How to Love a Prickly Child

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Trying to show love to a difficult child is a lot like hugging a cactus. You know he wants love, he feels upset and wants to be loved, and yet…

Not all children are receptive to hugs and kisses, or even a pat on the shoulder. When my second son is agitated, a light touch is met with a dramatic pulling away. Begging and pleading are to no avail. A slow walk toward him leads to his hiding himself under furniture and, if I keep trying, exaggerated threats and outbursts.

“Maybe I should jump out the window since you don’t want to see me anymore!”

“You are always picking on me and you never punish my brothers!”

“No, you don’t! You don’t love me!”

Granted, my son has a handful of autistic tendencies and these are some of them. I have four boys, though, and they all have periods of similar distress. So, what’s a mom to do?

Besides crying inside and eating chocolate, I’ve developed a few ways of talking to agitated children:

  1. Patience. In fact:
  2. Patience.
  3. Patience.
  4. Patience.
  5. Kind tone, even when my child is being a straight-up jerk and starts trying personal insults.
  6. Distraction: humor, favorite things, outside topics of interest, or a play date with a friend.
  7. Coping strategies we’ve learned in therapy; like breathing techniques, refocusing, calm spots, CBT, etc.
  8. Food! When I keep hitting a brick wall, I’ll subtly get a favorite snack and ensure he eats it.
  9. Rest. No one’s too old for a nap.
  10. Change of location. Drives are nice. So are walks.

For me, I need to remind myself throughout our conversations that my children have no filter. When they feel deeply, they speak deeply. I hurt when I hear them tell me mean things. Some days I get overwhelmed and spend a few hours at night hiding in the closet. Hopefully I am not the only parent who feels that way.

But in the end, I am their mother. I am the person who will teach and mold and influence these sociopaths into more reasonable members of society.

And I really do love them. They need to know that in any way I can tell them.

 

Photo Credit:
Stephanie Harvey

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself

When I first mothered my young children I was fairly strict. My kids had structure, nutrition, consistency, and …a bit too much exposure to a mother with a perfection complex.

Then came The Time of Pregnancies.

My children were fairly young when I became pregnant with their next younger brother. This meant that they still needed things like that structure and nutrition and consistency. In actual practice (known as Survival Mode), they got the best I could do at the time. Between exhaustion and nausea, we all rode out the nine-ish months together.

Also as I first mothered, I felt a lot of guilt for the perceived neglect. Helpful people occasionally patting me on the back didn’t assuage the negative voices in my head. The few hints some said sunk deep into a pond of self-recrimination. Obvious acting out and emotional reactivity amongst my offspring also concerned me.

The lesson I’ve finally learned, that I wish I could convince my anxious past self of, is:

Do the best you can, and know that it’s okay to do so.

Despite what you think you see other people doing around you, everyone follows this advice. If not, they’re probably on something illegal and will suffer the consequences of that eventually anyway.

For real: life has ups and downs for all. Some downs require buckling in until the ups. Don’t be so hard on yourself for needing to back off a bit when the going gets tough; it’s the human thing to do.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Don’t Give In, and Stay Sane Doing So

I have a younger brother, and he is annoying. Everyone thinks his younger sibling is annoying; but, honestly, the younger ones often try to bother their betters.

Don’t believe me? When cell phones were a new thing, my teenage brother changed our mother’s ringtone to The Family Guy‘s Stewie saying, “Mom mom mummy mama… ”

He thought it was hilarious. …As if she hadn’t actually had us do that to her in real life.

Whether it’s a little brother or sister or not, all children are adept at repetitive behaviors. They say or do something over and over (and over); sometimes for kicks, oftentimes to get their way. If you think giving in will stop the annoying-ness, however, you are very wrong.

My advice for today is:

Don’t Give In!

Seriously. If you have said, “No candy before dinner” and catch them with Smarties, take the package away. When one boy smacks his sister, put him in Time Out just like your rules say will happen. Don’t want to impulse-buy toys every time you go shopping? Don’t!

The child who has exceptions learns that exceptions are the rule. And, elephants got nothin’ compared to the memory recollection of a child.

That’s not to say that sticking to your guns is easy. It’s not. Even after I (mostly) never give in, I often have to endure several minutes of telling my children, “No.” BUT, not capitulating does lead to respect, obedience, trust, faith, and fewer nagging sessions.

If you’re in the middle of a “no” session with your kid, here are some ways to keep your cool:

  1. Attempt to distract the whiner. He is probably hungry, tired, or bored; and badgering you is entertainment.
  2. Sing your answers. ♫ “Noooo! You may not have a coookieeeee! I love you too much to ruin your heeaaallllth!” ♪
  3. Put on some music. I do this as a last resort in the car, particularly if I cannot pull over to resolve a fight.
  4. Talk to the complaining child as best as you can, and tell her that you are not going to be able to talk to her for five minutes if the asking doesn’t stop. Then, set a timer for 5 minutes and ignore the noise.
  5. Pick a NON-PHONE task to do whilst repeating your calm, reasonable, “No.” Activities may include dishes, laundry, dusting, light cleaning, etc.
    I recommend against an activity with a phone because that’s teaching children to use phones for distraction.
    I also recommend against doing a task like pruning because you’ll be holding a sharp object.
  6. Imagine you’re somewhere else. Meditation and yoga exercises really help with this skill, or currently having a crush on a hot movie star.

