Thursday, August 12, 2010

They have their own thoughts

It's been a rough evening.  Despite numerous warnings about the impending bedtime, Barley had his usual difficulty with transition.  Where other children can be warned in sequence to help them adjust to the coming change:
  • T minus 30 minutes: "Video games off in 20 minutes"
  • T minus 10 minutes: "OK, time for video games to be off"
  • T minus 0: "Time for bed!"
For Barley the above translates to:
  • T minus 30 minutes: "Video games blah, blah, blah, blah"
  • T minus 10 minutes: "OK, blah blah video games blah blah"
  • T minus 0: "Time to ruin your life!"
Eventually he got that it was time for bed, so he turned and said, "OK, just let me finish this battle and 2 more!"

I did not handle this calmly.  After warning him for half an hour that bedtime was approaching and he needed to disengage, his response translated in my brain to, "OK, I am ignoring you, and will ignore you for 15 more minutes!"

Things escalated from there, to the point that DH came tapping me on the shoulder to sub in as parent on duty, sending me to the couch to cool off, while he dealt with a weeping Barley.  The %#$%$%$ computer game was still running as they left the room.  I turned if off with some small petty satisfaction.

At this point, Barley's usual dysfunctional anger pattern kicked in, and he kept making bad choices.  Despite completing Anger Management class number 3 in 2 years, Barley shows no signs of learning anything.  He refused to use any distraction techniques, and chose to "isolate" himself (for calming down) in the middle of the room where bedtime was happening.  When very politely asked to move out of the way by DH, he kicked, threw a pillow at his father, and then threw a shoulder into him on his way past.  After moving into the toy room, he threw legos at both of us as we walked by the doorway.  I followed DH's wise advice to stay out of his way and not engage.  Barley and I both have the same temper, and I can pile on punishments as fast as Barley can throw toys at me.  Not a good dynamic.

While surfing online (my own distraction technique), I saw this poem on a friend's blog.  It seemed very relevant for what I was feeling.

Excerpt of The Prophet: On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The full poem, and other Kahlil Gibran quotes are posted here.

After calming down, I was mostly sad that Barley consistently chooses to stay with his anger when he gets upset.  He doesn't want to talk about what upset him, not even after he has calmed down.  He either fuels his irritation, looking for reasons to continue to be angry--any slight will do.  Or he buries it once he has calmed down, refusing to discuss what upset him, how he reacted, how he felt then or feels now.  Without being able to talk to him about these episodes afterward (during is not possible, nor advisable), I am really at a loss to help him.  I can only guess at the triggering event, guess how or why it bothered him, and try to avoid the triggers in the first place.  Neither of us is learning anything about how to help him manage his emotions.

What really strikes me about the poem is how true it is that this is his own life.  His choices, his thoughts, his feelings, his consequences.  Unlike our older child, whom I can guide while watching him maneuver through life, Barley struggles to find his own way.  I can give him general guidance and tips, but because he refuses to let me "see" things from his perspective, it is like telling someone how to navigate a room blindfolded, except the lights are off, and I can't see the furniture either.  I hope there aren't too many sharp corners.


  1. Thanks for writing this post. We are going through the same thing right now, with my daughter. Reading your post made me feel less alone. . .I have been telling my daughter to go chill out in her closet (that sounds awful but she loves to hide in there when she's freaking out.) Like your son, she refuses to talk about her feelings afterward. The only thing I can suggest is maybe using art or pretend play?

  2. I could use a support group for parents of challenging children, how about you?! Barley has verbal issues, which we don't understand since his verbal scores on IQ and school tests are above average. He has this reticence to talk about his emotions, since toddlerhood. Following parenting advice to help your children learn the words to articulate emotion, I would try to get Barley to say, "I'm mad", or "You hurt my feelings," and he would refuse every time. Once, when I asked him why he didn't want to say those words, he yelled, "Because they make me hideous!"

    Postscript to last night, Barley and I were able to have a good talk this morning. I did most of the talking, verifying my assumptions with yes/no questions, and we agreed on a strategy to try to avoid the problem that happened last night. And so it goes...

  3. Parents are so much better now than they were 40 years ago! We probably would have spanked and screamed.

    You are very lucky you have the blog world to vent and support you.

    Glad DH was able to take over for awhile. Mine never would.

  4. Merikay, I do count myself very lucky in both ways. As for better than the last generation...yours reached maturity, self-sufficiency, and no mass-murderers in the bunch, right? Sounds like you did your job just fine!

  5. It sounds like Barley has the same tactics for dealing with his emotions as my husband... If you find an answer for helping him open up, maybe there's hope here too?

  6. I had a rough night with my daughter last night. Getting her to go to bed is a constant struggle and last night was not a proud parenting moment in the slightest. Your post helps me to realize that it's not me, it's not just our house that has challenges and struggle with A) getting the kiddo to listen to direction/instruction B) a child who doesn't/can't articulate (whether by choice or not) the "why". I have only started reading your blog in the last month or two, and haven't had a chance to go through the archives -out of curiosity, how old are your kids, not too young if they are allowed to play video games with friends I assume (mine is 5). Also, have you considered taking your son to see a speech therapist? Our daughter goes to a(n) ST for a different reason but we've noticed that it's helped her to articulate a little more when she is upset. She might still not be able to answer in whole "why" but when asked "what" made her upset she can at least give us a little more to work with. Just a thought.

  7. @cg, I always thought speech therapy was for resolving problems in pronunciation, or sound, like mumbling or lisps. Did your daughter have any of those? I never thought of that for articulation issues.

    I have not blogged much about our long saga of seeking help for Barley. It has been literally years, and is such a huge epic tale, I don't know where to begin. I am thinking about it though, so keep reading!

  8. Oh, and I forgot to answer your question. Oldest is 11 and Barley is 8. We noticed behavioral/anger management issues with him when he was 4, and have been seeking help since then.

    Only recently have we found a child psychiatrist that I feel confident actually knows how to help. The current regimen is focused on occupational therapy, as there appear to be some sensory integration issues. Can't say I see much progress yet, but it has only been a few months.


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