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Psychoanalyzing Life’s Crappy Parenting Moments

Hello readers!  It’s been a long time since the last post in Following Bunny Trails.  As I wrote in a few previous posts, I have decided to go back to college.  And as I’ve been barreling full speed ahead, I often think of my Bunny Trails and its readers.  But going to school full time, year-around, has left me little free time.  So I would like to offer up a bit of my writing from my Intro to Psychology class.  This piece was asked for us to analyze a situation that was stressful and to write about what you might have changed, and what you would not have changed.  With citations and sources, of course.  This was written over a year ago, and I just found it today.  It is perfect for Following Bunny Trails.

Observing Emotional Behavior

Summary

I knew it was a bad idea from the beginning.  I had a lunch date with my friend, they were becoming few and far between.  She and I had first met when our sons were 2-years-old and attending a local education center for therapy.  Her son was ahead of schedule with his speech, but was there to refine his motor skills, and while my son had all the motor skills of a gymnast, he could hardly say a word.  We were fast friends.  She has a degree in early childhood education, so I glean as much advice as I can from her.  She is familiar with children with ADHD, and is patient and loving with my son.  When the opportunity for a lunch date arose, I leapt at the chance.  Her son had school, but since the boys attended in different schools, mine had a teacher in-service.  I had to bring my children along on our lunch date.  Lunch went as well as it could, with my daughter in her high chair, and my son blocked on the inside of our booth.  He only crawled under the table a dozen times, his best restaurant behavior yet.  When Josie suggested going to Kohl’s afterward, I immediately stiffened up.  My son hasn’t had a successful shopping trip in a long time.  He was behaving relatively well at the restaurant, and I did have a 30% discount coupon burning a hole in my pocket, so we gathered my children and headed to the store.

 

I gave my son the usual, “please behave in this store, use your inside voice, no running or you’ll have to ride in the cart,” pre-shopping lecture.  He either misunderstood or was tired, and he immediately climbed into a cart with two seats.  I didn’t argue, and I pushed both kids through the store.  I picked out some Marvel Super Hero underwear that he desperately needed, and he begged for a shirt with a trophy on it, so he could be a “winner.”  About 15 minutes into the shopping, he began to start squirming in his seat.  He climbed out to get a better look at a shirt, and I cajoled him back into the cart; we were coming to the end of his ability to be in the store.  There’s something about the lights, the sounds, all the merchandise with the colors and stimulus, it just sets him off every time.  I headed to the checkout because I knew my time was up.  My son started grabbing merchandise as we strolled by it, once causing us to nearly collide with a very unappreciative lady and her well behaved daughter.  I started warning my son of the impending removal of privileges, starting with the activities I dislike the most, his video games.  It was pointless, he was gone:  my son had left the proverbial building, and the only thing left was impulses gone awry.  Threats weren’t working, his behavior was deteriorating by the moment.  I decided, out loud, that I could and would not reward this type of behavior by purchasing nice new super hero undies or a new shirt.  He did not heed my warnings, and I ditched the underwear on a shelf.  He saw me bailing out his precious items from our cart, and went ballistic.  By the time we reached the checkout lane, he was screaming, crying, and then he leapt from the cart and ran out of the store and into the mall.  I was completely humiliated, angry, sweaty and red faced, as I ditched the few remaining purchases and handed my daughter to Josie so I could, pursue my son, who had disappeared around the corner.  I had to carry the screaming, thrashing 6-year-old, who made a scene all the way out the doors.

Interpretation

I have never been very good at disguising my emotions, as suggested by Thomas Phelan, author of 1-2-3 Magic:  Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (Phelan, 2010).  He states that “The two biggest mistakes that parents and teachers make in dealing with children are: Too Much Talking and Too Much Emotion.” According to Phelan, discipline should be a “matter of fact” process, the child is suffering a consequence because they made the wrong choice, not because you are angry at them.  He also repeatedly mentions that children feed off our emotions, and if they can figure out how to “get your goat” they will (Phelan, 2010).  By the time Josie met me outside the building, I was nearly in tears, with a howling wreck of a child on my lap.  She calmly took my son, and handed my daughter to me.  She put him on her lap and hugged him tight until he calmed enough to hear her speak.  She spoke softly and reminded him how much his mommy loved him, and then she somehow managed to change the subject and got him to talk to her about stickers.  She promised him a sticker, they were in the trunk of her car, which was parked right next to mine.  I buckled him up, without a word, and turned around in my seat and sat clutching the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.  I counted to ten, then to twenty, while she gave my son a sticker, which I had to fight the impulse to wrench it out of his hands and tear the sticker into bits.  He didn’t deserve that sticker after his behavior, ie. what he had just put me through.  My daughter must have been stunned by the whole incident, but she finally “came to” as I pulled out of the parking lot.  She started crying, and no offer of her sippie cup, stuffed animal, or snack would calm her.  I turned the radio on and drove home with a wailing daughter, and pouting son.

