Monday, February 7, 2011

Defiant To The Very End

So I have to face facts here.  I have a very truculent, constantly defiant, verging on intolerably rude 5 year old on my hands these days.

I think, to be honest, he has been living with me for approximately 2 years but I have steadfastly stuck my head in the sand and refused to acknowledge it.  Have gladly made all manner of excuses for his disobedience, general lack of respect and violent outbursts.

'He's acting up because his parents are separating'.

'He's testing the boundaries because he is 3...4...5'.

'He's not really a destructive little shit at heart, he just doesn't have the emotional capacity to express his innermost turmoil over the move home...'

Maybe there is a nugget of truth in all of these statements - but it is getting to the point where I now feel that I have to apologise and attempt to explain his behaviour to family and friends.  His roguish demeanor is seen as being obnoxious and disdainful to others when he is not getting his own way (and even sometimes when he is).  And I just feel overwhelmed by the task ahead of me in trying to straighten him out.

Part of me struggles because I know, deep down, that Johnny Drama - as well as being an incredibly loving and affectionate child - is also quite trepidatious.  On the surface he is brash and confident.  A scene stealer.  Seeks the spotlight and adores being the centre of attention.  Highly competitive (particularly against his older brother, who doesn't seem to give two hoots as to whether he wins, loses or draws).

But actually he is much more fearful of new situations, openly doubts his abilities and gets his knickers in a right old twist about not being as competent as his peers.  Stick him in the garden with  a football and a couple of mates and he is in his element.  Sign him up for a sports class of any description, even one he particularly excels at, and he will sit cautiously on the sidelines and refuse to participate out of sheer nerves.

He is also the boy who, on one hand, will stick his tongue out when being told off and hit me if a request for sweets or more TV is turned down.  But on the other hand will smother me in cuddles and kisses, pronouncing regularly and in the softest and most ardent of voices "I love you so much Mama.  My heart squeezes so much love for you that it just wants to explode all out of my body, everywhere."

It's obvious that I haven't dealt with this Jekyll and Hyde behaviour well.  I know I should have nipped it in the bud a long time ago, rather than making excuses.  Initially, it seemed that I bore the brunt of his anger and defiance - and I'm ashamed to admit that I think I let a lot of it ride because I felt, deep down, that I deserved it.

Now his behaviour is extending to family, friends and at school.  He even whacked my dad on their last visit, which earned him a significant time out, but it shocked me out of my complacency a little - how on earth does he have the confidence and gall to hit one of his grandparents?  On what planet has he been led to believe that is acceptable behaviour?  And who is responsible for guiding his actions and teaching him right from wrong?  Well, that would be me then.  Look what a stellar job I must be doing.  It's mortifying.  But I know the crux of it is that I am not doing my beloved son any favours by letting him behave this way.  And a simple time out or a telling off doesn't seem to have much effect.  I know the time has come to be more hard core and, more importantly, ruthlessly consistent.

Oh, how fucking exhausting that sounds just writing it down.  And therein lies the problem - I just feel too weary to tackle it alone.

Which I guess has been my excuse for a very long time now.

Has anyone else dealt with this before?  You know, the whole Second Child Syndrome on steroids?

I know I need to step up and stop making excuses, because I would hate him to become the insensitive, self-absorbed bully that we have all seen or experienced as he gets older.  I've read enough books to know what I ought to be doing and, although I think I am applying the techniques religiously, I think my sister would agree that in real life I typically exhibit a Warts And All style of parenting.

Oh God, it's so depressing to think that I have moulded this little monster.  My very own engaging, hilarious, gregarious, energetic, passionate miniature schizophrenic.


  1. It's good you've decided to face this now rather than later. Take it a step at a time, perhaps choose one behaviour to work on first. Watch those 'supernanny' type shows - they're very inspiring and usually give good advice. And remember, things will probably get worse before they get better, but it's important that you stick to your guns. Good luck!

  2. You know that a lot of this is stress right? He could have Father Xmas and the Tooth Fairy as his housemates and it would still be stressful. You need to show him that if he behaves like this with you and others, he can't be with you (ie. in the same room). Rather than giving him a time out, you have to tell him that if he chooses to behave like that, he will have to go into another room. Then it's his choice. And you have to follow through and put him in another room for a while.
    How do I know? You didn't know the Man-Child when he was little. I have had so much professional advice about this I could write another book! (And will gladly e-mail you more.)

  3. This is hard but you will deal with it and everything will come out right: you need to think like that before you tackle the job at hand. I know because I am having to deal with The Boy and it;s exhausting but it is getting better.
    Choose your battles, stick to your guns and always carry thorough threats (therefore please make sure you don't use ones you cannot carry thourgh like the "if you do not be quiet inthe back of the car I will drop you by the side of the road....." one!)

  4. God, it's so hard parenting, isn't it? You're not alone. I've been having issues with Littleboy 1 recently - acting up at school, showing virtually no respect for adults or teachers, not caring if he's told off. And I also feel it's my fault, for not being consistent enough.

    The only thing that's worked for me so far (up to a point) is the carrot and stick approach. So, I praise him lots when he's had a good day at school (this requires feedback from the teacher, who luckily wants to 'work on this together'). Then, he wants to work harder for that praise, and his behaviour improves. It's worth a try (and don't beat yourself up; these little boys are sent to try us, I reckon).

  5. Oy. It's like you're describing how things were (and still are sometimes) with my oldest. It's not all Second Child Syndrome, my dear.

