“It’s just a phase…” I tell myself that about one-hundred times a day right now. And while it’s getting me through a very stretching time with our Middle One, I’m not convinced that I like the phrase itself. You see, it isn’t “just a phase.” Somehow that trivializes the time that we’re in right now. “Just a phase.” As though how he is acting isn’t important, how I feel about it isn’t important, and how we are together at this moment is something that is simply passing. And I believe that these do matter. While the moments will each pass, some will stick out in his memory with such vivid colors that he will still be able to recall them on his therapist’s couch in 20 years. My hope is that the overall sense which he carries forward with him even after this “phase” is over, is one of hope and love and togetherness; of strength, resilience, and patience.
Some recently-asked questions (by us) and the responses we’ve been trying (and I won’t list the responses that involve yelling, tears, or other unhelpful stuff, but they have happened):
- Leading with “NO!” – currently, everything elicits a “NO!” response. Choices are actually making it worse, because by the time I’ve given him his options he carefully selects something different. Every. Time. So I’ve started saying “ok, we’re having pb&j for lunch” and then when he says “NO! I want grilled cheese!” I can actually say “yes.” After he’s rephrased that into more polite terms, of course. We’ve also stopped accepting the “NO!” and so now we just say “ok, you need some time to think about that. I’ll ask you again in a minute.” Then start getting the plates out, talking about the lovely pb&j we’re about to have, and maybe some carrots on the side. “I’ll just make you one too and if you want, you can eat it.” It’s like side-stepping the “NO!”
- Tantrums – This has been the hardest for me but with lots of help from the search function on mothering.com I have finally found a plan that seems to be working beautifully. When he’s not tantrumming, we talk a fair bit about using our words. I do a lot of “hey you used your words, now I know how to help you!” It’s hard to remember that using his words still requires lots of effort. When he does start to yell/scream/holler, I calmly guide him to the couch with a brief “I can see you’re upset/angry. I love you even when you’re angry. When you’re ready, you’ll use your words and we’ll find a solution.” Sometimes I add “and I know you still love me even when you’re angry.” This wouldn’t work so well with a much younger child, but at this age it’s immensely reduced the number of episodes and I see him working hard to control his emotions while still expressing them.
- Nightmares – he’s been crawling into our bed and then we move him back to his bed once the Little One wakes up. We’ve also had him sleep on the floor next to our bed, which works better for us but not always for him.
- Needing Attention – “needing” is the operative word here. Part of what’s making this time so difficult is that he is in constant need of attention, mostly from me. Though today was a major breakthrough. After we played Rhino Rampage three times, he then played outside wonderfully with the Little One while I folded some laundry.
- Telling Stories about School – like “I knocked over Ally’s block tower” and “I kicked Jason.” The truth is that when a kid pushed him yesterday, the teacher overheard him say “don’t push me!” and that was the end of that. I haven’t actually figured out a response to these stories yet…
Someone recently used the sentence “he’s working on some stuff.” Yeah, that’s what he’s doing. He’s working it out. His whole sense of self, the place he has in his world, and the ways he can influence it. It’s not just a phase; he’s working on some stuff. I hope to be able to be right alongside him as he does this important work.