Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween meltdown.

My oldest daughter L, 5.5 years has never eaten 5 servings of candy before bedtime until tonight. She also has never had an emotional meltdown of this proportion, ever. Coincidence? I don't think so.
The meltdown got started as I was putting M to bed. L and T were playing in the bathtub. I could hear that they were having way too much fun and I suspected water was flying everywhere. As I put M down I heard mommy address the troops.
"Alright, that's it. L in your room, T in your room. You are going to bed by yourselves tonight!"
L was furious.
"I want daddy! I want to go in to T's room with daddy."
I was working on T's reading with him in his room. He was making progress reading his first short book when L burst into the room: "Mom said I could come in if you said it was OK."
"It is fine L, if you can listen while T reads his book."
L immediately jumped up next to T. It is tough to get T to concentrate on a book, so I was a little frustrated when L began sounding out the letters for T. T became frustrated and threw the book across the room.
"L, I asked you to listen while T reads his book."
That was too much constructive criticism for L to bear.
That was another fine instance of daddy speaking without thinking. As the words were coming out of my mouth I knew she was in no state to handle them.
I let her cry for 30 seconds and then spoke:
"L, this behavior is keeping T awake. I will count to 60. When I am done counting you need to have calmed down."
I began counting. By 10 she had stopped crying. At 30 I tried to rub her back, but she pushed my hand away. By 60 we were all ready to brush the sugar film off of our teeth.
I loaded up the toothbrushes and L demanded that she get her teeth brushed first. T was right next to me so I ignored her request and started scrubbing T's teeth. Again this injustice was too much for L to bear.
"Daddy you're not nice! I wanted to go first!"
I knew nothing that I could say was going to help at this point. Luckily my wife arrived and swept L off into her room.
I told T about 3 minutes of his bedtime story. Tonight he wanted to be a gingerbread man. He and all his friends became the fastest creatures on earth. "Faster than a cheetah?" asked T.
"Yeah, faster than a cheetah." They were just finishing a game of freeze tag in gingerbread land when mommy came in.
"L wants you." J muttered.
I went into L's room and there she was with her arms outstretched waiting for a hug. I gave her a huge hug and squeezed her firmly for 2 full minutes. When I let go we talked about Trick or Treating, the neighbor's costumes and anything else we could think of. It was as if she had been exorcised. I stayed for 10 minutes and kissed her goodnight. She went to bed without further incident.
When L gets into those moods I try to remember a time when I was younger and was really upset. The time that I remember most clearly is when my favorite football team the Dallas Cowboys lost to the 49rs in the NFC championship game. I cried for 2 hours and was generally inconsolable. I threw many things around the living room as well. When I see L in that state I remember exactly how I felt when I was in her shoes. I hug her, but I also try to give her healthy alternatives to channel her feelings. The counting drill was one effective drill. Getting away and getting some quiet time to yourself is another method that works for me.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bedtime zen master.

After 5 and a half years of parenting I may have unlocked the key to the nighttime routine. I have experienced 3 nights in a row of bedtime bliss. I have remained calm and collected while the 3 monkeys have screamed, hit, whined and cried. What has been the secret you ask? Letting go.
Number one.: I let go of the idea that I deserve to have peace and quiet in my home. We all live there. Occasionally someone's emotions will get the better of them and they will use their outside voice. The pain in my ears is momentary, but a pattern of angry reactions will leave scars on my little angels for a lifetime. When an angel uses an outside voice I gently remind them that they need to use their inside voices.
Number two: Human beings go to bed when they are ready. I can set them up for success with a calm and quiet environment, but the rest is up to them.
Number three: If the kids are over tired and yelling and screaming, it is them that is suffering, not me. I can feel their pain and empathize with it. I know how it feels to drive a hammer into my thumb when I am tired. I want to curl up and go fetal. My role is to be there for them as a calm and steady lighthouse in their emotional hurricane.