    It is, absolutely, EXHAUSTING to tackle this by yourself. And those excuses are so easy. I know, because that was me. Still is, sometimes. It took the wisdom and willingness to confront me about it that MTL possesses to finally start changing the way I handle things. And it's an ongoing process--there is no easy overnight "fix".

    Do you remember, by any chance, me writing about giving DramaBoy an entire day Time Out this last summer? That's what it took to start making a real difference with him. And just this last week when he started hitting kids at school (apparently out of misguided exuberance, but still) and disobeying his P.E. teacher, it took another full day grounding (on a snow day, no less) to drive home that point. And, because I do believe it occasionally is necessary (though I never ever do this when I'm angry and in the moment, for that way lies disaster), he sometimes gets a spanking.

    With him, it seems to take the extremes to get through to him. The message I keep giving him, and I say this to him directly, is that while he is allowed to be angry and frustrated and excited and all that, he is NOT allowed to take it out on other people. He is NOT allowed to have an attitude with me. Period. There are some things that are simply unacceptable. And if he continues with those forms of behavior, he won't be allowed to be part of society (so to speak).

    Plus, denying him access to technology is TORTURE for him.

    He's five as well. I swear, that age...Plus, it seems that sometimes children like him and yours (they sound much alike) test the boundaries far more than necessary. They're just too smart for their own good, and the MANIPULATION....argh.

    Stay strong. You ARE strong enough. I'm cheering you on.

  6. Writing as the mum of a 5 year old who just purposefully wee'd on the floor this evening (only a little bit - for a laugh, if you can believe that), I know JUST where you're coming from.

    When you find the answer can you let me know?

  7. No advice, but much empathy! My 5 year old boy is definitely showing the attitude, too - and also turns on the lovey-dovey charm. I'll be following here with interest -

  8. Just plain old Nanny N here,

    I miss you guys so much! I swear if I could I'd hop a plane with bags fill of trader joe’s goods & chocolate for you , hugs for the boys and a bit of a lecture for Mr. Johnny Drama. He does thrive with consistency.

    Between the back and forth from your place to “Ex’s”, old friends leaving to England and new friends coming in he loved his little schedule and knowing what would happen if he stepped out of line. I know you don't want to see hurt in those big blue eyes, but they need the discipline.

    It’s not too late now, just send him off to his room to cool down, take away his pet dinosaur, and show him you mean business. Remember this is a new beginning, and that behavior is not allowed in the new house.

    I love reading the blog to keep up with you guys, I miss my little gentlemen! It’ll be tough but worth it in the end. Supernanny is still a great show to watch, and from watching it you’ll remember that trying isn’t enough if you don’t follow through. Best of luck! Keep your head high, it seems Captain Underpants is thriving and so are you, Johnny Drama has always needed that extra time but he’s so worth it. <3 You!

  9. Ah, the defiance. We get a lot of that around here too. Some kids get scared when they feel insecure, and push push push the boundaries. They are hoping to find that the rules hold, to feel contained by them, even if they don't like the rules and fight them tooth and nail. They want to fight and lose, they want someone to be stronger than they are. But often they are so determined that they keep pushing until we give in. we give them the sweet, or the TV, or we let them stay up an extra 10 minutes, because really what does it matter, right there in the moment, if we stretch the rules. But when the rules don't hold, the world isn't secure, so they keep on pushing and pushing the limits, something inside them really hoping that they can find a place to stop.

    I so badly want to be a chilled out mum, because really I don't care if my daughter goes to school with her shirt on inside out or if she sleeps in a cinderella costume, but I found out (from a parenting class when she was three, and scratching my face into bleeding ribbons) that my daughter needed more structure than I was giving. And after a few weeks of holding firm she really did improve. Was bloody hard though.

    Others have given such great advice. My only extra bit is that if you don't already have it, read a copy of "how to talk to kids will listen and listen so kids will talk".

    The book explores ways to encourage parents and children (and just about anyone, really) to communicate effectively. My copy is very worn, and I keep referring back to it.

  10. such amazing and constructive comments. Thank you!! It has been reassuring and helpful to read them all - and has definitely given me more impetus to stick to my guns and see it out. After 4 days of being incredibly firm with new house rules and expectations - I am seeing a dramatic improvement already. His unruly behaviour has definitely toned down and he knows I mean business when he starts playing up. Why on earth I didn't do this ages ago, instead of trying to compete with him in the tantrum and yelling stakes, I just don't know.

  11. Oh poor you. It's too hard sometimes, isn't it? And it's so hard to make children into calm, balanced human beings as long as you're not calm and balanced yourself. My second was a right little monster as well for a bit while I was pregnant and after Charlie was born simply because I wasn't coping. She's slowly getting better now, because I am too, and because she spends more time in the corner than playing some days. Good luck! You are doing great recognising there's a problem and intending to tackle it.

  12. I don't have any answers but can understand your exhaustion in dealing with it. I've realised recently that the 'baby' has been a bit spoilt and I was too tired to nip it in the bud but I've started getting tougher. He's a bit younger than yours though so I hope a little bit easier to do. I wonder what his behaviour is like when he is with his dad? He has had a lot of changes hasn't he. Good luck and don't beat yourself up, all children are different. X

  13. Don't be too hard on yourself! We all have something different to deal with... just look for advice, think it through, make your decisions and then be consistent! It might take a long timne to change habits of behaviour but you'll get there!