09 July 2010

St. Harriet

I'm starting to re-read The Dance of Anger tonight, starting by browsing for some inspiration.  One I've noted already:

We may view it as our responsibility to control something that is not in fact within our control and yet fail to exercise the power and authority that we do have over our own behavior.  Mothers cannot make children think feel, or be a certain way, but we can be firm, consistent, and clear about what behavior we will and will not tolerate, and what the consequences are for misbehavior.  We can also change our part in patterns that keep family members stuck.  At the same time we are doomed to failure with any self-help venture if we view the problem as existing within ourselves--or within the child or the child's father, for that matter.  There is never one villain in family live, although it may appear that way on the surface. (148)
I'm a do-er, and Phantom's comment on the last post reminded me of this book, and I felt more hopeful already, just knowing I could stop at the library on the way out of work and pick up a copy.  I feel more hopeful knowing that I can read more of it.

Although I snorted as I read a few pages later, in a story about a woman whose 4 year old daughter was upset about the mother's dating, and kept throwing fits that would get the mother to cancel dates.  With St. Harriet's help, the mother realizes that she can't control her daughter's reaction to the dating, and that her daughter shouldn't be the one making dating decisions for her.  So she learns to validate the daughter's feelings and make adult decisions about the dating.  Good work all around.  And then there's this: "....throwing a tantrum was unacceptable behavior.  If Claudia did this, Alicia would pick her up and take her to her room, where she would have to stay until she calmed down" (152).  And of course, if CG were the sort of child who would just stay in her room until she calmed down, I'd be blogging about something else entirely.

I think I'll also pull out my copy of Deborah Gray's wonderful book on attachment and adoption, and Keck's Parenting the Hurt Child.  I don't know--I never know--whether CG's emotions are adoption-related, but I always wonder.  Her anger has to be trying to communicate something, and those are some other resources to try.

I don't mean to overstate the problems here, nor do I mean to assume that I (or even Politica and I) can change CG's behavior.  Seems like there's a little less resiliency there than there used to be; maybe it'll pass; maybe we need a little professional help, in or out of school.  I don't know.

But I do know that I can change my reaction to CG's outbursts, and I can snicker at all the parenting books that make it sound like time outs work if parents are serious about them, and that will probably make me feel more hopeful.

And feeling hopeful is a good thing.  Harriet.  Hope. H.

This is really the


elswhere said...

All Hail Dame Harriet! I've been thinking a fair bit about her holy writings meself, these days. I find her basic principles so incredibly, maybe lifesavingly helpful. Though, yeah, occasionally her case studies do elide over the, um, messier aspects of human behavior. (count me in as another non-time-out parent--who are these miraculous parents who can get their tantrummy kids to sit quietly in a time-out chair for a certain number of minutes??)

I have another book recommendation for you: Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions, by Pat Harvey and someone else I can't be bothered to look up. (or maybe I recommended this one already? Can't remember...) Very, very specific and clinical, and breaks a lot of issues down into their component parts. RW didn't like it as much, but for me, I felt like it gave me some really specific conceptual information about what is up with MG when she just loses it.

Arwen said...

As I'd mentioned to Els, Ripley has done REALLY well with a reward system for non-tantruming, buttressed by the encouragement of emotional expression in more productive ways where real stuff is concerned.

The other thing I'd like to just put out there is that, for Ripley at least, I was surprised to learn that his particular emotional cycle had extraordinarily strong familial precursors from a generation or two ago. My MIL, when I finally told all of it, said "Oh, he sounds JUST like Me, and A., and W., and and and ... "

But not like his dad. Hah.

So it may be something in the way she's physically set up. On the good side, all of those passionate angry kids have grown into people I admire; but it is also true that John and I are not conflict coping people, and so it really was DRIVING our family. Me trying to figure it out, be positive, etc.

We went and saw a counselor and she pointed out that in our dynamic, I was regarding me losing my cool as something I'd done to hurt Rip, and Rip was seeing it as a way of giving me stewardship of his big emotions. Of course, those are bad boundaries for both of us.

So in our situation, rewards worked: I don't think they're the panacea, but I do think that I gained something really HUGE.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Elswhere made me laugh. Yes, all hail Dame Harriet!

I don't think it's miraculous parenting that makes time-outs work, when they do. I have one kid who fought the time out to the bitter, bitter end, and one kid who jumps at the chance to retreat to her room (and slam the door, and then plaster notes all over said door reading, "DOn'T COME IN MY rOOM"). Can't say it was my parenting that made the difference from one to the other, just different temperaments.

Hey, Elswhere, would the book you recommend be of any use with a child who has a high dose of anxiety? I read something my sister-in-law the child psychologist recommended, but it was mushy-headed and mostly useless. Very specific and clinical would be exactly what I want.

elswhere said...

Phantom, I think it might, though the parts that made the biggest impression on me were the ones about angry emotional outbursts. I don't have the book with me right now, but its Amazon listing has a "look inside" feature that includes the introduction & might give you a sense of it.

And it's good to hear from a pratitioner that the time-out thing might well be tempermental. Because I just could never figure out how people managed it!

elswhere said...

That's "practitioner." Right.

Now thinking about what a "pratitioner" might be. Someone who does pratfalls? Or someone who IS a prat? Or is an expert on prats?

julie said...


I'm so happy to be reading you again, although you probably don't even remember who I am.

What I *do* want to say is that there is no one good way to parent, and as I look back at my attempts over the past two decades (yes, my kids are 25 and 22), I see a ton of "mistakes," knowing I've forgotten at least a megaton more.

But the youngsters have become wonderful adults who now laugh with (at?) my and their dad's mistakes, forgiving us for our clunkiness, realizing that we actually were pretty good parents because we are all still interested in each other.

In fact, the youngsters sometimes even say they miss the parents -- and that they look forward to it whenever we can all get together.

You two are doing a *wonderful* job (is it really a job?) because you are engaged, emotion-filled, and loving. Isn't that great?

biojen said...

I just found your blog while going through the Mel's list looking for adoption blogs.

I haven't read enough to know for sure, but CG sounds a lot like me as a child. I read this book as an adult and it really opened my eyes about my behaviour and what might have worked for me. It is really helpful with any tantrum problems and an easy read.


kathy a. said...

like julie, i'm in the "emeritus" category -- mine are 21 and 23, and we actually all survived and are on good terms.

yes, kids do have different temperments. no, time-outs didn't really work for either of my kids -- but i remember telling them, when i was reacting in a bad way, that "mommy needs a time out to cool off" and we would talk about whatever-it-was in a little while.

affirming their feelings [which they own] while setting limits on acceptable behavior is so valuable! the thing is, it isn't a simple solution, because each situation has to be negotiated -- but it is respectful, and it teaches all the participants to identify feelings, discuss problems, and to think about one's impact on others.