Oh, that Amy would cease to simply, impulsively, immediately, express how frustrated, angry, or upset she is at every occasion.

I know that she is expressing her feelings and that it’s about her and not about us. She’s not actively trying to annoy us, manipulate us, or make us feel bad. I think she’s still rather surprised when her expressions DO annoy us.

There’s the first-level reactions — we ask her to clean up or something, she grunts loudly or sighs heavily or bangs her fist on her thigh or says “I will NEVER!” (usually while actually starting to obey). Or, she’s trying to do something and it doesn’t work after one or two tries; similar responses.

These are tiresome enough, because the provoking situations are so ordinary and routine and recurring. Get used to it already, please.

Then there’s the second-level reactions. These are usually when we’ve had to repeat something — like “that’s why I told you not to stand on your chair” or “put your blanket down so you can use both hands to clean up” or “eat your lunch, please” either because she’s gotten distracted or ignored the first request. Then we get an exasperated “I’m TIRED of you telling me that.” Or if a note of annoyance creeps into our voice, “I don’t like the way you’re talking to me.”

That’s extremely annoying. Of course, it’s just repeating what she’s heard — we have said we’re tired of this or that behavior from her. It’s super annoying for her to toss this kind of thing back in our faces. Granted, we should be, and I want to be, fair, respectful, compassionate, etc, modeling the behavior we want from her. But it’s as if, to her, she never needs correction and we always do. I want her to see a little gray. (May I add that it’s also extremely annoying when she gives us permission to do something?)

There’s maybe a third level — when I’m trying to model communication, trying to explain, trying to listen and respond — I ask her to do x, she says she’s not going to, I say what the consequence will be, she says she’s not going to let me do that… I know there are times, situations, issues that call for communication and others that call for immediate concrete consequences, but it’s not always easy to tell which is which. Especially when it starts as such a simple, normal thing — if we did immediate concrete consequences for every time a simple and normal thing escalates, we’d be having immediate concrete consequences all day long. Sometimes it’s not even a matter of obedience, but trying to explain something or problem-solve together, and it feels like she’s absolutely determined to be helpless — every suggestion met with rebuttal, no suggestions of her own.

I’m tired of the repetition around ordinary recurring simple normal things. I know repetition is important with young kids. But I’m still tired of it. When do ordinary things become ordinary? I think we need to choose at least a handful of these ordinary things that will no longer be occasions for explanation or communication. It can be hard not to overtalk everything; I’m just as concerned about not losing opportunities for communication.

She has every right to feel whatever she feels, and I don’t ever want to compel her to hide, deny, or repress her feelings. But I do absolutely want her to learn tact, consideration, understanding how her behavior and expressions affect others, ways to deal with her feelings, appropriate ways and times and places to express her feelings, impulse control, frustration tolerance, and so on. It’s hard to talk about those skills in a way that makes sense to a four-year-old mind and DOESN’T equate, in such a mind, to repressing feelings.

Some of you reading will be thinking, yeesh, this kid has them wrapped around her finger.

Others of you will be recoiling in horror that I would ever be annoyed with her or enforce a consequence for anything.

I hope most of you will be nodding in sympathy.


15 thoughts on “Backtalk

  1. I am nodding. There is an approach called Boring Cuddles where you hold your child through any sad/sore feelings and not talk. This allows them to process their emotions themselves and you don’t have to do all the work. This works well if she is having a distress moment. If it is a power moment she will be able to talk and there will be no real tears. I agree these are the ones to be firm about. I simply sit our children to one side and tell them they can wait there until they are ready to do as they are told. I try not to get loud or cross with them. When they are young or this is new it takes a few times (sometimes more than a few times) to get through to them – but now at six and nine our older boys barely bat an eyelid when we ask them to do something – as our six year old said the other night…somethings just need to be done so there’s no point fussing. Hope these ideas help some.

  2. I’ve read with interest your mentions of Boring Cuddles. Amy does NOT like to be touched when she’s angry or belligerent. I’d love to hear more about how you use this approach and how you decide when it’s needed / appropriate. One issue might be all mine — when I don’t want to interrupt what I am doing (eating a nice hot dinner, for example) to hold someone squirmy who is being nasty to me.

    I observed her classroom again today, and was so reassured and peace’d at how unexasperated her teachers are. One kid had one work out the entire hour I was there, and spent most of his time with his head upside-down on the rug holding and moving a block in one hand. It might have taken a half hour, with lots of stops and starts, lots of what sure looked like boring cuddles with teachers, for him to get it put away. And no one was angry or impatient with him.

    I believe in nurture but it sure doesn’t come naturally to me.

    What do I do if I try sitting Amy to one side and telling her she can wait there until ready to obey, if she immediately gets up again, hits me or the wall or something else, starts screaming or arguing, etc? Lately we have her go to her room, escorting her there if need be, until she is ready to speak respectfully and obey.

    Some days it is hard to stay patient through many many many such little battles.

