Wednesday, November 28, 2012

what we're working on, what's working.

this post has been swimming around in my head for the past week or two. today's the day it's turning from thoughts to pixels.

so, here goes. three year olds: cute, awesome, fun – challenging. we're not the first family to be confronted with the laundry list of... um... undesirable behavior coming from our preschooler at what feels like a rapid-fire pace sometimes, i know. and we certainly won't be the last.

and finding the balance between letting bonzo be who he is but keeping limits in place – for my benefit and his – can be tough.

but i wanted to write this post because we've been having a nice run of success over here so i thought i'd share what's working for us. as always, these things remain fluid and change as circumstances do but it feels good to reach into my toolbox and actually have a tool for the job – instead of feeling around in an empty toolbox and wondering what the ef to do next! and by no means is this picture perfect parenting. it's a work in progress, people. i'm a work in progress.

anyways, the stuff that's coming up that we're working on is:
1. spitting. not actual projectile saliva, more of a quick motorboat/raspberry. the feeling behind it is sometimes defiant and sometimes completely neutral. but it's not my favorite either way, i have to tell you.
2. rudeness. you know, plain old rudeness. demanding, unfriendly – call it what you will, it can drive me bonkers.
3. bossy bossy bossiness. comes with the territory of being three. it all does, really. but it can be a patience tester, right?
4. gentleness. he's three, we've established that. and he's hardly a bull in a china shop kinda guy. i'd actually classify him as a very gentle guy by nature. but sometimes, primarily with his baby sister, he likes to push the ol' envelope a bit. it's almost always out of over-excitement or idle-boredome but still. we're working on that, too.

so those are my four biggest issues around here these days. rather than trying to just extinguish the stuff i'm not digging, i'm just trying to harness it. to give it its time and place. a wholesale no isn't the answer  – it almost never is!

so instead i'm trying to anticipate. it's exhausting but life's exhausting these days and i'd rather be exhausted from anticipating moods, reactions, feelings than exhausted from mopping them up. bonzo starts to unravel when he's hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, disconnected. duh, all the obvious stuff. but trying to stay one step ahead – and frankly, even just an inch ahead – really helps keep the train on the tracks.

this is an important one with bonz being gentle with his baby sister. those idle moments are tough. i can just see it in bonzo's face – he's just looking for something to do even if it's icky. and sometimes that means he's headed straight for his sister. he's never intentionally hurt her, thankfully but he'll push things a little too far for my comfort – or hers. and same goes for the times where he's just so overcome with excitement or energy that he'll head right over to mushy and his enthusiasm is just... well... too much. so i try to anticipate those times and be there to physically hold a limit and not allow him to take out his energy – positive or negative – on her. redirecting those punches-in-the-air to punches-on-the-pillows, putting my body between his and hers. reminding him to keep it gentle before he has a chance to not keep it gentle. and staying as connected with him as possible during the day is so important. it just feels good for both of us and it comes quite naturally to want to shower him with love – but sometimes the to-do list starts taking over and/or his behavior will not exactly elicit my most loving feelings and the first spark of disconnection will flare. noticing that shift and slowing down to connect can stop a spark from becoming a blaze. so i try to keep us connected and keep things positive. special time is always a good thing, but if we're about to work against the clock to get out of the door i'll give him some opportunity to kick some ass and be rad. i'll ask him for his help or his input and watch him shine, i'll give him some cuddles and love and fill up his little cup a bit so when we need to get down to business he's in the mindset to work together, not against each other. but it's not always realistic that i'm a moment ahead, feelings come up – that's just how it goes. so we feel them fully and move on.

and, as always, acknowledging is a biggie. bonzo's tryin' on some new hats on for size, you know? he's figuring stuff out. for one, what it feels like to be bossy and demanding and say rude stuff! he's experiencing what it's like to push the envelope just a little further than he did last time – maybe squeezing his baby sister just a smidge harder than yesterday's squeeze. yes it sucks for me sometimes but it's his process. we're not going to completely side-step it. it's happening. so acknowledging it helps. and that means two ways: to myself, for starters. it helps me not resist it, therefore magnifying it and making it harder on us all. and acknowledging him makes him feel seen, heard and... well... acknowledged. so even if i am going to ask him to stop what he's doing, i do try my best to state what i'm seeing first. sometimes it's a statement of awe – like, "wow, i see you're running your fingers through your smoothie that spilled on the table! it looks like finger paint, huh?! i'd like to clean that up before it gets all over your clean clothes." sometimes it looks like this, "i'm seeing you squeeze mushy's arm too hard. if you can't sit next to her and treat her gently, you can't sit next to her." and sometimes it's like this, "you're shouting your words at me. it's too bossy. can you take a deep breath and try again?" (we try do-overs quite a bit. he'll often know exactly what to do on his second – or third – try but if not, we'll come up with ideas together and sometimes we'll go into a full reenactment! it lifts the mood and helps a bunch).

then there's a combination of acknowledging while rolling it into play. i like the way this has been going down around here because the play is happening when we're both feeling it. i think play is wonderful and effective but playing when i'm feeling pushed too far past my brink feels false and way too mixed-message-y to me.

