Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yet Another Crack Down

Warning- long post ahead. Go make some popcorn, get your morning coffee, grab a snack or something to drink. You'll be here a while.

We've got yet another situation where Jeff and I have to step into the roll of very strict parents. The crackdown, no tolerance types. It's no fun and I get very aggravated and frustrated when our plans get trashed because of the choices of a single child in my home.

I'll start at the beginning.

Tuesday morning, I got an e-mail from the head of Teagan's school. There was a problem and she wanted to talk to me about it. I called in that morning. Teagan has been bullying her classmates. She's not just bullying one kid. There is a list of kids. In fact, I'm betting she's managed to bully every kid in her class at least once. She apparently has a gift for finding the weakness in a child and preying on it. And- the really scary part- she gets satisfaction, even happiness, from hurting others. She has made it clear to her teachers that she is fully aware of what she is choosing to do to others. She actually sets kids up so she can knock them down. It isn't just taking advantage of a situation that falls in her lap. She out and out sets kids up to specifically be cruel to them.

I was heart broken yesterday. I had shut my office door for the call. Good thing because there was about 20 minutes of fighting tears- and flat out crying- when I hung up the phone. I started off questioning how we parent her. Then wondering if she's been deeply hurt by someone and I'm not aware of it. Then wondering if there is just something wrong with her. I called Christy and asked if we could skip the gym- I really wanted comfort food and needed someone to talk to. I posted on my local moms' discussion board about it- seeking advice. I researched bullying and read articles and blog entries. I tried to call my Employee Assistance Program (complete fail- no one answered any of the phone numbers I had been given). I took some points of advice from my fellow Indy Moms. It had to be made clear to Teagan that we have a no tolerance policy when it comes to choosing to be cruel to others.

Here are some things I know about my daughter:

- When she chooses to do something, she has already got it all figured out in her head and she is now practicing to be the absolute best at whatever it is. So if she found herself being a bully, she thought about it and then went on to keep trying to do it better.

- She tests limits. In some ways, I think she wanted to see how far she could go. And she is still testing. And she will always test.

- She has an amazing flair for the dramatic. If you touch her hand while talking to her, it can trigger hysterical screaming and wailing and lead to a 45 minute meltdown that results in being sent directly to bed.

Here is something I learned about me- and this is where yesterday's post came in. I haven't accurately presented myself online. To some degree, that's on me. To some degree, it's what people choose to read. I was a little surprised at the comments that labeled me an "AP parent." I was firmly AP (attachment parenting) when my kids were babies. I believe in co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, and so on. I also believe in gentle discipline. But I've learned (and been pretty open) that gentle discipline isn't always what works with my daughter. Yelling and the occassional spanking does happen in my home. And when I say I give my kids choices- it doesn't mean they run the show and it doesn't mean the choices are wishy washy and all positive. The choices are often "do this or I punish you" but framed in a more positive way. I know Christy, Latifa, Jeff, my mom, and many others can vouch for me. I am a pretty authoritative parent. I am pretty strict and we have consistent discipline in our home. I am a parent, not a friend. I don't like having to stick to the rules all the time but I recognize that this is what is best for my kids- especially my authority challenging daughter.

This is why my first creeping doubts with that phone call were in regards to my parenting. Was I too strict? Did Teagan feel bullied by me? Had I created this in her? Talking with Christy helped me confirm- no, I'm not too strict or cruel. I am the parent and backing off on how we run our home will lead to the kids being in charge.

Anyway, I don't like to wallow in the crappy emotional stuff for too long. I worked my way through it and decided on a plan of action with Jeff. I came home with little signs I'd made at work. Wednesday morning, I sat Teagan down and was point blank honest with her. I knew about what she'd done to so and so, so and so, and so and so. And it isn't ok. I explained my signs- "I will be kind... with my words, with my hands, with my face." I explained and engaged her in discussion about ways she'd been cruel with her words, hands/feet, and face to her friends at school. We talked about examples of ways to be kind and good to others in those areas. We talked about expectations- when you expect something from someone, that's how it should be. Mommy and Daddy expect Teagan to be kind to other people. Period. At school, at home, at church. Period. Teagan expects things from us, too. She expects to come home and have dinner, watch TV, play in the playroom, read books before bed, have stuffed animals and pillows and blankets on her bed, have clean clothes to choose from in the morning, etc. If you don't do what is expected of you, we won't provide what you are expecting either. Welcome to the concept of being grounded.