Discussion

Now that the incident is past, and I am no longer flooded with emotion, I can look back and identify some mistakes that I had made while under duress.  First of all, children’s tantrums are generally short lived, they go on with their lives and resume play, while the parents’ are left to stew about it.  I regret that I allowed my frustration to show and for my anger to last after the conflict was over.  Our textbook, Psychology, an Exploration by Saundra K. Ciccarelli and J. Noland White, explains that a human’s autonomic nervous system involuntarily reacts physiologically to stress.  The sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for the fight or flight response) reacts by secreting the hormone cortisol, which in turn raises heart rate, stimulates the sweat glands, slows down digestion, and sends energy to muscles to deal with the situation (Ciccarelli & White, 2010).   This is why I was sweaty and red-faced, even though I remained relatively composed during the episode in the store, the cortisol may have also been a contributing factor as to why it took a while for me to “get over” the incident.  My second regret was that I had thought that threatening to lose his precious purchases would motivate him into good behavior, and once it didn’t work, I felt it necessary to follow through with my “threat.”  My emotional state in the store clouded my judgment, and I now realize that by using the loss of his purchases as punishment, I was only adding to his frustration, and making a child who is already feeling out of control, feel even more so.  When under pressure, it is easy to forget what we know, that children this age are not able to think logically, and revert to our emotional response of, “why isn’t his reward enough motivation to make him behave?”   I later apologized to Josie for inadvertently making the situation worse.  She explained that a young child has an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotion and social behavior, and when they are having a temper tantrum, the thought process is moved from this “rational” region of the brain, to the more “primal” part of the limbic system, the amygdala.  I found an article on Parenting.com that supports Josie’s explanation of my son’s thought process during a tantrum.  The author of the e-article, P. Onderko, states that the prefrontal cortex is just beginning to mature at age 4.  She further explains that children think “magically, not logically,” and that events that are ordinary for us, may be confusing or scary for a child.  Water draining from a bathtub, for example, may trigger a fear that they could be sucked into the drain along with the water.

In conclusion, though I readily admit that I made mistakes in this situation, there were a few things that I would probably not have changed, given a chance to do it all over again.  Though my body became sweaty and red-faced, I did not scream or physically threaten my son.  I remained as calm as possible, even though it was obvious that I was emotionally distressed.  I knew that I did not have time to stop and use “counting” as a stress coping mechanism.  All of my previous experiences with my son told me that I needed to remove him from the store as soon as possible.  I learned from previous failures not to attempt to take him into the bathroom and calm him, because the echo of the bathroom stimulates him even more.  I did use counting and music to calm myself, and the music eventually soothed my daughter on the ride home from the store.  I have sought out ways to improve our next shopping trip, and I am considering trying the suggestion by T. Phelan.  He states you can enforce a good behavior by giving a child a set amount of money to spend at the store, make sure to give it to them in dollars and quarters, and then tell them that they will lose $.25 or $.50 for each outburst, or undesirable behavior (Phelan, 2010).  He recommends this for an age where money actually has a value; my son is getting there, he knows that money buys toys and treats.  This might work better for a long car ride to a vacation destination, but I am unsure if this will work on a shopping trip.  ADHD complicates our specific situation because once he becomes stimulated, any rational thought processes that a 6-year-old has, is completely drowned out by his state of restlessness and anxiety from the stimulation, so for now, we are only chancing very brief trips to the local market.

 

Works Cited

 

Ciccarelli, S. K., & White, J. N. (2010). Psychology: An exploration. (2nd ed., p. 319). Pearson Education Inc.

