There are times when I really don’t want to be in the same building as my eight year old. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who thinks this. Two nights ago, I walked into the bathroom following twenty minutes of intense prevarication on dudelet’s part and asked him if he’d cleaned his teeth.
“You’ve already asked me that!” he whined.
I know, I wanted to say, and I’m asking again because you ignored me. And because you’ll ignore me this time and then again until you finally get the reaction you’re looking for: an explosion of frustrated rage on my part generating dramatic tears and an even larger explosion on your part culminating in your slamming the bathroom door on me and screaming every time I try to engage you or attract your attention. The previous night I’d been foolish enough to tell him that I’d actually been waiting for half an hour and had triggered slammed doors and inarticulate howls of rage and sorrow every time I’d come near him until he finally fell asleep, still furious.
This time, I didn’t say anything. Ten minutes later, he cleaned his teeth. But I felt like I was walking on eggshells.
You can probably tell that we’ve got a bit of a cycle happening here – we ask him to do something, he doesn’t do it, we wait a reasonable amount of time and ask again and he explodes in fury. It’s unpleasant, it happens on a daily basis and we still don’t really know what to do about it. Eggshells, many of them broken, all over the house.
We know it’s related to a number of issues:
• Growing up
Growing up is the easiest one to accommodate. We know hormones and testosterone are raging throughout his (still) little body. He’s an increasingly independent being who struggles with that independence and the responsibilities. There are changes going on with his body and it’s both interesting and frightening for him. The good news is that he at least talks to us about him and the those conversations (that’s a whole other post) are going well. The bad news is that it contributes to the thunder and lightning of the other issues.
Tiredness is a big problem. Dudelet is an early riser. Four thirty isn’t unknown. At eight, he knows to keep the noise down and to find something quiet to entertain himself with and we’re lucky that he’s a good reader. But if he wakes up before five during a light sleep phase he just won’t try and go back to sleep again. There are simply too many distractions and short of stripping every book out of his room and putting a lock on his door (NOT under consideration for even a single moment!) there isn’t a lot we can do about it.
But this means that by six or seven o’clock, after a long day at school, he’s often cranky, grumpy and carrying huge bags under his eyes. He’s generally asleep before eight thirty but we’re pretty sure he isn’t getting all the sleep he needs.
School is another challenge. His tiredness is starting to impinge on his behaviour in the classroom (his teacher reports that he sometimes ‘loses it’ over the tiniest of things) and getting him to engage in out of school activities is a constant battle. He seems to be well socialise and popular but he’s clever and still hasn’t learned how to manage how he uses that cleverness. In other ways, he’s immature for his age – he cries more readily than other children. He’s physically timid (this frustrates supermum, who can be a bit of a Hemulen, a great deal) and avoids teamsports or physically activities like the proverbial plague. I suspect (and feel rather guilty about it) that he gets a lot of this from me. In other ways, he’s ahead of most of his peers ( a full stage above in areas like maths and reading).
Looking at books and commentaries leads us to believe that self-esteem, or lack of it, at the core of dudelet’s tantrums and difficulties in coping with everyday elements of family life. On some occasions he’s come right out and said it – “I’m no good at anything” “You don’t love me” “You think I’m rubbish” – and it breaks my heart.
It also makes me feel terribly guilty, as if my own feelings of inadequacy and failure have somehow infected him like an airborne virus
So what are we doing?
Nothing very spectacular. We’re biting our lip, we’re avoiding getting drawn into confrontations (which always end appallingly badly), we’re praising when possible and avoiding being negative. We’e already doing most of the things one finds on typical parenting checklists (except, of course, when we forget ourselves – we get tired too). I can’t help feeling that a lot of these tensions would dissipate if he could only learn to go back to sleep. But that’s not something we can impose – he has to learn to do it himself.
Anyone else find themselves trapped in this sort of a cycle? How did you manage to break out of it?