A Growth Spurt for Both of Us

November 5, 2014 at 10:39 am (General)

It’s been almost 3 months since my last blog post. Some of the last things I posted seemed like regular blog posts, but they were really reminders for myself. I had been struggling with my son’s new shift in behavior, and I was hoping that if I wrote something I knew to be true about parenting, I would have The Answer I was looking for and things would miraculously change with my son. But things didn’t change, and I stopped writing. I think I felt a little lost, like “positive parenting” wasn’t working…or that I had created these challenges in his behavior by not using stricter discipline all along. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to write about because what I was doing clearly wasn’t working.

My son, who is 8, has always been outspoken and spirited, but over the summer, he seemed to be even more. Outspoken…with an attitude. Spirited…and now belligerent. Our days were spent battling over seemingly everything and always ended in tears and anger–his tears, my anger.

So I stopped writing to focus on my family and to figure things out. I knew deep down that getting our relationship back on track was key, but I had no idea how to do that when everyday was such a challenge to endure. How do you express unconditional acceptance to a child when his behavior repeatedly pushes you away?

This was my a-ha! moment (a whole a-ha! summer) when I realized where the inclination to use harsh discipline comes from…how easy it is to respond in retaliation…

“Fine, be that way. I don’t care!” (walk away/ ignore)
“You can’t talk to me like that!” (do/ say something to show who’s boss)
“How dare you do that to me? (“Now here’s what I’ll do to you…”)
Feeling hurt and finding a way to turn that emotion into a hurtful action against a child (punish)

I experienced every one of these thoughts. What it took from me was the realization that I am the grown up here. If one of us is more capable than the other of regulating emotion and communicating effectively, guess who it is? Not the 8-year-old. As much as I thought he *should* be able to control himself and act appropriately, for whatever reason, he just wasn’t. No, sorry, not for “whatever” reason…the reason is immaturity. At 8 years old, my child still has about 20 more years to go before his brain reaches full maturity. That means the neural pathways between the structures of his brain that process emotion and the parts of his brain that handle logic, reasoning, and self control are far from formed and far from efficient.

My own brain has been at full maturity for a while now. Though it can be hard (and some days/ weeks/ months harder than ever), I have the ability to access my logical brain.

I can be the one to disengage from power struggles.

I can be the one to set limits and hold them without letting my emotions get the best of me.

I can be the one to reach out lovingly when it seems like my child is least deserving of connection and attention.

I can be the one to receive strong emotions and not take them personally.

I can be the one to be consistently firm.

I can be the one to be consistently kind.

I can be the one to understand that we are in a tough phase and my child is not “bad.”

This summer called for more firmness in our parenting. Some phases are like that. It didn’t mean hurtful words or punishments, but higher expectations, new boundaries, added responsibilities–all held consistently with firmness and kindness. It meant understanding that our son wasn’t necessarily going to like our expectations and he would have his feelings about them. My husband and I were prepared for this and distanced ourselves a bit so we wouldn’t be drawn into his emotional turmoil. Eventually, we experienced a huge turning point and saw a shift. More cooperation from our 8-year-old. Less outbursts. We especially found those needed moments of connection and spent time re-getting-to-know our son; It wasn’t such an effort to reach out anymore.

This summer was a phase; I’m realizing that now. It was much harder to see when we were in the thick of it. But what I couldn’t see then that I’m able to now, is that not only were the past few months a growth spurt for my son, but they were a growth spurt for me too. It was time for both of us to grow and change. Not only do I see the maturity he’s gained after this time of struggle, I also feel my own transformation from lost and floundering as a parent to feeling more capable than ever.

It gets better. Times are hard, we struggle, we work, we persevere, we change…and things get better. Little by little, we move forward; we grow together.

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14 Comments

  1. Jessica said,

    This is my 8yr old girl right now!! Can you give me more detail as to how to handle it? What were some things you changed?? Thanks

    • katie-may said,

      I tried taking a step back, not reacting emotionally, trying to count to ten before any words are spoken and saying things such as i understand how this makes you feel but this is what we need to do, trying to understand their frustartion at trying to work out the world.

  2. Lost190 said,

    Thank you…I needed this today. After the 5th letter from my son’s school regarding his unacceptable behavior, I feel lost and have started to (again) question my parenting skills.

    We experienced rough patches during pre-school and k-prep years. Meltdowns during transitions, lack of impulse control, etc were weekly issues. Various evaluations later, all signs indicated age-appropriate behavioral challenges. Over time, things improved. My son gained better impulse control and better communication skills. Two months into K and the behavior issues have resurfaced. I feel like we have made a 180 degree turn and are back in the weeds.