  3. I wouldn’t want to hold someone who was squirmy and nasty either.It’s the presence of tears and the inability to speak which indicates that a Boring Cuddle is needed.
    If there is beligerence I just put our (younger than three and a half) kids back in the same spot and wait. It can take many, many times during the first few weeks, but it’s the calm/non-emotional/no BS response that is important. If it’s more useful by all means put her in her room, that’s what we do with the older ones if there’s a big issue – you don’t have to time how long she is there…she comes out when she is ready to behave like a human, and please reconnect with a hug or something when she does. I felt ‘lazy’ the first few times I did this – because it’s the kids doing all the emotional work.But in the end, they have to know that they can manage their big emotions and that, while we love them and will listen to them, there are also some behaviours which are completely unacceptable. Good luck with this. I’m drafting up a post on the different types of tantrums and what to do with each, should be published in the next couple of days. 🙂

  4. It sounds like I already use Boring Cuddles, then. When she’s unable to speak and crying I just hold her, or if she is needing space sit near her. We have a LOT more impulsive yucky talking than speechless crying. It’s really hard to figure out how to allow her her feelings in a way that she will feel is really allowing her feelings, but without having to put up with the craptalk. Even when we know it’s not about us, it’s hard to live with.

    I fully understand the importance of remaining calm and unperturbed — but am less able to do so than I would like.

    Categorizing tantrums / upsets is helpful — that’s probably the best thing I got out of the Positive Discipline book: the chart that categorizes parental reactions as a way of understanding what’s going on and what response is most needed.

  5. Yep, hear you on the not being able to stay calm bit. And it is hard to live with that kind of behaviour – no matter how rational and adult we are.
    We now make the distinction between violence (including yucky talk) and anger…anger is OK, violence is not. With anger we have to get rid of the adrenalin/cortisol somehow – so pushing against a wall (not hitting it) or beating a pillow are ways we get the kids to do that. When our kids have said something revolting we then ask them to say something kind immediately afterwards.(Not my trick, but just one I’ve picked up.) And specific kindness too…not just…”you’re awesome” but…”you’re awesome at reading stories to me.”
    I must get on to that post!

  6. I make that distinction often — I don’t think she (yet) gets it — the way she answers makes it sound like she thinks I want her to change her feelings, not her expression of them or attitude. And I’ve been advocating banging her blanket, punching a pillow, etc forever and ever, and she still goes for walls and doors and tables instead, or whacks the blanket against something that could fall or break. There are glimmers of change — after all, she is hitting US less often, and the yucky talk is (perhaps) better than hitting the walls.

    I’ll have to think more about the specific kindness idea… my gut reaction is that it might lead to thinking saying yucky things is okay if you follow them with nice things.

  7. OK I think I know what might be going on…(so hard to really know!) How is her natural eye-contact with you? If it’s not relaxed and warm then my post called ‘Attention Seeking is a Big Fat Lie’ will give you another technique to try.

  8. If you mean her eye-contact at normal moments, I’d say it’s good — we’re often quite happy to see one another, like in the mornings or picking her up after school.

    I do think the disconnection is big — school days are full, with an hour commute back and forth and an afternoon nap and then dinner. There’s not much time for playing, and one or both of us is often not interested in connecting in the car. I know (glancing at the time) I need to be better disciplined about getting enough sleep. Sometimes I suspect a more defined schedule for me time and us time could help, but I balk at routines. I also rather intensely dislike the things she likes to play — at least when it’s every day she wants to do the same ones. And, like me, she’s insatiable — if I play with her for two hours on a non-school day, I often get a similar reaction at the end as I would if I’d only played for ten minutes.

    Seriously — I understand, totally believe, and value the importance of nurture, attachment, and connection. I agree with you that “just looking for attention” is a stupid way to dismiss kids. But I am also anxious, introverted, needing lots of space and time for myself, and while my baggage has been through therapy (deep, over three years, not the quickie onceover stuff, but most of it before having Amy, and another maybe eight monthly sessions during PPD) it’s still there.

    This conflict, this tension, I think was one of the major roots of my PPD — the absolute commitment to be and do what my child needs, vs. the various bits of personal baggage that make it very difficult for me to do so freely.

  9. Yep, I hear you. I think I’ve exhausted my supply of what could bes, you obviously have a great handle on how you’d like to parent and an awareness of your own barriers to doing so. In the end, all we can give our kids is all we can give them and that is perhaps the hardest thing of all. Hope it all works out for you, and I’ll be back to read more. 🙂

  10. You see my tendency to bog myself down in my own verbal form of tantrum… I always have more arguments… Many times I need to stop talking and go to sleep, or pray, or both. Little one comes by it honestly.

    Funny story from this morning — I told her breakfast was ready and asked her to come eat. It’s a school day so we have limited time. She said she wasn’t ready — I said that was the wrong answer (Unhurried hindsight says things would have gone more smoothly if I’d asked why not instead) — we went back and forth a couple more times, and then she said her list said she needed to dance. She really seemed to believe that. She even had a bit of note paper on which she’d scrawled her list.

