Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Learning Curve

I've been a mom for over 7 years with at least one child actually in my home for almost 5 of those 7 years.  However, it's easy for me to overlook certain things, to be frustrated by behavior and be a slow learner in terms of figuring out how to deal with that behavior.  This week was no exception.

One of my kids was being a real pain.  Sneaking candy out of the cupboard.  Taking a sibling's toy that was put away after being told to leave the toy alone.  Refusing to do even the simplest of tasks without a battle.  Being told to stop and quickly doing the action a few more times just because.

With this particular child, you cannot out consequence the behavior.  Think a spanking might change the behavior?  I'm willing to bet you could spank until bloody and the child would still not change the behavior.  Think taking away toys or priveleges will affect the behavior?  This child would end up spending every night alone in an empty bedroom and still be having behavior problems.  What about writing sentences or doing extra chores?  Um, all that gets you is a headache from nagging to accomplish the tasks because the child drags their feet and refuses to complete the tasks.

I am not saying this child does not get consequences.  What I am saying is that if you are trying to change the behavior by creating a consequence that is so negative, so awful that this child will think twice about doing it again, if that is your goal, you will fail.  It is instead about the heart.  For this child, when inclined, everything becomes a power struggle.  It's a way to maintain control.  And the response to consequences are no exception as the child wills themselves to outlast you (even if that has never happened and even though the child can verbalize how this type of power struggle never works out well for them.)

Consequences cannot be the reason the child stops; consequences instead are a natural outpouring of what happens because of a certain behavior.  If you take your brother's toy, you must apologize and do a kindness for him.  If you color on your dresser, you clean it off.  (And then the next time you want to get the crayons out at the table, I remind you that you have been having problems being trustworthy with the crayons so I'm not sure you can handle the crayons at this moment but perhaps tomorrow will be a chance to try again.)

So if consequences do not change the heart, what does?  And what does this have to do with Mama learning a lesson yet again?

The traditional parenting approach might find you as a parent becoming even more hard nosed.  The parent might continue to apply consequences until the child's will breaks.  But for me, this was a time to consider why these behaviors were surfacing.  The aha of "oh yes, Mama is leaving for 3 days.  This kiddo is feeling out of control because of that."

So how do you regulate that?  How do you empower your child to feel back in control?  By making them feel safe and secure and loved.  By spending more time with them.  By holding more and talking more and hugging more.

And sure enough, the words started to come with a few tears as well.  "I don't want you to go."  "Why can't I go with you?"  "I'm afraid you will get hurt in a car accident."

In no way does the state of the child's heart excuse the bad behavior.  The child still has to deal with how their actions affect others.  But if I as the mom can get to the root of the behavior, then perhaps I can reduce the feelings that are causing the behavior and reduce the bad behavior.

It's whispering in their ear at church as you sing a song about the very presence of God, reminding them that even if Mama is gone, God is always there.  It's encouraging that child to ask for a hug rather than feeling badly all alone. It's reminding them of a Bible verse like "When I am afraid, I will trust in You."   It's hearing the child say "Oh yeah!  There's our picture up there!  I can just look at that and see you!"  It's hearing the child say to their dad on the morning after I leave, "We're going to be just fine."  It's a papa who lets the child sleep in his bed while Mama is away.

It's shoring up the child's heart rather than breaking the child's will.

 (Now too bad I realized what was really going on the day before I left rather than the week before when all the power struggles were happening...)


Kathy C. said...

I think that that mom who killed the Ethiopian girl in WA was trying to make a consequence so bad it would break the girl's will. Instead it killed her. And I do know what you mean. I've had one like that this week. Gave penalties for poor behavior and he just wont'do them. Today I just sent him to his room because I'm not going to get into a power battle. I told him I'd rather have him with us cooperating and being part of the family but I accepted his decision to be defiant and create problems but that he needed to go do it in his room so the others could do what they needed to.

daciab said...

Yep. Trauma parenting is not for sissies. You're doing a great job.