Thursday, April 19, 2007


I think we're going through a difficult phase with Nicholas right now. No, I KNOW we're going through a difficult phase. In a nutshell, he's making us crazy. He's extra whiny lately, super defensive, demanding, moody as hell and behaving in a way that makes me not like him very much. Hard to say that, but it's true. Like his need to always be first - in line for the bus, in or out of the car, or first to open a door. And if he's not first, it's Grumpy Gus and whiny and sulk. Unpleasant.

His personality has always been tough for me to embrace. He's very sensitive and emotional and doesn't seem to possess much "gumption". He gives up easily. He falls apart if he feels he didn't do something right or can't do it at all. He's sort of a perfectionist that way. Also, he's never been one to take direction from people very well. Like if Mr. Chick tries working with him on how to throw a ball better, he declares "I can do it - I AM doing that!" and then chucks the ball in disgust and stomps off, crying. But in the same breath, he's a sweet boy who willingly helps his sister and loves to cuddle and laughs easily. So I'm left either wanting to scoop him up and hug him, or throttle him. Very little middle ground these days. Just like him: very black and white, linear existence.

I'm sort of at a loss of what to do to provide him the tools or coping skills to deal better. He's doing very well in school - he seems to want to perform well for his teacher. I suspect it's because he's got a lot of natural ability and hasn't been challenged yet. He's reading way above level and the counting, letters and such that they've been working on this year is stuff he already mostly knew. I dread the day when he's faced with really having to WORK to gain some knowledge. He's got an astounding memory and I suspect he'll get by with a lot of reliance on that.

Here's an example of his duality: he's on a rookie t-ball team. They had practice last Saturday (tonight is the first game) and it was time to practice batting. In this league, it's coach-pitch initially, and if the kids can't get a hit off 4-5 good pitches then they bring out the T and let them hit off that. Well, at practice they didn't bring out the T and just practiced hitting off real pitches. Nicholas has gotten some hits off pitches at past practices, but that day, he tried and tried and swung and swung but never connected. The coach went through his entire big bucket of balls pitching to Nicholas without a single hit. The other kids who had gone before him had all gotten hits. So here is poor Nicholas, swinging again and again and not giving up, until there are no more balls. Then he collapses and starts hysterically crying and running for me. Of course I hug him and comfort him and tell him how proud I was of him for not quitting and not giving up, blah blah blah, but oh boy - that was hard. I was very, very proud of him because I know how hard that was for him. I understood his embarrassment and crying. But he was HYSTERICALLY crying. Loudly and carrying on for a loonnngg time. Over the top crying. I know he's only 5 so I cut him some slack - I'm not MEAN - but then the dialog in my head starts running: my motherly desire to comfort my child warring with the thought that he needs to suck it up a bit. Wanting to be a little tough on him vs. feeling like this is just how he is and I need to work WITH it, not try to change it. Does that make sense? And then I just get sort of privately frustrated and don't know which way to go. I've tried both - first just letting him do his thing and cry and wail and carry on and me just being there for him, using encouragement and positive comments to make him feel better. This doesn't seem to work and never seems to get him to calm down faster. But I do think he likes his ass being kissed like that. I have also gone the other route: letting him be upset for a minute and then telling him he has 1 more minute to cry and be upset and then I expect him to stop and go back to practice/the game/you name it, and start talking tough. Reminding him that he's a big kid now and it's not OK to carry on like this, etc. That if he can't pull it together then we're going home, etc. (this happened last fall with soccer, for those of you who might remember my post about that). The threat of leaving only seems to flame the fire and make him wail harder/longer. It's awful. So I'm just not sure how to deal with him.

These days, he comes home from school and I SEE him being cheerful and happy on the bus, but the minute he gets off the bus and starts walking up the steps to the house, he starts dragging and sulking and whining about something. Then he starts demanding a snack and telling me how hungry he is. And I don't tolerate that shit very well. I expect my children to have respect and make requests nicely. When I remind him of that and tell him I can't hear him when he whines, he gets all indignant and storms off to his room. I swear, it's like he's a hormonal, petulant teenager. This morning he moaned about his breakfast, dragged around getting dressed, and got really pissy when I told him we didn't have time to count the coins from his piggy bank ($10) before school. "Mama!" he yelled, "that's not fair! You said we could count my money today! Hrmph!" "yes, we did, but not before school - we don't have time or you'll miss your bus. Now please go and get dressed like I asked you. Hurry up." And then he goes and throws the bag of coins on the counter because he's pissed off. Nice way to start the morning.

