Yesterday was our planned monthly library trip. It is always a bit of a scramble to get everyone ready, find all the books, check them off the list so that we are sure we have them all, put them into bags and then get everyone and all the bags into the car. I sometimes wonder if taking my children to the library is worth it. (I evidently do, since I continue to take them... it's just that getting ready part I don't enjoy.) The scramble isn't helped when some small person is having a contrary day.
L. was not making the morning easier. Pretty much everything that was asked of her caused her to whine and scream. It was quite unpleasant. It reached a point where I had to tell her that a child who was behaving as she was did not get to go the library and gave her another chance to pull herself together. I'm sorry to say, she didn't take the chance offered.
Now, probably the best parenting advice you will ever receive is to follow through on everything you say. Do not make idle threats you cannot or will not carry out because your children will cease to listen to you. Having made the threat, I knew I had to follow through... I will add that I knew exactly what I was doing when I informed her of the possible consequence to her action.
When the noise didn't stop, I asked A. to stay home with L. (I already knew that A. did not have her heart set on going to the library and that she would actually probably prefer to stay home. She has more schoolwork she needs to get through in a day than the others do.) Not surprisingly, when L. realized that plans were being made for her to stay home, the noise and uncooperativeness stopped immediately. This was my key to knowing I was making the right choice. Had she been so far gone that even immediate action did not change her behavior I would have acted differently, but in this case she brought the halo out, shined it up, and informed me that she would be willing to cooperate. At this point, I had to do a very hard thing and inform her that she still couldn't go. Had she been willing to change her behavior when asked, she could have gone, but she waited a little to long. And then the crying is despair began and it was heart breaking. I really wanted to be able to change my mind, but I knew I couldn't. L. has been developing the habit of waiting just a little too long to change her attitude or behavior and that were I to give in now, it would just reinforce that habit. But, oh, how I hated having to do it.
[Let me interject here, how we must parent each child as they need us to parent them. I mentioned before that if L. didn't do the typical healthy child-thing and pull herself together in a last ditch attempt to get to go, I would have acted differently. At that point I would have known that there was something else up and a different reason for her behavior. For our children affected by trauma this is often the case. While most typically developing children are able to rein in the bad behavior when faced with an imminent threat, those affected by trauma cannot. They are too far gone in their panicked, fearful thinking to be able to consciously control their behavior. To a child who already believes in his innermost being that he is not worthy or safe or loved, to be told he cannot come along only confirms his deepest fears. It is not helpful or constructive and can do real harm. If the punishment does not ultimately help to change poor behavior to more positive behavior, there is absolutely no point to it except to fill a need in the parent. We parents must be very careful in our discipline.]
Connection with our children is of the utmost importance. I knew L. would be very sorry for what happened before we left and would be sad she hadn't been able to choose new books. I purposefully set about choosing some books that I knew she would like a lot (one of them being a huge book about Superman) so that I could give them to her when we got home along with a hug. On the home front, A. said that L. cried a bit more but ultimately decided that it was going to be a lot of work to keep it up the whole time we were gone. A. offered to play a game with her which L. ultimately joined in on. They had a nice time together and things were calm. When we walked in the door, L. greeted me with, "I'm sorry, Mommy." We reconnected and life went on pretty happily for the rest of the day.
But it was a lesson learned. Along towards bedtime, L. was beginning to go down the path of uncooperativeness once again. All it took was for me to remind her of how yucky the morning had been and she changed her ways. This may have to be a lesson she has to relearn over the course of time, but I hope it's not too often. I hate to have to do it.