Thursday, May 27, 2010

Deals and Timing for My Spirited Girl

Two things about my daughter that I always try to keep in mind when she's not doing what she's supposed to or I want her to do and/or I'm getting frustrated with her:
1. She takes in EVERYTHING, even if she doesn't respond right away.
2. She does NOT like to be backed into a metaphorical corner or feeling like she's being forced to do something.

Having read and really identified with the Raising Your Spirited Child book, I paid special attention to the section about negotiations or getting to "yes" (I can't recall right now if that term was in this book or another, but I do know that the idea of it was in this book). You see, with my child you cannot expect that she will do what you tell her to do just because you told her to do it. I don't care who you are or what method you try in order to force her to do it. If she doesn't want to do something, she will. not. do. it!

Instead, I've spent a lot of time coming up on ways to get my girl on board with what I need her to do, or at least to work out a compromise, or "deal" with her. I know lots of parents say they don't negotiate with terrorists, and certainly sometimes she simply HAS to do what we tell her to do, especially for safety reasons and when there are specific rules in place. But in general, I have learned to pick the true battles when necessary and otherwise work out something that will work for me and her. Maybe it's because as funny as it is, I don't consider her a terrorist. To me, she is a little person with needs and desires of her own, but without the ability to ask for them or to understand why she can't or to do so many of the things she wants.

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I'll never forget that first time she looked at me and said, "Mommy, I want a deal." A few months ago when I was working on bedtime seperation (another post coming on that), making many small transitions over a period of time, I would tell her that we could "make a deal" to meet her needs (potty, drink of water, a little snuggle) without moving back to a previous position/action, thereby undoing the transition I had already made. Sometimes, she would take the deal right off, and others she would not take and therefore had a major tantrum/meltdown that I had to sit through without giving in to do only what she wanted. She HATED being backed into a "do this or else" corner, so those types of ultimatums would not work well during these transitions. But by offering her deals she could take was my way of giving her (and myself) a way out of being backed into a corner, a way for both of us to get to a "yes" that worked for us.

One night she really wanted something (maybe water or a snuggle, I don't recall exactly what), but I was insisting she had to stay in bed. Finally, she sat up, and said that she wanted a deal! I hadn't yet offered one cause I was tired and frustrated and didn't think of it. She was heading in the direction of a tantrum--but so was I! When suddenly, she sat up, looked at me, and told me she wanted a deal! Now, she's only starting to figure out how to offer her own deals, but at that point it was a huge break through for her to tell me she wanted one! I quickly came up with something acceptable to both parties, and we got through that bedtime without ANY tantrums!

She had been listening, taking it all in. What I was doing, what I was saying was not just something in the moment, but it was something she was learning and remembering and using. All those nights and days when I offered deals, all those times I had to make myself be patient and stop being frustrated and calmly offer compromises were starting to pay off.

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She was in a mood one morning last week. Easily distracted and not listening or following any instructions. Not doing anything she KNOWS she's supposed to do in the mornings, and doing things she KNOWS she shouldn't be. After finally getting myself, the Pookie and the Pumpkin dressed and ready, we went downstairs for breakfast. While I was fixing oatmeal, she was sitting at the table and appeared to be playing with the basket in which I keep the napkins. But then I realized what exactly she had done/was doing.

She had broken a piece of the basket off and was playing with it. I said, pretty sternly, "Pumpkin! Don't pull pieces off of the basket! You are breaking Mommy's basket." She is currently really big into the idea of "broken" and knows that not everything that is broken can be fixed. I thought that would be sufficient... or maybe I knew it wouldn't be. Either way, I turned away to do the time-sensitive part of adding the oats to the boiling milk. When I looked back, she had broken off another piece! I was so mad! I yelled at her something along the lines of, "You broke off another piece! You are breaking my basket! I'm so mad that you didn't listen to me and are breaking my basket! You cannot play with that basket!" And I took the basket away.

She got upset. She hurried into the family room (open to the kitchen), sat down and started crying. Gah! What am I going to do with that? I'M the one who should be upset! I'M the one that should be comforted. But there was my girl, crying as if I was in the wrong.

I finished stirring the oatmeal, I gave the Pookie more puffs to hold him over, and then I went to my girl and sat down next to her. I was not in the wrong, and I was not going to make it seem like I was. But I always love her and care about her and her feelings, so I was going to address her feelings and mine.

"Pumpkin. Are you upset because I yelled at you?" She didn't answer, but I knew the answer. "You broke Mommy's basket. That made me very upset, because I really like that basket and because I had already told you not to break pieces off. You broke another piece off anyway, and that makes me sad and mad, so I yelled. I would feel a lot better if you said you were sorry." I said. But, and this is key for my daughter, I added, "When you are ready, I would like you to tell me you are sorry for breaking my basket." Then, I quickly moved on, "Are you hungry? The oatmeal is ready. Come on back into the kitchen when you are ready, and we'll have breakfast." I put in one final reminder as I got up, "And when you are ready, I'd like you to say you are sorry."

