Dear Hand in Hand Parenting,
This morning there was an incident with my 10-year-old son. He has a list of things that he is supposed to do in the mornings—guitar practice, making bed, square up room, etc. This is nothing new and has been going on for a few years now. However, in spite of reminders from me, he kept reading his book and ignoring me. And then he wanted me to drop him to school early. I said I wouldn’t till he finished what he was supposed to. Of course he got more upset and starting spewing out insults and mocking me. It was a lot of effort to stay calm. We had to leave with his “to do” incomplete as I didn’t want him late to school. I mentioned that there was a consequence for his behavior. He said he didn’t care.
He is smart enough to know he was at fault for 1) Not finishing his tasks 2) Throwing insults and not managing his anger and frustration, probably with himself.
My question is this: I am angry, mad and hurt. I don’t expect him to apologize, but I do know that he is aware of how hurt I am. But he forgets or chooses to ignore it because his life goes on. There is no serious, terrible consequence as far as he is concerned. How do I help him understand that there is a consequence for bad behavior? As parents, we may tolerate his anger and temper, but the world outside won’t! Do I act like nothing happened other than carrying out the consequence (double guitar practice and no screen time this weekend)? Where or how is there a closure to this incident?
Please help with this parenting question!
I hear you! And I hear your strong desire to have a happy home where everyone pitches in to make life go well.
I have a 9-year-old son, and there are things that he has to accomplish every day as well. He does a daily developmental movement therapy program, clarinet practice, and then there is the usual stuff of putting away his clothes, taking his dishes to the sink, etc.
When he is resistant or otherwise engaged, I can find myself flipping through this Rolodex in my mind of what I can do to ‘make' him do what I want. There must be some punishment or consequence in this Rolodex of mine! When I get in this place, I know that I am not thinking well and that I need to get some emergency listening time from one of my listening partners or I need to give myself a time-out, go splash water on my face, scream into my Listening Partner's voice mail, dance around the bathroom, even take a shower. When I'm having those how-can-I-make-him thoughts, I know that some old hurt of mine is being restimulated—a time when I felt not seen, not heard, and powerless as a child.
Anything I say or do when I'm not thinking well will only serve to disconnect my son from me and escalate our power struggle. I know, because I've tried it. We both end up mad, sad, and disconnected. So after I get some listening time or dance or stomp around the bathroom, I come back and look to see how I can connect. ‘Cause what I know is: when we are connected, he is much more willing to cooperate.
The mornings that really go well are the mornings that I've been conscious of connecting with him from the minute he wakes up. I go after him in his bed with a Vigorous Snuggle. Then we'll play our rough and tumble game of “Don't Fall Off the Bed”, seeing who can pull the other off the bed onto the mat on the floor. Here are a couple of great articles about The Vigorous Snuggle and Dissolving Power Struggles with play and laughter.
The perspective I take with my son is that, “If he could, he would.” So, if he's not doing what we've agreed upon, there is a reason. Feelings of disconnection and tension are stopping him. If I move in with a Vigorous Snuggle and behave in a silly, undignified way in order to get him laughing (no tickling), that laughter will help him offload whatever tension is causing his resistance. I find, too, that doing chores alone can feel very isolating. I know that I love to have company when I'm cooking or doing dishes. So, I try to make the time to join him, to help him with clarinet practice, to cheer him on and play games during his movement therapy, and to have races to see who can put the most clothes away. This article on how to take the drudgery out of chores has lots of great ideas.
But I don't always have to help him or do chores with him. A while ago, I noticed that our mornings had gotten very disconnected. I was always in a rush and my son was in front of the screen. Getting him to do anything was like pulling teeth. I decided to really focus on deepening our connection in the morning. The next day was a Sunday and after waking to a Vigorous Snuggle and ‘Don't Fall off the Bed', we did Special Time. Then we made breakfast together. I told my son we could go for a bike ride after I did the dishes and he put his clean clothes away. I fully expected we would put the clothes away together. While doing the dishes, I noticed the house had gotten very quiet. I peeked into my son's room to find him putting his clothes away without me asking him again, nagging him, or even doing it with him. It wasn't just because he wanted to go on the bike ride. We've had plans before and he's been resistant to getting his chores done. I believe he was willing that morning because he felt so connected.
So, I encourage you to focus on connection – especially through play and laughter. It's so much more fun than going through that Rolodex. As for any hurt feelings I might experience…I know my son doesn't want to hurt me. I think he already feels awful, so any punishment or consequences at that point are just adding to his hurt and driving a wedge between us. When he's thinking well, he is naturally kind and cooperative. So I take my hurt feelings to my Listening Partner. There I can rant and rave about how hurt I am, how dare he, how ungrateful he is, etc. When I rant and rave, often the real hurt from childhood comes up, and I get to offload and heal that. I can actually look at our struggles as a gift. When we struggle and I take it to my Listening Partnership, I get to heal old hurts. Then I have even more capacity to stay out of the Rolodex and stay playful and connected.
I hope some of that helps. Try some playful snuggles and then, please let us know how it goes.
Peace & Smiles,
Kathy Gordon is now a Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor.