23 August 2011

Contrary vs. Dodgy vs. Spirited

Since becoming a parent 9 years ago I've read many parenting books/blogs/articles with a particular emphasis on parenting adopted children to be sure we're sensitive to what the kids are going through. But none of the parenting books I've read thusfar address the issues we've run across with David.  [Note: While we want to be sensitive to our children and their needs, we don't want them living with us when they are 30. Amirite?]

He's the king of manipulation and the main reason why I refer to the Little Ones as "hobos" now and again. It's like he's spent his entire life panhandling for food and toys [Note: For all I know he was a panhandler in his previous life] and judging by the way he goes into "hobo" mode the second he enters a crowd - whether it be on the soccer field or at a gathering at our home or a concert in the park - he seems very comfortable with this behavior. Asking total strangers for popcorn or candy or a balloon is okay by him*.

And he absolutely must be the center of attention or all is not right with the world. This is more than just the average child wanting attention...more than just sibling rivalry...just MORE period. He comes unglued when the spotlight goes on one of his sisters. He adjusts his actions up or down in maturity depending on which sister is getting attention at the time.

Then there are the mood swings. His demeanor can change in a heartbeat. If he's told "no" or if a behavior is corrected (even just a tee-tiny reminder to do something), he pouts and says "I'll never do x right" or "I'm just a bad boy" NOTE: He has never been told that he's a "bad boy". We always emphasize that we don't like the behavior that he chose to use when he gets "in trouble". i.e. "It's a real bummer that you can't ride your bike now because you chose to throw that toy."

I used to think he'd outgrow some of his "insecurities" as he bonded with us and accomplished so much, but then I started thinking about how this kid's bucket can never be filled. How frustrating it is trying to figure out why he spends so much time trying to be contrary. Is he doing this crap on purpose? Yes and no. I am sure now that he doesn't spend all night devising ways to mess with us ...although it certainly seemed that way for a while. He's not evil, but he IS manipulative (to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage). Some days it seems that maybe he just sees us as means to an end. Sociopath? Narcissistic Personality Disorder**?

Examples of some of the behaviors:
  • When potty training at home he would pee perfectly into the toilet. When potty training at my sister's he'd sometimes let the pee fly wherever. When he was made to sit to pee, it was worse. This happened if she left him to pee on his own so she stopped allowing him to pee independently. I thought he was just pushing her buttons but this is more than that. He was definitely pushing buttons, but why? There are many other pee incidents that kept them from going to the park or ended a park outing prematurely, all in the name of him getting his way or trying to control the situation, but I'll refrain from posting them all.
  • He's also used poop to manipulate. Who hasn't, right? Doling out a little tiny pebble of poop several times over the course of a day in an effort to control things. I know, that's where "anal-retentiveness" came from...I know! Our boy is strong-willed, OCD*** and anal-retentive...oh joy! We'd all sit down to a meal and all of a sudden David would have "to poop". We don't take chances with a biological need like this so we'd go and he'd squeeze out a little nugget, so technically he "had" to poop, right? Wrong! Now at dinner (or other transition times), we make him wait (and he's good about signing "wait" too).  I spend a lot of time calling "Bullshit!" (Not out loud though. Gah!)

  • Another cute little dinner trick is that while he's waiting for all of us to sit down, he will pound down his water and as soon as we sit down to eat, he will ask for "more water, please". Yes, he's using his manners but he's also messing with us. He now knows that he is welcome to pound down his drink but he has to wait until we are finished eating for more water if he pulls that stunt.
  • His grandma came over recently with a some furry boots for his little sister - she'd picked them up from a garage sale and wanted to make sure they fit. As soon as he realized he didn't have a pair of boots too, he stormed off saying "Aw man, this isn't supposed to happen." (Like this isn't the way things had played out in his head? Maybe he's almost psychic?) 9 times out of 10, friends who have sons have old/extra toys for David so it's not like the reverse of this situation doesn't happen. Most of the time David gets the gifts and clothes and no one freaks out about that.
  • Recently when we were leaving a crowded hotel in NOLA we reminded our children about not speaking to strangers as we meandered through the lobby. As we were loading onto the elevator, David looked up at a complete stranger getting onto the elevator with us and said "Hi, my name's 'David'". Really? Contrary much? He definitely got a stern talking to in the parking garage after the stranger was out of earshot. I don't think this instance was innocent at all. It was a challenge to see if we meant what we said or to see if there were any loopholes...
  • He's a bit of a back-seat driver...at 3!!! Think of how annoying this must be when Scott is driving and I am assisting with navigation and our little backseat driver chimes in too...
  • On that note, one time I was driving to my sister's house and needed to stop for gas. I took an alternate route to go into her neighborhood and he lost it saying it wasn't the right way. Just completely went bonkers because I went a different way. Of course after that we decided that we had to mix things up as often as possible to learn the boy some flexibility.
  • And he is always in constant motion. I joke about this a lot but it's so true. From the second he wakes up he is hopping around ready to go and not only that, he thinks everyone should be up at at 'em.
There are LOTS of power struggles and I think he's tried to up his game since none of his old tricks work any more. Whereas someone who's just met him will think, What a charming little boy! I'm thinking He's working you OVER!

People have said "He's ALL BOY!" or "He's sensitive" or "He's okay" or "He's just excited." And occasionally, they are right. But this doesn't fit all of the time or even most of the time. He is very, very smart, strong, talented, but he can be contrary . Just out of the blue. Last week we were all playing happily when he decided to rake his nail across his sister's back for no reason....meaning she didn't do something to provoke it. I imagine the reason was because he was frustrated about something (God knows what) and couldn't use his words but knew that this would get some attention.

Luckily for us, he sleeps through the night (except for that brief period where he would wake ME up during the Unholy Hour) and is not a picky eater.

So, I could spend a week documenting WHY I think that our little boy is difficult spirited but I won't. He is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic.

And knowing that we won't be needing holy water in our efforts to raise him is a big relief. I am just starting to read Raising Your Spirited Child and I am already grateful for the label conversion table right off the bat. I don't want David to get the angry face from me all the time and it helps to change the negative labels into positive labels. [Note: These probably would work in creatively writing a resume or reference letter.]

demanding ->  holds high standards; loud -> enthusiastic and zestful; nosy -> curious; picky -> selective; wild -> energetic; argumentative -> opinionated

So, basically, what I'm trying to say is that our enthusiastic, energetic son is very selective, opinionated and holds high standards. He's not dodgy (all the time anyway).

*Asking for treats from strangers is NOT okay with us and we actively work with our children in understanding the need to be wary of strangers unless/until mom/dad give the okay.

**Okay I re-read the definition of NPD and he MIGHT have this disorder. We will have to fix that!

*** It's not true that he's OCD. I don't think he has any disorders, actually. Last year when he used to line up all of his cars, I had a brief moment where I thought maybe because he also didn't like his routine to be jacked with, but when he told where WHERE the cars were going, we moved on...and so did his commuters.


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