Hi! I just attended Jane's Positive Discipline Seminar and I have her book, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers next to my bed. I love all your material and it has begun to save my relationship with my 5 year old son. I say begun to save, because we're having to undo so much of what we thought we were supposed to be doing in the name of discipline, but at least we're trying and some things are turning around.
The question I have is that both my husband and I have parents from across the country and they only get to see our son 1-2 times a year. After years of struggling with infertility, we adopted him from birth and he is very special to our family. He is and always has been a creature of habit, needing to stay on schedule, needing to eat frequently, etc. Then come the grandparents (usually for a week) who are so excited to see him because they don't get to see him very often. The first day or two are usually pretty good—the "honeymoon" phase. Then he just starts to get nasty towards them. They try to talk to him and ask him questions and he just won't respond. (Another frequent problem I could use suggestions on. His hearing has been checked and if you ask in a lowered voice, "Do you want a piece of candy?" he is very quick to respond). If he's angry about not getting his way about something he will shout, "Leave me alone, I don't want to talk to you!" or if he's sad and they try to comfort him, etc. he'll say, "Don't talk to me. I just want to be alone!" or "I'm not talking to you, Grandma, I'm talking to .... " even though no one can tell who he's addressing his statement to.
My husband and I are very embarrassed by his behavior. We feel our parents are very respectful about not over-whelming him with tons of presents when they come to buy his love and affection, they mostly want to spend time with all of us and enjoy a small slice of our life. If they do bring a small present, he is usually ungrateful or says he doesn't want it. (We've tried to work with him on being gracious and have role-played what it looks like and sounds like before-hand). It doesn't help. He keeps a very clear distance from them, not wanting to hug or kiss or sit on their laps and be read to, rather demanding that we do it instead of them. We try to prepare our parents for the fact that they can't expect an instant relationship with him. They try to warm up gradually. Sometimes there are glimmers of hope. Most of the time it is unsuccessful and they end up leaving hurt and we end up feeling very disappointed in our son and I think he feels it. Most of the time we call him on his behavior, and tell him that his words are hurtful, unkind or disrespectful and that we won't allow him to talk to his grandparents like that. Then we ask him to leave and come back when he can talk pleasantly. (I confess that his time-outs have mostly been negative, because we haven't created the positive time-out place yet.) He usually does come back after a bit though, more composed, sometimes apologizing on his own, etc.
This disrespect seems to carry over to several adults in his life that care about him, and what I feel bad about is that these people leave with the impression that he is spoiled, disrespectful, rude, etc. He pushes many people away with this undesirable behavior. We know how important his schedule is to him and work very hard with company to maintain it. We also have tried talking to him about their visit, the need to share his bathroom, etc. We tried brainstorming as a family things we could do to make G&G feel welcome and what that looks like and sounds like. It is very good the first two days, and then it goes out the window. We're just not sure what more we can say or do to help him develop a better relationship with the adults in his life who love him to pieces...if only he'd let them. We'd appreciate any suggestions or help with this. hank you.
In many ways this sounds like a case of Parents Who Love Too Much. People question us about the title of that book and wonder, "How can you possibly love too much?" Well, the truth is that you can't love too much, but you can do ineffective things in the name of love.
It is obvious that you wanted this child very much and that also you want very much to be good parents – and that you want him to be well behaved. Obviously his grandparents love him very much too. It seems that he may be getting a little too much focus. (It is so difficult to find that balance between too little and too much, but I don't think you'll ever have to worry about too little.)
So much of what you are doing sounds "right on," especially in the area of taking time for training. The think the breakdown comes in two areas. Not understanding that his behavior is very normal – and not knowing how to do kind and firm follow through. I suggest the following:
After you have done all your "taking time for training" and brainstorming on respectful ways to behave, decide what you will do when he is disrespectful. I suggest you that what you should do is stop interacting with him. Let him know in advance that when he is disrespectful, you will start reading a book until he is ready to be respectful again. You can teach him that he can let you know he is ready by saying, "I'm ready to try again." You might get lots or reading done, because he will test you and may "up the ante" to get you involved in your old ways again. Wouldn't it be fun if you, your husband, and both grandparents all had books handy and simply started reading when he started being disrespectful.
I will tell you that the hardest part of this is to "keep your mouth shut" and let him learn from what you DO. Actions speak much louder than words in most cases.
This is a great model for children – to demonstrate that you can't control others, but you can control yourself. You can't make others treat you with respect, but you can treat yourself with respect when they are being disrespectful.
Now I want to talk about some of the "normal" (though obnoxious) behaviors you mentioned.
1) Lack of gratitude. Children are bombarded with things in our society. I suggest your grandparents stop bring presents at all.
2) Non-responsiveness to questions: Adults try to get close to children by asking them all kinds of questions. Most children say, "I don't know." Your son acts a little ruder. It is simply a way of avoiding what feels like the "inquisition." Instead try "closet listening." This means being available to listen when children start to talk without trying to get them to talk. Just hang out.
3) All children (and most adults) get angry when they don't get what they want. Don't try to fix things or rescue him. Just allow him to have his feelings. This may mean validating his feelings, "I can see that you are angry," or it could mean simply listening without saying anything except. "Hmmmmm." It also means having faith in him that his anger will pass – and it will pass sooner if you don't take it personally and if you don't get involved in trying to fix it.
Children do what works. If it works for him to get all kinds of excitement from you when he acts disrespectful, he will keep doing it. I hope this helps. Jane Nelsen