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10.31.2010

Meltdown To Zero

Kit and Doc couldn’t be more different. Kit wants grape, Doc wants lime, you know how it is. They share a bedroom and, no surprise, Doc wants a night light and Kit wants it pitch black. Since Doc goes to bed much earlier than his bro that’s not usually a problem. He’s asleep when Kit needs it dark. But some nights the little one wakes up and we have a fight on our hands.

Try explaining ‘compromise’ to a sleepy, obstinate five year old. If you’ve been there you’ll laugh. But only one laugh per customer, please! “You get the night light on in the hall and Kit has the hanging blanket to block out most of it. See, that means you get some light, he gets it mostly dark. That’s fair.”

Fair? Yeah, right. What’s fair got to do with it? Fair to a five year old is you give me all of your candy, leave the room, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. So, as soon as I leave Doc gets up, flicks on lights, opens the doors and commences to yapping while Kit screams at him to shut up and turn out the light.

Now comes the hard part. First off, I have to decide who’s causing the trouble - in this case it’s Doc. He’s overtired but he knows exactly what he’s doing. So I have to show him that he’s not the boss and he’ll compromise ‘just because’. I led him into my workshop just across the hall, which is well lit, and told him to stand there until he was ready to go to bed and be quiet. I started working quietly while he stood there and cried and sniffed. No matter how sorry I might feel, I stay calm but firm because he was testing my limits, probing for soft spots. We’ve been here before. He’s thrown tantrums and screamed or just stood his ground stubbornly until he finally realizes he’s not going to get his way. It can take minutes or we could be there for hours.

It’s what’s known in behavior language as an extinction burst. The final push until their resistance finally burns out. It is the worst possible time for the adult to blink. As soon as you do, you are telling your child that they are in control of events. Because he’s been used to Buddy or Debbie blinking all the time, he’s used to getting his way through whines, persistence and temper. So his push back can get brutal. Tonight, fortunately, it was only a couple of minutes before he sniffled that he was ready to go to bed. I tucked him in with a hug and we whispered friendly words about the coming day for a few minutes while he settled down and fell right asleep.

The irony of all this is that Doc is thankful that I do this for him. He doesn’t want to be in control. It scares the crap out of him. But if no one else is there to take charge they spiral out of control into a world with no limits. Buddy is learning this and life between he and the boys is getting better because of it.

Parents who let their kids get away with too much do them or themselves no favor.