Saturday, August 20, 2011

Time for a Time-in, Not a Time-out

Over the past few days, I've watched my 4 y/o get a little more short-tempered and a little more physical day by day. Things that he would normally brush off before began to send him into a tailspin. He started to lash out with gritted teeth, angry words, and physical pushes, shoves, and hits when angry. My response? I got frustrated. What was he doing? He knows better than that. I don't have time or energy to tolerate this. Just STOP. C'MON!
My little boy with big emotions
Surprisingly or not, my frustration didn't help the situation. It continued. This morning from the moment he woke up, he was short-tempered, angry, and tense. He was switching back and forth between screaming because his brother messed up his train tracks or puzzle to begging to cuddle quietly on the couch. Clearly he was feeling off. We were up a little late last night, and I knew he was tired.  We attempted an early nap, but that didn't happen.

At times, it seemed like he was fighting with himself. He wanted to play, he wanted to interact, and yet when something didn't go the way he wanted, he just couldn't handle it. My husband and I traded off duties at home with him doing a visit for work in the morning and me running to the store in the afternoon. The kids played. They watched part of a movie. They made pickles. And even after all that, Ben was still off.

By the time I returned from the store, we were all tired. I tried to put away packages. Hubby tried to finish canning pickles. The kids tried to kill each other while screaming loudly. We were all frustrated. It'd been a long day of tip-toeing around Ben and trying to help him function. We needed to get dinner on the table and get the children to sleep.

When the last brawl broke out and Ben hit his little brother in the chest after we had just spent the last fifteen minutes talking about not hitting and finding other ways to deal with our problems, my husband and I were done. I yelled at Ben. I angrily picked him up and handed him to my husband who took him to his room. On the way there, Ben absolutely lost it. He was screaming, hitting, and kicking. Once in his room, when his Dad tried to come in to talk to him, he threw a hardcover book at him.

Having calmed the little brother down, I went upstairs to take over. I opened the door and had books thrown at my face. There was screaming, banging, and kicking the door. He looked angry, upset, and... terrified. He didn't know how to stop. I had been so focused on the effects of his actions on me, how frustrating, annoying, and exhausting they were, that I had missed how confusing and scary it must have felt for this little boy with these giant emotions.

I managed to get a hold of him, and I didn't let go. He tried to kick, hit, and bite me while I told him I loved him and I wanted to help him. Soon, his kicking and hitting was mixed with attempts at hugging. He didn't know what to do or how to stop. I offered to go outside and run with him if that might help him feel better, and he looked up at me and nearly begged, "just snuggle me." And so I did.

Over the next little bit, we found our way to his bed where we curled up together. He burrowed into my chest and said, "I missed you, mama." I offered sleepy music, and he gratefully accepted. I offered some Peace and Calming oil, and he said, "yes please". I got some Valerian Super Calm, and he eagerly took the dose.

At one point in this process, his little brother found his way upstairs, wandered in and began to take apart some of the floor puzzles Ben had finished during rest time. I watched Ben tense up. I watched him look at me, begging for the calm we had been creating. Luckily, Dad quickly came and got the little guy so Ben and I could connect.

We laid on the bed and cuddled. He slowly began to perk up and chat a little telling me about the games he'd played with Dad earlier. I asked him about the favorite things we'd done lately and he told me how much he liked swimming. I asked him what his happiest moment of the past few days had been, and he took a deep breath before saying "right now". I asked him what his saddest moment had been and he got very quiet before saying "just before now." And then we talked more about what he was looking forward to in the next few days.

I was amazed by how in tune he was with what he needed. I felt stupid for missing all of his cries for connection and help in the past few days. I regretted the frustration and annoyance I had felt at his "bad" behavior. I'm not sure what caused the disturbance to begin with, but it doesn't matter. My son was telling me he needed me and that he felt out of sorts by his behavior, and as his mom it is my job to listen to his actions and his words and help him. It is my job not to lecture him or to punish him, but instead to connect, listen, and be present with him.

After just twenty minutes of time together spent talking, cuddling, and reading, it was time for dinner. He went downstairs a different child. He sat next to me at dinner and chatted away. After dinner, he cheerily asked for me to play with him until it bedtime, and actually said, hooray!, when I told him that it was time for bed. Meanwhile, I was spent, exhausted by the culmination of frustration and stress combined with the emotional work of helping him sort through the intensity of his own emotions. But clearly, it was exactly what he needed, and I hope that next time I can key into that sooner, even if just a little.  

Our kids have so much to tell us if we simply listen. Sometimes, they need a time-in so much more than any time-out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Jamie. There are so many good thoughts and reminders in here for when I deal with my own little boy.


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