Getting A Kindergartner To Vocalize Emotions

21 Feb 20161211_113533

20161225_134702I often describe parenthood as a series of lifelong events that test your patience mixed in with unconditional love.  Inevitably, kids go through phases that drive you to the brink…and just when you feel you can’t take that phase any longer, poof!  It ends.  And the next phase begins.  Cluster feeding, not sleeping through the night, mysterious rashes, learning to walk, learning to talk, teething, terrible two’s, terribler three’s, and so on as they grow.  My youngest, Dodge, turns 4 next week and would happily turn 2 if it meant being cuddled constantly and treated like a baby…but I find this age to be very enjoyable and easy to work with.  My oldest, Max, is 6 and deep into the current phase that has his mom and me at our breaking points: Epic overreacting and emotional meltdowns.

“Like most phases with kids it just gradually increased till it was a thing.”

I don’t know when it began.  Like most phases with kids it just gradually increased till it was a thing.  We started noticing it last year and by late Fall it was clearly getting worse.  Max was erupting into tears and freaking out about everything.  The same reaction you would expect from a kid when you tell them they’re going to the doctor to get a shot is what we started getting for everything, including going to bed.  Everything was a meltdown of tears and tempers followed by shouting things like, “We never get to stay up late!”  Or, “You never let us eat candy for breakfast!”  Or, “We always go to Dairy Queen for ice cream!”  (He wanted a different ice cream place).  It got to the point where Max started melting down before he even heard or knew what was being said to him.  He would erupt just to erupt.

20161224_200058December was when it took a turn for the worse.  We had tried punishment…it got worse.  We tried positive reinforcement…it got worse.  We tried ignoring it…it got worse.  Kate and I agreed we needed help and that it was becoming unmanageable.  First, we asked our network of friends who have kids the same age or older.  We were pleased to hear we were not alone and this was a phase their kids had gone through too.  The main piece of advice?  Ignore it.  So, we ignored it again.

It got worse.  It got physical.

I started spending more time with him and having long talks about emotions and explaining to him that I understood where he was coming from as someone who has emotional bouts and a temper.  I told him about my battles with anger management and I gave him some tools to work with.  I taught him ways to use his words instead of his fists.  I can ignore tantrums.  I can ignore slamming doors.  I cannot ignore hitting, scratching, and kicking.  I taught Max the value in walking away from a situation to cool down and then reengaging.  The process I taught him is simple, I told him, “When you feel like you are about to pop…cross your arms, pinch your hands in your armpits, and shout the emotion you are feeling out loud.”  We practiced.  “I’m frustrated!!!”  Good!  “I’m angry!!!”  Good!  This was going to require some patience but it felt like we had something to work on at last…and it worked…for a while.

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Yesterday, the boys combined efforts to completely embarrass Kate at a meeting.  They intentionally broke rules they know to follow, were disruptive, and fought.  The level of their poor behavior did something I have never seen (nor had they ever seen), it drove Kate to cry when she got home.  There was a long conversation last night about what it means to be “embarrassed” and how their behavior had caused Mommy to feel that way.  The boys were in shock to see their mother well up with tears.  I sent them to bed without books.  Kate and I agreed, it was good for them to see their behavior had hurt her.  We’d let them stew overnight and dive in with positive affirmation in the morning.  For now, there was a bottle of wine to open and a bath for Daddy to draw for Mommy.

Then came morning.

What caused the argument is trivial, Dodge was taunting Max with a toy and enjoying seeing him get emotional as any sibling can relate to.  Max took the bait and started shouting at him to stop.  The younger brother ramped things up and lit the fuse.  You could hear it hiss from upstairs (it is a short wick) and then…BOOM!!!  Max exploded.

“I’m frustrated!!!”

My heart sang, he had done the right thing and used his words instead of his…

…then there was a blood-curdling scream from the younger brother.

Max had succeeded in folding his arms, pinching his hands with his armpits, and vocalizing his emotions.  However, he then grabbed Dodge and scratched him on his face.  This is not the first time Max has scratched Dodge’s face in anger.  This was the first time he lied and tried to say it was an accident.  That was my breaking point.  My bomb went off next.

“I know Max’s behavior is a reflection of me and my own issues with verbally lashing out.”

