Diapers and Dragons

Monday, July 12, 2010

Guilt (Mine) and Consequences (DramaBoy's)

Apparently the most votes are for details on DramaBoy's Full Day Time Out, and really I will write about that, but first I want to note that today I am in enforced idleness. No, really. I had planned to head back to the house while The Ex was at work and do what packing I can do until we have our Official Negotiations over items like CDs and DVDs and dishes and pots and pans and children's clothing and toys. Also, I was going to watch the recorded sessions of "So You Think You Can Dance" from the last couple of weeks.

Instead, I am sitting on the couch contemplating how I can make this day Useful and Productive in other ways, because this morning I received a text from The Ex requesting that I not go to the house today. I don't know why. Perhaps he's working from home today; perhaps his girlfriend will be there; perhaps it's trashed and he doesn't want me there until he cleans (though that's unlikely). It doesn't really matter. The end result is the same.

I find that, as lazy as I am and can be, I don't deal well with Doing Nothing, at least by myself. Apparently I can spend hours and days and weeks Doing Nothing (well, nothing Productive, at any rate) in company with MTL and be as content as a cat on a sunny windowsill. Find myself alone with nothing much to do for a day and the Guilt begins. I mean really, God forbid I spend a day doing nothing but relaxing.

So far I plan to fold that load of laundry that is still in the dryer, mail MTL's Jury Summons Questionnaire (he's SO EXCITED), pick up Change of Address cards, go to a couple of banks, and call my former student C. who needs a responsible adult *giggle* to chaperone her in some driving practice so she can get her license. Don't worry, you legally-minded people: she graduated, so I'm no longer in that teacher/academic legal position.

Oh, and I may also go shopping for my cousin's wedding present and perhaps even some things for my sister's baby shower.

I'm living on the edge, Peoples.


So you want to know how this whole Full Day Time Out thing happened with DramaBoy, huh? Okay, here goes.

I mentioned a while back that DramaBoy is a mini-me in more than looks: he's also all-too-frequently full of defiance and disobedience. Don't get me wrong. He's a good kid at heart. Well, let me rephrase that. He's not a bad kid. I'm not worrying about him ending up in Juvie. Yet.

He is, however, a handful and a half. Lately MTL and I (and apparently also The Ex, when we discussed it) have been noticing a disturbing trend. DramaBoy has developed an attitude that, frankly, pisses us off. And I helped create it. You see, I've always insisted that when DramaBoy and The Widget do something wrong, they have to apologize for it. Over time, that became part of the end point of punishment. Somehow, in DramaBoy's mind, this came to mean that if he apologizes for something, then everything is over--and he started acting like that should be enough. He apparently thinks that if he says sorry, he shouldn't get punished.


On top of that, his apologies have stopped meaning anything. They have become flippant, something that he seems to see as a joke. He's become cocky and arrogant, or as much so as a four-year-old can be. And he's stopped paying attention much to what Adults In Charge are saying.

(MTL and I spotted a t-shirt the other day that, if it had come in DB's size, I might have bought for him. It read It's Cute How You Think I'm Listening To You. We agreed that might as well be DB's motto. Enough said.)

The first day up north at Nana and Papa's (MTL's parents) place was like a dream. DB behaved perfectly. He was outside all day playing, having fun, staying out of trouble, being a wonderful big brother to The Widget and "almost brother"/playmate with KlutzGirl. He was cheerful and polite and helpful. MTL and I both praised him for it, wanting to give some positive reinforcement for such behavior.

Sunday morning went well too. Then in the afternoon things took a turn for the worse. DB started playing around the outdoor air conditioning unit, putting things like leaves and wood chips through the wire mesh. Nana told him to stop, that what he was doing was dangerous. He ignored her. Then when she called him over and lectured him about listening and obeying, out came that attitude. So off he went to Time Out in a lawn chair--and the attitude kept coming. That earned him a Gibbs. He ended up falling asleep in the chair, and we hoped that a nap would help. After he woke up, he apologized to Nana, and we let him run off and play again.

