“I should have kept my Tuesday undies dry so I could put Wednesday on this morning,” said Amy.
“There’s a lot of things you should have done differently today,” I replied.
“What things?” Smilingly, sitting in her rocking chair.
“Can you think of any?”
“No,” with a grin.
“That tells me something. That tells me that you don’t listen when Daddy and I talk to you about important things.”
“So there’s no point in talking to you.”
“Good night, Amy. Go to bed.”
On the way home from school I ask her to tell me about three works that she did that day. First she says she’s too tired. Then she says she’s still chewing. Meanwhile she talks about other things with no problems — chewing and energetic and all.
After nap, I’m doing some things on the computer. She wants me to play. She says — as nearly always — “I can’t play by myself… I can’t do anything.” I again say that she means she doesn’t WANT to. It’s okay not to want to, but it’s different than can’t, and I don’t want to hear can’t.
I explain that I have several things to work on, and that when the chicken goes in the oven I’ll take twenty minutes out for a cuddle and some reading.
The cuddle and reading is very nice.
Everything else is largely punctuated by being bothered. She’s talking to me. She’s flicking the blanket at me. She’s kissing and hugging me. She’s playing and acting as if I’m part of the play and expecting me to play my role. She’s sitting in the middle of the doorway to the kitchen, in the way. She’s lollygagging around with the thumb and blanket.
When I’m sick, or asleep, or when she’s not bent on attention, she plays by herself beautifully. But some times — more and more lately, it seems, she is just NOT willing.
As soon as Mark gets home she asks him to play. She talks about all her plans for the day, and if anyone tries to point out that there are already other plans, or that her plans are contingent on circumstances, or whatever, she just says well, after you do that… or maybe tomorrow… or otherwise postpones. It doesn’t help that she changes her mind every three seconds.
It gets more sinister. Before dinner she pees on her carpet — she’s wearing her princess costume and explains that she wasn’t able to get it out of the way. Fine, but why wait until it’s so urgent — it’s unusual for her to have accidents.
She fusses about having to clean up. And not just a fuss, but continuing throughout. She heaves sighs. She stalks around. She says she doesn’t like this AT ALL. She completely does not apprehend what we’re getting at when we tell her, again, that last night she said she would not fuss tonight. She, again, says she won’t fuss tomorrow night. (We’ve had it — if she fusses tomorrow night, all the toys are going into exile.)
She isn’t cooperating with getting ready for bed, and Mark finally gives up and leaves her to go to bed by herself.
When the TV turns on an hour later, she comes out to say good night to me. Coincidence? Mark calls her over and tries again to explain — her eyes are glued to the tube. We give up and send her back to bed, telling her to turn around two or three times. She has the nerve to say “I KNOW!” even though she hasn’t actually turned around yet.
Two hours later, when Mark gets up, she comes out and asks him to wake her up to pee (our pattern lately — around 10 or so he gets her up — helps avoid wet sheets in the morning). Coincidence? He says she’s already awake so she can pee by herself. She asks if she can use the bathroom potty (where she goes when he wakes her) and he says to use the little potty (in her room).
Five minutes later she’s crying again because she’s had another accident. All fury breaks loose. We yell, she cries and screams — eventually she sort of listens to me and we talk about good attention and bad attention, and then there’s the conversation quoted at the beginning of the post.
When someone tries to get attention, it’s because they need attention. I don’t think attention-seeking behavior is something to merely dismiss, ridicule, condemn, ignore, etc. There’s a root to it somewhere, and some kind of help is needed.
That said, I can’t quite figure out what help to give or exactly how. General principles are pretty easy; prioritizing them is even reasonably manageable. Specifics are hard.
Giving the attention at the time of the attention-seeking behavior is counter-productive. She’s not learning anything, not really listening, and whether the attention is positive or negative it isn’t changing anything.
She’s strong and resourceful — or do all preschoolers hold their pee hoping to get woken up by daddy after all so they can use the bathroom potty? She bends her will toward her goal, and calculates and directs whatever she can in the pursuit.
I guess what I need to do is both things — tighten up the boundaries AND overflow the measures of devoted nurture. More immediate concrete isolating consequences, AND more fully-attentive moments together. Save the lectures for the calm times, and keep them short. No talking during consequences.
I don’t want to play with her all day, nor do I think that’s necessary, even if I don’t have a ton of my own work or projects to be doing. But I want to be someone she feels nurtured by, safe with, welcome with, trustworthy, etc. What IS a reasonable amount of time to play what she wants, the way she wants? What is a reasonable amount of time to do things together that I choose, whether a chore or project or playing? What’s reasonable for nap or quiet time apart? What’s reasonable for doing separate things?
And I need to better grasp, understand, and accept that principle I keep writing about — being sympathetic and unyielding, how love and discipline are not opposites.