Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The one with the ice cream

Dear Dad,
I need some advice, especially since I don't want to end up in an insane asylum. I have 2 daughters, age 13 and six, and of course they do not get along. My husband just started a job that leaves me alone with them in the evening. I'm very pregnant and have no energy to deal with their bickering. I don't want to complain to my husband, because it just stresses him out more while he's at work. I just spent the past 10 minutes screaming at them to stop fighting and now I have a headache, which makes me even crankier. The kids don't dare act out to this extent when my husband is home. I wouldn't say I'm a pushover, but they seem to think I am. Honestly, I rarely give in. Part of it is because my oldest had behavior issues and was always the one getting in trouble. My youngest grew up seeing this and eventually learned how to keep getting her in trouble. Even though this is no longer the case, the youngest keeps trying her hardest to get the oldest in trouble, but it just gets her in trouble. I don't want to dread him going to work. I need this to change NOW, before the new baby comes in July.
Dear 'Very Pregnant',
The good news is by the time your new addition is six and temperamental, your oldest will be 19. Silver linings are always a good thing. 
My wife and I were just discussing our children's meltdowns, and how they seem to all take turns being out of control, and how our "middle child" (by 2 minutes) has mastered the art of getting her sisters in trouble. She also has a tendency of trying to get everyone to do everything for her (her new thing is getting her sisters to put on her socks). We get frustrated and I can certainly relate to your headache. Parenting can be an extremely tough job at times.
My advice is to have a discussion with your husband and advise him of what is going on while he is away at work. I believe it is important for the two of you to be on the same page and for him to be aware of what is going on. I wouldn't turn to him asking him to fix it, but have him read this post so he can be part of the solution. I think you should sit down as a united front and have a family meeting where you advise your children that this behavior will not be tolerated and that good behavior must be consistent whether dad is around or not. I think you may need to physically separate the children when they act up. I would give them books to read and disallow any other activities (no playing, no television, no computer, etc.). This is the latest method of discipline we have come to, and it seems to be working.
In our family, we have a "R-E-S-P-E-C-T system" in place (that I'm proud to say our oldest daughter developed from our old 'point system'). Each day, the girls have to earn a letter via good behavior and they have "three strikes" before they lose that day's letter. Sunday they earn the 'R' the following Saturday they earn the 'T', etc. If they earn at least five letters of the word 'respect' during the week, they are rewarded with ice cream for dessert the following Sunday. If they earn the entire word 'respect', they get to put toppings on the sundae and receive a double scoop. This not only serves as positive reinforcement for the girls, but also helps us curb their asking for dessert every night. If they do something like hit each other, or perform a blatant act of disrespect, it is automatic "three strikes you are out," and they are sent to their rooms with only a book, no letter for the day (please note: reading is certainly not punishment, but this is a great way to help your child redirect, regroup and calm down).
Give it a whirl for a month and see if you can get your girls to change/improve their behavior. I would also ask them if something is going on at school or with their friends. Sometimes kids act out as a way of communicating to us that all is not well in their often stressful and hectic worlds (and we often forget as parents how stressful and hectic childhood can actually be). Good luck and keep us updated!
Every family has a different means of discipline as their go-to for dealing with children when they are defiant. What method of discipline works for your family? 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The one with the sleepwalker

Dear Dad,
My six year old son has been a stress case lately. He whines continuously from the minute he wakes up until he is asleep. He is now waking up at night. When he wakes up he immediately hops out of bed and starts yelling for me, but I can tell he isn't fully awake. When I go to see what's the matter he mumbles and acts all confused while wandering the house and looking in cupboards and going in and out of rooms and such while whining and crying. When he is fully awake, he just sits and cries and tells me he just wants to sleep and "can't deal with this any more." This happened multiple times every night for about 2 weeks now. I am going in and talking to his teacher tomorrow to see if anything is going on at school that could be causing his stress. I will also make an appointment with his doctor. I just wanted to ask you what you think as I have had many sleepless nights.

Dear 'Sleepless',
I can say, with fair probability, that your son whines all day because he is sleep deprived. Aside from that, it is difficult for me to answer your question with a definitive answer. I have a B.A. in Psychology, which in no way qualifies me to make any type of medical or psychological opinion as to what is going on. I think your plan to meet with your son's teacher and your son's doctor is spot-on. They will be a wealth of knowledge in helping you decipher exactly what is going on with him.
In the meantime, as a parent of an occasional sleepwalker, I will advise you I strongly suspect your son is also a sleepwalker and may have a mild form of "night terrors" (though I also suspect this is caused by the exhaustion based on the pattern you described). One of our twins wakes up from time to time in a similar fashion, and will hold entire conversations that she will not remember the next day. I have more than once found my daughter sitting in awkward positions in random rooms in our house (and once when my wife and I were watching a horror film about ghost-kids emerging from television sets with their bodies creepily contorted). I admit it was very scary before we knew what was going on (and also a little funny when my wife tells the story of how I screamed at the top of my lungs when I found my daughter, assuming she was an embodiment from the horror film).
My advice is to treat your son as though he is asleep no matter what he is saying or doing (because I suspect he may be). Gently guide him back to his bed and do not make eye contact with him, nor should you engage in conversations with him. Gently repeat: "shh, shh, shh" to him and lay him back in bed and re-tuck him in. Rub his back for a couple of minutes repeating "shh, shh, shh," and then say: "you are safe, goodnight, I love you." You should then, with ninja-like mobility, contort your body as needed to back out of the room without creaking a floor board or so much as making a sound, and return to the haven of your warm and cozy bed, even if only for another hour or two.
I would take extra measures to ensure his safety: make sure all windows and doors are locked, all child proof locks are enabled, and double check to make sure nothing is left out that could lead to harm in any way (are the dishwasher and pantry doors locked?). He is not aware, but is mobile, and that is a frightening concept while you are sleeping - even if he knows the rules of your home, they will not apply to him in this physical state.
Follow up with his teacher and doctor to see if there are any underlying causes for this behavior. Once you get over the shock and the fear of what may seem like odd behavior, you will be able to deal with these late night occurrences like they are part of the bed time ritual.
Please be advised, 'Sleepless', this, too, shall pass. We haven't had an "episode" in a long while, and our daughter is now six years old as well. I am sending good thoughts and energy to you and your family. Please keep us updated.

Sleep is a major issue in our household.  I have been a night owl since I was a preteen and have difficulty falling asleep, while my wife has been diagnosed with narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Two of our daughters seem to be taking after me having difficulty falling asleep, while my sleepwalker can fall asleep sitting up, mid-sentence.  This makes me wonder:  how many other families have sleep issues, and what do you do to help keep things running like a smooth sailing ship?