So we figured he could go along when we all went off to Dairy Queen that night. Except when we arrived (we had to take two cars), MTL came over to my car to talk to DB: The Padawan had informed him during the drive that DB had been throwing sticks at MTL's car as well as climbing on my car and had been rude and disobedient when told to stop. MTL asked DB if he had done this.

And DB said Yep. With a look on his face like So what? What you going to do? And then he said, Sorry! Again with a look like I don't give a damn, but I'll toss you an apology to keep you happy.

And the attitude kept coming, even after punishment, even after being denied ice cream, even after the long wait and then the long ride home. I told him to say sorry for real to MTL, and he said the words--but the look on his face and the tone of his voice said that it was all a joke to him. MTL refused to accept his apology. And I was fed up.

Tomorrow, I told him, you are grounded. You'll be in Time Out all day. No playing, no toys, no TV, no fun. 

But I said sorry! he protested.

It's not enough to say sorry, I replied. You have to mean it. And if you were really sorry, you wouldn't keep doing these things. You would listen. You wouldn't do what you know is wrong. And you wouldn't have this attitude. You're not getting grounded because you threw sticks. You're getting grounded because you don't care that you did something wrong and you won't listen to the Adults In Charge.

So that was that. The next day, from the time he woke up until the time he went to bed, he had to either sit in a chair next to me or, when it started raining and we went inside where there was the TV, lie on Nana and Papa's bed in the back room. With no toys, no books, nothing.

MTL and I both talked to him about the situation throughout the day, emphasizing that the problem lay with his attitude. DramaBoy protested a few times in the morning, and once again tried "apologizing" in the hopes of getting out of the punishment, but we stuck to our guns. By afternoon he was resigned to his lot and remarkably cooperative. He fell asleep for a while, and then came out to eat pizza while The Widget was put back in Nana and Papa's room for a nap. Once DB was done eating, he went back to lie down on the bed again--without even being told. He didn't try to sneak toys in, he didn't complain, nothing. He only got out of bed to go to the bathroom and then to tell me that The Widget was awake and crying for me.

We were all rather impressed, truthfully.

The next day the grounding was lifted, just in time to climb into the car and head home. And lo and behold, DB lied to MTL about something as we were getting ready to go, and then at a pit stop disobeyed me about something else--and the attitude flooded back.

So MTL slung the boy over his shoulder, dumped him back into the car, and traded keys with me so that I could drive his car while MTL drove mine--with The Widget and a screaming DramaBoy inside.

There are many reasons I love that man.

Apparently DB was quiet and obedient for the remainder of the ride. Meanwhile, I easily quelled a few incipient quarrels between KlutzGirl and The Dark One while The Padawan slept, and I drove in relative peace for the second half of the drive.

So. Did the grounding work? I think it did. I'm not naive enough to have expected it to fix the problem in one Swell Foop, but it did lay some solid groundwork. I talked with The Ex about it, and we're all going to be tackling that attitude problem.

I think DramaBoy's about to find out that he's messing with the wrong adults. He may be stubborn, but so are we. And we outnumber him.

Thank God.

Any advice from all of you Peoples? What have you done with your Strong Willed Children?

11 bits of love:

Kathleen said...

No advice. Just an I'm So Impressed. You stuck with it! Way to go!

Kathleen said...

Oh, and please relax and enjoy a guilt-free day of Doing Nothing!

PantsWithNames said...

You stuck with it - big respect. As you say you outnumber him, and he has yet to discover exactly where he inherited that stubborness from...

Enjoy a day of relaxation. You deserve it!

Heidi said...