    The logical part of me says my son’s behavior is not about me. The emotional part of me feels different. Maybe I have not been strict enough. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to help him through these moments. I am at a complete loss for what to do and how to move beyond this point. People tell me its “normal” and to “keep doing what you are doing”. My response…”what I’m doing does not feel like it is making a difference”.

    Everyone says the transition to K is difficult. I am trying to stay positive and work through yet another phase. I’m just fearful this is the start of long and challenging times ahead…

    • Prudence Lowe Benjamin said,

      My grandson is going through this right now and he is exactly at the same point. It is not you not disciplining him enough. It is kindergarten. It is a big adjustment from the pre-K. The teacher has different expectations. The schedule is different. The day is longer. All the kids are interacting more because they are all more verbal. They are bigger and more powerful, and more pushy. He does not get to play as much during the day. Add that to not having the same teacher and the teacher expecting a lot of new things of them, makes is a whole new world. Try to focus on the positive in things…….reassure him you know “getting used to being a bigger boy in a class for bigger boys takes time, but that he will feel comfortable there soon. ” Encourage him to obey the teacher, be polite, say please and thank you, be a gentleman ,be kind, share, and do all the things you know he really needs to be reminded of now. Ask him when he comes home if he did these things. That way it emphasizes what is expected of him. Make sure he knows you are on his side backing him up, encouraging him that he can do well. Praise his work every day, telling him you are proud of how well he is doing and for trying hard. Talk about specific incidents and problem solve, but also try to get him to talk about his feelings about how it is going. Believe his account of things. They are his perception of the situation, valid for him. You may have to tell him outright that he can never do this or that behavior and what the consequences are for those behaviors at school are. Problem solve. They know a lot more than we think they do about how they are supposed to behave, but they push against us to find just how much they will get away with. Remember schedules and clear, enforced boundaries definitely give them security and that they are done our of love! Pat yourself on the back for the hard work you are doing too! Meet with the teacher with him, because it is his problem! You have to teach him to take control of himself in the new classroom. That way you will see how he and the teacher interact. Just remember we all want to be baby’s for the good reasons, the attention, the lack of demands, and this year demands are being placed upon him to learn to sit more, to not fidget, to pay attention, to do what he is told right away, to keep his hands to himself when he is bored, to not daydream, etc. It is really hard to learn to sit still longer when you are used to moving a whole lot more whenever you want! After school he can get more exercise to get his energy out, and you can watch his diet and make sure he does not get sugar and hidden sugars that makes a lot of kids bounce off the walls in school. We know that they will get through this, it is just that it is really hard right now. I think they just need reassurance that we know that they will do well over and over again. I tell my grandson stories about when I was in school, or when my kids were in school. It helps to realize that school is something that they will get to enjoy even if it is temporarily hard for them. We can instill an excitement for school in them too, and not let their achievements go un-noticed. At this age we can still get away with telling them how proud of them we are that they are going to school now……happy about what they are learning, and proud of how they are growing up even though they have rough times. Our love is what they come home to.

  3. Tricia said,

    That is a good reminder. If there is one lesson I seem to have to learn over and over its that parenting is as much about parenting the child as it is about also parenting ourselves. We grow & change & learn right along with them. It is both beautiful and challenging. To control our reaction to their behavior is by far the biggest challenge.

  4. amca said,

    Instead of assuming you should question yourself…. As a former teacher of 10 years, you might want to question your child (in a loving, I want to understand way) and the teacher to see how/when/what is “Triggering” things…. IF they are a quality teacher (regardless of experience) they should be able to identify the triggers and figure out a system to prevent them from happening. This might be a 5 minute warning that an activity is going to transition, then a 3, then a 2, 1…. “o.k. its time to xyz”…. While a 5 year olds version may not be “accurate” from an adults perspective, it is his perspective, and it needs to be validated…. While I believe this is a RARE situation…We had a situation where my son in a 3 week time went from loving school, us, etc. to hitting, yelling, meltdowns..etc. He kept telling me that the teachers didn’t listen to him, were telling him he is stupid, etc. I asked the teachers and they said, “everything is fine.” It wasn’t until I actually observed the teacher belittle, degrade, and humiliate…and only God knows what she whispered in his ear… that I suddenly realized that he was telling the truth and crying out to me… I believed the adult. Needless to say, the director was amazing, we switched his class and the teacher was fired at the end of the year… It KILLS me to think about how I should have trusted and believed him more than the adults…. the guilt is unfathomable! We did have him see the schools nationally known play theraphy based counselor… he is doing ok but his confidence and self esteem were certainly effected. We are rebuilding at a new school this year…. TRUST YOUR GUT INSTINCTS is the moral of this story…. You know what your child needs and are capable of giving it to him. I wish you the best… You can do it.