Enough theory. Time for some examples. The last 3 nights were legendary not because the kids were angels, but because they were sick and very challenging.
L first tried to break up M's bedtime routine. I calmly repeated my request for her to leave her sister's room. She complied. I realized that there is no way for L to know if I am putting M to bed when the door is closed. I may have L make a Do Not Disturb sign this weekend during project time.
Later L refused to let me have alone time with T. She claimed it was unfair and that T always got the most attention at bedtime. I reflected on this and realized that she had a point. I tried to let her stay in the room with T. Sure enough, this time T drifted off to sleep while his sister read quietly next to him in bed.
Next L and I played patty cake. We agreed on 3 games. We got through one game and then L decided to change the game slightly. I did not understand her new rules and I made a mistake at the end of the second game. L had a breakdown and began crying and yelling. I told her that I would finish the last game if she could calm down.
She was relentless. She screamed that she needed to replay the second game. She refused to start the third game until I fixed my blunder in the second game.
I told her I needed to get out of the room for a while and calm down. L followed me downstairs, yelling and sobbing uncontrollably.
I sat on the couch and closed my eyes. L hit me with a pillow and began waving her arms out in front of me, pretending to hit me. None of these actions have resulted in consequences in our home, so L masterfully tested the boundaries.
"Do not hit, me. Bedtime is over if you hit me."
"Two more games!"
I closed my eyes again and pondered the situation. I had already wasted 10 minutes of L's bedtime by not replaying the second game. It would take 30 seconds to play the game. I decided to consciously cave in to her demand in this case.
I opened my eyes and said:
"OK, two more games. Please give me a hug and I will carry you to bed."
Off we went. Two more games and L was out like a light.

The nights were full of challenging scenes like this. Especially at toothbrushing time. I really think we have a vanishing stepping stool. At 8PM they are in no condition to share one. But the techniques that I have mentioned are key to nighttime success. Model calmness and patience. The pain in your ears will subside and you will be the zen master of bedtime.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Patience with my Mom.

My mom was kind enough to sit for us on Saturday night. When I came home I was totally exhausted. I had played with the kids all day and conversed with buddies for the previous 3 hours. I was ready to hit the sack hard. My mom and I chit chatted a bit and she headed out the door. As she left she inquired: "Now where did I put my keys?"
The classic question of aging mom's. I shrugged and helped her look under the couch cushions. Then it was out into the driveway with a flashlight while my mom emptied her purse. I was tired and my patience is easily challenged when I am weary. Fortunately tonight I recognized this fact and collected myself as I searched the driveway.
I reminded myself that I lose my keys all the time. I also reminded myself that the worst case scenario was that I would drive my mom home to get her spare key and back. That would take a half an hour at the most. I would certainly survive that. My mom had also done me a huge favor tonight and deserves lots of key losing latitude.
I took a final deep breath and entered the house. "Where are those darn things?" My mom was starting to get a bit agitated, but was pretty calm for 11:30. I liked to think she was feeding off of my calmness.
In my calm state I picked up my moms coat. I had already checked the pockets, but thought I would check a final time. I patted the coat down and felt the lump of the keys in the middle of the left side. There was a hidden pocket there and mom must have slipped them in.
I produced the keys with a magicians slight of hand and a smile. "Where did you find those?" My mom asked, amazed.
"Right where you left them, mom." I replied.
"Thank you so much." She said. Good night.

I can think of many times when similar situations have gone poorly between myself and my mom. We used to get more agitated with each other when things did not go as planned. I hope my appreciation of my mother and all that she does for me has helped during these encounters.
I also believe these calm encounters will be witnessed by my kids and serve as examples. The kids are sharp. They will pick it up.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Computer time with the kids.

During M's nap I decided to try computer time with the kids. T on one machine and L on the other. L loaded her Blue's clues kindergarten CD. It teaches her about reading, math and science. It is great. T wanted to do Land Before Time, but I insisted on the Hooked On Phonics CD. He acquiesced and began working on his letter sounds.
The game asked "Which letter makes the sound UH". The letter "U" came up as a choice with a bunch of other letters. T was stumped. He looked at me to throw him a bone.
"Uh, Umbrella." I paused grasping for another U word. "Uh Underpants!"
T laughed so hard he almost fell off the chair.
"That's U". He clicked on the letter.
I worked on cleaning up the kitchen while I listened to T answer the questions about letter sounds. Soon he shouted: "I won, I won the game!"
I hustled over and gave T a big hug. "Great job buddy!"
His next game was a rhyming game. I remembered L had struggled with this one, so I sat down next to T while he learned the game. "You need to pick the word with the same ending sound, T. Get it?"
"I've got it." T exclaimed.
And he sure did. He ripped through the game in about 3 minutes.
I watched in amazement as he easily picked the rhyming sounds. At the end of the game we high fived and hugged.
"T, you have a very smart brain in that head!" I said as I tapped his skull.
"Yeah, I do have a very smart head!"
We continued this ritual as he breezed through another 8 games. We would hug and celebrate and high five as he sounded out the words and completed the levels.
Eventually he hit a level that was too advanced and we decided to take a break.

I think T made some great progress towards reading today. We enjoyed the time together and celebrated his learning and growth. We both had a blast.