Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When Your Best Just Isn't Enough

What happens when your best just isn't enough? Everyone always says that you do your best as a parent, and that's all you can do. But what happens when your best just isn't enough? I suppose it's one thing if your best includes a crack habit and a penchant for late night visitors of the opposite gender...because obviously that's a problem. I'm not sure all of the love in the world could steer your kid around disaster in circumstances like that. But in average, middle class, mainstream society, it seems like most parents' best is generally good enough to produce a reasonably decent citizen down the road. Sure, even the best parents end up with bad eggs here or there (and likewise, there are good kids that come from truly bad parents), but I think those are generally the exception. But here I am, nearly two and a half years into this parenting thing, and I'm feeling pretty much like a failure. I know that's premature and I'm being too hard on myself, but have you ever had to stand before your child's teacher while they rattled off the problems they're having with your child, and simply not known what to say? It's hard. Very hard.

Yesterday we added hair pulling to the mix. He did it to one of the teachers, completely unprovoked. I will say that he doesn't really ever pull my hair, though sometimes if it's dangling near him he will reach up to grab it, but I'm not sure it's been (recently) communicated to him that it's wrong and that it hurts. It doesn't make the outcome any easier for the one whose hair was pulled, but other than explaining to him that it's wrong and that it hurts someone, I don't know what to do. They've had a lot of trouble with him not listening (been there) and he's also been pushing and hitting his friends. And the last couple days he's been waking up from his nap early and being loud, which wakes everyone else up. The early waking could be caused by the cold he picked up over the weekend, but I'm not sure what to do about his being loud. They try to distract him, but it hasn't been working. And as I've mentioned before, that's not really a surprise. When Jacob is determined to do something, it's very hard to convince him otherwise. It takes either a really enticing offer (one good enough to be hard to come by at a moment's notice) or you just have to wait it out until his natural toddler attention span takes over. I guess that's why time outs are sort of a natural thing for toddlers--after a couple minutes, they probably don't care anymore about whatever it was that upset them enough to get there in the first place, so when it's over, it's over.

As she was recounting the problems, I just didn't know what to say. I mean, we can only do what we can at home. We can talk to him about things that happen at daycare and we can be consistent with our discipline, but we have little to no ability to impact his day-to-day doings at daycare beyond that. No matter how many times we explain to him that pulling hair is wrong, we can't physically be there to stop him from doing it or punish him when he does. To be quite honest (and this is probably bad), I don't know how exactly they punish kids at daycare. I know they don't hit or spank. And from what they said the other day, apparently they don't do timeouts either. I'm assuming it's a practicality issue--there are ten toddlers running around the room, and with only a couple teachers you can't dedicate one teacher to making sure one kid sits through his timeout. Jacob can be a little violent in his timeouts anyway, taking swings and kicks at me every time I try to sit him back down. Yesterday he grabbed my arms and pinched them pretty good. But once we get through the hellishness and talk things through afterward, he's generally a much better little boy. He's certainly calmer and generally easier to deal with. That said, we did do two timeouts last night at dinner--one because he wouldn't eat and then got down from his chair (he was insisting on bringing his hockey guys to the table, even after I let him have a few and said no to the rest), and then another when he threw food (after two warnings). And even after that, he threw one more bit of food and was being just generally disrespectful at the table, so I took away his hockey sticks for the night. He was pretty upset about that, but even still, we managed to have a very nice rest of the evening. After each of his punishments he was considerably easier to deal with, even if he did fall prey to another toddler foible later. I'm not expecting perfection, just average behavior.

But I just don't know what to tell the people at daycare. As I said, we're doing what we can at home. But when he's there? What can I do? Part of me wants to say, "We pay you enough to figure it out yourself," but obviously that's not really the point. He's difficult and disruptive, and it's a problem. Part of me can't believe that they haven't run into this before. I mean, yes, Jacob is determined and difficult, but I can't imagine that there haven't been children as difficult as him before. If not, then they're really lucky. However, if he's really that bad, then I guess it feeds into my fears even more that there's something else going on with him beyond normal two-year-old behavior. It's scary. And I can't help but feel this vibe when I'm talking to them, almost a feeling of, "If we don't figure out how to stop this, then there will be consequences." They've never come out and said that, but they seem about as frustrated and hopeless as I am...and it leads me to wonder where we go from here. Would they kick him out if the disruptions became too much or his outbursts led everyone to fear for the safety of the staff and children? Once that happens, does it become a problem to get into a different daycare? If so, where do the "bad" kids go? Special ed programs? I have no idea. And obviously that's a big assumption that may not ever come to pass, but I can't help but wonder what happens if we don't figure this out.

I feel like teaching him to be a good boy is one of those frustrating, non-tangible things to teach when you're a parent. Ages ago I blogged about how hard it is to teach your baby to not scream wildly (still working on that one), or not to bite, or even how to drink from a sippy cup. When they can't comprehend your words, and actions only go so far, what do you do? You can put the sippy cup up to your mouth, but how do you teach them to suck on it when they don't understand how you're doing it? I feel the same way right now about nose blowing. I can put the tissue up to Jacob's nose and tell him to blow through his nose, but if he doesn't understand what I mean, it's not like I can physically show him how to blow through his nose. All of these things just seem like you have to wait until the child is cognitively able to figure it out for themselves--either to comprehend what you're saying, or by simply mimicking you and figuring it out from there by trial and error.

When it comes to behavior, I can tell him things all I want, but until he can comprehend the consequences of his actions and understand the steps he needs to take to restrain himself from the offending behavior, it feels like we're stuck. I can explain that this action hurts people or that action is inappropriate, but it's really up to him to internalize it and learn to hold back when he gets the urge. I can't do it for him. And therein lies the helplessness I'm feeling right now. If I can't force him to behave correctly, I'm just going to have to wait it out and keep trying to teach him in the meantime. In some cases that may involve putting him in situations where he could start to figure it out for himself--excluding him from fun activities, taking away favorite toys, or gently showing him that what he's doing is hurtful. And someday I hope he figures it out and turns into the sweet, polite boy I know he can be.

But what if it's not enough? What if our best efforts and best intentions to raise a charming, friendly child fail and we have a monster on our hands? What on earth do we do then? Or in the meantime? Hopefully we can work on it a bit this weekend with four straight days together, and a little more in the 10 days off I have around Christmas. However, I'm hoping for a Christmas miracle this year, and Jacob's cooperation and comprehension are at the top of my wish list. It makes some new clothes or small appliances seem like small potatoes, doesn't it? Keep us in your prayers...we need 'em.

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