book 10 days to Less Defiant Child says to picture your child in a moment when you absolutely loved them. I often focus on the adorable things the boys have done, the loving moments I've shared with them, to help me move forward in a positive manner.
I''m curious to know what things other parents do to help keep themselves "in the zone" when they are just fried by the constant testing and need to stay emotionally regulated themselves. Do you have a mantra? A favorite scripture? I'd love to know.