I began the day with resolve. I end the day with the same resolve, just a bit weary from being tested and tried. Earlier, I wrote, “Sam’s constant demands for attention, and tantrums and meltdowns and rigidity are in for a rude awakening, which means we are too.” I always hold out hope that I’m wrong when I write things like that, but mostly, I know I’m right. I was.
Our home program includes a new set of rules. Red Rules and Green Rules. In order to teach Samuel self-regulation, we do not respond to him when he gets upset and starts a tantrum. Any tantrum or meltdown behaviors are ignored (unless he is harming others or himself) when the Red Rules are up. Once he is calm, we will acknowledge him and do what is needed. Our therapist gave us a laminated red piece of paper and a laminated green piece of paper to put up somewhere highly visible at home for him to see and be reminded of, only one at a time. She suggested choosing a time of the day each day for as little as 1/2 hour – an hour or two that Red Rules are posted and lengthening the time they are posted over time. We went over the rules ahead of time with him in therapy, and I went over them again with him at home before I put them up today.
When we see him beginning to get upset, we gently remind him once, “Remember the Red Rules (pointing to the red paper). Mommy and Daddy cannot talk to you if you are very upset and screaming. We will help you if you are calm.” So far, he pretty much ignores us and continues with what he’s doing, even if he gets upset. Tonight, he ignored the reminder and was having trouble coloring and erasing which made him jump from 0 – 60 and suddenly found himself in the throes of a meltdown. We had already reminded him of Red Rules when he started getting upset, so now we had to follow through on ignoring the behavior until he was calm.
We learn by testing limits. We think to ourselves, “5 more miles over the speed limit won’t do anything” until we see the lights in our rearview mirror. We’re more cautious next time (well, some of us are), and at least hit the brakes as quickly as possible when we see a police car on the side of the road – because we’ve learned.
Sam knows our rules. We will not acknowlege him when he tantrums. So he decided to test us. Physically showing his anger (clenched fists, stomping his feet), screaming, playing with his voice in different ways to get our attention, yelping, almost barking, and then even kicking a toy. Because harm was not posed to himself or others, we continued to ignore the behavior so he wouldn’t take it to that level (or worse) the next time. Finally, he calmed down in the kitchen. It was time to praise him for calming down and ask how I could help him. I called him into the living room (right next to the kitchen) and he yelled back, “WHY?!” The rule in our house is that you come when you are called – not after you find out why you’re being summoned. I gave him the direction in a more serious tone once more adding I wanted to talk to him. He still refused.
The next step if he refuses to follow direction is to model the direction, and then if it is still refused, use hand-over-hand instruction to force them to follow the direction. Since this was a bit different asking him to walk somewhere, I went into the kitchen, and took the colored pencil out of his hand. I calmly told him, “Samuel, I told you to come into the living room. No coloring.” Actually, I tried to take the pencil out of his hand. He grabbed on with both hands, screaming at me. He talked back, still trying to hold on. I finally was able to put it down and carried him into the living room as he screamed in my ear. This was upsetting to me because the whole purpose of calling him into the living room was to praise him for calming down, and now I had to follow through with more discipline for another meltdown!
I sat him in time-out on the piano bench for disobedience and set our visual stoplight timer explaining he did not obey so he was in time-out. I was excited to hear his next words through his sobbing, “I want the Calm Counter!” The Calm Counter is an app on his tablet that helps him calm down by counting backward from 10 and watching the screen change colors and the face get happier. Then it takes a deep breath and says all done. He likes to read the social story at the end of the counter that talks about feeling angry, how everyone gets upset, and there are ways to help. Thankfully, this was hugely successful in the middle of this meltdown and it WORKED!
After it was all over, we briefly talked about what is and what is not okay when he’s upset. But then I got to fold him into my arms and hold him and tell him how much I loved him. He tolderated it, but wasn’t fully “there”. He was drained. Ice cream was now ready for the boys (who all ate a GOOD dinner!!), so we finished the night with dessert during family devotions followed by singing at the piano and hugs and kisses and tucking in and no more meltdowns.
In the middle of the tantrums, I walked out of the room to the kitchen and just stood at the stove, gripping the towel bar handle as tightly as possible. I wanted to cry so badly, but didn’t. I can’t just fall apart when I need to be most strong. All I could do was pray, “Oh God, help me. Am I doing the right thing? Give us wisdom and strength to do what is right.” Then I took a deep breath and went back into the loud living room to wait it out. After the kids were in bed, I took some time for myself and dug out piano music I know well and just played. It felt so good to pour emotion into music. Then it was finally time to relax with Kyle, and I let the dam break. He just held me for the minute or two I needed to get it out and then we settled in to watch mindless TV. Don’t judge. Watching the trivial problems of 7 girls fighting over 1 guy just makes me feel better about myself. 🙂 You know you do it too.
I’m exhausted now. After all that, all I wanted to do was write about it and get it out of my brain so I wouldn’t be writing in my mind as I tried to sleep. And if you actually stuck with me and read through this whole venting post, kudos to you. And thanks for listening… eyes. 🙂