When You Are On Your Last Nerve
by Sally Burgess, Forefront Families LLC
We have just arrived in Sydney, Australia, having run three parenting seminars in New Zealand. We are staying with a friend who has a three-year-old child and have been making some interesting observations, which I thought I would share with you.
Sarah is a singer here in Sydney, is 35 years old, single, and nearly four years ago found herself pregnant. She visited us in Nashville, completely undecided about the future of her baby - to keep it or adopt it out to a family with both parents. After a great deal of agonizing, and with no hope of having any further relationship with the baby's father, she decided to keep it. She knew this would mean a drastic change in direction for her own career, but she also knew she had a responsibility due to the decisions she had made that brought her to this point.
We had many a conversation with Sarah and we were impressed that she already had very clear ideas about what she would and would not accept in the way of child behavior. She had come from what she described as a 'totally dysfunctional family' and refused to fall into the same mistakes her parents had in raising them. The fact that she had thought all this through prior to the baby being born was a major plus, because she had no idea what she was in for.
From the time Devon was born, he has been a force to be reckoned with. Poor Sarah didn't know what had struck her. There is something to be said for having your kids in your 20's, I can tell you. Not only was Sarah constantly exhausted, she had nobody to share the load with! We are proud of her though. She has done a great job so far in managing Devon, who is not only on the verge of being obsessive/compulsive in behavior, but is also an exceptionally strong-willed child.
Here are a few of the behaviors we have observed on this visit, and responses that seemed to have positively made a difference. Devon came home wound up like a spring after day-care. Sarah put him in his highchair and put his dinner in front of him. Devon didn't want it so, since I was the only one left in the room to watch, he started dropping sausage on the floor, piece by piece watching me and waiting for a reaction. I decided to ignore him so more food went over. So as not to interfere with her behavior modification, I quietly got up to let Sarah know what was happening. She left the bath she was running for him, took the food off him, and pulled him out of the chair. She put him on the floor and he ran away. She sighed and started counting. Now, we wouldn't normally advocate the counting game, but it seemed to get the desired result and he bolted into the bathroom.
Being in a cranky frame of mind, Devon tried bailing water out onto the floor. Mother seemed to stop that little flood from happening and soon he was out getting dressed. Normally Devon has a story read to him in the living room after bath time. However, this time we were using the room so he had to have his story in his bedroom.
Then the fun started. Remember, I said he was verging on obsessive/compulsive? Well, while structure is very important for these children, they have to learn to adapt to change. Devon couldn't cope with having the story read in his room so he put up a verbal barrage of protest. Sarah left his room and closed the door. For one and a half hours Devon protested. Sarah asked us if she should go and check on him. "No. Just leave him or he will feel that he has won", we said. I also suggested to Sarah that next time, it would be a good idea to explain to Devon what was going to happen, where, and in what order, so he knew what to expect.
While we were watching the TV this morning, Devon decided to stand in front of the screen so we couldn't see. We both buried our heads in books, without saying anything, and he quickly moved. Sarah was trying to get the evening meal and shut Devon in the living room with us. He screamed and kicked the door. A firm, "No" from us, and diversionary tactics did the trick. Yes, Devon is a real handful.
Varying approaches to modifying his behavior seem to work with him. By picking battles - deciding what things need immediate correction and what things need to be ignored, and with consistent parenting, Devon is going to be a fine young leader amongst his friends and in the community. We will, of course, be praying for Sarah's sanity and the strength not to give in, in the meantime!
It is vitally important to train your kids to exhibit positive behaviors and make an immediate stand against negative ones. You lose ground the minute you give in, even once.
If you have any comments or questions on this subject, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to also check out our website at www.forefrontfamilies.org and our blog site at www.forefrontfamilies.blogspot.com for further assistance.