Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"You Can't Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded)"

As a follow-up to the last post, I want to document some of what I'm learning as the parent of a strong-willed child. McKay has always been strong-willed. His little spirit came that way. As a baby he wouldn't ever fall asleep in public. He was too stubborn to lay his head down and let the world go on without him. As a 3-4-year-old he would throw huge crying fits and would have to be locked in his room until he finally calmed down. Now, as a 6-year-old we're dealing with this defiance related to attending school. I suppose he'll always be a challenging personality because of his strong-willed nature. 

But, there is an up-side to this kind of personality. My dad has always said, "He's going to be a wonderful adult! The qualities that are so difficult now will make for a strong, determined, creative, and successful adult. You just have to stick with it and help him get on the right path." That's certainly the trick, isn't it? Having the patience and strength to get him on the right path is no small thing. Yet I love this child so much and I see such incredible potential in him. When he chooses to behave, which is a significant amount of his life, he is delightful. The love I have for him gives me the courage and strength to keep searching for ways to help him.

I picked up a book the other day that seemed to describe McKay well. It's called "You Can't Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child by Cynthia Tobias. It's been a facinating read because she is a self-declared strong-willed child and raised a strong-willed child. She writes often from the perspective of the SWC and gives some valuable insights into how they view the world and how to work with their personality, not smother it. She also offered some small practices that help in dealing with SWC. I found the following to be especially helpful for our particular situation:
Turning Conflict Into Cooperation
  • Choose You Battles-Decide which battles are actually worth going to the wall for--and go to the wall for them. One of our bad mornings was based around an argument about his outfit. It was 30 degrees outside and he wanted to wear shorts. I told him "No" that I didn't want him to catch pneumonia. We both chose our sides and neither would back down. I felt as the parent that I had to win once I had made an ultimatum and he, the SWC, was not going to be told he couldn't do what he wanted.  I have realized, I really do have to pick my battles, even to the point that I let him wear whatever he wants, matching or not, and let him deal with the consequences. It's tough to swallow my pride and let my child walk into school in shorts and a mismatched shirt or wearing his dad's XL sweatshirt, but, as Tobias says, "Will it matter in a year"? Probably not.
  • Lighten Up, but Don't Let Up- Don't let your SWC get by with bad behavior; however, humor will often catch him off guard and may disarm him. Best of all, it can offer a "fire-escape-and opportunity to pull back gracefully and cooperate. Simply say, "Nice try." Then smile and stop talking. She goes on to explain that either he'll back down or he'll dig in his heels but at least you've given him the chance to save face. If you immediately go on the attack it will reinforce his resistance but trying to use humor you might defuse the situation.
  • Ask More Questions; issue fewer orders-If you want an SWC to do something, asking a question that assumes the best in us almost always results in us moving toward what you want us to do. 
  • Ask: "Do you know why I asked for that"? Most SWC's will tell you they don't have to agree with your reasons for doing something-they just want you to have some. No deep explanations, we just want to know one thing: What's the big deal? I've been finding this very useful. Instead of issuing edicts, if I help McKay know why I'm asking him to do something, he's much more likely to do it. I can almost see him realizing that instead of bossing him around I'm showing him respect and he responds respectfully in turn.
  • Say the Magic Word: Okay-The word okay can work miracles because it helps the parent maintain authority while still sharing a portion of control. Asking, "Okay?" lets an SWC know that you realize he does have a choice. Remember to keep your voice firm and in control. Also, you're not asking your SWC for permission. You're simply acknowledging that he always has a choice-either to obey or face the consequences. I've found it's much more effective when I say to McKay, "Grab your backpack, okay?" than just "Grab your backpack". It seems completely ridiculous but somehow that "okay?" question gives McKay a feeling of power. To him it's me asking instead of me telling and that seems to make a big difference! During a few of our fights prior to reading this book he would cry and yell, "Why do you have to be the boss?" or "You always boss me around!" Somehow the work "okay" makes him feel empowered, not bossed.
  • Hand out more tickets; give fewer warnings- In this section, Tobias explains her experience in the police force. During training they were instructed that when they pulled someone over they were either to give a warning or a ticket. If a warning was issued, the officer could give a lecture as well. However, if a ticket were issued, no lecture was allowed. Just deal out the punishment and move on. She explains that most SWC's would rather just take the ticket. The point is, you communicate your authority by holding on to the bottom-line accountability. Less talk, more action but always staying calm and firm.
  • Make sure your SWC always knows your love is unconditional To me, this seems like the work that is done all the rest of the time. I believe McKay knows I love him but I've been trying to make more concerted efforts to really tell him. Giving him a huge, telling him I'm happy to see him when he comes home from school, praising his good behavior and mature choices, and looking him right in the eye and saying, "I love you, McKay" so that no matter what happens in those ugly moments, he won't doubt my love. Sometimes in his rage he says, "You don't love me! Nobody loves me!" I believe that's his 6-year-old self knowing he's not acting very lovable--a guilty response to his own behavior. But, just to be sure he never wonders, I'm trying to show extra love.
  • Helping him want to go- Tobias shares a scenario about a SWC who didn't want to go to church and how the parents worked through it. It's a similar situation to McKay's school issue and I found it helpful. Here's a brief summary: 
Kelsey: I'm not going to church anymore. 
Dad (in a calm voice): Why? 
Kelsey: It's boring and I'm tired of it. 
Dad: We all get a bit tired of routine sometimes but the point of going to church is to learn more about God. What do you think would motivate you to want to go to church again? 
Kelsey: I don't know. 
Dad: How about going to church today and instead of listening your write notes about how you think it could be more interesting. You might be able to give some great suggestions for making church better for everyone. 
Kelsey: Do you know where I could find a paper and pen? 
Try to find out why your SWC doesn't want to go-but not impatiently. When you ask why, your SWC ma not know or be able to put his feelings into words. Try asking things like, "What would motivate you to want to go? or "What do you think the point of going to school should be? Make a concerted effort to listen to their responses. Their answers will almost certainly reveal more than you anticipate. Your SWC needs to feel he has input. The more you can involve your SWC in coming up with the solution, the better your chances of avoiding the problem.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Rain Cloud

