We’ve been laying on the Nurtured Heart ‘recognitions’, aerating the soil, plumping the pillows, stocking the fridge, every sort of metaphor you can muster, we’ve been doing it.
The juiciest ones to do are the Creative Recognitions, the times I accuse Fluffy of success when he’s in the middle of dysregulation, which happens a lot. That’s the most rewarding recognition for me these days since it’s the time when things, historically, are the most tenuous, when meltdowns and lectures stand eagerly in the wings, practicing their lines.
In fact, if I could sum up Fluffy’s greatest challenge it would be that: self-regulation, holding on to himself during strong emotions–excitement, worry, fear, disappointment, frustration, confusion, embarrassment, anger. It’s like the term ‘flooding’ that the marriage counselor Gottman believes happens within relationships when one partner gets triggered and a cascade of internal physiologic responses rush through the body like water through the broken dam.
With Fluffy, it doesn’t only coincide with strong emotions. It happens in response to overwhelming sensory input and unmet physical needs. He sometimes forgets that he is a being of the earth and needs to eat, go to the bathroom, drink water, wear sufficient clothing.
Not surprisingly, my greatest challenge dovetails with Fluffy’s; his dysregulation triggers my own.
When I come home and the sitter has neglected to present a snack and Fluffy is pinging off the ceiling, I get anxious and irritated. He needs food!
When Fluffy is sitting on the five-year-old neighbor, yelling various mocking tones in his face because he is frustrated by his inability to get a game going (the boy keeps saying, No, I don’t want to play that…) I feel the pressure mounting in my chest.
When I am at my desk, swimming through the stacks and piles and Fluffy keeps escaping his room at bedtime to climb into my lap or reach into my shirt or poke me in the face or wield my mouse and wildly paw at the buttons on my keyboard, I feel like grabbing his wrists and yelling, STOP IT STOP IT! and maybe launching into a mini-lecture about respecting my things and my personal space.
It is at those moments when my patience and calm is paper thin, when the rope I clasp is tattered and frayed. It is at those moments that Nurtured Heart comes galloping in, taking center stage with his mighty energy sword.
I wait for the break, tiny as it may be–Fluffy’s inhale, and dive in. Thank you for pausing! I so appreciate that you stopped poking and grabbing. That takes great inner strength! I admire the self control you are using!
It’s becoming the new habit. It not only helps Fluffy but it’s really helping ME return to balance. Let’s face it, how effective am I as a guide if I’m knocked off kilter by whatever is going on with him?
After a few weeks of laying on the Time Ins, we introduced Time Outs. Yesterday. Inauguration Day. It felt fitting.
Before you introduce Time Outs, you need to decide on the rules. Glasser says, you don’t need to post the rules, just (1) make sure you are crystal clear about them yourself and (2) never let one slip.
Guidelines for setting rules: Frame them in the negative and be very very specific, ie, ‘No yelling’ NOT ‘Indoor voices’; ‘No pushing’ NOT ‘Gentle hands’; ‘No mocking’ NOT ‘Be nice’.
1. No yelling or screaming in someone’s face
2. No mocking
3. No teasing
4. No pushing (hitting, pinching, grabbing, holding, poking, punching)
5. No licking other people
6. No spitting on others
7. No writing/drawing on the furniture
8. No disobeying the timer that mommy and daddy set when it goes off
9. No banging silverware, dishes, cups, glasses
10. No contact with others while they are on the swing
Dave and I decided to keep our list of rules relatively short, at first. We’re not ready to enforce certain rules that we know would be hard for Fluffy and that we suspect might make him spiral farther in the middle of a meltdown.
For example, take the first rule: no yelling in someone’s face. We aren’t going to make ‘no yelling’ a rule yet since Fluffy often yells quite a bit as he storms around and then races upstairs to take a self-imposed break after an upset. When that happens, we’d rather celebrate his (1) ability to feel his strong feelings, feel them without (2) hurting himself or (3) us, (4) without hurting the house, (5) without throwing things AND (6) having the self-control and wisdom to leave in order to calm down. Six huge successes! If we were to give him a Time Out for the yelling in the middle of it, we would have short-circuit all that learning and his own emerging empowerment.
We sat down in the morning and talked about how great things have been going lately, how proud we are of Fluffy’s behavior, his respectful, creative, sensitive, lively, inventive, energetic, cooperative energy. We talked about how mommy and daddy used to sometimes get mad or talk on and on or argue when Fluffy broke the rules but we’ve decided it doesn’t work and so we’re not going to do it that way anymore. In fact, we’ve been trying it the new way for a while and we think it’s much better this way.
That’s great! Fluffy chimed in! Not only does it not work, Mom, it actually makes things worse! he elaborated. Yes. We agreed! We’re going to do our best not to give a bunch of energy to when things go wrong and instead focus on how much is going right.
Oh, Fluffy said, Now that you mention that, I DO notice that you haven’t been doing that lately and I really appreciate it! (Is he doing NH on us?)
We outlined the new system: when Fluffy breaks a rule, we’ll give him a consequence. The same consequence every time. Not a time out one day and taking away a toy the next or taking away dessert or taking away computer time on another day. Always the same thing: a Time Out. We’ll say (flatly), “Oh, you broke a rule. Time out.” and then we’ll have him sit quietly, ie, no talking, no playing, no reading, no eating, until we say the Time Out is over.
We told him he had our permission to break any rule, including not taking the Time Out but that things like computer time or desserts or extra books at bedtime couldn’t happen until the Time Out was done. Okay, Mommy and Daddy, Fluffy said.
And then we practiced what a Time Out would be like. We said, let’s pretend you just broke a rule. “Oh. You broke a rule. Time out.” Fluffy sat still. I looked away and counted to about fifteen in my head and then turned around. “Okay. Thank you for taking your time out so cooperatively. I really appreciate how you followed the rules and didn’t argue or delay!”
Later that day, he had a playdate and let me say, there were plenty of opportunities for real life Time Out enactments. We had some rough going–that’s for a different post–but all in all, he respected every Time Out and we kept to our own promise about how they would go. There was a moment when I felt the righteous words rise in my throat, my hands itching to take an offending item away, but they passed and I was soooooooo proud of myself for not stepping all over this little seedling, peering in all its green glory through the dirty white snow.
Fluffy was pleased to learn that every rule except #8 applies to Mommy and Daddy. Our consequence for breaking them? Cold hard cash into the Swear Jar which has now become the Rule Jar.
What will we do with all the money from the Rule Jar? Fluffy wanted to know at bedtime. I don’t know, I said.
I think we ought to give it to kids who don’t have very much. I think we ought to use it for good. That way, even though it came from something not good, it can be transformed.
Huh. Part of the energy revolution. I think it’s a brilliant idea.