Tuesday, May 05, 2009

5/5/09 Zero tolerance?

Julian has been borderline unbearable lately. Anything we ask him to do, he responds with a rude tone, refusing, and then when we start to get mad, he feigns some injury and starts crying. If a consequence is meted out, he screams and cries so loudly that no one can talk to each other at all. I'm tired of him being so obnoxious and rude.

I braced myself this morning to not react to him at all, and instead to tell him something once, warn once, then follow through with the full-on response right away. This is a lot harder than it sounds, as there are many gray zones, such as what constitutes shouting or polite words delivered in an exasperated (rude) tone.

Mornings are especially hard, as he putzes around offers one stupid excuse after another for not getting dressed: "But Gabriel was DISTRACTING ME!" Today I tried my new approach, telling him once, then again, that when Dad was ready to go, he was going, even if it meant going in his pajamas with no breakfast.

I've made this threat many times, but usually I help him along with the various tasks because that is a very very painful threat to carry out. The pain would be easy to absorb once or twice if it permanently cured the behavior, but it never does. My goal wasn't to teach him a lesson this morning per se, but rather to practice this as a way of life with him, to learn to prepare for every confrontation with a battle plan. That's really a stressful way to live -- I can't so much as remind him to brush his teeth without thinking ahead about time in his room, or the front porch, or some favorite toy taken away, if he refuses.

And sure enough, Julian went to school today with no breakfast, carrying his shoes as he half-walked half-was-dragged across the wet driveway in his socks, wailing "I'm hungry! I'm hungry!"

And sure enough, it started all over again tonight, when he responded with "nooo-ooo, I don't WANT TO!" when gave him the exonerating warning that he had to set the dinner table in a few minutes. (The warning exonerates me, so that when I talk with other parents, no one suggests giving him a warning as though that will solve everything. In fact I think all warnings do is teach him that I say meaningless things.) And so, he ran down all the timers, used up all his warnings, and went to his room until dinner, where he screamed during most of everyone else's dinner, then came down for his dinner and went right back to his room for the rest of the night, as informed and warned.

I think this has to be supported with frequent, short, calm, listening talks when we're on good terms too. Though contemporary positive-parenting dogma has failed me in many ways, this sort of positive talking is an essential component for preventing this awful behavior. It just has to be in concert with a zero-tolerance plan for when he does act out.

So tonight before lights-out I sat down on his bed and talked to him about not being putzy tomorrow morning, that I know he's a big boy and can get dressed himself -- no putz, no rush -- and that it'd make me really happy if he has time for breakfast.

He oinked back at me. Without another word, I got up and left the room.


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