I have a pretty strong-willed child too...and I have to confess, I would never give him a day's time out. I also don't enforce the "sorry" rule because, frankly, I don't think "sorry" is something that they will feel until they're old enough to truly understand empathy and, biologically-speaking, they don't fully do that until age 8 or 9. He is learning, certainly - when I make it clear that he has hurt me, he is beginning very quickly to pipe up with a "sorry!!" that seems sincere, as he doesn't do X thing again.

If he hurts someone, we model the behavior AFTER a time out ("you need to say sorry when you hurt somebody") but I find that the insistence on having him say something that he doesn't really understand ends up making him less likely to actually feel any empathy and far more likely to rebel. And, as I think you've learned, because it means nothing to them, forcing them to say it only teaches them that "it's what you say when you want to get out of trouble" rather than being any kind of sincere apology.

We do automatic time-outs for hitting/kicking/lashing out in frustration (four minutes - one minute per year of age). If he keeps it up when he comes out, he goes back in again for four minutes. We've never had to do it more than twice.

And...we give him a LOT of freedom. I know this will sound really nuts but, when he has the freedom to make choices about most things, it's easier to enforce the real rules that count. With the a/c situation, we would have handled it like this:

See C sticking crap in the a/c

"Ciaran, stop doing that now."

If he doesn't listen.

"Ciaran, stop now. Do I need to count?"

Typically he stops. If he doesn't:

"1, 2, 3" If I make it to 3, time out.

Last week we were feeling rebellious, it seems, so he ended up in time out four or five times but I can sincerely say that 95% of the time, he is pretty damn close to the ideal, if strong-willed, kid.

Kids don't have control over much in this world and DramaBoy is going to be very, very aware of that, especially with events of the last 18 months. You and DramaBoy's dad need to be very consistent about how you handle him - i.e., time out for X infraction - and then stick to that, bearing in mind that you will ALWAYS get better results out of a child by letting them make as many decisions as possible, really, really positively reinforcing good behavior, and keeping punishments to the bare minimum.

I'd advise being consistent and firm...but not turning it into a battle of wills. I know you probably think I'm too permissive with C but, at the same time, I want him to have enough freedom that, when we do lay out the limits, he understands that he MUST follow them...and, for the most part, that's true. We have a tiny fraction of the tantrums that a lot of my friends have mentioned, and a child who may argue the hell out of a point but generally behaves beautifully once he understands why it is that we set a given limit.

Heidi said...

Oh, and I don't mean to imply that you handled it BADLY, just that it's not the route I would have chosen :)

Melissa E. said...

You did just the right thing, simply by sticking to your guns. I see so many parents who threaten and threaten and never follow through. Consistency is the key, whatever your disciplining style.

By the way, I love that phrase, "One Swell Foop." Very nice.

Stone Fox said...

oy. i have one of those strong willed kids, too.

what is working for us right now is immediate consequence. no counting, no warnings. if i get crap attitude of any variety, the kid goes straight upstairs for a time out. i have found that five minute timeouts don't work - they don't seem to be long enough to cool my kid's attitude. my boy, who is five, starts out with a ten minute timeout. if i get more crap attitude as he is going up the stairs, even under the breath name calling, i'll tack on one, two, or even five more minutes if we have been doing this dance all morning.

if he gets sent upstairs for three timeouts in one morning, then the third is a nap. he can't come down until he has slept.

it sounds harsh, but it removes the yelling and the constant repetition of "stop it!" that was coming out of me. also, the immediate removal of the child from my space shuts down my anger before it boils over.

having said that, i think you did exactly the right thing.

GingerB said...

My four year old has been attitudinal as well, lately. Partly, I think, she is extra tired because her day care has "summer camp" and she is plumb wore out. So I don't come down as harshly when she is sick or tired but we have an immediate time out, even if it is the testing the limits staring Daddy down kind of hit, yelling at the dinner table, snatching toys from the little sister and tipping her over, and so on. And I reinforce good behavior with really specific praise. And, it is possible that I don't know crap, too.
But I love that man for switching cars with you!

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