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“You’re a raspberry!” – On defiance and other difficult kid behaviors

I never know how to respond to my kids’ difficult behaviors. Or, rather, how to correctly respond. Despite the myriad parenting books, websites and blogs I’ve turned to, plus our pediatrician, a child psychologist, and  friends, I don’t ever know what’s the right thing to do.

Examples?

Babyboy’s been trying out some new protest behaviors. For a very annoying several-week stretch, it was spitting. We’d tell him it was time for school, or bathtime, or bed; or not to whack his little sister over the head with a firetruck, and he’d spit at us- sometimes in our general direction, but a few times, right in the face.

Spanking doesn’t faze him. Yelling, variable: sometimes he doesn’t seem to notice, and other times he gets traumatized. Time outs: Usually, he doesn’t mind. Not effective enough. Taking favorite toys away: that definitely gets his attention, and this is our current preferred discipline method.

Problem is, there have been days where we’ve almost run out of favorite toys to take away, and he was still spitting, or doing whatever bad behavior thing it was. We’ve gotten down to every last Lego, truck, and stuffed animal, praying that he didn’t do anything else before bedtime, or we’d have to get creative.

The spitting thing has gotten better, but we don’t know why. Now, he calls us names. But, we sometimes can’t help laughing at what he thinks up. “You’re a raspberry!” is the latest. The last time he said that, Hubby turned around and said, “Well, you’re a blueberry!” Babyboy didn’t like that.

Babygirl has taken to chucking things at us. This week, she scratched her brother as they fought over a toy. Hard. Her nails left welts on the back of his neck. I took the toy away and put her in time out. She howled, flailed, and yelled: “You’re a BAD mommy!” and threw one of her tiny plastic animal toys at me, as hard as she could. It hit my chest and fell to the ground; not painful, but wow, was I shocked.

I took away more toys: her animal “friends” of the day. She threw herself on the ground, crying and screaming and protesting. When I walked away, she chased me and grabbed my pants, demanding “GIVE ME MY ANIMAL FRIENDS BACK!” which I ignored.

What was remarkable was that Babyboy quietly gathered up some of her other animal toys and brought them to her. “Here you go, here are your animal friends.” It didn’t calm her, but I was struck by his gentle attempt.

Later, at bathtime, I showed Babygirl the raised red scratches she’d left on his skin. “Look what you did, this was very outchy for your brother!”

She inspected the marks with serious wonder, and said to him, with real regret, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

The worst behavior we’re seeing may not even be defiance. It’s Babyboy’s perseverations. We don’t know what these are: an OCD thing? An autism thing? A random kid thing? Whatever they represent, they’re getting worse: longer episodes, and more frequent.

Babyboy will become upset about something that was done in the wrong order. Most often, it’s something like, he wanted to be the first one down the stairs and into the car. But, he didn’t say he wanted to be first, he just starts flipping out as we’re all getting in the car. He cries, violently throws himself to the ground, refuses to move unless we can somehow re-do whatever it was.

It’s not always about him being first. Early this morning, it was that I got him his slippers before I got him his milk. He collapsed to the ground, crying, begging, “Go back! Put the milk back, put the slippers back! Get the milk first!” Over and over. Five minutes. Ten minutes.

I’ve been experimenting with ignoring these episodes, in the hope that he would learn we can’t “re-do” everything on demand. But, he seems to be in actual pain. He begs, sobs, pleads, “Please, please, you have to go back! Mommy, please!

This morning, he went on and on, banging his fists on the ground, begging, crying…

And I did, I hugged him and said, “Okay honey, if I put everything back and do it again, will that really make you happy?”

He popped up, rubbing his eyes, and said, exhausted: “Yes, Mommy, please.” He watched me very carefully as I put everything back and did it in the “right” order.

Hubby took him to the grocery store this afternoon, and had a similar experience over checking out. Something about the order of things on the conveyer belt. He had one yesterday too, at the hardware store, also over checking out, that Hubby had put the items on the counter before Babyboy was “ready”.

And two days ago, Thursday, my day off with the kids, I took them to a friend’s house to play, and he had a doozy of a similar fit, in their yard. Babygirl had reached their jungle gym first, and he did his usual throwing himself on the ground crying, demanding that we all go back to the car and start over. He hit the ground and demanded, over and over, “Go back! Go back! She needs to let me go first!”

The other kids slowly came closer and closer to Babyboy, mesmerized by this unusual behavior, not sure, at first, what to do. Then, I think one of them decided it was a game, and going up very close, started mimicking Babyboy. The younger child did too. They weren’t trying to be mean, I’m sure; they were trying to make sense of the drama.

I calmly tried to distract them: “Hey guys, he’s just really upset right now, let’s let him be by himself, okay?”

But they didn’t seem to understand me, and the mimicking made Babyboy even more upset. “Go away!  Go away!” he screamed. He just seemed to be in so much pain about it all. Finally he jumped up, pushed past the other kids, ran up to the jungle gym, and violently yanked Babygirl off the jungle gym swing. She started crying; meantime, the other kids had followed and were still making mimicking sounds.

There I was, in this nice backyard, watching over this melee, Babyboy at the heart of it, still yelling “Go back! Go back! She needs to let me go first!”, and I was standing there useless, with tears running down my face. I just had no idea what to do.

Luckily, the other adult helped out. I think as she was a new person, it somehow snapped Babyboy out of it. I was shaken up, and it took an embarrassing long time for the tears to stop.

Hubby and I have talked about getting help from the pediatric psychologist for this, and I’m trying to set up neuropsychiatric testing as well. How much of this is normal preschooler behavior: “testing”, learning to share, needing control? How much is pathologic: obsessive compulsive, autistic?

7 replies »

  1. My heart goes out to you. I am going to review this with my brother who has two older boys with Autism & he is a special-ed teacher. I wish I could help but I am hoping he has some valuable suggestions as I have seen him struggle with similar issues with his boys. ((Hugs))

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    • Thanks Mary, and I saw the advice, to accomodate the behaviors and they will get better, thanks for taking the time to ask your brother! I think this is a bit more complicated… It’s very hard for us to know what behaviors to accomodate, because we want him to be functional in the world someday. Unfortunately I have adult autistic patients who aren’t functioning: they aren’t employed, and struggle financially and socially due to extremely poor social and coping skills…. We’re trying to figure out what behavior is “quirky and different and OK” and what is dysfunctional and needs to be addressed. Very tricky, or at least, it feels that way.

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  2. I have a good friend with an autistic son and he also has this kind of perseveration. I’ll ask her to come and comment if she has time. I hope you can connect with other autism parents who have been through this. It’s hard enough with neurotypical kids. Thinking of you.

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    • Yes, much appreciated! We do need to connect with one of the local parents with Autism groups. For some reason we’ve been very slow to do that. I really appreciate your reading through, and any experiences that can be shared. Thanks!

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  3. My daughter has special needs as we’re discovering and can be very defiant – age 4 and 5 prior to diagnosis were rough! I cannot recommend enough taking a parenting class – in my area there are some based on Becky Bailey’s books. I had read Easy to Love Difficult to Discipline but it is so different to see examples in action and actually think about how to apply positive discipline. Obviously the special needs complicate everything, but that is a great starting point.

    I love that your son brought the toys to his sister, that is so sweet!

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