Today started out great for her at school. (I won't even go into the histrionic meltdowns we dealt with last night and this morning.) I had posted our kindness signs in various places at home and sent one to school in her backpack. Her teacher liked it so much- and it goes so well with what they already do in the classroom- that she asked Teagan to present it to the class and they posted it beside the Kindness Pledge that the kids say together every day. Perfect start to what should have been a great day for her. But things started to unravel a bit. Testing that limit to see how far she can push... what will they really tell Mommy and Daddy... when do I lose privileges at school... when do they take away things... And the sucky part of parenting kicked in right away.

Wednesday night is dinner at church night. It means no cooking or choosing dinner. It means time with my church family- friends that I really care about and who care about us. It's something we've incorporated into our weekly routine and we all look forward to it each week. Day One of the kindness plan and Teagan failed in terms of our No Tolerance stance. Which means no church. Which means come home, eat food, wash up in tub, go to bed. No books, no playtime, no fun.

Parenting is hard. Parenting is about sacrifice.

Jeff and I have to crack down into survival mode at home- we have to recognize when one of us will need to get out of the house for a while, when we will need to go out together for a bit, when we have to tag team so the other handles the discipline (Jeff is gifted at that- my temper can really flare and he can stay amazingly calm; on the flip side, when he does get pushed to the point of temper flare, I can step in and be calm- we work well together that way).

I don't have the answers. I've never tried to have the answers. I'm really pretty focused on my kids, my home, my responsibilities. My plate is over flowing as it is. I'm happy to offer advice if I've got expereince that might help but I am never going to try and tell someone else how to parent. I used to think I knew a lot. I used to think I had answers and should be listened to. Having kids of my own taught me how ignorant I really am. I think a big step in parenting is accepting how much you don't know and moving forward from there. I have a lot of knowledge and some of it helps. Some of it means nothing for my situation. Some of it is very helpful for others.

We are all doing the same thing- seeking our path and making the best choices we can with each situation we encounter.

So with all the buzzing in the media and elsewhere about bullying, I suppose I have my own little niche in it now, too. From the opposite side. From the side of a mother trying to teach her bullying child to not bully. Trying to teach empathy, compassion, kindness. Trying to stop the bully and foster the angel. My fear as a parent was always that I would someday have to deal with my kids being bullied- I never imagined that my child would BE the bully.

Wish us luck.

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30 comments:

lisleman said...

"Parenting is hard. Parenting is about sacrifice." You are right on about that. Some events were so painful that remembering them is still painful. A tough part for me was learning and facing my own issues.
All the best.

mimbles said...

Sending you *big hugs* and wishing you strength and patience and the inspiration to find just the right way to get through to Teagan. It sounds like you're well onto the right path and I hope you see positive results very soon.

I've a couple of friends who have had to deal with their kid being the bully, and there have been times when my kids have done it too, it's hard but you'll get there.

*hugs*

Nancy said...

Hugs Liz. If you ever need to get away, you know how to reach me!

Garret of Jim and Garret said...

Wow.

"I researched bullying and read articles and blog entries. I tried to call my Employee Assistance Program (complete fail- no one answered any of the phone numbers I had been given)."

Ugh.

Ya know, I have so many recommendations for you but they're all like:

1- sell for slave labor.
2- get thee to a nunnery.
3- Duct tape - so many uses.
4- leave her at the school and forget to pick her up every day until she's 20?

Julie said...

Parenting is hard and it continues through the teens. I think the most important aspect of your plan is your follow-through and that you say what you mean and mean what you say. We do that in our house. I have a few carts full or groceries in a store because I said "if you do that, we will leave" and we did. I remember a friend once stopped by during a morning meltdown at our house, one in which I told my son if the pennies weren't picked up before he left for school the jar of pennies would be mine - 16 years later, they are still in my room!

I don't have experience with my child being a bully but I am sure the measures you are starting to put in place will start working and then you will need those parenting skills for the next parenting crisis!

And, you don't come across as a soft parent to me!

The Stay-at-Home Chef said...

Praying for you, Liz. I love your kindness signs. Perhaps instead of just grounding her with nothing, you could replace the "liked" activity with a new volunteer or outreach? Maybe go down to Wheeler and serve a meal, pack a box for someone less fortunate. Maybe she should even have to go through her toys and pick one to give away to a less fortunate kid?

I don't know. You know your DD better than me, but those were some thoughts I had that might help teach compassion and empathy.

Garret of Jim and Garret said...

I disagree with stay-at-home-chef only because Teagan would associate volunteering/outreach with punishment. I know where you're coming from. The line of thinking that for a negative deserves a positive but I don't think that's quite it.