We need some help.  We’re going to look for a child therapist to work with Max on his emotions, temper, and lashing out.  Hopefully, the therapist can work with all of us as a family too as I know Max’s behavior is a reflection of me and my own issues with verbally lashing out.  Luckily, he has wonderful behavior at school and has not lashed out at his friends.  He is wonderful one-on-one as well.  He seems to be lashing out primarily at Dodge, then Kate, and then me.  It feels, to me, that he is testing lashing out with his family in the order in which he feels he can get away with it.  He’ll boss Dodge around, argue with Kate, and test the waters with me.  Dodge is 3, Kate is patient, and I’m a hard-ass.  Makes sense.  I also think this is in reaction to the pressures of Kindergarten and having to go to school every weekday and having homework instead of daycare projects and non-stop playtime.  He’s frustrated, which is okay, we just need someone to help him get out of that meltdown cycle and advise Kate and me on how we can change our behavior to support him.

20170106_175756Dodge is obviously watching all of this and soaking it in.  He has taken to imposing his will on the kitties.  He’s not abusive to them, but he is authoritative to them in a way he is not with other people’s pets.  He likes to scare them, grab them, shout at them…but he also is very sweet to them.  You can tell he wants their affection very badly, but he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get that affection…even if that means holding them down and forcibly petting them.  I’m not as worried about Dodge as I am Max.  He has a very different personality and is currently much tougher than Max was at this age.  I think Max will one day wake up to realize that Dodge is sick of being pushed around and isn’t going to take it anymore.  Max will get a bloody nose that day and Dodge will get some space.  He’s got sharp elbows, that kid, and he doesn’t like to back down from a challenge.  Dodge is a pile of tacks wrapped in a snugly blanket while Max is a pile of delicate eggs wrapped in a balloon that inflates and deflates at random.

“…it is okay to be angry, it is okay to be sad, and it is okay to be frustrated…”

In the meantime, both boys will be encouraged to vocalize their emotions instead of acting them out physically.  Good behavior will be rewarded, bad behavior will be ignored, and physical lashing out will be punished.  I always tell them it is okay to be angry, it is okay to be sad, and it is okay to be frustrated…but it is not okay to hurt someone or yourself because of it.  Any advice from you, my constant reader, would be greatly appreciated.  Till next time, wine and baths…wine and baths.


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Retirement: So Long Honorary Mom

13 Jan

Almost 40 years ago, my parents moved to Wichita, KS when my father accepted a marketing position at the corporate headquarters of Pizza Hut.  I was born soon after and the rest, they say, is history.  The story of my father’s rise to pizza and rent-to-own infamy is well documented…but this story isn’t about him.  Its about another rising star named Linda Wyatt.  I won’t dare butcher the telling of her story as I only have a small role in it, but I’d like to tell you about that role as it has had a profound impact on my life.

Linda and my dad began working together in the early 80’s.  Secretary?  Executive Assistant?  Business Executive?  Super Woman who does everything?  Wearer of many hats?  My dad’s right arm?  (or was my dad her right arm?)  Again, I’m not going to butcher the story and I don’t know all the titles nor how they evolved, but I do know the role she played in my life, my family’s life, my dad’s life, my businesses, and more.  I want to recognize one of the titles she has had in my life…one they don’t put on plaques over office doorways:

MOTHER FIGURE

My family is very close and we pride ourselves on how emotionally available we are for each other.  We also have a lot of honorary uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters.  My mom is my mom, but there is one other person who has looked at me and cared for me the same way my mother does…and that’s Linda.  She played with me as a child, helped me with my homework while I waited for my dad at the office, taught me proper grammar, met my girlfriends, proofread my resumes, called to check on me while I was away at college, hugged me when I got married, brought me soup when I was ill, stood up for me when I was not strong, plays with my children just like she used to play with me, and has always been there for me when I need her.  She prays for me, my parents, my sister, and my children.  She is part of the family.  Her daughter was my baby sitter when I was a child.  Now we’re all grown up with kids of our own.  She used to help keep me in line when I was a child playing at the office.  Now she reminds me every day that I can do what I want and should play more in life.  She was once the person who assisted my dad with everything he did.  Now I think of her more as a partner in the family business and a bigger partner in our family.

She is intertwined with my family and business…and today is her retirement.

Linda has worked with my dad for over 30 years.  Over 60% of her professional career has been spent working with him…and with that comes working with the family.  Linda has done everything from scheduling airlines for my school travel to debating marketing tactics in the board room.  She seamlessly weaves between the role of business executive and maternal figure at our office.  If asked to describe Linda with one word I think most people I know would say, “professional.”  And I would agree.  I have never met someone with so much integrity, patience, knowledge, and professionalism in all my life.  However, I think the word I might choose would be “loving.”  I say this because I know Linda has loved her work, loved her co-workers, loved my family, and loved her family.  It is clear she does what she does out of love…steadfast, truthfulness…humble, authentic care.

