If I relax, sit back and take a deep breath and feel, for just a brief moment, that we have in any way arrived at a better place, things start to fall apart again.
Much of what works is staying ahead of the game, expecting difficult behaviors, bad attitudes, strangeness and chaos, and always being one step ahead.
It's kind of like the "If You Give a Mouse A Cookie" book, except if I give my mouse a cookie, and I leave the box in the cabinet, he'll sneak down in the night and eat 10 more, along with one of his dad's protein bars he's not allowed to have, or two. Then, the next morning, he'll be slow getting out of bed, tired and irritable, and he won't feel like eating breakfast. Then, he'll get to school, and tell the teacher he's hungry, and she'll feel sorry for him and give him a snack. A week or so later, she'll come to me with a concerned and judgmental look on her face, and let me know he must not be getting enough to eat at home because every day he comes to school hungry.
And doesn't that just bless a mama's heart.
If a teacher gives my mouse a cookie, he'll fake being "SO hungry," every day, so he can have more.
My children are broken, both of them. They lived years of their lives in the midst of chaos, trauma, and abuse. The moment I begin to think of them as healed, better, normal...things quickly spiral out of control.
One of the things that really worked for us in the beginning of our therapeutic parenting experiment was "Listening Practice." I had kind of forgotten about it, but I had to bring it back this weekend because the disrespect and defiance were growing by the hour and my sanity was fading.
Listening Practice is all about building trust and respect by making a game out of getting your child to do what you ask them to do, when you ask them to do it. You can't do it when you are upset. The point is that you make it fun, and through the game they practice the right, respectful responses to your directions.
It goes like this…
"Okay guys, we're going to play a game. When I say your name, you will say, 'Yes, Mom.' Then, I''ll tell you to do something, and you'll say 'Yes, Mom,' and do what I said to do. Are you ready?"
At this point you reassure them that this is a game and it's going to be fun. You smile a lot, maybe dance around a little, giving evidence to the fun factor.
I start with simple instructions like "Go upstairs," "Sit down," or "Take a deep breath". I get really excited about how well they are listening and praise them when they say, "Yes, Mom" loud and clear. The more silly and dramatic I am, the better. They call this "pizazz". Kids like "pizazz." If a kid gets the most "pizazz" from negative behavior, they'll keep it up. But if you give them more "pizazz" for positive behavior, they will be more likely to repeat the positive.
Sometimes I have them go get a toy and show me how to play with it. Sometimes we play a game with a ball and make baskets (into a box or laundry basket) from different places. Sometimes I tell them to eat a piece of candy. Listening to Mom is quite rewarding!
At some point in the game I send them to their rooms, because apparently if a child does not go to their room when sent that is a huge indicator that you have a major defiance problem and things are really bad. Joe used to refuse to go to his room when sent all the time. I really think this game has helped. He practices going to his room when there is no threat or anger involved. It's just a game. It's fun. Not a big deal.
Since we played the game on Saturday, the defiance and disrespect have gone down, and I have actually received some "Yes, Mom" responses when I've given actual instructions. A month ago we were requiring this response at all times. We had gotten away from it, and we were starting to see them both grasp for control once again.
Respect is HUGE. In their earliest years, my kids learned that adults, especially parents, were not worthy of their respect. They were not to be trusted. They would only hurt and disappoint you, and the only way to be safe was to be in control. This is especially true for Joe, as he was the oldest child. The reality is, they both feel much safer when it is clear who is in charge (and it's not them), but they do everything they can to grasp for control before they will submit to that reality. My kids need their parents to be strong, to be firm and demand respect, to stay one step ahead of them at all times, literally.
Another thing we have done to work on trust and respect is to give them boundaries about where they are allowed to walk when we are in public together. Their impulse is to lead the way. It doesn't matter if they don't have a clue where we are going, they will charge on ahead because it feels good to them. So when we get to a place and they begin to creep past us, we remind them by telling them they can walk "behind us or beside us."
The first time we did this we were at the mall. We told them the new rule, and then every few minutes we would have to remind them again. We eventually realized it worked best to stop and have them come back to the right place, and then start walking again. They don't like this rule, at all, but they follow it pretty well. We stopped a lot that first day, but now we usually only have to remind them once.
Behind us or beside us. We have to be careful not to let them get ahead. It's not safe, or pleasant, for any of us.