  5. Fiona said,

    I so needed this today, thank you. I’ve been having exactly the same with my 7 year old and today, in the height of anger (/hurt) he lashed out and hit me. I felt exactly the same – has all this effort and investment in gentleness spectacularly backfired?? I didn’t know where to go from here and in truth, I still don’t (any ideas welcome here!!) – I chose to talk about it this evening with him when we were having a cuddle…who knows if it’s right or wrong ! You can only do your best at the time – so I keep repeating to myself!!

  6. Marsha said,

    I wish I’d had the post to guide me over the past 18months! We moved from the US to Australia when our daughter was 2 1/2, moved into the challenging 2-3yr old age (with a vengence) and had a little girl who kept getting sick with bad tonsils. It all spelled a parental nightmare and very challenging times.

    So many times I’ve felt lost, actually pretty much since the day she was born. She’s very spirited, determined and stubborn, all qualities I wished for my daughter, but man being her mum is tough!

    I also believe in gentle parenting but basically everyone in my life was telling me that I needed to be ‘tougher’ on her, discipline her and the kicker, smack her! The amount of times that I’ve explained the meaning of discipline is to “teach” not punish, is almost uncountable. In teaching my daughter, with love, kindness and firmness, it us up to me as the adult to manage my emotions, is what I’ve tried to explain over and over! Apparently, I’m a ‘modern’ mother who is raising an entitled, undisciplined brat!

    Not only was I fighting myself, to believe what I was doing was working, but I was fighting to make those closest to me to understand and support my struggle. I was raising my daughter to understand that there are rules, limits and boundaries and that she can’t control everything. Instead of resorting to punitive measures to gain her compliance (due to my own control issues), I was trying to ride the wave as gently as I could. Most days I was drowning! I was at odds with life!

    Recently, my daughter had tonsil surgery, turned 4 and I began to see the product of my parenting approach blossom. Yes, she is willful. She marches to the beat of her drum. It is tiring and challenging, but these qualities will take her in life, well, wherever she damn likes. She will also be compassionate, humble and kind. I can see these qualities emerging and it makes my heart swell with pride.

    What a cathartic post to read. I’m currently riding a parental high, but have no illusion that it will remain this way. I will refer back to this post during tough times, to help me ride the next wave.

    Gentle parents, keep the faith! We are doing a great job with a deep understanding of our children. Thank you for this post. I will no longer struggle alone

  7. Jennie said,

    Thank you for your stories. I have recently become full time guardian to my 8 year old ADHD grandson after he was voluntarily removed from his home due to his stepfather being harsh to him both physically and psychologically. I have had to change from the fun weekend/vacation spoil the kids grandma to a single parent at 57 – it’s hard for both of us to get our heads around this as I also need to work full time, I feel isolated in my situation. Being able to read how others handle the same things I am experiencing such as in this blog and in the replies has helped with my confidence moving forward.
    Thank you all.

  8. Pamplemousse said,

    Thank you for sharing. It takes courage to look at ourselves and be willing to do what it takes to be a better parent. Children test us and we are frequently faced with situations that promote growth if we allow it. I will keep this post in mind when facing struggles of my own in parenting. Thank you.

  9. noblognamesexist said,

    I’m glad you figured things out. With my son who is like yours until I found handinhand parenting.org I was unable to find a way to make “positive parenting” work. Now, I realize that the release of emotions that comes when boundaries are set are exactly what my child needs to feel better and “behave” better. For us, this is a magic bullet and has allowed me to feel empowered as a parent and deeply connected to my son – simultaneously!

  10. Venus Viswambharannus said,

    Beautifully written and in perfect timing. Keep writing you have no idea how your pure simply put blog has touched me!
    Helps me to reconnect with my girls better

  11. Judith said,

    Thank you for this post. I have a 4-year-old Highly Sensitive little girl, and when she has her moments of high sensitivity, it’s sometimes difficult to remember these very important statements.

  12. natasha said,

    Oh how beautiful – I’m in tears. I am with you in this. Completely – and right by your side. I am so proud of us.

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