Garret of Jim and Garret said...

Oh... and not that I'm a parent so I might not be thinking correctly.

mimbles said...

I think you're right Garret, you want giving to be associated with good feelings, not resentment.

I think there might be some merit in your other suggestions too, duct tape in particular has its attractions ;-)

Anne K. said...

Hang in there, Liz! This is the tough stuff of parenting, for sure. Have you thought of including a play therapist in your team? It sounds like you have a lot of good people involved -- the teachers, you and Jeff, Teagen etc. But, I'm wondering if adding a play therapist would give some additional perspective on Teagan's internal processes, give you peace about your parenting skills (which I think are balanced and sound, btw), as well as peace about your fears that she might have been hurt in the past. Also, play therapists are great at helping to tweak plans, enforce them and sort of get inside the control panel of little ones. I wish you lived closer because a dear friend of mine is a wonderful play therapist and I know of lots of families she's helped through bumps like this. Y'all are doing all the right things by providing the structure and natural consequences that Teagan needs, while encouraging her compassion.

Please be kind to yourself when y'all are going through all of this. Remember that *every* child has issues that they need to deal with when growing up and this just happens to be Teagan's challenge for this stage in her life. She will pull through it, you and Jeff will pull through it, and one morning you'll wake up and all of Teagan's energy will be pointed towards perfecting something incredibly positive and you'll just smile. *huge hugs*

The Stay-at-Home Chef said...

Giving does not have to foster resentment. It's all in how you frame the lesson. What it does do is teach her the appropriate behavior as a direct opposite to her inappropriate behavior. In other words - the punishment fits the crime.

It's pretty hard for a little girl to stay mad or resentful when faced with reality. Even my niece with Asperger's enjoys volunteering and giving, even though she supposedly is supposed to have a hard time feeling empathy.

Perhaps she could even adopt-a-child from World Global and have a pen pal?

The Stay-at-Home Chef said...

I mean, not to keep harping, but the same logic could be applied to Liz's current discipline: you're only teaching her that bullying means she gets stuff taken away, or you're only teaching her to be nice so she doesn't get in trouble.

There's always a chance in every lesson a parent tries to give a child that it'll backfire, but the answer is not to just not even try.

You want to show her how to be selfless, how to love, and how to put herself in someone else's shoes - a really tough concept to teach a youngster. Volunteering and outreach would help with that, and that's all I was trying to suggest.

Call Me Cate said...

Liz, I have no idea on this one. But it sounds like a really tough situation and I'm glad that you're addressing it rather than just ignoring it and hoping it goes away.

Teagan sounds like a tough little nut. Strong-willed and testing. I hope you can find ways to channel that into something positive for her.

kbiermom said...

Hugs, Liz. IMO, you're on the right track and doing great.

The thing that jumps out for me is this that you wrote on IMLM yesterday:

"  I spoke to the head of the school and she said it's like Teagan is her old self- like she was feeling some sort of pressure to be this mean kid and to be the very best mean kid she could be and now that's been taken from her and she just seems lighter and more free.  (This is so much like my husband it's scary.)  "

In addition to what you're doing, I'd suggest: have her think about and redirect her own self-image. Encourage her her to draw, write, role play, sculpt from play-doh, make up a song -- use whatever media she wants -- on the idea "I am." Tell her that you see her as someone who will always want to be the very best she can be at whatever she chooses to be. Ask her how she sees herself -- who does she choose to be? Do you guys have the movie "The Iron Giant?"

Garret of Jim and Garret said...

Chef, harp away, I'm sure Liz finds all of this useful.

As for me? Who cares, it's not about me. ;-)

I have mixed feelings on your point of view. I'm on the fence I guess.

C. Beth said...

I think a combo of PMS and not enough sleep is making me want to cry about everything today. :)

In this case I'm feeling choked up because I'm touched at what a GREAT parent you are. If more parents of kids-who-bully would take it as seriously as you do, the bullying problem wouldn't disappear (because, as you've seen, some kids WILL try it), but it sure wouldn't be the issue it is now.

You're awesome.

Eternal Lizdom said...

@lisleman I have to say that being a parent is the single best way that I've encountered serious guilt for all the terrible crap I put my parents through.

@mimbles Thanks for the support. It means a lot!

@Garret Good thing 3M makes a wide variety of adhesive tapes! I'm sure I can find the exact right amount of stickiness I need.

