Perspective makes all the difference when parenting a traumatized child. It can transform moments of irritation into life-affirming opportunities.
Watchful is exploring the power of expressing of his opinions and emotions. Pretty much that boils down to him saying no a lot and complaining. The rationale, objective part of my brain knows this is a great milestone, since he feels comfortable enough to share his negative emotions. Previously, such behavior would have earned him a beating by his bio parents. It’s wonderful that he’s trying to figure out if it’s true that some parents won’t hit him when he misbehaves.
But then there’s the practical side when I’m trying to get him out the door to camp and he’s refusing to put on his shoes. The county driver is staring at me and pointing at his watch. Teenaged Silent One is fuming that he’s being made late for his running team’s practice. Sassy is “being helpful” by scolding Watchful, which makes him double down on stubbornly not putting on his shoes. Watchful’s sister Joyful decides to get in on the action and suddenly claims that she doesn’t understand what you mean by “put on your shoes.” Meanwhile, the dog is barking and desperately trying to nip at the county driver.
“Just one moment, please,” I say to the driver, who’s face clearly conveys his thoughts of what a crazy household.
Deep breath #1. Deep breath #2.
“Sassy, can you please be in charge of the dog and take her into the other room, please?” I say. Nagging sister and annoying dog successfully dealt with.
“Watchful and Joyful, you have to the count of three to put on your shoes,” I say. Joyful begins putting on her shoes. Second sister moving in right direction.
“What are you going to do? You can’t make me,” responds Watchful, testing me on whether I will hit him to get him to comply.
“Put your shoes on by the count of three or I will put them on for you,” I come back. “We need to be respectful of Silent One’s need to be on time for practice.”
Silent One’s pissy stance relaxes as he hears me acknowledge his desire to get to practice.
Watchful begins to put on his shoes…in slow motion.
Deep breath #3.
“Put your shoes on regular speed,” I say sternly, but calmly.
Watchful puts on his shoes and then wanders off away from the door.
“It’s time to leave for camp, Watchful. Get in the car. Regular speed,” I direct.
Watchful gets in the car.
Kinda looks like just an annoying parent moment. And at a certain level, it is a bit annoying. But honestly, I’m secretly happy inside.
Because he has given me the perfect opportunity to prove what kind of person I am. I’ve just shown him that I am not a parent who will smack him when he misbehaves. I’m also not the parent who will let him get away with not following the rules. I’m a safe, in-charge parent.
Now we only need to do this dance again day in and day out, until my message of safety sinks in.
Come on, kiddo. Give me another chance to prove that I’m a safe, in-charge parent who’s going to help you heal.