I went back in, spooned out bowls of oatmeal, sat down and started feeding myself and the Pookie. She was soon in the kitchen, eating her oatmeal, seemingly fine as could be. We were talking and joking around as if nothing happened. It's usually pretty easy for me to let things go and get things back to normal due to my personality or how I was raised or something, and the Pumpkin seems to be similar in this. After a few minutes, I saw her looking at the basket of napkins, which was on the counter now. Without any prompting beyond the times earlier that I mentioned wanting her to say she was sorry when she was ready, she looked at me and said, "Mommy, I'm sorry I broke your basket."

"Oh, thank you, Pumpkin! That makes me feel so much better to hear you say that!" Then we started talking about the basket a little bit, about how pretty it is and how perfect it is for the napkins. We both decided that we liked the basket and didn't want it to be broken. And that was that.

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The Pumpkin may take her own sweet time in doing things, but I know that she is listening and taking it in. As far as I can tell, very few people like to be backed into a corner of do-it-or-else or even do-what-I-tell-you-because-I-told-you-to. And my intense, persistent, sensitive, perseptive child? She has a good heart and an incredible soul. She just needs the tools and the space and the time to figure things out. I can give her those.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Question of the Week - Who Ya Gonna Call?

The other week, I read this really interesting article about how hearing mom's voice can reduce the stress hormone (cortisol) and increase the bonding hormone (oxytocin), which is usually brought out by touch (this isn't the article I originally read, but it is a really good write-up about the research). The study was done on 61 girls, agest 7 to 12, who performed in a stressful situation. One group of girls got physical contact with their moms, another talked to their moms over the phone and the final group watched a neutral movie. At the end a set period of time, they tested the girls' cortisol levels and oxytocin levels. (There was a bit more too it, but that is the gist.)

The girls who had physical contact had the most quickly reduced levels of cortisol and a significant increase in oxytocin. The girls who talked to their moms over the phone had the same amount of cortisol, although it reduced more slowly, and the same increase in oxytocin. The girls who didn't have contact with their moms had elevated levels of cortisol and low levels of oxytocin.

Although I would like to see additional studies done on boys calling their moms, both kids calling their dads, kids getting to choose who they want to call (cause not every mom may be a calming influence) and some other variations, this is very fascinating stuff! Reading about it gives me warm fuzzies (or is that the oxytocin?) both as a mom and as a daughter. Not only does this information help solidify my plans to call my kids when I'm away over the years, but it also makes me think back to all those times in college and after when I would call my mom after something stressful.

It also got me thinking about who I call these days when I'm frustrated or stressed. Which got me wondering who other people call. Which is of course this week's question of the week:

Who do you call when you are stressed out?

I find that I call different people for different types of stress. I don't know if my oxytocin levels increase in any of these cases, but I do think that my cortisol levels probably decrease. Here's who I call for what:
  • my hubby - I call him when I'm stressed about the kids and anything else in my entire life. Although lately, phone calls are not conducive to reducing stress, since either he is or I am home juggling kids or at work dealing with business when we call each other. I prefer to talk to him in person, after the kids are in bed, when I am winding down and unloading at the end of the day.
  • my mom - I still call my mom to talk about various things. Usually kid issues or money frustrations or health concerns. She is really a balm to my spirit in those cases and more.
  • my dad - When I'm feed up or upset about work, my Dad is my go-to guy to talk to. I don't call him to vent and complain about many things, although I do call him with issues and concerns I have from health stuff to household stuff. More importantly, I call him when I am doing something cool and want to share it with someone, just like he does with me and my siblings.
  • my sister - On average, I probably have real conversations with my sister either every day or every other day. We have the same general commute schedule and hands-free earpieces, so we chat away while on our drives, in part to keep from getting frustrated in the crappy DC traffic and in part to keep in touch with each other. We talk about everything from kids to health to husbands to pre-schools to upcoming vacations to family to, well, everything! Just this morning, we spent 30 minutes planning a summer vacation! She is the main reason Londo had to up my cell phone minutes a year or two ago. Heh.
  • good friends - I have 2-3 good friends who are great phone talkers. We tend to take turns complaining and raving about just about everything in our lives. (I have a lot of other good friends who are great in-person talkers but not great phone talkers, so just because I don't call them once or twice a week on my commutes does not mean they aren't treasured friends.)


Who do you call when you need to reach out and touch someone? Do you call different people for different things? Does calling your mom provide you with comfort or raise your stress levels through the roof? If your stress is high, who ya gonna call?