@Julie One thing I take comfort in is that I know I am a follow through parent. It's one thing I do really well. It sucks and I will complain about it through outlets like my blog, Facebook, etc. But I do it. Someday I need to blog on the follow up topic- when punishing one punishes the family and how to not punish the not-in-trouble child.

@Anne We are definitely considering getting some outside help. We kind of ride the fence on that one- in the heat of it all, it's easy to feel the need for help but when our parenting plans work, we feel like we've got it under control. Ha!

@Cate I hope so, too. Her personality is so outside the realm of understanding for my husband and I and that makes it a really huge challenge. It's yet another reason I"m so thankful to have this school- the head of the school is always telling me how much she sees her own personality in Teagan so I love having that resource and knowing I will always have her to turn to!

@kbierman I seem to vaguely recall hearing of "The Iron Giant." I will look it up. I like the "I am" idea. One thing we've been doing with her- and they do this at school- is really trying to give her the message that we all know she's very smart but that she has to use her power for good and not evil. Not in those exact words, of course. Well, maybe once...

Eternal Lizdom said...

@cbeth Thank you. I was really touched (and also appalled) when the head of the school sent me a note, thanking us for the sign and told me that I'm kind of rare in my taking of criticism and my jumping to action when there is a problem. Apparently, the standard attitude from parents is more of a "she's 5, get over it" kind of thing. No wonder our kids are cruel to each other!!

Eternal Lizdom said...

Teaching empathy- and this could totally be a post unto itself:

We do a lot to teach empathy and Teagan really has a gift for it. She is very in tune with the food pantry needs and she does think about families that don't have enough money, food, and so on. She actively participates in collecting for the food pantry and in choosing toys and clothes to donate to Goodwill or missions.

In fact, it's almost backfired. I've focused so much on teaching empathy towards a silent and unseen group that I haven't done enough to teach individual empathy. And I think teaching individual empathy is a greater challenge to teach. For some, it is innate. For others, it's more uncomfortable.

This morning, Teagan was testing to see what the limits will be depending on her choices today. I made it clear that her focus has to be on making others feel good, not making others feel bad. I told her that another day of bullying and bad choices would mean that tonight's punishment/grounding (introduced the word grounding to her last night) would be more strict than last night's. Instead of Daddy sitting in her room with her while she ate, she will eat alone- that sort of thing. She wanted a clear answer of what the punishment will be- she likes to be able to balance and decide if the punishment is really all that bad. I made it clear to her that I don't know what all we would take away. Because she isn't doing the minimum that is expected from her, I don't have clear rules laid out. So whatever choices she makes at school, I will have to make up choices to match that when she gets home.

I know that goes against conventional parenting wisdom but I think it's what might help in this case. She like to pick and decide if the punishment is worth bearing for the sake of being able to do the bad thing she wants to try and get away with. Not getting her punches on her chart at school- doesn't matter so much to her anymore.

(Look- I wrote another post in the comment!)

Eternal Lizdom said...

Teaching empathy- and this could totally be a post unto itself:

We do a lot to teach empathy and Teagan really has a gift for it. She is very in tune with the food pantry needs and she does think about families that don't have enough money, food, and so on. She actively participates in collecting for the food pantry and in choosing toys and clothes to donate to Goodwill or missions.

In fact, it's almost backfired. I've focused so much on teaching empathy towards a silent and unseen group that I haven't done enough to teach individual empathy. And I think teaching individual empathy is a greater challenge to teach. For some, it is innate. For others, it's more uncomfortable.

This morning, Teagan was testing to see what the limits will be depending on her choices today. I made it clear that her focus has to be on making others feel good, not making others feel bad. I told her that another day of bullying and bad choices would mean that tonight's punishment/grounding (introduced the word grounding to her last night) would be more strict than last night's. Instead of Daddy sitting in her room with her while she ate, she will eat alone- that sort of thing. She wanted a clear answer of what the punishment will be- she likes to be able to balance and decide if the punishment is really all that bad. I made it clear to her that I don't know what all we would take away. Because she isn't doing the minimum that is expected from her, I don't have clear rules laid out. So whatever choices she makes at school, I will have to make up choices to match that when she gets home.

I know that goes against conventional parenting wisdom but I think it's what might help in this case. She like to pick and decide if the punishment is worth bearing for the sake of being able to do the bad thing she wants to try and get away with. Not getting her punches on her chart at school- doesn't matter so much to her anymore.

(Look- I wrote another post in the comment!)

Carol said...