I also know that she is likely reading this right now and blushing with shyness or red with anger…so I’ll keep it short so as not to cross her boundaries of professionalism.

I just wanted to say publicly, to the woman who is also one of my most ardent readers, that I love you dearly and appreciate everything you have done for me, my family, and my father.  I know this is not goodbye.  I know this is simply the end of you working every day.  However, I would be lying if I said I won’t miss you dearly and I feel extremely sad.  I’m not sad because you are retiring…I’m selfishly sad because I will miss you and I’ll miss seeing you every day and I miss how you make me feel.  You make me feel at home.  When I see you it is like a hug in my heart.  No matter how stressful my day, no matter how much life throws at me, no matter how rough I feel when I’m having anxiety…seeing you centers me and reminds me that things are going to be okay.  You have always seen through me and recognized when I’m having a rough time…and you have always been in my office a few minutes later to embrace me in a hug and remind me that you’re there for me and that you believe in me.  I know I’ll likely never find that again in business.  This has been a very, very special time.

I am excited for your retirement.  I see how hard you work.  I know the long hours you put in.  I know that you take your work home with you.  I know how much care you put into your work.  I see all of it and have an idea about the things I don’t see.  I am excited for you to start to let those things go and focus on yourself, your family, and your faith.  I believe that in your retirement you will channel those traits into a cause, an organization, a family member, or something else…and someone else will get to see how amazing you are.  I truly believe this is the beginning of something special for you and I’m proud of you for being brave enough to seize it.  You will be missed in business…but business is business and we’ll figure it out.  Family is family…and that is different.

You are family.

So, from an honorary son-like guy…to an honorary mother-like role model; I love you Linda.  This is not, “Goodbye”…this is, “Let’s grab lunch.”  This is, “See you at Max’s birthday.”  This is, “Call me when you need me.”  This is, “I’ll call you when I need you.”  This is the beginning of us being family, which we’ve always been, but now we get to focus on it more.

As I wrote this last sentence you emailed me…we are clearly thinking about each other right now…and thinking about each other in the same way.  You addressed your letter,

“Ryan,

You are like a son to me.  You are very special in my eyes and always will be.  Please remember I am a safe place to land when needed.”

This was when I started crying…so thank you for that.  I won’t share your email as it is just for you and me but I do want to quote your last sentence because the same rings true from me to you:

“Take care of yourself.  It’s okay for you to be who you are.  I am always available to you.  Love you.”

I love you too Linda…like a mom.

See you soon.

Congratulations on your retirement.

Kids Comprehension Of Puns & Play On Words

1 Dec

I’ll never forget the time my son Max watched with disappointment as I cautiously climbed into the shower. He sat there and stared at me…waiting. “What’s up buddy?”  I asked.  He replied, “When you gonna start jumping?” I looked at him in confusion then remembered I had said I was going to “jump in the shower.” This is an interaction I have had for years with my son because he’s been a toddler and therefore takes everything as literal. English is a funny language; its hard to learn. I study a few languages and nothing is more fickle than English. Watching my boys learn it has been humbling and I have wondered at what age kids learn things like puns and play on words. Today, my boys answered that question.

*Max is now 5 (though he’d tell you he’s 5 3/4) and Dodge is 3.

MAX: “Hey Dada?”

ME: “Yes Max?”

MAX: “Why do seagulls fly over the sea?”

ME: “Well…I suppose its because…”

MAX: “…Because if they flew over the bay they’d be bagels!”

(laughs hysterically and runs away)

DODGE: “Hey Dada?”

ME: “Yes Dodge?”

DODGE: “Why DON’T seagulls fly over the bay?”

ME: “Because they’re seagulls?”

DODGE: (offended by my stupidity) “No! Because if they flew over land they’d be sandwiches!”

(laughs hysterically and runs away)


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First Day Of Kindergarten or (My Total Failure In Parenthood)

30 Aug IMG_20160829_090518

Much has changed with my growing boys this year.  Max is now 5 and a half (that “half” is very important to him) and going to kindergarten while Dodge is now 3 and a half (could care less about the “half”) and just starting to lose the baby fat in his cheeks, giving us a glimpse into what he’ll look like as a big kid.  They love Star Wars, wrestling, arguing, and anything that has massive potential to knock over everything in the house or accidentally burn the house down…so…they’re pretty typical little boys.  Max is a tall, rule-following gallump who can’t stop wiggling and talking throughout the day while Dodge is a stocky, rule-breaking cuddle-monkey who prefers to play quietly alone and pretend he’s a baby kitty, or a baby fox, or a baby cheetah, or a baby…anything.

