I benched HB this morning. When she doesn’t do what she’s told to do, she gets benched. It’s our version of time-out. We’re a sports family so “time-out” was too benign. Quarterbacks call time out when the defense shows blitz. It’s a chance to regroup, but it’s a voluntary break, not a punishment.
What we’ve done by employing the bench and time out is that HB can choose time out, she can decide she wants to regroup. And she does, occasionally, when things aren't going her way. She removes herself to her room think and then returns to the field.
The bench is punishment.
|Shanahan and Beck, Redskins 2011, wahingtonpost.com|
So, back to this morning.
Me: Get dressed.
HB: (lays on floor in child’s pose)
Me: Get dressed.
HB: (still on the floor, begins to whine)
Me: Get dressed. I don’t want to tell you again.
HB: (still on the floor, moans)
Me: If you’re going to sit and moan you can do that on the bench.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details and save you a call to DSS. Suffice it to say we ended up with her on the bench, whine progressing to a wail.
I said, “You may get off the bench at any time. You just have to go to your room to get dressed.”
Understand what's at stake
When HB doesn’t do what I ask her to do, I tell her she can do it nicely, or I will force her to do it. I tell her if I have to force her I will not be gentle. This morning I followed through on my threat to force her and not be gentle. I pulled the shirt over her upstretched arms and wrestled her into the skirt. To her credit, she did not kick or fight as she’s done in the past.
But she continued to wail. Then I said, “Why are we fighting?” and when she didn’t answer I said, “because you won’t do what you’re told.”
Whenever we have these scenes, admittedly a couple of times a week, after a certain point she doesn’t want to fight anymore. But she doesn’t know how to end the fight because asking to be held and crying didn’t change my task-occupation.
This morning I asked her if I would have to force her into the bathroom to brush her teeth and hair. She didn’t answer because the answer was ‘no’ but she really just wanted me to stop being mad at her.
Be open for negotiation
I know moms that would have yelled at her. I know moms that would have popped her. Before or after the bench, not sure, depends on the mom. I know moms that get so angry sometimes they cannot express themselves any other way but to spank the child. I don't judge those moms. I understand the impulse.
I don’t spank HB. I have an extensive vocabulary (I paid a lot of money for it). I find the words to understand what I’m feeling and why and then the words to express to her what I’m feeling and why.
I’ve said, “you can’t be trusted!” and “you’re making mommy very mad at you.” And then I have wrestled her into clothes, or grasped her upper arm very tightly and forced her to move to another location when language wouldn't suffice.
Worse, I have allowed others’ stares and discomfort to force an escalation because I was embarrassed by her defiance. Moms know this: the public tantrums can derail the best strategies.
I’ve benched HB in the back of Brando. Opened up the CRV tailgate, just about threw her in, and slammed the door. Then stood there, arms crossed, to cool off. Not sure what to do next. Just knowing we needed action.
Learn by trying
At home is where I try these different versions of the escalation strategy. It’s where I can patiently accept her choosing her own time out, where I can allow the flailing, allow the wailing, and wrestle her into submission without having some on-looker call the police on me. At home there’s only daddy to intervene and he doesn’t. He supports whatever I do even if afterwards he confides he would have kicked the field goal.
The thing is, she’s a good kid. She just doesn’t have the vocabulary I have. So she can’t always explain why she doesn’t want to get dressed all-by-herself. Or why she’d rather sit on the bench in the same room with me, than be in her room by herself. Or how the wailing is her way of expressing her sadness that I’m mad at her.
She doesn’t want me to be mad at her. But she doesn’t always want to do what she’s told, either. In the mornings we have to get things done and get out the door. I don’t have time for her to waste on the bench. So I get mad.
But who’s fault is it, really, that we don’t have time in the morning? It’s mine.
Accept responsibility for decisions
I carry her to the bathroom and sit her on the counter. I’m gentle. She opens her mouth and I brush her teeth. But when I tell her to stick her tongue out so I can brush it, she puts her arms around me. I hug her. Then she opens her mouth, sticks out her tongue, and the fight is over.
Why did I let it go on so long? What point am I proving making us both so unhappy? I am reading the account of how things progressed and I see myself as perpetuating the fight by my unwillingness to forgive her. If a hug, at any time, could have gotten her to do what I asked her to do, why did I withhold it?
I can’t be sure, but I think I mistook her language as defiance. I know her, she’s a good kid, so if she wanted something other than what I wanted, maybe I should have given her a chance to explain what she wanted. Maybe then I could have explained what I wanted and she would have agreed to do it, nicely. Maybe I would have had to escalate as I did anyway.
Or maybe I could have forced her, popped her, yelled at her, or stayed mad at her. Maybe I could have made her a cowering, quivering mess.
Or maybe I could have just let her do whatever she wanted to do. Followed her around and let her be the boss. Arrived even later to work because she wanted to play instead of dress and brush her teeth. Maybe I wouldn’t have even followed through on the teeth brushing because she didn’t want to do it.
Wow. Now as I read the options I have to admit I think I handled it pretty well. Could have been better, definitely, but it certainly wasn’t the worst thing I could do.
Cuk says I shouldn’t be too proud of myself for outsmarting her. She’s three and I’m almost a PhD. But he only says that because he’s letting me write the playbook and he’s just calling the plays after he reads the defense.