Thursday, December 19, 2013

Parenting 101

Oh. Mah. Gah.

Tonight is our LAST night here.  There are ways I will totally miss this place and then...well, it's exhaustingly heartbreaking to see countless skinny kids with sunken eyes shuffling around the hospital pushing IV poles.   It just is. There's a way that I feel almost guilty about having a healthy, loud, rambunctious kid running around right in front of these parents.


So, today...well, today I experienced what felt a bit like the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Bear with me. I'm struggling to find the space between "Mama Means Business" and "Mama is a Negative Control Freak". Doesn't feel like there is much room in between but I know the sweet spot exists because Laura almost has it down. She is, apparently, the perfect woman. :-)

Leading breakfast was...interesting.  Food throwing, big pushback, hitting. Once again, felt a little in over my head but had a few more tools this time. I mostly went with "extinction" or basically ignoring the bad behavior and trying to focus on the positive but he still didn't eat very much. It felt better than yesterday but the volume outcome wasn't much better.

The feedback I got after breakfast from the therapist was basically that I needed to channel my "inner bitch" as one of the other team members un-officially calls it.   When my kid hits me or throws food and utensils, I need to put on my big girl panties and show him I mean business.  Like, if he's being a total pain in the ass and things are escalating, whip that chair around right fast and get that kid backed up against the wall and move the table in so he can't reach you before he knows what hit him. Don't hurt him, don't scare him, don't threaten him, but basically splash water on his face and get his attention. Then go right back to the table and carry on with a calm but clear message that Mama don't play that.

At lunch, we had a different therapist, I had a bit more of a game plan and we had food he liked.  I thought it went great.  I put on my serious Mama voice and we got the food eaten.  Then I checked in with the therapist and Laura afterwards.  I was going TOO negative.  I was using some of the sticks when I could/should have been using carrots. Things were going well but I had been so used to his resistance that I had prepped all my big guns and was using those when I could have been encouraging the great work that was happening.

It's so so so subtle sometimes.  Like, instead of "you need to eat 2 more bites or we can't go to the playroom" you would say, "okay, 2 more bites and we can go to the playroom".   So minor but SO huge in terms of what it's conveying.  It's pretty much all about helping the kid feel like they're in control but you managing everything to get the result you want.  No "Yes" or "No" questions, so instead of "do you want to drink more milk?" you would give a forced choice of "2 sips of milk or 3 sips of Milk.  Your choice.  Then we get to (whatever you think will motivate them)".  A therapist said it today and it's totally true- it's like learning a different language.

It's really so helpful for me as I think about how I want to parent Simon overall.  Even though I loathe over-permissive parenting, I am realizing how permissive I have been with him.  It's no surprise.  This team is SOOOOO used to parents of medically fragile kids like me. We tend toward coddling and making sure our kid is "okay" and let naughty behavior go with nary a correction because they've suffered so much, etc.  It doesn't help that I was a very self-regulated kid so I didn't need much discipline and didn't really grow up with other kids around, so I have very little idea of what it looks like for adults to discipline/create structure for a child.

This permissive thing has been in the back of my mind for a few years now but I really saw it today.  He pulls stuff with me that he wouldn't pull with Laura, mostly because she doesn't let him get away with it. When I set clear limits with him at lunch, he totally got with the program.

I talked with the therapists at good length about how to frame things and when to play hardball and when to let stuff go.  One of the best pieces of advice was to take as many opportunities as I can to do practice this with him AWAY from the table so he gets used to me doing it.  Basically, set an expectation for him, stick to it and help him succeed.  Duh, right?  But it feels so unnatural and awkward.

Example: In the cafeteria tonight, Simon was riding in the wagon and kicked off his slipper on purpose.  My usual reaction would be to just pick it up, mostly because I didn't know how to handle it if he gave me attitude (which of course he would- who wants to get out of a pillow-lined wagon?).  Instead, I whispered to Laura "Okay, he kicked it off. What do we say?"  She thought for a minute and said, "Hey Simon, your slipper is on the floor.  Pick it up and then we can go upstairs" (something he wanted to do).  When he fought her a little, she had a "token" of something he wanted to bargain with and within 2 seconds he hopped out, got it and got back in.  Laura said she's started filing away all the things he's interested in (at the table and in day to day life) to use as "chips" in these situations.

I'm literally at that level of "what do I say in this situation?"and it's awesome to have therapists and Laura right there to coach me.  This program might be the best parenting thing that ever happened to me.

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