These last few weeks have been tough. I feel as though a little rain cloud follows me around, casting shadows over daily life.

I'm certain some of it is tied to coming to the end of a long and painful pregnancy. I feel so ready to get my body back and begin to feel somewhat "normal" again. However, though I'm sick of being pregnant, I'm also terrified of the arrival of this little one and what it will mean for our family.

McKay has been going through a really difficult time lately. He has always been incredibly head-strong and strong-willed. He HATES to be made to do anything or to feel like he doesn't have a choice.

McKay is also a wonderful child. He is smart, creative, kind (when he wants to be), and sensitive. He thinks and feels deeply. Most of the time we see this side of McKay but lately he has decided he doesn't want to go to school and has been waging war on me.

It honestly feels that way. His issues are beginning to give me issues. Seriously. I feel like I can't shake this feeling of impending doom for when the baby arrives because he has become so out of control many mornings.

 BJ goes to work at 7AM so it's just me and the three kids. When everyone's well-behaved it's still a challenge to get McKay ready for school and help the other kids get breakfast, dressed, pottied, and feeling happy. Adding a newborn to that scenario stresses me out. I know I'll be exhausted from up-all-nights with the baby plus the ever-present needs of newborns to eat and be changed at unexpected intervals all while trying to manage the morning chaos.  

So, the previous scenario would be hard enough. But, we're way past that kind of scenario now. Currently McKay fights me about half the mornings each week insisting that he doesn't want to go to school. It starts with him informing me that he's not going. When I calmly respond that he is going he continues to complain for a while and then eventually works himself into a full on fit. Once he gets this way it's as if there is no more holding back. A switch flips somewhere inside him. He says words he shouldn't, he talks back to me, he screams at me and the other children. When put in his room he throws things and hits his door with things. He even tries to hurt me.

Cue the wide eyes and head shakes. The "You just need to be harder on him" or "Sounds like he needs a good spanking" "Have you taken him to a therapist?" "Do you think he needs medication?"

The truth is, I don't know what he needs and it kills me. I don't lose my temper with him. When I have in the past I see that it only feeds his fire. I speak calmly to him and never give in to letting him stay home. I don't let him walk all over me. He has had days of extra jobs after school, pepper on his tongue when he talks back, and privileges taken away. He's been put in time-out and grounded from friends, even spanked but nothing seems to help him.

Each day that he's thrown this fit I've ended up physically dragging him to the car, usually half-dressed because he won't get dressed. He's kicking and screaming all the way to the car and often screams all the way to the school. Once we arrive at the school he begins to cry, realizing that he's not going to get out of it. He often refuses to get dressed, even as we sit in the school parking lot. It usually takes between 10-20 minutes before he gets his clothes on. Most of the time I actually have to climb to the back seat and drag him out to make him go.

This whole mess is unbelievable. It is emotionally exhausting. I feel completely defeated and depressed every time I leave my 6-year-old at school in such a state. It is physically draining to have to fight him and drag him around as I'm now 9 months pregnant. But worst of all, it makes my heart absolutely ache to see the child I love so very much tearing himself to pieces. He is so miserable. Try as I might to explain that these consequences are just the natural results of his choices, he doesn't see that. He backs himself into a corner but won't back down. He puts himself through a horrible torture and it's totally self-inflicted. It's just awful to watch as a parent who loves him and wants more than anything for him to be happy.

And it leaves me feeling rather hopeless and very fearful of the coming addition to our family. How can I possibly care for all of these little ones when the oldest is making it so difficult? I can hardly wrap my mind around it.

As it stands, I've met with the school counselor, as has McKay, and she is trying to help us help him. Unfortunately so far the ideas haven't really worked. When I took him to a special dinner, just the two of us, and presented the new system the counselor suggested he just looked at me and said matter-of-factly, "This is never going to work, Mom. I just don't want to go to school." What he just won't accept is that attending school is not a choice he has to make.

I'm reading a few books, "1,2,3 Magic" and "You Can't Make Me: But I Can Be Persuaded" but so far I feel we're doing many of the things the books suggest yet  he is still not responding.

McKay is not a monster. He is a wonderful, bright, sensitive, kind, thoughtful, smart boy but he is also incredibly difficult sometimes. He never acts out at school, thank goodness, but these battles at home are becoming more than I can bear. It brings such a dark spirit into our home that affects us all. And I can't help but feel depressed about the extent of his pain and disobedience and my inability to solve the problem.

So, I wear a little rain cloud over my head. May it lift before this little girl arrives.