Melting a hardened heart

Diary of a behaviour-mom (Day 1)

These are the in-progress, behind-the-scenes, slice-of-life moments where I put on my behaviour-analytic hat, but keep my crumb-covered yoga pants on. Welcome!

This weekend was intense. One of my kids has been struggling with how to express anger. We’ve been having the “hands are not for hitting” conversation with him since he was two years old. Three years later, I often hold my breath when I pick him up from school, listening carefully for the measured and exasperated tone in the teacher’s voice. There is no piece of furniture he cannot convert into a jungle gym. There is no such thing as too fast or too loud.

The typical verbal correction does not work well with this kiddo. He balls his fists and furrows his brow when he hears an angry voice. If he hears a shriek from a sibling, or a frantic warning from a parent, he might even laugh or hop with glee. If he senses injustice, he does not hold back the howling and accusations.

Here is a child who will not be dominated. Here is a child who will stand his ground. There’s no way to “win” when a conflict develops. He is a master of casual insouciance in the face of authority (that’s a subject for a whole other blog post.) Absolutely nothing frightens him.

I think of my son as a natural-born dragon-slayer. My challenge: not to be the dragon.

If we end up locked in full-on battle-mode, we are headed toward a long and frustrating conflict and de-escalation, so I focus my attention on preventing them and promoting all the good stuff instead. I’m always looking for ways to just sprinkle kindness and cuddles throughout the day. When I see him being patient and solving problems creatively, I absolutely have to point it out. I have to watch myself closely and make sure I’m showing him how to be kind, be patient, and be flexible.

I’ve also observing really closely, right to figure out exactly what it looks like when he gets angry, and I’ve noticed that he doesn’t talk well at all when he gets angry. He actually goes down to 1-word utterances, or even no words at all, just grunting.

“What’s Bugging You?” — a $1 notebook customized with a Sharpie pen

Knowing that behaviour is communication, my priority is to help him express his thoughts and ideas. I started a little notebook called “What’s Bugging You?” I drew a bug on it (a stag beetle, to be exact, because that’s what he requested.) Whenever I see him starting to look frustrated, I pull out the notebook and we focus on just naming that thing that’s “bugging” him. We don’t work on solving it or shaping how he is expressing it. I just want to hear him tell me what it is.

This is our starting point. I am keeping the data so I can look back and try to understand what’s the usual cause of distress, because that will help us plan ahead and get our solutions ready!

Last night, a close friend wrapped an arm around me and said sadly “You are such an optimist!” It’s true. I wake up every day with a plan and a measure of hope.

This diary will document the hopes, and what became of them. Thank you for sharing it with me.