  11. I come at this a little differently, from the perspective of having adult children now. My older daughter had the first 3 years of her parents to herself. She had LOTS of attention, interaction, being heard, being affirmed, etc. etc. She was a very smart, verbal, articulate, somewhat serious, achieving child. Her little sister didn’t get NEARLY the same level of attention (because it is impossible to do that when you have more than one). She was much less verbal, much less intense, happier, more flexible, had to ‘fit in’ more, having an older sibling, and a generally busier life.
    As an example, older sister played sports – little one tagged along to practices/games – made friends with other younger siblings. Older child never had to do that – if younger one had events, older one usually was at something of her own as well. IF she had to come to little sister’s events (Sports or otherwise) she was not nearly as flexible or adapting about it.

    And now, at 29 and 26, I see the outcomes of their birth order. #1 is MUCH more fragile, more emotionally volatile, more prone to an outburst or confrontation if things don’t fall her way or flexibility is required. Has had more trouble adapting to the world, where things DON’T go your way much of the time and adaptability is required. #2 is MUCH happier, more flexible, doesn’t sweat the small stuff, makes friends MUCH more easily, enjoys all different types of people, is positioned much more for success, both professionally and interpersonally.

    Not sure what I would have done differently, or if ANYTHING would have changed the outcomes. But I do think there is a danger in teaching an only child that their every emotion is too precious and valuable, and that doesn’t serve them well in the real world.

    Also, I also fear that my sacrificing for #1 daughter, rather than modeling the behavior that one sacrifices for someone we love, has left her with the impression that SHE is someone others should sacrifice for. Not quite the lesson I wanted to leave.

    Finally – and I hadn’t thought about this in this context until right now…#1 daughter went to an expensive private college where she was able to take pretty much whatever interesting (and not particularly useful) courses she wanted. She has had a HARD time figuring out what she wants to ‘do’ with her life since then, being worried about ‘settling’ or ‘selling out.’ #2 daughter had a career goal, won a large scholarship (to another prestigious yet less liberal school), had to take A LOT of difficult and uninteresting courses to reach her goal (calc, statistics, acctg), did it uncomplainingly, and now is in her field, and progressing very nicely. I can see many of their childhood attributes playing out in their adult lives.
    STILL not sure what I would/could have done differently, but it is food for thought anyway.

  12. Amy, thanks for your perspective; I know there’s a lot of stuff out there about birth order and the significance it can have.

    It doesn’t resonate with me quite as much, because I’m the youngest of three and just as volatile, indecisive, out-of-the-box, articulate, etc as your oldest sounds. And I know I don’t have the flexibility, easy-going roll-with-it-ness, and social ease your youngest has.

    I suspect that birth order is one significant factor, but that temperament has a whole lot to do with things as well. I think it’s interesting that just from your description, I think I’d relate more to your older daughter, and sympathize with her wide range of interests and anxiety about what she’d lose by narrowing her focus. It sounds like you relate / sympathize more with the younger one.

    I am very concerned about emotional health, but that doesn’t mean that I want to walk on eggshells around Amy — what I want is for her to understand the difference between feelings and behaviors, and to know that she has agency / power when it comes to behaviors. I also want her to know (more and more, as she grows) how to recognize when feelings are irrational or out of proportion, and what to do in such cases (trying to stop the feelings isn’t productive, dealing only with the immediate trigger isn’t productive, but there are ways to look for and deal with the things that are underlying the feelings). And distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness, and so on.

    I think there’s a difference between sheltering / overprotecting, and nurturing. I don’t want to do the former, but I do want to do the latter — I want home to be a refuge, a strong fortress from which to encounter the “real” world. It’s been interesting to encounter articles and such that suggest that some of what has been taught in the past and now about affirming, praising, and so on, actually backfires. It can increase anxiety and reduce motivation. Who knew?!

    I laughed with the bit about modeling sacrifice and the unintended lesson — rings true for sure! Like Amy seeming to feel that we need correction but she never does. Ha! I suspect that if kids see parents sacrificing not just for them but for others, that might help tweak the lesson toward what’s intended.

  13. I agree Marcy, I think temperament is a huge contributing factor. Our sensitive one was our second one, and we have had to extreme-nurture him, whereas the other two are much more sociable and were from birth.

  14. No judgment of any kind here! My Hazel can do a really bad thing and then smile about it as I talk to her. It is frustrating! And since she knows I don’t like it, she’s learned to squeeze her cheeks with her fingers in attempt to mask it. Well, that doesn’t help! LOL! I’ve never had one who smiles at wrongdoing like this, I’m pretty sure it was a nervous reaction that has now become a habit, and I don’t know how to break it. I can tell you it’s very hard though.

  15. Amy does that smile thing, too, sometimes. It helps, to an extent, to remember that grinning in nature is more related to fear than to cheerfulness. If we could take time out until the smile impulse is under control, it might make the discussion, if one is really necessary, more effective?

    I think my own willfulness is just as much a hindrance as Amy’s is… witness me in angry tears yesterday afternoon because, even though she was obviously tired and had fallen asleep five minutes before we got home yesterday, she did NOT sleep during her nap. I knew I was out of proportion / irrational… managed to take enough time in isolation to get out of that.

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