((HUGS)) Liz! Hang in there. I don't have much advice, but you've triggered some thoughts in my brain for how I may deal with this in the future. I can easily see Matt doing this as he gets older. He tries already to some extent with some of the girls in his daycare (and gets in trouble for it...got busted by daddy at pick-up time the other day even). FWIW, I think you are on the right track and like what you guys are doing. I need to look closer at our parenting methods. We're having a real problem with Matt constantly harassing his sister. Part of it is just plain mean, taking stuff she loves away from her...and part of it is really based in wanting to play with her, but she's just not big enough to do what he wants her to do yet. And part of it is just purely "I am bigger & stronger than you" meanness. *sigh* Siblings.....
I struggle with not punishing the whole family when it's just Matt who needs the punishment. Why should my daughter not get to go to YaYa's house when she didn't do anything wrong? Those are times when we divide up.

Eliza said...

Wow you are amazing! You guys took some amazing steps and it will pay off. Keep your head up high :)

Momza said...

I think, from what I can tell, that you're a conscientious person, and that flows over into your parenting.
You're doing your best to figure your kids out, and how to mother them, nurture them and bring out the best in them.
You'll figure this out. You will.
And so will Teagan. Everything will work out. Keep doing what you're doing.

kbiermom said...

"The Iron Giant" has been one of our family favorites for years -- I have no doubt you will love it. And the central message, "you choose who you want to be" really fits here, IMO.

Also, do you have the book, "NurtureShock?" Flip to the chapter, "Plays Well With Others," particularly pp 191-193. Kids who are socially advanced may become aggressive toward others, and in fact their peers tend to reward it.

Another thought: not all kids bully for the same reasons, I think. We tend to think of bullies as not having any role models for positive behavior, or bullying to get attention b/c it's lacking at home, etc. Obviously, this does not describe your T! I think she is displaying advanced social skills and her peers are inadvertently rewarding it. IMO, if her peers stand up to her and say, "No. That's wrong, and I won't let you treat me that way! (followed by a refusal to play with her)" -- that will be more powerful than any consequence dished out by the grownup set.

Missy said...

Liz, you rock as a mom. Whether you "put it all out there" on your blog or not, it's very obvious you put thought into how to raise your children. I wish I had the mental energy to devote to figuring out how to deal with M sometimes.

The thing that jumped out at me was that you lost a privilege for Teagan's bad day, too. You didn't get to go to church. That's not fair and I sure hope Teagan didn't pick up on that. Working hours may not allow it, but maybe in the future instead of you & Jeff both losing out on fun time due to Teagan's misbehavior, you can swap off staying home with her. You work so hard at providing for your family and at making a great family, you deserve to enjoy things in life for yourself.

Eternal Lizdom said...

@Missy Jeff and I have always managed our own disappointment at not being able to enjoy things due to punishment or consequence and it's been fine. But now I can kind of see the impact on Zach. We did talk about splitting the night last night- but church isn't a big deal to Zach and he got plenty of one on one positive attention last night. There was also a very nice conversation with me, Zach, and Teagan this morning in regards to her choices impacting him in that we couldn't turn the TV on. If he had asked to watch TV, Teagan would have had to leave the room.

@Carol As our school owner said... being kind, ebing a friend has different meanings at different ages. kbierman makes a great point (and one I've thought and my mom has also pointed out) about social advancement. For Zach, the focus on being a good friend is sharing and not hitting. It's a whole different ballgame with each peer stage!

@kbierman I do have NurtureShock at home and will look up that chapter tonight. I'm so glad you're in my village, mama!!

@Eliza Thanks! And I'm heading over to check out your blog right now! Nice to meet you!

@Momza Kind and encouraging and supportive words from you always make my day. Thank you.

Liz's Mom said...

Liz,
You should have posted Christie's excellent insight--that reading a book about bullying seems to have shown Teagan how to do it.

Flartus said...

Wow. Kittens are soooo much easier.

Tough week--but from what I know of you, you will get through this and feel really good about it on the other end. Miss Chef has a theory that the kids who are a pain in the a** as children are easy teens, and vice versa. So keep your eye on that Zach...:).

Good luck; hope you get to do something fun this weekend (or at least relaxing).

wv: housle: everything at home is such a hassle sometimes...

Karen Peterson said...

I just applaud your efforts at staying on top of it, rather than convincing yourself that it couldn't possibly be your kid.

Anastasia said...

Great idea with the kindness signs! And being the type of parent who knows there kid well enough to know how that could happen makes you a really great parent in my eyes. Thanks for the different perspective.