there are three places bonz can do his spits: the bath, the shower, outside. so, often when we're in one of those places – usually in the shower together – i'll initiate spitting time and we'll go off with the spits. it echos like crazy and we'll make the loudest spitting noises we know how. it's fun to just be silly but it's especially fun because bonzo feels like i'm down with his cause! i'm not always saying no no no to it – instead i'm engaging in the spitting, with him and he loves it. seriously, it works on many levels: we're connecting, he's getting to do his thing – and not be told no – and it also takes the behavior (in this case, spitting) and makes it less of a hot-button issue, you know? it's worked so well. now when he spits? i'll ask him in a fun way to save it for the shower. and we'll smirk at each other knowing we'll play our silly game later. another way this works is when, say, he's practicing his dives on the bed instead of getting dressed – or other awesomeness along those lines. it can drive me a bit insane. especially if we're working against the clock. so if i can take a deep breath and acknowledge what he's doing before i'm too irked to be playful, i'll let him know i'm checking out what he's doing: "yeah! you're doing your dives dude!" and then i'll try engage in it with him while putting a limit in place: "those are big dives! i'm going to watch you do three more dives and then we're gettin' dressed!".
he's almost always happy to have my attention, an audience and a shot to just do what he wants to do. then when the three times are up, they're up. he's either able to roll with it (which is usually the case) or he'll use that limit as something to push against and unload some pent up feelings. and that's the way it goes. success either way: the train stays on the tracks or feelings get felt and offloaded – so the train can get back on the tracks. and, really – if nothing's "working", that's bonzo's way of asking for, begging for, neeeeeding a limit. even though that's the very thing it seems he's resisting.

and since all that's working so well, we've been taking a similar approach with being rude and/or bossy. we let our "rudies" and "bossies" out during play time. we just make a game of it and we'll egg each other on making up things to say in the ruuuuudest way we can – which turns out to just be cooky and not really rude. but it gives bonz designated time to let it rip, to try different things to say and different ways to say them. and it's actually silly, fun time for me too. plus it gives me a clue in to what topics/issues he might be working on in that little noggin of his. so when the demands start flyin' and things start getting a little too rude, bonz will hear something like this, "that's too rude, friend. but hey – let's let our rudies out when we get home, wanna?" sometimes just the mere idea of having time later to let it fly is enough to shift the tide. (and if not, see above: he needs the limit.)

so there's all that stuff – that i can do with bonzo. and then there's the stuff i can do to myself. and that's watching my reactions. oh, it's so easy to get pissed/huffy/reactionary/irked/chapped/angry and react accordingly. that's a part of life and i can't always check my every feeling. buttons get pushed, triggers get triggered and reactions ensue. probably the hardest – yet most important, naturally – part of all this is not letting it get to me; staying calm in the face of mass irritation, showing bonzo that i can handle his feelings without faltering. i mean, if he thinks i can't handle it, it's not like he'll feel secure enough to get himself back on track. he'll trip out and the spiral of negativity spirals on. plus, a big reaction also gives a bunch of power to the behavior which just so happens to be the exact opposite of what i'd like to do in most cases. so yeah. it's the most important part of my job: staying calm, cool and collected. it's the single most over-played expression but seriously: keep calm and carry on. it can feel like the ultimate challenge some days but i make it a daily mission.

so there's anticipating, acknowledging, playing, keeping calm – and then there's limits. i'd say watching my reactions and setting/holding limits are of equal importance. when all else fails, if i can remember those two tidbits: watching my reactions, setting and holding limits i think we'll be a-okay.



janel holiday said...

you're an amazing mom, bff.


small + friendly said...

Thank you so so much for sharing. I plan to try the "bossy" game! Setting limits can be tough, I have a post planned that I haven't had the guts to hit publish on the subject. Sending mom hugs, dives when it's time to get ready can be super hard, way to rule!

Terri said...

Yes, thanks for sharing this! It's so helpful to hear these kinds of wisdoms, which are pretty out of the ordinary compared to "I'm going to count to three," or "do you want a time out?" Liv is only 11 months old, but I'm going to store these things up for future situations. You rock! I hope you are enjoying the holiday season, friend!

Tamara said...

oh man, can you come be my mom? some days i am pushed pushed pushed to the end of my tether. what a good post filled with good reminders. and i love the suggestions on redirecting to the right time/place/space. i hate those days where it feels like you've said "no" at least 10 times before 10 am... tough. i have noticed my son responds much better when i let him be him & move to redirect the undesireable behavior - now i have to channel the energy within me to do that every time. Thanks Sara. as always, this was a great read. xx. and ps. what IS it with boys & spitting??!!

Jen said...

So poignant once again. Boys and spitting...why oh why? I love your idea of giving him a place where it is ok to spit! Genius! I never thought of that and I am so excited to throw that one in the "tool box." I don't want to stifle him too much but there are some things that are just NOT appropriate and are seriously irritating so limits with safe "ok times" sound perfect.

Our gentleness issue is with our dog and I am trying so hard to deal with it daily. Most of the time he loves our dog, always wants him to come with us, says goodbye to him again 10 minutes into a car ride etc, but he can also be so mean to him. Calls him up to his room and then won't let him in. Chases him with toys for the reaction. It's sibling rivalry and control with a pet I guess. He pinches the extra skin and just looks at me with those eyes and a grin begging me to do something about it. The "I won't let you pinch him" only goes so far as I cannot hover over the dog 24 hours a day.'s a work in progress. I will re-read this as you have some great ideas and insight.

castord hanna said...

Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting.

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