Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Defiant Ones

I just finished reading YOUR SIX-YEAR OLD:  LOVING AND DEFIANT, by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. & Frances L. Ilg, M.D.  I don't have a PhD nor an MD, but I could have told them about six-year-olds being loving and defiant:  after spending half a year with twin six-year-olds, I should be awarded my own PhD in six-year-old studies.

My boy nails that  "loving-and-defiant" thing.  Just this morning, he left the house blowing me a kiss and calling me his "true love."  Okay, it's a little Oedipal, but I'll take it:  it's really sweet.
I'll take it because it counterbalances those times when, say, he refuses to clean up the play room, slams the door, kicks the floor, demands "Somebody help me!" and repeats that for about five minutes.  When that fails, as it invariably does, he'll whine, "Why is no one helpilng me?"  If I make my usual mistake about this point -- which is to engage him -- I'll say, "You didn't need any help making the mess, so it's your responsibility to clean it up."  You can imagine how well this goes over. 

The best strategy, as recommended by the authors of YOUR SIX YEAR-OLD, is to ignore the tantrum.   And usually, that does work, because it runs its course within ten minutes or so.  The boy can back into that loving, sweet kid about that fast.  But not before a few "I hate you's" have been screamed at the very mom he professes to be his true love, usually pepperred by a few "It's all your fault!" and "I'm never going to clean up this room!  Never!"

Um ... until he does.  Which, eventually, he does every time.

My daughter's not as overtly loving quite as often as her brother -- kisses and hugs usually are offered on her terms, when she's in the mood.  But when she wants to serve me water in her tea set's cup, poured from the tiny ceramic pitcher, or when she insists on sharing her fruit with me, or when she sees her brother upset, and runs to get his favorite stuffed animal of the moment, she's tender and gentle and as loving as I've ever seen her.

Defiance on my daughter's part generally occurs in when the girl is tired.  And if she's tired, things are not going to go well.  They're going to go very badly, very quickly.  As with her brother, often she has to be left to let the fit run its course, but because her fits only come when she's exhausted, they tend to be at bedtime.  Since she shares a room with her brother, this necessitates moving her to another room and staying with her in that room to make her stay in it so as not to keep her brother awake.  This entails listening to her ear-splitting wails and watching her flail around on the floor.  She insists she will calm down when she's allowed back into her bedroom.  I insist she get calm first.  This goes on a bit like the recent debt ceiling battle in Washington, with me playing the role of the reasonable party, and my daughter, the tantrum-throwing, no taxes no how people.  Luckily, however, I usually don't have to sacrifice any principles or compromise my values to end the tantrum.  I just have to calmly wait her out.

Staying calm during the fit isn't easy for me, and I've made the mistake of engaging more times than I'd like to admit, which ONLY has the effect of prolonging the fit.  But eventually, my refusal to let her out of the room until she's calm wins out ... along with a drink of water and a few moments spent with her perched on my lap in front of the computer, while I scroll through a few photos on CAT OF THE DAY with her.  Just a few moments of my solo attention, and she turns back into a cuddly, soft, warm bundle who can be gently walked to her bed.

It never ceases to amaze me just how kind, compassionate, empathetic and loving my children can be towards their dad and I, each other, family members, friends, small animals.  But ask them to do something they don't want to and Shazam!  They instantly transform into the Defiant Ones. 

According to the book, that's pretty much the norm for six-year-olds, so I guess I should take comfort in that.  Whether they're showering me with affection or adamantly refusing to clean out their lunch boxes, they're right where they're expected to be in terms of their emotional development.  The only thing that worries me, though, is what the authors say about what's to come.  Eleven, they claim, is a lot worse.  And I'll have two eleven-year-olds at once.  I wonder if it's too early to order the book on that.


Deborah Stambler said...

I relied on that series of books quite a bit. Things would start getting tough and then surprise! I'd remember how lovely and helpful those books were.

The descriptions were never 100% on target for my girls, but there were always fabulous moments were I'd swear the author had met my kids when I wasn't looking.

I was glad the books weren't too heavy on advice. It was enough to frame and understand their development and behavior. As a family, we made adjustments from there.

My girls are 15 & 12 now. Eleven actually wasn't all that bad. It's weird though to watch as your babies become infected with hormones. For every 12 year old I've met, it's seemed a very fine thing that they have necks to keep their heads attached. No doubt they'd be lost otherwise. The forgetfulness is an amazing phenomenon.

Sounds like you're handling the defiance beautifully and will be more than ready to handle the sometimes rebellious quest for independence.

Thanks for such a lovely post.

Dora Splash Around with Boots said...

So difficult though to ignore a tantrum done in public. Everybody's looking and it's so hard to ignore the stares. But they work, right?