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    Courtesy of People Magazine.
  7. Repeat back what he says as if you are a parrot, but do so with a lot of love and laughter. You’re not making fun of your child, after all; just the whining.
  8. Write the word NO on a Post-It and stick it to your mouth. Then your voice won’t get hoarse.
  9. Turn to your spouse, kiss him on the cheek, say, “Your turn,” then go take a nice relaxing closet break.
  10. Buy some noise-cancellation headphones.

Several of my boys are very concerned about fairness, fixate on erroneous issues, and have periodic mental meltdowns. If I can treat them with loving patience during any of those activities, so can you.

Staying strong will not only teach your offspring that you mean what you say, it will also exercise your own patience and mental endurance.

And you’re going to need that for the teenage years.

Suffer Not The Children

Don’t you just hate it when you know how to prevent some potential disaster, like when you see a full glass of soda too close to the table edge near a stream of running kids and you act to preventing it from spilling, only to accidentally trigger the catastrophe yourself perhaps into the lap of the most innocent person you know?  Seriously – at least for a few seconds, don’t you just want to die, knowing that the world would be safer without this talent you  have for creating chaos?

via Suffer Not The Children, by Gary A. Wilson

Keep reading for a cute story about an exuberant girl and a wonderful, understanding church leader.

Behavioral Issues? I’ll Take One for Now, Please

My boys are all …fun in their own ways. Torn between delusion and reality; I often decide that, despite reassurances of similar children, other families do not enjoy quite the smattering of personality challenges I do in raising mine.

Only my second son has been officially diagnosed with anything. That was a result of his school planner in first grade. The notes from his teacher began innocently enough: Had some difficulty when he was asked to sit and do his work, for example. By December, however, each week had a major incident or even two. Threw a chair was one. Tried to bite another student was another.

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That was four years ago, so some of the specifics are still repressed memories for me.

Threatened litigation by another parent was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Through an answer to a prayer, a cancellation made it so I was immediately seen by a new pediatrician. The doctor gave me the education and (eventually) the medication we needed. He has been wonderful.

I am not a fan of diagnosing misbehaving children nor of doping them up. My husband is even less so, which is still a sore issue regarding Boy #2. For the sake of keeping this shorter than a textbook, I have our son where he is with what he is taking because it works and he needs it. He takes a pill known as Straterra, and is now on a fairly low dose.

Every year we have a reevaluation with the doctor to discuss whether the medication is affecting anything. It is, in about a 95% positive way. Every summer we try not taking the pill, at my son’s request. Our record is three weeks.

At that point, I am reduced to constant babysitting. Every social interaction needs moderation and ends in meltdown.

Me: Now, remember: we can’t sit on your brother’s head.

Him: You never tell him not to sit on me!

I can tell he’s approaching puberty because he used to tear up and run screaming from the room. Now he clams up and gives me short little answers that prove he’s withdrawing and repressing on his own. *Sigh*

On more humorous notes, the lucid parts of his personality are more apparent during sober times. So is his forgetfulness. All day he asks me where he left his book or his glasses or his brain -okay, not literally his brain. Even on medication I tell him he’ll need a personal assistant as an adult to remind him to put on pants.

Even on medication he is himself and still has the same challenges. What makes medical intervention and therapy crucial is The Point of Meltdown. As a young child, entering meltdown meant I had to physically carry him to a re-direction point (often outside) until he burned through his feelings. It meant his telling me he did not hit a person whom I saw him hit, and getting fixated on how I hated him for forcing him to apologize.

I wrote a glib snippet last week about people wanting a silver bullet or a cure-all for behavioral issues. Wouldn’t that be nice; right?

The truth is that there is a cure-all, and it is love.

The Number One thing I’ve had to learn as my son’s mother is to show him I love him in an over-the-top, but genuine fashion. When he is being a mean jerk, telling me that he does wish he’d mortally wound his older brother, that’s the time I need to say, “I love you so much.” When he is hiding under the table and yelling about whatever ticked him off and that I never care, that’s when I start tickling his back and talking about how much he means to me.

Tickling his back and neck are his weakness, besides the love. Maybe your son or daughter has an Achilles’ Heel like that, too.

Life is not easy with a difficult child or four, but it is what it is. I’ve tried the Hide and Resent It approach; it’s not very effective. With patience, love, and lots of chocolate, taking it one day at a time is the best way to go.

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