Alternate Title: Dear Christine, I hate you because this is hard, but I love you because this is good.
I haven’t yelled in nigh on three weeks now. There have been a few moments of raised voices, a little snapping, great billowing clouds of smoke coming out of my ears, those little cartoon bird circling my head saying “Cuckoo, cuckoo”, and many other absurd things happening, but no yelling.
What’s my plan now? Well, after processing things with Christine and my dear husband I wrote myself some notes and I’m going to share them with you.
1. Don’t Engage in Her Fight & Snowball Her Shame. I gave lip-service to the concept of shame and the impact on her behaviors before, but I had a hard time really accepting/understanding how it was impacting her until I quit contributing to her Shame Fund. Now girlie is slamming about the house, overturning the furniture (figuratively, mostly) looking for loose Shame that she can stick in her bank and when that fails we’ve seen a little bit of panhandling strangers for any Shame that they might toss her way. She wants to feel bad because she thinks she is bad because she has always felt bad because the situations of her life have pretty much sucked. Eventually, I hope to get to that place with her where she can see that the bad feelings are because she’s had a bad go of it and it is not her fault, but that’s a little much for a four year old….
Christine says that’s the only note that I need, but I do have a few more.
2. Think about where I want to be in a year and respond in a way to make that possible. Frankly, thinking at all before opening my mouth is a great way to reduce yelling, what’s even better than that is not opening my mouth at all. However, in those times when I do need to speak then I want to do it with bettering our future as my goal. Yes, yelling feels good… initially. But it’s not going to make anything better and that initial yelling euphoria-release leads right into guilt anyway. Frustration now for healing later. I believe grown-ups refer to this as delayed gratification.
3. Focus on healing her brain, not fixing her behavior. This is important for me because when Point to Remember Above All Else has me about to sabotage any progress we’ve made by totally losing my cool I force myself to remember her brain. When her brain has healed then her behavior is going to self-correct (and/or be correctable).
Technique 1: Vanishing Time Outs: We talked about using time-outs (the name of time-out, the behavior of time-in) to be kept super short and for them to have vanishing minutes as she sits there. So the “time out” would start at 5 minutes and as she is sitting I’d say, “Oh, look how well you’re sitting let’s take a minute off!” And then because she can’t count anyway I’d lop an additional minute off in my head and do various things like that so she’d be sitting for two minutes. Her “success” at time-out and the praise would combat any shame and would keep us from starting a negative cycle.
To be honest, this was a total failure immediately. As soon as Boohoo realized I wasn’t going to play her Shame Game she upped the ante and became immediately oppositional to any direction. Short of super-glue there was no way of keeping her in one place for a time-anything. We were about 2 seconds into trying this the first time when I realized that I was not going to be able to stay calm and keep bringing her back to the time-out spot and/or be calm and watch her flaunt her refusal in my face. So I said, “Nevermind. I changed my mind. I don’t want you to sit and time-out.” And so she didn’t sit in time-out and I didn’t yell. I might have better luck with this now since she’s a little more used to be not flipping out. She’s not always as belligerent as she was the first few days.
Technique 2: Curiosity: Boohoo will cry about anything. Anything. This would be me engaging her and trying to get to the bottom of what she’s feeling in a very low-key sideswipe kind of a way. Again, with the honesty…I haven’t tried this when she’s crying. The meltdowns over non-issues like, “please put the pillow on the couch” make me crazy. My best bet has been to shut up and listen to music. My tendency if I try to talk to her about it is to be awesome for about thirty seconds and then tell her to knock it off because she’s fine and then she would refuse and escalate her behaviors and then I’d be all “Ohhh, she is GOING to listen to me!” And as soon as my mind goes down that road I’ve started spoiling for a fight. So I just don’t speak. I have used it a few times when she’s been MAD and we’ve done better with that. All in all, her verbal skills and emotional vocabulary don’t lend very well to this one.
Technique 3 for Ceaseless Crying: This is an extension of the last one. If I (or the boys) just cannot take anymore crying then I’ll ask her to go up to her room until she’s done crying and then she can zip right back down. We’ve actually done this with her for awhile, but we’ve gone through phases where it has morphed into her spending too much time in her room away from the rest of us. For the first week to ten days (during the day) I’d go upstairs to her room with her and set the boys up with something fun and occupying downstairs (and my ipod and headphones) and at least that gave the boys a break from her crying. I could sit in her room or if it was just too much I could sit in the hallway or on the steps and then she wasn’t alone, but I wasn’t subjected to the unmuted onslaught. If Andrew was home one of stayed with the boys and the other stayed with Boohoo. Recently, we did send her up alone, but again, it was after more than two weeks of not doing it and so it worked okay. As long as we don’t overuse this or get sloppy with then it works pretty well.
Technique 4 for Screaming Questions at Me: Don’t answer. Yeah, totally should have been able to think of that myself. When she gets really worked up she likes to SCREAM questions at me. Before I would answer because it was a question I felt like I should answer right away, but that doesn’t add much incentive to not scream it, huh? My gentle reply is now, “I will answer that when you can ask it respectfully.”
Point to Remember Above All Else: She’s not “getting away with it” when she’s flipping out and I’m not doing anything. Her brain has gone back to infancy and her behavior is just showing that to us. By being calm, and being present, we are re-parenting her through the worst of her trauma.
So, yeah. That’s the gist of it just short of three weeks without yelling. Definitely have some things that I can’t wait to tweak the next time we talk to Christine, but we’re hanging in there. Now, since I won’t be able to talk to Christine for at least another two weeks I want to hear from you guys. What do you do to help you keep your cool?