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I have a son with the kind of nebulous, quirky special needs that often have friends assuring me that nothing's actually wrong with him. Despite these well-intentioned comments, he clearly needs a lot of guidance and consistency. This summer, I've been following my son's behavior therapist's strict guidelines. And it has me on a fast track to the funny farm.
Time out sounds so simple
When my son's therapist told me that time outs were the core of his therapy for lying and defiance and violence, I wanted to cry. It sounded so basic. Aren't parents supposed to know how to execute a time out from day one? From week to week, I began practicing our rigid time out procedure. I could tell that it was working, and that was the only thing keeping me hanging on to my last shred of sanity. If you think being consistent with time outs is simple, try needing to discipline your child when you're trying to pay for $150 worth of groceries at the supermarket.
I'm supposed to ignore all whining. The therapist recommended loud headphones, but I have a 5-year-old I need to keep track of. This means when my older son is in time out or I'm ignoring him for whining for a snack or something else over and over, I just have to suck it up. "Mama? Mama? Mama? Mama? Mama? Are you listening? Mama? Mama?" He can do it for three entire minutes of time out. It's the actual worst. This is why whining works. Something about your child pleading speaks directly to the part of your brain that will do just about anything to make it stop. I also look like the biggest a-hole ever when we're at the playground and I'm ignoring him. The other parents don't know I'm ignoring his weird excuse for punching his brother.
They're not spoiled
My kids are running my life. If I slip and drop some of the consistency related to time outs, praise, ignoring and direct commands, everything falls to pieces. It's not because I have a spoiled child, it's because I have a child with behavior issues and another who needs to be disciplined the same way to avoid a disruption in the space time continuum (or something). I'm not doing this because I think my kids are special snowflakes. Trust me, I probably wouldn't discipline them at all if I lived in a magical world where they wouldn't go feral and eat me.
Therapy makes me feel stupid
When we meet with my son's therapist, she spends time watching me engage with the kids. She gently reminds me how to rephrase things. "Don't ask a question, just make a comment on what they're doing," she'll say. So instead of asking, "Is that a blue Lego?" I will say, "You're holding a blue Lego." It's unwieldy and counterintuitive and it makes me feel like an idiot, but it works. I have a child who desperately wants attention and usually acts like a rabid jerkface if I don't find positive ways to acknowledge him and the good things he does. And he does do good things, often. He's a smart, funny kid. His behavior deficits are just part of the big puzzle that makes up who he is. That's why I tough it out when I just want to hide under my bed and throw toaster waffles at both of them.