Treat me like a big kid and I'll live up to your expectations (mostly)
I've been teasing my readers on Facebook with comments like, "Wow, things are really good here" and "We're on a roll" and not actually giving any decent details about how Bright Eyes is going right now.
So here's the story.
If you've been following along here for a while you'll know that one of his major difficulties is holding his temper and shutting his mouth to the many and varied imaginative insults he loves to throw at his family.
After being threatened with death just one too many times (I think the exact words were, "I should have stabbed you two years ago") I'd had enough. I rang our RDI consultant, had a good chat and came out of it with these things:
a) work on affirming his feelings
b) improve our conversations and co-regulation, and
c) minimise tantrum triggers
That evening I spent some time with him in his room. I realised I hadn't really spent much time thinking through what was behind all the insulting and rudeness. And of course, the best way to work it out was to ask him.
"I just won't take orders," he said, in tears. "I'm not an orders-taking boy."
It turned out that according to him, my whole life was spent spoiling his fun, ruining his life, putting time limits on him, and giving him orders. And of course, he'd said all of this to me, but I hadn't really been listening because it was all said in the heat of battle, in a loud voice and with clenched fists (both his and mine).
I asked him if we could make a deal. If he could write down all the things he wanted, and I could write down all the things I wanted, could we figure out a way to make it happen and actually live together happily? He thought we could, so we wrote a list.
Things Bright Eyes wants
No time limits
People who annoy me dealt with (actually, he said he wanted their privileges revoked for life, but I slightly amended it...)
Watch horror movies like my friends do
Things Mum wants
Polite, friendly words
Be responsible (ie. get jobs done)
We looked at our list together and I drew some connecting lines. If I dealt with the people who annoyed him, could he abstain from violence and insults? Yes, he said. If I didn't order him around, could he be responsible to get his jobs done on his own? Yes, he said. Then I made him an offer. If I gave him ten minutes more computer time, could he possibly eat what was on his plate happily and without complaining? Possibly, he said. "It depends what it is and how much."
When we got to discussing watching horror movies, it suddenly occurred to me that what he wants is simply to grow up. To be older. To be treated like a ten year old. It's not that he particularly wants to watch horror movies. He just doesn't want to be a baby.
I said that horror movies were off the table as far as I was concerned, mostly because his brain was still developing and you can't 'unsee' things. But I could do him a different deal that would hopefully still achieve the end he was hoping for.
"I know you don't have to behave with rudeness and insults," I said, "because you don't do it at school." He nodded. "I'm prepared to let you stay up later - a whole half hour later - if you can show me that you can hold your angry words in from the time you get home to the time you go to bed. If you start insulting, you're obviously not coping so an early night is good anyway. But if you can do it, you can go to bed much later."
He was absolutely delighted. And in the two weeks that we've been doing it, he's only had to go to bed at the earlier time twice.
The other day I said to him, "When are you going to bed?" He answered: "I've got no strikes against me. So it's 8 tonight." He was clearly proud of himself and the whole family has benefited from having a happier, less angry environment to live in.
To go along with the new-found grown up privileges, he's also allowed to cross the road and go to school on his own. And it's a town rule that 10 year olds can go to the pool on their own, so that's another, extra perk of being older that he's pretty happy about.
The lesson for me is, as always, to listen more and negotiate better. Sometimes it's hard to work out exactly what's behind my son's behaviours, especially because his language and self-expression is not very fluent. I have to do a little bit of translating, but it's worth it.