I'm the luckiest because God sent me a little boy who gets more out of one minute of his life than some people get out of a century of theirs . He's brilliant, he remembers everything I teach him, read him, every song he hears, every show he watches, every answer to every question he can recall and reuse. He's a social butterfly and wants to know everyone's names and what they are doing and when they are coming to play with him. He has a tender little heart and comes to comfort me when he knows I'm sad- like when he caught me crying today. He's got the very best laugh and his giggles send my happiness monitor off the charts. I love and adore my Winston. I do. But we've had a hard fall and I am documenting it here so watch out because things are about to get real.
Phew. My three year old has given me a run for my money the last three months. It's like he's constantly running on adrenaline, so much aggression, everything is a violent weapon, and there was just so much yelling! (Mostly from him but I lost it and chimed in a time or two as well). I got to the point where I was in tears over him regularly, how do I help this little human control his emotions, heck just control his body? Any time I would say something he didn't like he would turn and scream at me at the top of his lungs (no we aren't going to watch a show right now, sorry you can't play with the knives, etc) Honestly it was disturbing to see the anger in his eyes when he didn't get to be in control. After scouring Pinterest and spending hours reading parenting articles, reading parenting books, asking my go to parents for their advice, praying praying praying, and some more tears, I decided to talk to my doctor about it. As I described our situation he just calmly nodded his head and said, yes, this is normal. I love my pediatrician. He always makes me feel like a good mom. He told me Winston was just ALL boy. And not all boys are all boy. But Winston, he thought, had excessive testosterone and was never going to be the child being gentle or playing with his sister's dolls or quietly doing anything. He is going to be loud and fast and athletic and ALL boy. He told me a story about his son who when he was three graduated from the nursery at church and moved up to Primary. But he didn't want to go to primary and every Sunday for SIX MONTHS my doctor would try to take his son to class and he would hit and scream and kick and bite and so then he would take him in the church gym where the child ran around and hit his head against the wall for an hour. Every Sunday for 6 months! "I wasn't worried about him." He said to me, "that's normal. My son was three and he REALLY didn't want to go to primary so this is how he's expressing it." Well, that did make me feel better. I also spoke with a dear friend who happens to be a counselor and deals with lots of youth with behavioral issues. She gave me lots of advice, starting with "buck up." .....In the nicest way possible. She said you are a very gentle soft spoken person and Winston is taking advantage of that to get his way. You need to buck up. First, We instituted the "Thinking Area". It's a stool in a corner of the kitchen and every time he screamed at me he got to go sit in the thinking area. I set the timer for three minutes and if he screams or gets off his stool the timer starts over. She warned me he would be there for HOURS the first couple of days, and he sure was. He was again today! But When he finally is able to sit quietly for the full three minutes we celebrate with hugs and happy faces and then have a little debriefing on why we had to go sit in the thinking area and what we will choose to do next time instead of screaming. This has helped us tremendously in getting the anger and screaming under control and I'm so glad I talked to her. We were using another form of "timeout" but it just wasn't effective and although this is sometimes exhausting to have to reset the timer for 45 minutes straight, it works. He understands the rules and he is in control of how long he stays there and all he has to do it to choose to stop screaming to get out. She told me the most important part of it is to never let him see me angry. I have to be firm and kind in repeating the rules but never angry. This is HARD. When he is screaming at me for 20 minutes solid perched on his stool there is nothing more I want to do than yell back. But I have to stay calm and kind and firm. Yeah I'm working on that. Another thing she told me to do is make sure to take at least 15 minutes every morning and every afternoon to just play with him. No dishes or phones or multitasking, just stop what I'm doing and play whatever he wants (basketball, duh). I like this because it gives me a chance to reconnect with him in a happy way and allows him to associate good memories with me and not just discipline. The third thing she asked me to do is to make a chart and every time I see him doing something kind or positive then he gets to put a sticker on his chart and when he fills it up he gets a little reward (like watching a music video or something small). She said kids who are always in trouble have damaged self esteem and he needs the positive reinforcement to counteract it. I haven't started this yet just because it was a lot to take in all at once and seemed like so much work to be policing his actions all the time. But we'll be starting it very soon. One of our friends was telling Evan and I about a psychology class he took where the teacher had three people leave the room and explained to the class that when they came back in he wanted that person to walk to a specific spot. For person #1 they would be silent until the person started walking the wrong way and then they would "boo". For person #2 they would be silent until the person started walking the right way and then they would clap. For person #3 they would "boo" when they were walking the wrong way AND clap when they were walking the right way. After the experiment he compared the times it took for each person to reach the desired spot and the person who had received both positive and negative reinforcement had accomplished the task in a fraction of the time it took the other two with only one kind of reinforcement. Makes so much sense. So bring out the stickers I guess.
Parenting is hard. It feels like an incredibly fine line between teaching obedience and squashing their little spirit. I still cry over Winston. I cried today after making him sit in the thinking area for an hour (well... He screamed for 57 minutes that's why). It feels like every action needs constant redirection, please use kind words, give that back to your sister, don't lick the bottom of your shoe, don't hit, don't stick your head in the toilet, don't scream, that's not a good idea, heaven help us! When I was searching and searching for answers this fall I came across these glimpses of feelings about how parenting must be the ultimate way to become more Christlike but I couldn't quite make a cohesive thought of it. Elder Holland's talk last conference gave poetic justice to my ideas in a way only he could.
"Bear, borne, carry, deliver. These are powerful, heartening messianic words. They convey help and hope for safe movement from where we are to where we need to be—but cannot get without assistance. These words also connote burden, struggle, and fatigue—words most appropriate in describing the mission of Him who, at unspeakable cost, lifts us up when we have fallen, carries us forward when strength is gone, delivers us safely home when safety seems far beyond our reach. “My Father sent me,” He said, “that I might be lifted up upon the cross; … that as I have been lifted up … even so should men be lifted up … to … me.” But can you hear in this language another arena of human endeavor in which we use words like bear and borne, carry and lift, labor and deliver? As Jesus said to John while in the very act of Atonement, so He says to us all, “Behold thy mother!” Today I declare from this pulpit what has been said here before: that no love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child."
I have been chatting with my sweet mother in law lots lately because let's face it she raised Evan. I was thinking oh how I wish I could go back in time and send you flowers on one of your hard days and say THANK YOU. Thank you for not giving up on him, thank you for sending him to his room or washing his mouth out with soap over and over and over, thank you for praying over him and crying over him. Look what you helped him become! I know Winston is going to do great things someday, he has a lot of love and creativity and passion for life inside that tiny little body. He already amazes me daily and he's only 3. But the aggression, especially at the intensity level that he feels it ( like all his emotions, only one level- maximum capacity), is something we've got to conquer. So we'll keep working on it. And I do mean working. Chin up my little boy, God sent you to me for a reason and I do not intend to make a fool out of Him. We'll slay this dragon together and forge ahead to the next.