This morning everything was bright and breezy. My headache had gone and Boy the Younger was sweetness and light. As I was lying in the bath last night, I was racking my brains trying to think what might have triggered the outburst. But first, I must go back to give you the details of what happened.
The Wartime Household is a busy place at the moment. As I mentioned last week, I am tutoring Boy the Elder four nights a week with one night with his tutor. I am also helping Boy the Younger with his handwriting because, despite being top of his class in virtually everything, his writing is almost illegible. I only ask for four lines of four different letters each day, I have explained why he needs to do it and he either does it with alacrity in about 10 minutes, or World War 3 breaks out.
Boy the Younger has always has always been a man of two settings i.e. Angel or Bastard. From birth he was 80% Bastard until I got him to the Cranial Osteopath and, as time has progressed, he now averages out at 80% Angel, 10% Bastard and 10% deciding which way to jump.
Boy the Elder was an easier person. He had his moments but, by and large, I’d give him a bollocking, he took it on the chin and we moved on and certainly this is the case now. On the rare occasions when he got a smacked bottom it did the trick and lessons were learned. On the whole, he accepted my authority and rarely pushed the boundaries to extremes.
Boy the Younger questions absolutely everything. If he perceives that he’s heading for trouble, he will push and push and push until my ears are bleeding. Then, and only then, will he back down. Consequently, I have had to evolve a completely different style of management to that which I used for BTE.
When their father and I separated, the boys’ reactions were very different; BTE had some counselling with Relate which he found very helpful and BTY started knocking eight bells out of his little colleagues at playgroup. We worked through this by using a programme of incentives, star charts, rewards and a lot of talking, reassurance and cuddling.
When he started big school, the negative behaviour started again, except that this time, he was having massive tantrums at home. These tantrums involved various combinations of screaming, throwing things, attacking and biting me and BTE, throwing himself on the ground, slamming doors, refusing to eat, accusing me of hating him and so on. He would threaten to run away and would describe how he was going to walk into the road when he saw a car coming and get himself run over and then I’d be sorry and would miss him and regret having treated him so badly. Another time, he said he was going to jump out of a window and die of blood loss from the broken glass before anyone had time to mend his broken legs. And this from a five year old boy.
On the occasion when one tantrum lasted for four hours, two of which were spent sitting on the stairs, physically restraining him whilst determinedly not talking to him, looking at him or colluding with the behaviour in any way, I realised that this was more than just bad behaviour.
Now I am a strict parent, but I also talk to my children and give them reasons why they have been asked or told to do something. We talk about our feelings, I tell them I love them, I am quick to praise them when they’ve done something good and I don’t hold back when they’ve done something wrong. I lose my temper sometimes when I shouldn’t and I say the wrong things because I’m knackered and human. I just couldn’t work out what was causing these outrageous outbursts from BTY and it was having a terrible effect on the whole dynamic of the family.
So I started to keep a record of everything he did, every day. What time he got up, how much sleep he’d had, what he had eaten and at what time, flashpoints with BTE, behaviour at school, how much fresh air and exercise he’d had and what my behaviour had been like. It emerged very quickly that there was a pattern to the bad behaviour and that virtually all the outbursts happened within 30-45 minutes of coming home from school and that the trouble at school was predominantly associated with one particular boy at about the same time every day.
The Father of My Children gets extremely bad tempered if he goes too long without food, so I started to chart the interval between when BTY had a meal and the onset of an outburst. The correlation was immediately obvious, particularly in the afternoons when having had lunch at 12.00, there was a gap until he arrived home at 3.30 or later if we had had to go to the shops.
I asked his teacher to give him a banana at break time, and as soon as he got into the car, I would give him a cereal bar, a biscuit, a bag of raisins or something to boost his energy levels, so that by the time he got home, his blood sugar was up a bit. The transformation at home was miraculous and his behaviour improved ten-fold. I believe him to be susceptible to hypoglycaemia which is effectively low blood sugar but not being actually diabetic. The school bit was more complicated as it involved several uncomfortable meetings with his teacher and the other boy’s mother. I won’t bore you with that bit, but it has been resolved and at the end of last term, BTY was given an award for ‘Improved Social Skills’ – i.e., he has stopped thumping people.
The tantrum yesterday was pretty much my fault because, as his behaviour has been so much better for so long, and I have been so frantic and busy, I completely forgot about the need to give a snack. I settled BTE down to do an essay and gave BTY his writing to do. The bribe for completion was two chocolate chip biscuits. Thinking it would only take him ten minutes or less, I didn’t give him a snack first. Big mistake. He would not write the letters properly and because I wouldn’t accept them, the tantrum kicked off almost immediately and I couldn’t then reward the bad behaviour with the biscuits which he actually needed.
He swore at me, threw things, slammed the bathroom door so hard and repeatedly that he broke the mirror that is screwed to it. Stalemate. I told him to go and sit quietly in his room until he felt able to try again. Every time he came down, once hugging me and saying he was sorry, I quietly repeated that the letters needed to be done, that I knew he could do them beautifully and quickly, and all would be well. I really tried to give him an opportunity to resolve it without feeling as though he had totally backed down. After several scribbled pieces of paper were thrown at me, he kicked the kitten across the room and attempted to storm out. At that point he got a smacked bottom and I shouted at him as I carried him, kicking and screaming, to his room and told him to stay there until he could behave like a human being. It was horrible and I was nearly crying myself.
After about ten minutes, he came down, quietly took the paper and pencil into the other room and wrote two perfect lines of letters. Two biscuits were handed over, much praise was given for the neatness of his letters and we hugged and made up. Today, he was given a snack as soon as he got through the door and a two fruit pastilles were placed at the side of each line of letters. He did the first two lines, got the pastilles, refused to do any more and the pastilles were removed, When we got back from the tutor, the two remaining lines were done without prompting and pastilles were handed over.
I don’t know whether this is the right approach, but experience tells me that children need boundaries and they need to know who’s in charge because it makes them feel safe and loved. If they don’t learn acceptable behaviour now they will become monsters. I don’t believe that one should negotiate with children. Listen to them, talk about behaviour and its consequences, allow them to make age-appropriate choices by all means, but ultimately the parents must be in charge. It is not fair to ask children to make too many choices because they don’t have the life experience to do it, and if we as grown-ups don’t know better than them in most situations, then there is definitely something wrong. We should try to lead by example and teach them obedience and respect by demonstrating it to them and the people we meet.
I have learned that different personalities need to be handled in different ways and that children within the family need to be treated as individuals. I have found this process very difficult and I’m still working on it. I’m bound to bugger it up one way or another because everyone does because we’re human and fallible. But I’m trying…