Early in my teaching career, I realized that it was useful to understand children and anticipate how they would react to different situations. For example, if there was an Italian song with the word “pee-pee,” I knew the kids would start giggling and couldn’t finish the song. So I made up a game to see who would be the most mature child and resist giggling. No prizes other than acknowledging their impressive restraint. It helped. Likewise, the whole thinking behind Wrong Words Day, chronicled many times in these blogposts.
So after three weeks together, the dynamic between my grandkids Zadie and Malik is starting to wear me down. “Stop!!! Maliiiiiik!!! Zadie!!!!!” The trigger could be Malik humming two notes of a song while Zadie is “concentrating” on Scrabble. Not something worthy of a scream, just a patterned dynamic that has taken root.
Insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So the adults reacting to each outburst and treating it like a unique situation became part of the negative pattern. Nothing changed. In cases like this, there are two strategies:
1) Break the pattern. By any means necessary. (Except anger and violence, which erupt from the frustration of not being able to change the pattern.) So this morning, after what promised to be a sweet beginning to the morning with them both visiting me in bed while I showed them a slide show on my computer quickly took a sharp left turn into “Maliik! You’re in my way!!!!!” it was time for action. I gave them each an allowance of 4 times each that they could either scream each other’s names or say “Stop!!!” If Zadie shouted Malik, it counted against both of them because chances are that he was doing something, however small, to annoy her and she was responding explosively rather than calmly. And vice versa.
The consequence for over-spending was, of course, no food treats that day.
Two hours later, neither has spent any of their allowance. It’s helping.
2) Get them apart and do something special with each of them. I took Zadie miniature golfing yesterday morning and helped her get a Frankfort, Michigan library card. That afternoon, I went on an “adventure walk” in the woods with Malik which included playing frisbee, jumping in the lake, noticing daddy long-legs spiders and digging up a bear bottle in the dirt that we recycled. That helped also.
In short, when you find yourself sick and tired of kids’ behavior, create a game-like structure to inhibit or at least temper kids’ extreme tendencies, a deadly serious way to say “No” without the exclamation point that helps break up patterns before they spiral out of control and lead to frustrated outbursts of adult anger. Teaching or parenting, it’s a helpful strategy.
And then the second is to give them the kind of positive attention they need and deserve, as in the one-on-one special times. Just the positive alone is often not enough, as kids get too much in the habit of them at the center of the universe whose every whim and desire should be fulfilled by guilty adults. And certainly, just the negative controls are not enough by themselves.
And if you’re a grandparent, there is a third strategy. Give them back to the parents and go back home to your quiet, child-free house!