August has been a race to the finish line to get these kids back in school and out of my wife’s hair, who impressively this summer didn’t drown either of them in the tub, leave them on the side of the highway, or simply sneak away during nap time never to return again.  They are great little guys…but being home with them all summer was a test of patience that Kate survived somehow.  I would have lost my shit.  No, patience is not one of my virtues and thus parenting is a lifelong challenge for me that I greet with both excited resolve and depressing defeat.  This is about the latter. Continue reading

Lice To The Max!

12 Feb

Max has lice.  Show of hands…who just got the creepy crawlies up their neck.  Yeah.  There are bug living in my 5-year old’s hair…and laying eggs.  When you put it like that, it’s friggin disgusting.  However, according to the CDC “an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age.”  That means, and this is my own stupid math, about 25% of kids under the age of 10 will get lice…or 1 in 4 kids if you prefer to think of it that way.  Max has come home from school before with that note telling parents that someone at school has lice and we should take precautions.  Well…today, that’s my kid.  Your kid gets the note because my kid has the bugs!

Great.

Lice CombInstead of going to work, my wife and I got to get that weird lice shampoo and a lice comb from the pharmacy and got to work preening him.  I made the executive decision we were buzzing Max’s head.  He had been intentionally growing it out and it looked cool…but it smelled since he hates to wash his hair and we battle him on it every night at bath time or when I make him shower with me.  He said he didn’t want to do it and so I backed off.  Its his hair.  His hair with tiny bugs crawling along his scalp and laying eggs.  Gah!!!  Creepy crawlies for me.  Lice has nothing to do with being dirty, having unclean hair, or coming from an unclean home so I actually congratulated him for having such clean hair that the lice wanted to make it their home.  Then I asked him if he wanted them to stay for a while, get itchier, and not be able to go to activities -OR- buzz his head and make them move out much faster.  He thought about this long and hard.  He was leaning towards the buzz cut but he hates clippers.

You’ll look like Isaac.” Said Kate, referring to one of his best friends.

Buzz it!” Max said, and I did.

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Now he looks older than he did before and considerably more Midwestern.  This is Kansas, where the buzz cut still roams freely among the prairie unaffected by the styles & trends of major cities.  Seriously Kansas, I’ve lived here 7 years and I’m getting fed up with the buzz cuts and brown shoes.  Spice it up a bit!

Lice_0Kate volunteered to stay home with the boys so I could go to work.  I went about my morning and dammit if I couldn’t stop scratching my head and checking the mirror.  Ghost lice.  Are you itching right now?  Imagining those tiny dirt-like bugs crawling along your scalp?  Laying those white eggs that stick to your hair?  Itching.  Scratching.  But most of all…the feeling that something is MOVING along your scalp!!!  Yeah, you’ re welcome.

All hair from the buzz cut was contained and is getting tossed.  All sheets, stuffed animals, clothes, etc. are getting washed in hot water.  Everything is getting vacuumed.  Dodge (my 2-year old) is getting the lice shampoo as well.  So is Kate.  So am I.  My mom, dad and I survived my sister having lice for weeks when I was little…Kate, dodge and I will survive this as well.  Lice only live for 1-2 days after falling off a person’s head…so we can kick this thing over the weekend or so!  The list of things to avoid are:

  • Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities
  • Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons, or barrettes.
  • Do not share combs, brushes, or towels. Disinfest combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes.
  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
  • Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items that an infested person wore or used during the 2 days before treatment using the hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned OR sealed in a plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay. However, spending much time and money on housecleaning activities is not necessary to avoid reinfestation by lice or nits that may have fallen off the head or crawled onto furniture or clothing.
  • Do not use fumigant sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

What has me worried is Max took a nap in my bed the other day.  Getting the creepy crawlies again.  Pleeeeeeease let this be confined to my son.  First sign of itching I’m shaving my head…like, bald shaving.  Its just hair…it’ll grow back.  I’m buzzing Dodge tonight too I think.  Kate does not want a buzz.  I have brown shoes…at last I’ll finally fit in out here in the Midwest…

…and it’s all thanks to lice!

Special lice shampoo & Max's new buzz cut

Special lice shampoo & Max’s new buzz cut

Dodge getting lice shampoo...just in case.

Dodge getting lice shampoo…just in case.

Dealing with lice in your home?  Here are some helpful links:

lice-penny

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