Onderko, P. (2011, November). Why toddlers throw temper tantrums. Retrieved from                       http://www.parenting.com/article/toddler-temper-tantrums

 

Phelan, T. W. (2010). 1-2-3 magic: effective discipline for children 2-12. (4th ed.). Parentmagic, Inc.        Retrieved from http://www.123magic.com/Newsletter/Newsletter-April-2013

 

 

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The Psychotic Break

The school called me for the third day in a row.  My son’s teacher told me that my he was screaming and thrashing and completely out of control because he “needed” to eat lunch in the school office, and that it was prohibited.  She said that his eyes are wide and full of fear and she could tell that his medicine was doing something to him.  Before I left to pick him up, I called the behavioral specialist (I’ve gotten in the habit of calling her a social worker, but she’s not really one) who is in charge of my son’s behavior plan, which is a prerequisite to seeing a psychiatrist.  (You may have read in a previous post that the pediatrician who has been administering and adjusting failed med after failed med, finally gave up and decided that my boy’s case is beyond his expertise.  He then referred us to a psychiatrist to take over the ADHD issue.  It has been three weeks since we did the intake process at the community mental health (the only place our insurance will cover) and we are not even allowed to schedule an appointment with a doctor until the behavioral specialist draws up a treatment plan.)  The first call this week was to warn that if his behavior continues, they will have to send him home.  The second call was because the boy was in a panicked state & said he needed to be with his mommy.  The third call was apparently a surprise to him, because when I walked into his school with his sister still in her pj’s and bare feet (due to the emergent situation.)   He saw me and said, “What are you doing here?”  “Well, honey, the school called me.”  He turned to his teachers and counselor, who were hanging back a bit in the hall, and yelled:  “Why did you call her?  I’m very angry at you!”  It all went down hill from there.  I had to carry my son out of the school, kicking and screaming.  The teacher carried his baby sister and watched helplessly while I buckled my thrashing hollering child into his car seat.  I drove directly to his pediatrician’s office and called them to let them know what’s going on.  The receptionist took the phone to the doctor, and he quickly decided that there was nothing that he could do for us, and his only suggestion was for me to take him to the UofM ER for a psyche evaluation.  They asked if the boy was threatening to hurt himself or others, and the answer was no.  They told me to discontinue all ADHD meds immediately, and said goodbye. I was completely on my own with a child that was screaming at the top of his lungs, “I hate you and you hate me, we hate each other!”  When I responded, “No baby, I love you very much.” He would just scream louder:  “I want you to hate me!  Why won’t you hate me!”  “Hate me!”  There was much more, but you get the gist.  I did what I felt was best.  I went home because baby girl was in her pj’s with no shoes and no extra diapers, no baby bag, plus I had no ID on me.  I left the screaming boy in the car (he was saying that he refused to get out anyway) while I put his sister into her crib for a nap & turned her fan on high.  ( I should explain that she actually fell asleep during all this racket because the boy has the entire household completely sleep deprived.)   I ran back out to the car and unbuckled the boy and carried him into the house and into my bedroom, which is farthest away from the sleeping baby.  I held him and stroked him and reassured him that I loved him no matter what, and that there was nothing that he could do or say to make me not love him.  He calmed down a bit but was still professing his hate for me.  He stated that he wanted to go outside and be away from me.  I said, ok, you can go out in the yard, but you can’t rage… if you do, I’ll come get you and you’ll have to be inside with me. So he went outside and I started cleaning the house again, but was watching him to be sure he didn’t go out the gate and run away. He was sitting on the porch and I looked at him and smiled, and he said, “Ok, I guess you can love me and I can love you too.”  The rest of the day was spent very closely monitoring and interacting with the boy.   It was exhausting.  He was manic.   We were one misstep away from a complete meltdown, I could tell because his eyes were wide and wild looking.  He even played franticly, quickly shifting from activity to activity, often losing his train of thought and not even remembering where he set his toy down. Several hours later, the counselor called me back and I did my best to explain what happened, but I feel that she still doesn’t understand how bad it was.  Then the teacher returned my call.   She and 3 other people had been in a meeting for an hour and a half, solely talking about what the next gameplan is with the boy.   I told the teacher I was going to keep him out of school for the last day of the week and let him “detox” over the weekend, and that we’d talk Monday morning about whether he was ready to come back or not.   She said that the other witnesses to his behavior thought I should have taken him to the ER.   I feel that I made the right choice by taking him home.  When the boy was screaming about “I want you to hate me!”   All I heard was, “Please, please love me, I need you to show me that you can love me even at my worst!”  And most importantly, this psychotic break was brought on by medication and if I took him to an ER, they would just give him more medication.   My son doesn’t need a diagnosis of “bi-polar” to be heaped on top of his ADHD, when clearly the meds were the cause of this.