Earlier today I was trying to get my son out the door. He was very engrossed in a slime-making project, and I love seeing him in his element, being creative, lost in his own world. But when I have to interrupt him and tell him it’s time for bed, or we have to go somewhere, or it’s time to clean up because things are getting out of control and the mess is about swallow me whole, I am filled with dread.
I give him five-minute warnings and tell him he needs to get cleaned up so we can do something else. Then before my eyes, he immediately morphs from a content, happy, quiet child into someone who becomes very anxious and stressed-out. I know we will battle, and it probably won’t go well. But I plow ahead and brace myself for backtalk and misbehaving. We have done this dance long enough for me to know he doesn’t like transitions. He is a homebody who has a short fuse, so suggesting we change activities or settings is a struggle for him. And sometimes it isn’t pretty.
People say kids mirror what they see, but I can tell you he hasn’t seen anyone else throw cans of green beans across the room or rocking chairs into the wall. His older brother and sister were very laid-back kids who never acted like this. The truth is, he came into this world screaming loud and hard. His temper tantrums used to be a daily, torturous event. I was beside myself about it.
After doing lots of research and talking to his pediatrician, I have learned he has a shorter fuse because he feels things very deeply and doesn’t know how to express those intense feelings. He reacts in a big (often loud) way. As parents, we have done our best to teach him to deal with those “big” feelings in a healthy, effective manner. The older he gets, the easier it becomes for him to check himself and regroup, but I still have to remind him daily. His teachers remind him daily. We work on it daily. It’s frustrating and defeating at times, but worth it — for his sanity, the sanity of his teachers, and mine.
I used to be a no-nonsense type of mother who said things like, “Too bad. I don’t care. You are going to do as I say this instant!” In all honesty, I still get to that point because I am human, and dammit, dealing with a child who could explode at any second is really freaking hard.
But something that has worked for both of us far better than anything else is when I treat the situation and his feelings with empathy. Keeping calm has been key for me because it sends a signal to him that I am in control. It is not spoiling or giving in; it is dealing with his behavior in the most effective way I know how. Per the advice of his pediatrician, teachers, and counselor, once he is calm, I ask him what provoked him. Even if I think I know, I ask anyway because when he is able to articulate his feelings, I can see progress the next time around.
Other people can say what they will. I have had strangers try to discipline my child or threaten him by talking about what happens to little kids who act they way he does (i.e., Santa won’t come to leave him gifts. He will end up without a voice from screaming so much. His arms and legs might fall off from all the thrashing. Someone will spank his ass). This never helps and makes the situation so much worse. Not a little bit worse, but a whole lot worse, for both of us. I can guarantee that someone making statements like this has never had a child with behavioral issues, or they would meet the situation with much more compassion.
Being the parent of a child with a short fuse is exhausting. Other people are going to try to diagnose your child, and you often point the finger at yourself and wonder where you are going wrong. Just know it is not rare. It’s a common thing parents and children go through, and your child is not a monster. We are all born individuals. Our children have their own way of communicating their feelings, and this is just another thing we have to learn and grow from. You both will come out the other side. And once you learn their language, everyone will be happier.