Your comments are terrific, and I much appreciate the supportive tone. I haven’t had enough time to digest all of them, but a few themes are evident:
Hey, He Sounds Just Like My Kid
These comments are immensely comforting, because it’s a very isolating thing, having a kid like this. Some people “get” it, but a lot of times people assume it’s your fault, or that you’re exaggerating, or that you’re a wimp. Or they’ll think you’re talking about a tough phase. Or they’ll spend a little time with your kid and say, “He’s perfectly good with me!” It’s a relief when people really know what we’re dealing with. Once at a daycare conference with one of his teachers, we asked, “Where does he fall on the willfulness scale?” and his teacher paused for a long moment, then said, “Well, I’ve met kids who were as willful …” and it just made us feel so much better.
One of my best friends (who reads this blog), mother of a charming toddler, was over the other night as HB went through his paces, and it was hilarious watching her face as she tried to think of ways that this or that tantrum might be truncated. Sort of like, “Hmmm …. Maybe … Ooh, no, that doesn’t work, does it?” (But she was over again last night, and HB was really quite charming. His only crying spell happened after her toddler refused HB’s offer of a stuffed frog to try to cheer him up.)
I found the “bottomless pit” description especially helpful. He is like that, and it makes me feel less awful about setting limits on how much I can give.
We need a support group: Parents of Bottomless Pits. PBP.
I Have a Good Technique/Book …
Victoria was worried I might ban her from my site (which I wouldn’t know how to do even if I wanted to, which of course I don’t) for saying, “Maybe I’m naive, but I’m sort of enchanted by the idea that there are some easily learned tricks that help reduce the frustration of having to live with people who drive you crazy. … So why not look for some child-management tricks?”
Yes! This is exactly what I’m trying to do here! I love techniques for dealing with tough people; I have to use them all the time with patients, in fact. I call them my “magic words.” (Most of them don’t work on toddlers, more’s the pity.) There’s a difference between taking a class on how to deal with difficult people and taking HB to a therapist, though. The former makes no judgments on how you in particular might deal with any specific difficult person. The latter seems like a setup for making my relationship with my son feel pathological. (I know it wouldn’t necessarily do so, but it could. Hey, I’ve been through a reasonable amount of therapy in my life.) I will try to browse through the books suggested.
TrophyHusband figured out a great technique that is making preschool dropoff much happier—a variation on the giving control technique (he’s outgrown choices, unfortunately). Now whichever of us is dropping him off asks him how long he wants us to stay. He will say “Two minutes”—or three or four or ten. “Okay, tell me when the time is up,” we’ll say, and within about thirty seconds he kisses us and says, “Time’s up! Bye!” I don’t know how this will work once he can actually tell time, but for now it’s great. Another thing that can work is distracting by humor, but you have to be pretty “on” to do it to his satisfaction, and I'm not much of a standup comic.
It’s Tough to Be a Hellion
This, I know. I know because I not only was one, I am one. The other evening TrophyHusband and I were talking about how tough HB is, and TH said, “Well, he might look just like me, but his personality is all you.” I thought he was referring to stories about me as a child, but he went on, “Honestly, sometimes interacting with him is just like interacting with you.” I sat for a minute thinking about this. And I realized that I am a HellDoctorMama. I remembered something that happened during our wedding ceremony. The woman who married us met with us a few times and had us give her details about ourselves and each other, which she incorporated into the ceremony. During the wedding, she described her impressions of us, including “[TrophyHusband] is generous and nurturing. ... [DoctorMama] has strong principals and doesn’t back down in tough situations.” This provoked such a gale of laughter through the audience that the officiant had to pause before going on. She hadn’t realized what an understatement she was making.
This little epiphany has been helping me a lot. It both makes me realize why I find it so painful to watch him go through this—it hits so close to home—and why I don’t have great techniques for ushering him neatly out of his tantrums. Those of you who mentioned that you were intense kids, and that the worst moments were when someone tried to criticize you for being that way—I completely remember the same feelings myself. I don’t remember what did help, besides time, but mocking didn’t, and hitting certainly didn’t. (What helps me now is still mainly time to digest all of my feelings.)
So I have a lot of empathy for what HB is going through. I know he doesn’t enjoy this. I know he’s not doing it to manipulate me. And this knowledge does help give me patience.
I’ll keep you posted.