Thursday, April 05, 2012

Therapeutic Parenting: 4 Baby Steps for my Preschooler

"Therapeutic parenting." The term used to scare me. It kind of still does. Mainly because I pretty much suck at it.

I'm not saying that to illicit compliments or pity. I'm saying it because it's true. But I have mindfully been working at being more therapeutic in my parenting. I wish I had more time to read books, blogs, etc, because I know there is a wealth of information out there. But I don't, so I am kind of working with the little bit I do know, and trying to really tune in to my children for the rest.

(Yes, my childREN. Because therapeutic parenting isn't just for adopted children or children with trauma in their past. It's for my child whose parents divorced as a baby and who longed for a Daddy for years, too.)

Jamey put out a call for posts about therapeutic parenting for preschoolers, and I thought I would write up 4 parenting practices that are working for us. Like I said, I'm probably not getting all these right, but even these small techniques are having an impact on our relationship.

The Potty Break

I think it's a control thing. 

Preschoolers are all about controlling themselves and their environment. When you add a background that shifts their need to control into the next gear, it can be intense. But I have this theory. Imagine all of Anna's "control powers" stored in a bucket, as tokens. She can hand out as many control tokens to apply to a situation as she wants- until her bucket is empty. Most of the time, when she is balanced, she puts a few of her control tokens into a lot of different buckets- her attitude bucket, her activities bucket, her bodily functions bucket, etc. However, when she is unbalanced, she puts a lot of her control tokens towards one thing (not always the direct "conflict") and may run out of control tokens for other areas. This is when she goes into meltdown mode.

Now, imagine that she has to go potty. She is putting quite a bit more of her control tokens into the potty bucket, and her "bank" of control tokens is pretty low or empty. Then a stressor happens, and she has no control tokens to apply, unless she borrows from another bucket. Will she borrow from the potty bucket and risk a potty accident? Or not borrow and end up in meltdown mode? With Anna, it's usually the later.

So I've been doing a "potty break" each time I start to feel an escalation (unless she's just been to the potty.) I stop, call a "Potty Break!"  and send her to the potty (and make sure that she actually sits down and tries to go). I also take a break (usually I need one to stay therapeutic and not reactive) and go change the baby's diaper. Even if it's messy, handling the baby prevents me from getting too worked up- it actually calms me. Usually I'll call to her in the bathroom and ask her how things are going... except, you know, using "potty humor" (Anna, did you have any purple pee come out?) After we've both had a potty break, we can resume our interaction. By this time, Anna has been able to free up a lot of her control tokens to use in other areas, so with a bit of help, she can apply them to a task, her attitude, etc.

Dance the Disobey Away

Anna is a very physically active, kinetically inclined child. She remembers songs with movements better than just a song by itself. She can focus much more easily on a physical task like Taekwondo than a "still" task like reading a book. 

When I start to see a lot of "disobey" coming out, we sometimes dance it away. We'll set a timer for 1 minute, and dance our wildest dances to get the disobey out. I'm talking all sorts of booty-shaking and The Robot and anything else we can think of. When it's done, I'll sometimes ask a "test" question... "hey, is your disobey gone yet?" and we can dance another minute if its not. It's silly, it's playful, it's giving a physical outlet to that pent up emotional energy that often drives her defiance. It's good.

Photo of Your Face

Honestly, I think one of the hardest things for Anna is realizing that she can control her attitude. I mean, it's hard for ME to learn, of course it's hard for her!

Sometimes, when we are having attitude problems, I'll sneak up and take a picture of her with my phone. ThenI show it to her and ask her what her face is saying. Is it saying "I'm mad and grumpy and I hate doing this task?" Or is it saying "I'm going to get this task done so I can go play outside!" 

Actually seeing herself often provides her with a motivation to change her attitude. I'll ask if she wants a "do over" on her picture. Then she can do her task and I'll take a picture with her "new" attitude. When seeing her picture doesn't help her, I try (although often fail) to stop and provide some physical contact. For instance, if she's sorting the silverware, I'll say "Oh, let me help you!" and then I'll pick up a fork and have her "steer" my hand to the right compartment in the drawer.

Baby Sister Sitter 

One of my biggest struggles is physically connecting with Anna (or any of my kids). I am not a really touchy-feely person, and when you combine that with the fact that I usually have at least one of the babies physically on my person, I just really have little desire to touch anyone, especially not a child that's pushing my buttons. 

Anna, on the other hand, is extremely physically affectionate. She loves any physical affection, and she loves to love on others, especially her baby siblings. I've been letting her cuddle the baby more... at nap time I will often let her get in my bed with Ava Joy while I finish a few household tasks, that kind of thing. Then I will get in bed with both girls, and even if I don't full-body cuddle Anna, we can both cuddle the baby and I will maybe rub Anna's back or hold her hand while doing this. 

This is a big deal for me. This is hard for me. It's not at all where it could be, but it's a lot better than were I was. And the extra cuddles that she gives the baby are very comforting for both of them. Sometimes, if she is singing Ava Joy a song or rubbing her head a particular way, I'll get in bed and sing the song to Anna or rub Anna's head just the same way... mimicking the caresses and mothering that Anna is directing to the baby. She loves it.

That's what's working for us. What's working for you?


Faith said...

I'm SO proud of you!!

The Roberts Family said...

LOVE this, Grace. ALL of us moms have areas to grow in. What comes more natural/easy for one, doesn't for another. I think our kids learn a lot by seeing us grow. I know my big kids are watching {HELLO, they totally know where I am weak!} and it speaks volumes to them when they see me really trying to grow. Thanks for sharing your heart. It encourages me as I work on persevering in a specific area of my parenting right now. Faith took the words out of my mouth. :)

you only live once said...

I love it! Those are all really great things!

Upstatemamma said...

I think you may be my hero. The potty break works for us with my NON-traumatized child (well, she is traumatized. Bringing her RAD sister into our house when she was 14 months old - yeah THAT traumatized her but you know what I mean). She is three and I totally see her melt down when she has to go to the bathroom.

The hugging and cuddling is SO hard. I AM a touchy feely cuddly person and I STILL don't want to cuddle my RAD daughter. Granted if I do try to cuddle her I get biten for it as she HATES it but still.

Missy at Its Almost Naptime said...

You're doing awesome. And rocking? How's that?

Jamey... said...

These are some great ideas, thanks for linking up!

emariestar said...

I've been in need of some fresh ideas, and these are great! Thank you for sharing!

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