I do my best to keep my cool and model the behavior I expect from him. But he's pushing me. We have a Reward Point system for him in effect and he gets points (plastic poker chips) for things like not sucking his thumb, making his bed, putting his backpack, coat and shoes where they go, not whining, and keeping a good attitude for his activities like t-ball and gymnastics. He loses points for not doing stuff. Each point represents 15 minutes of TV OR computer time. His two most favorite things to do. So he has to EARN that by doing or behaving like he's supposed to. He can earn up to 6 points max per day. Trouble is, he's down to just 1-2 points, which frustrates him, and then I have to find other things for him to do, all while dealing with his pissy attitude. So in a way this system is working, and in another it's not. We're sticking with it since it's the only thing I can think to do short of keeping him in his room all day, but without points, that's about all he can do anyway.

Does anyone else experience these highs and lows with their kindergarteners? How do you deal with it? Any brilliant suggestions?

I don't have any great advice really. He sounds a lot like one of my friends kids. One thing I will say is that as he gets older he probably won't be throwing the crying "fits" especially in front of peers. I have a 1st grade boy and can't imagine him doing that out of embarassment. Eventually Nicholas will know that the other kids will laugh at him if he does that (and it will probably start soon, like 1st grade) and that in itself will stop that behavior in public. since I don't have the same problem, I can't say for sure what I'd do but most likely I'd leave right away if he started the crying/screaming. A few tears I could understand but the huge tantrum would be a deal breaker for me. I'd probably not say too much, just get things together adn leave and talk about it when he was calm. but who knows it is hard to say unless you are in the situation! I feel for you and hope he gets over this phase soon! Sounds like his dad is involved quite a bit, but spending time with a father figure who can show him how boys/men act and that may make him "tougher" I know my son is much more likely to cry or behave badly for me that his dad.. Acutually, my daughter is like that too. gotta love it. good luck.
UMMMM, I really can't give you any advice, but my 6 year old kindegardener is acting the same exact way, as is my friends kindeardener!!! I think it is a stage, and like you I get frustrated!!!

But I do truly believe it is a phase and well I have conceded to this fact and just about given up!! Not really but that is how I feel!!
I have no advice really either. My 4 year old is much like that and I do believe it is part of their personality. He is a perfect angel at the center (the one I'm buying and at everyday) unless I am in the room, then he flips and goes into whine mod, then he is fine again and as soon as we close the car doors to come home, he turns into the whine-bag again......he is a little younger but I don't see this ending soon....especially listen to your story.....ack
I have an overly emotional child too (i.e., two nights ago crying at the restaurant - on MY birthday, no less - because she was hungry but there was nothing on the kids' menu that she liked. Never mind the fact that she has liked cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, and whatever other junk is always on those menus for the last 7 years of her life). Anyway, when I am anticipating an event that might result in a breakdown or some whining, I mentally rehearse it with her in advance and we discuss appropriate behavior. So, when I know we're going to Walmart after school and I know she will whine and complain about it, we discuss the trip in the morning before school and I tell her what behavior is expected from her when the time comes and I require a verbal agreement from her regarding this behavior. Since she's in a good mood when we're discussing the event, she always agrees to be well behaved. Then as soon as the slightest hint of whining or complaining comes when we're actually going to Walmart, I nip it in the bud with a reminder about our verbal contract from earlier in the day. For some reason, the idea of her "breaking her word" to me seems to stick with her and she will turn her behavior around. The key to this whole thing is to anticipate the potential incidents where behavior is a problem and, when the behavior does start to turn, to catch it right away before the child has a chance to really work him/herself into a lather.

So, while this wouldn't work for every instance, you might try to mentally rehearse with Nicholas how he should act if he has a problem during practice again. Maybe even come up with a nonverbal cue that you can signal to him while he's practicing to let him know that you're watching and to keep him on track with his behavior. It could be something silly, like waving your fingers on the side of your face but when Nicholas sees it, he'll remember "oh yeah, I know it can be frustrating to not hit the ball, but I can handle this without crying." And, his desire to make you proud will also kick in and help him control himself.

Of course lots of praise and positive reinforcement goes a long way too. I know you already do this but I read somewhere that you should give something like 5 positive comments for every negative comment you make because the negative comments are so much more memorable and difficult to hear. Plus, it's easy to take good behavior for granted while you (you, in the general sense, not you, personally) always address bad behavior.

Incidentally, my daughter is 2 years older than Nicholas and I have definitely seen her become more flexible and more in control of her behavior amd emotions in the past two years. She still has a ways to go, as evidenced by the restaurant incident, but really, we were shocked by that because it had been a while since she had thrown a fit. So, maturity does kick in and things get better just be virtue of your child growing up.

Of course now we have to deal with back-talk and attitude problems but that's another story...

Good luck. Sorry to ramble.

Amy in NJ
My original advice was going to warn him in advance that if he starts the least bit of a sign of a tantrum, you would be leaving immediately. No discussion, pick up your stuff and go. I liked Amy's advice much better.

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