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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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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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Kids Turning 5

26 Jan

Today my oldest son (Max) turned 5.  It seems like he has been 5 for a while…but that may be due to the fact that he’s been reminding us of his birthday since Halloween.  He was keenly aware that Thanksgiving came after Halloween, then Christmas, then New Year’s, then his birthday.  He even asked if we could celebrate his birthday at his cousin’s birthday in December since it was almost his birthday too.  On January 1 he announced it was his birthday month and asked if we could have fireworks every day.  I explained it was my birthday year which apparently wasn’t very funny judging by the look on his face.  While understanding of the fact that we couldn’t celebrate EVERY day in January, he was slightly saddened and requested we use the Christmas advent calendar to countdown the days till his birthday.  That seemed okay…and here we are: January 26.

He has been very patient.  As patient as an “almost 5-year old” can be.  So we have been celebrating for 5 days and it has been hysterically awesome and exhausting.

DAY 1 (Friday) We got the ball rolling with his grandparents driving into town and partying at our house.  The boys are always so excited to see them and love showing them all the books they want them to read.  My wife Kate and I are always excited to have another set of adults to help with them and then after they go to bed the bourbon and wine flows freely!  Uncle Mark is a fan of not having to babysit.  Having outgrown his old Wichita State Shocker Basketball jersey I surprised him with a new jersey, hat, and sweatshirt which I think he slept in that night.  Kate and I revealed that tomorrow he’d be going to the game and sitting with Dada and both his grandpas.  This was greeted with insane dancing and excitement that roughly translates to “Hell yes!!!”

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DAY 2 (Saturday) The guys took Max out for lunch, ice cream, and sodas before the game and then watched the Shocks thump Bradley.  Max always wears his “headphones” which are sound mufflers when we go somewhere loud.  He begs for them if there are fireworks.  A few minutes into the game he took them off and handed them to me.  “You can give those to Dodge, I’m 5 now and I don’t think I need them anymore.”  Well alright then.

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After the game Max got to go into the locker room and help lead the team in song and high-five all the players.  He even got to meet his idol Fred VanVleet who gave him a big birthday hug, snapped a few photos with him, and signed his jersey.  Awesomeness overload!

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Max even got to snap a few photos with Coach Gregg Marshall on the court!

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After the game we went to Max’s favorite restaurant, Stearman’s in Benton, KS.  Its attached to the small airport and he likes to watch the planes takeoff and land.  He also likes all the plane parts and model planes inside.  Grandpa liked all of this too.  I’m not sure who had more fun…maybe Grandpa.  Max was pretty exhausted by that point and started to fall asleep half way through the first book at bedtime.  Hang on buddy…Day 3 is gonna blow your mind.

DAY 3 (Sunday) Was the day he had been planning and asking for since last year.  Max wanted to go cosmic bowling at The Alley.  They put the bumpers up, dropped the lights, turned on the disco music, we filled them full of sugar, and insanity ensued.  Bowling turned into less of knocking down the pins, and more into who could roll the ball in the funniest way or hit the bumpers the most.

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The Alley also has video games and indoor go-carts.  We piled into the carts for a race with all Max’s birthday buddies and off we went!  Max was really upset that we were in 3rd place so Dada spun Isaac’s mom out and passed Kellen’s mom on the straight away before lapping Liam’s dad before the pits.  This made Max happy…and Dada too.

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He got exactly what he wanted for his birthday and slept like a hibernating bear that afternoon before partying with all grandparents, parents and Uncle Mark that night.  Pretty epic Sunday!

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DAY 4 (Monday) It was back to reality as Kate and I had to work and Max and Dodge went to school.  However, he was crowned the Birthday Boy at school by his classmates and surprised with cupcakes, songs, and birthday games.  Its good to be king!  He told me all about it at the dinner table that night where we played his new Star Wars board game.

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DAY 5 (Tuesday) The actual day.  Today.  Max is finally 5…and with everything we’ve done leading up to today we sheepishly let the day begin like any other as if nothing were going on.  Per tradition, I told Max the story of his birth the night before (which is a very different story than what we tell adults or doctors).  The short story is, it was the day Mommy and Daddy met Max in person for the first time and we became a family.  There are songs, there are cuddles, there are hugs, and I get teary every time…I’m just an old softy who blubbers anytime I think about how lucky I am to be “dad” to these boys.

Dammit!  Tearing up now!  Keep it together Ryan.

Tonight I will leave work early, Dodge will stay home with a sitter, and Kate and I will take Max to the movie theater.  He won’t know what we are going to see but he’ll figure it out pretty fast.  Max is going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  I can only assume this will be greeted with the same happy dance he did on Friday.  He has watched all 6 previous movies and in my opinion proved he’s a real fan when he explained that Hoth was his favorite planet and therefore Empire Strikes Back was the best movie.  He also leaned over to me during Revenge of the Sith and said, “There’s a lot of these love scenes and not a lot of action.”  Agreed Mr. Max…agreed.  This is how Hayden Christensen’s acting career fizzled out…Jumper just sealed the deal.  Anyhow, Max is a superfan of Star Wars and honestly with as much marketing and merchandising as Disney has done I don’t know what kid isn’t?  Seriously…kudos Disney.  Almost EVERY gift Max got this year was Star Wars themed.  Even the birthday cards.  He even got a Darth Vader costume and lightsabers.

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…and that’s how you do 5 days of birthday celebration for a kid turning 5.  All that’s left to do is measure how tall he is (he’s a giant) and listen to him ask how many days till he turns 6.  Easy buddy…enjoy 5 first, 6 will be here before you know it.  Real school, more independence, more rules, and your brother hopefully emerging from the terrible three’s.  Oh please let Dodge emerge.  Max is proof they do.

Cheers!  Here’s to another year!

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