Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Talking about our beautiful children

Our days at home used to sound something like this:

Iza please don’t throw the cushions on the floor Iza don’t climb the window Iza leave it on the table No no noooooo ok baby can you stand aside so I can clean up the mess? Thank you (one look over the shoulder while cleaning) Iza no no nooo not there!!!!

When Mr. O came home, I’d throw a tantrum, give myself a time out and hide in the bedroom or bath tub to cry incessantly until Mr. O would tell me gently, it’s safe to come out Monster has gone to sleep.

Every morning I’d wake up thinking “Did I sleep last night?” followed by a quick calculation of all the times we all woke up. Any time I got a number close to 4 hours (of sleep) I’d thank God. Sadly, it wasn’t often that we got four hours of sleep.

I (according to me) suffered two near nervous breakdowns before I finally admitted to myself there is something that has to change! I began with changing pediatricians. The new doctor spent 15 minutes with us before turning to me and saying “Mommy, this girl is ruling you! You have to tell her who’s boss.”

Thus started the quest for How to manage my hi-need child; I left no related book unturned in the library, I pestered every mom who hinted they had high need children as well until I gathered a group of moms just as exhausted as me and one who said “I can help!”

Tuesday night we all sat together and started picking on Michelle’s brain and experience with her now 5 year old twins.

Here is a gist of everything that we talked about:

Why is there a baby stuck on my leg! And why is she calling me Mom?

All our babies were/are breastfed and therefore we as mothers are the one person they are super attached to. For nursing mothers to create a secure attachment with someone else (ahem…dads), Michelle suggested to plan activities outside the home where the child is engaged in active play with the father. Make sure it happens during the time they will not require nursing (usually at least a good two hour break) and the activity must happen outside of familiar surroundings where mom usually nurses. HOME reminds the kid that they would rather nurse than play; when outside with the dad, make sure they have a lot of fun so that the kid associates security, fun and enjoyment with the dad as well.

Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!

Apparently the attention hogging behavior does reduce as the kids grow, but does not disappear entirely. Michelle suggested that this will be a personality trait as they grow up.
To train the attention hogger on how to engage themselves in play, set up a timer for 5 minutes and tell them “play with your new toy for five minutes and I’ll be in the other room and when the timer goes off, I will come back to get you.” Get them a special toy or activity that will engage them for those five minutes and then leave the room. If they stay alone and play for those 5 minutes without you, reward them with treats (or hugs and kisses, hi-need kids are very tactile and love being snuggled). Make sure that the surroundings and toddler-proof and safe for them to stay alone in that room without supervision.

Mr. No-No:

It’s a universally known fact….that spirited children’s “no” is very different from your average child’s denial. Iza still throws a sidewalk groveling tantrum even if I’ve just asked her to not run back into the store we’ve just left.

A friend of ours, Cynthia, introduced me to the world of empowering the toddler. Things have been much better though mentally exhausting when I’m literally speaking in either/or language. The first time I tried giving Monster a close-ended question in which she had to pick one or the other choice offered I was tongue tied. “Oh my GOD!,” I was screaming in my head. “How hard can coming up with a dual-choice question be?” I cursed the day I graduated college and decided if I can’t wing this, I need to go back to school.

Eventually though, like all things in parenthood do, it got easier. Like I said, I talk to Monster in constant questions. “Do you want to play with the blocks or do you want to pee?” “Do you want to walk and hold hands or do you want me to carry you?” “Do you want to cry or do you want us to go night-night?” “Do you want to eat or do you want to go pee first?”

I ask her if she needs to pee a lot.

Luckily I rarely hear a “no” anymore. Unless I’m tired and forget to give her a choice and instead just tell her to do something (oh my God just for this one time, don’t make me talk!)

Michelle confirmed all these strategies plus the importance of setting boundaries and routines. She stressed that for high-need children, routines are worth their weight in gold. They need to know what to expect, be prepared for the future and with routines they will be a time when they will automatically understand that bath time will be followed by bed time.

Even for trips to the doctor, (or impending vacations and airplane trips) Michelle suggested utilizing role playing and pretend playing to get them used to what will happen in fact at the actual event.

(Today a friend, her preschooler and we played pretend airplane etiquette and we discovered that if nothing else works, pull out the big guns aka Caillou on a portable DVD player. It worked so well that I wished I WAS Caillou.)

We chatted about other issues as well, such as eating battles and sleep-wars. We will have to meet again to discuss these issues at more detail. From this one meeting, we got a lot of information and a lot of encouragement. Like Michelle candidly reminded us “it COULD be worse!” this is really something mothers—not just mothers of hi-need children—but really all parents need to remember when waking up for the 5,000th time in a night, or picking up crushed cereal from the carpet you just vacuumed.

All kids are precious and regardless of their varying habits and behavioral patterns, they do ultimately depend on us as parents to take care of them. We are their first lesson in trust and friendship. What they learn from us, they will utilize their entire life.

This is a great responsibility….let’s not screw this up! *lolz*

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