Friday, February 3, 2012

That discipline thing...

So one of the things we need to worry about in MAPP class is discipline. Honestly this is an awesome subject to cover, for a variety of reasons. People all have different thoughts on discipline, whether it's things that have worked with their own kids, things that they've seen others do that they think worked, they way they were disciplined, etc. One of the things we'll have to do is sign a form stating all of the things we WON'T do with a foster child in terms of discipline, but given how they know who they're working with the class first went into how to discipline and what forms worked properly.

While part of me wanted to scream "we know this already," I kept it down and decided to take everything they say to heart. I mean, these are professionals and they do truly know a lot more than me. They've seen a lot, heard a lot, and experienced a lot and when they say "this works, this doesn't, don't do this" etc, I'll believe them.

So of course this brings me to my own methods of discipline... and what we already do that we would not be allowed to do should we be licensed.

It's not hard, but there are things that will need to change. Number one is spanking. It's extremely, extremely rare that I use spanking but with P I found it to be helpful in some rare but extreme circumstances. When he is physically and emotionally at the end of this rope and he goes into a panic attack/meltdown/rage, he can sometimes become physical. A few times he's bitten me. One pop to the bum stopped it. This will be a no-no, and honestly? That's how it should be. I'm not anti-spanking, when used in the right situation, but I'm rather anti-me-spanking and every time I've resorted to it I've felt like Hell for days.

So I spent a good portion of the past couple days brainstorming, analyzing the situations we've been in that have lead to this outcome and what *I* could do differently, not just in response to him melting down but to keep it from happening in the first place. I already know a lot about P. He is moderately sensitive to physical discomfort like lack of sleep and hunger, he has a couple of known PTSD triggers, he's a sensory seeker who can get out of whack if his schedule is off, etc. Stuff we generally have under control through normal schedules, and honestly at this point we can alter his schedule considerably and frequently typically without issue (though he still does best with predictability). So what lead to those meltdowns? I thought and thought and figured those out and realized we'd been neglecting his needs at that time. It's not hard to be lulled into a false sense of security with him, he's really easy going and fun for the most part and you can often forget that his schedule helps him so much. Both times he's melted down badly in recent memory he had been off schedule for awhile, several days the first time, then several WEEKS the second time. So we're getting better in that department!

But what did *I* do that was wrong? What could *I* do differently once he started to meltdown and simply bringing him a glass of chamomile tea and reading a book wouldn't fix? What was *my* part in this and how could I change it? And, if possible, could I change it with my words?

I thought and thought and re-enacted in my head, comparing the two scenarios. What was the same? Did I do anything the same each time that lead to this? What could I be doing?

And then, it hit me. Of course!

Both times he got to the point of becoming physical with me I was trying to move him to a quiet space. It made sense to me at the time, and it's something we do normally if he starts to act up. We move him to his room or any other quiet space so we can sit and talk and he can diffuse. But both of these times he was refusing to go and I. was. forcing. him. I wasn't throwing him over my shoulder or anything, but I would hold his hand or try to lead him by putting my hand on his back. I was touching him before he touched me. I am the one who made it physical.

Hit my like a ton of bricks, it did.

So, uh, my kid is very convenient. Have I mentioned this before? It's like we can read each other's thoughts sometimes I swear. People joke with me about how I went to the other side of the world to get a child and came back with the male Ethiopian version of myself. Anyway, though...

So yesterday P conveniently started to meltdown. Our schedule has been off due to MAPP twice a week and Nik being out to work late on those other weekdays, for a few weeks now. No more "dinner on the table at 6:30 with daddy walking through the door" scenario, now we're eating by ourselves or going to a restaurant, and falling asleep without cuddles as the lone parent/babysitter has to tend to the toddler. He's been open about how it upsets him a little and we're trying to make up for it, but there's only so much we can do, you know?

Yesterday he started to be angry. I asked him, and Ambrose as well, to go to their rooms. I will sit in the hall with their doors open and talk to them both, but sometimes we all need a few minutes of physical separation from each other to calm down, followed by long hugs. Usually works like a charm. Not yesterday, though!

I managed to get A to his room, where he put on a firefighter hat, plopped down on his stool, and sat their looking at a "Wonders of the World" book and counting down for the Taj Mahal so it could blast off. P, on the other hand, grabbed my wrist and squeezed tight, squishing his face up so angry and nasty, started to growl and grunt, and well... yeah, total transformation from my normal sweet little boy.

I was about to pull him into his room and then... I remembered. I remembered what I'd learned in the past day. And I used that.

I knelt down, though P wouldn't look me in the eye. I sat for a minute and, sure enough, he didn't move to hurt me, just held onto my wrist growling, ready for a fight, ready to lose control.

"Paxton," I said, "you're a good boy."

His grip weakened and his eyes shot to mine, looking surprised.

"You're a good boy and you like to make people happy. You have a good heart. You like to make me happy and you like to be happy too. This isn't making me happy and it isn't making you happy. Let's find a way to fix this together."

And my sweet boy... His face just crumpled. His eyes teared up. And he let go of my wrist and fell into my arms, crying.

We talked, oh how we talked. He's so, so stressed. His teacher tells him his class is the best in the school, and he knows he's a top student in his class, if not the top student, and given how logical my child is he of course knows that this means he's the top student of the school. He's barely six. He's in Kindergarten. He's proud and I want him to be proud, but oh my the stress that comes with this.

"Mom, mom, it's so hard! I'm the best kid in my school! I read so well! I have to be good every. single. day. and I can't be bad. I need to have a green or a purple day so I can't have warnings. I can't be mean to people if they're mean to me and I have to sit and do my work and I have to do it right and I have to do it in time. And today we didn't have story time and I was working so hard and my head hurt because I was working so hard and I just wanted a story but they just made me do more work! And I have to do it all because I'm the best kid in my school and it makes people happy!"

Oh my, my sweet boy, he is taking on so much. So much. I often talk about how big he is, being 4 feet and wearing size 2 shoes, but really he's still so little and his heart was so heavy. He doesn't want to let anyone down, ever. I'm okay of course because he knows I won't give up on him, but everyone else? He needs to work daily so they won't be disappointed in him.

And so I held him and I talked to him and soon he was laughing and smiling and we packed up his silly homework (the instigator for his frustration) and had fun instead. A huge weight was off his shoulders, you could tell.

The best part? Daddy's deadline at work is over and he left work early to spend extra time with his boys. Oh, the smile on P's face! Just sitting and eating dinner together and talking... Yeah, I had missed it too!

I think I'm going to draw up a contract for myself, same as the one our county asks for when it comes to foster care, and just write down all the things I won't do. I should probably write down a set "normal discipline for X behavior" list as well. Usually talking it out, apologizing, verbally reminding which behavior we use, taking a few moments in a room to calm down, etc works just fine but we should probably have some set rules anyway.

So yeah, my heart is heavy with a lot of looking back and saying "we should've done X during that situation" or "I wish we would've known Y", but you know what? They're things to learn from and built on or change, and I can't go back and change that. I can only change what happens now and down the road. And so that's where we'll focus.


I should also mention that we're looking into fostering an animal. Figure it would be good all around, get an animal out of a shelter for a bit, give them a chance at finding a home, and teach our whole family what it's like to love and let go. Preferably an animal with a family already who just can't take them yet for some reason.... Also it'll throw a wrench into our schedule, and I could probably use that jolt of reality right there :)

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