On boundaries, promises and successful negotiations … 3 steps forward, 2 steps backward!

Little A and I have been learning our ways around each other in this new world. We’re beginning to set rules .. together. House rules. It’s as though we’re starting from scratch. It’s funny because she recalls every single incident, person and event from her American life but can’t recall any of the rules, routines, likes and dislikes. It’s really weird. I mean ‘suddenly not liking egg, sweet potatoes, raisins having sat through a flight” kind of weird. On one hand I get it because this is an entirely different culture, weather and social setting than the one she’s used to. And she’s spent 3 months working hard on fitting in here that she probably slowly erased all her old rules, preferences and routines out of her mind. Even when she does recall events, people or places from back in the US, they are almost always contextual. Somehow related to what’s going on currently in her situation. On the other hand, I don’t get how she possibly could have separated the two so clearly. She’s too young for all of that to be a planned strategy. (Tell me yes, I’m screwed otherwise?!?)

It took me 2 months of that empty house madness and adjusting to the city, to begin realizing that I was probably not treating her as a little person. I was treating her more like a cranky baby the entire time (probably a mere reflection of the cranky baby that I was). So I decided a few weeks back to stop slacking and whining and start setting rules and boundaries again. It took me a while to realize that’s what we’d lost in transition. And I decided to do some of this rule setting together with her to deal with her growing tantrums rising from the frustration of the move and the new setting.

1. Every time there’s a tantrum or some screaming of sorts (that was not fun related, screaming and shouting during fun activities is kind of tolerated as long as it’s in the right context, in which case I guess I wouldn’t really call it screaming I guess), I take her to a room, sit her on the bed and sit beside her. She must calm herself if she’s still screaming or crying and apologize to the person concerned before leaving the room. This however, is almost always accompanied with hugging mommy and apologizing to her first. Something that was not in the rule book. I’ve never done this before, and unlike our 2 months of random time outs and screaming matches, this is working wonders. She feels really sorry, you can tell. That’s super new. And those tears .. they just come out of nowhere. And these are not those croc type ones. Very genuine. She’s just begun crying. She never used to. We’ve gone from that expressionless face challenging mine to crying in seconds and apologizing. This one’s for you dee, Meghs. I wish you could see this. You’d melt if you did.

2. Promises: I’ve taught her what a promise means. She promises a lot, fails to keep them up most of the times. It’s ok for now, she’s learning when it’s ok to not keep up a promise and when it’s absolutely not OK to break one. It’s helping with boundary setting really nicely. “Promise I’ll come back from AD’s house when you give me the 5 min warning first, then after 5 minutes I’ll come home mommy, promise”. She kind of dwells on the after .. aaaaaafter that I’ll come home. You can tell from just the way she says that, she doesn’t mean it. No really. This kid’s communication skills are unbelievable. And she’s super transparent. You can tell intention and result even as the words come out of her mouth. Our 5 min warnings and exits from friends’ are hard almost each day. But I know she leaves a minute early each day. There’s definitely improvement. Promises and boundaries before indulging in the activity certainly seem to be helping. Of course, she’s also learning the repercussions of not keeping up a promise – refer point 1 (appendix to the screaming clause).

3. Negotiating: “I’ll eat my mammam (food) aaaaaaafter building one robot (fill in bridge, bed and whatever else with her toys) with daddy”. When I say that will take too long, she comes back with OK I’ll build a kutti (small) robot. I’m proud 🙂 I’m seeing those negotiating skills slowly peeking out from deep deep down my little rowdy. She’s never felt the need to negotiate. She’s been the ‘my way or the highway” type. So she’s finally getting it.

Wonderful then, you’re job is done here you say. I kind of thought so too. These 3 things above are all I’ve been using these past few weeks with a huge difference. But uh uh. No. I’m kind of stumped on one issue.

Respecting her space: Funny that this is what I should be having trouble with, given my opinions on this. You’d think I’d have this down to the T. I still don’t know how to get her a haircut without holding her down at the parlor’s. I still don’t know how to give her medication without pinning her down and forcing her (not a single trick in the book works. She’ll notice if I stuff her medicine into any other food, instantly. She’ll notice if her food is slightly of a different color or has a pinch of extra salt. This is the same kid that knew the difference between baked and cooked pasta when she was 1!!). She cries non stop for 2 hours saying what I did to her was not nice. “That was not nice”. It tears my heart up. I absolutely hate it. I am totally messing with her in disrespectful ways that I don’t want to. I have explained the need for medication, need for her to do certain things. I’ve read several books on the topic. And I just can’t get her to do things sometimes that are for her safety, for her health. And it’s amazing how she remembers these things long long loooooong after I’ve done them. You can tell it stays with her, she doesn’t appreciate it and it’s not her style. And trust me, she’s not like most kids I’ve seen that get over it. She remembers. Those eyes .. they just look at you like you’ve just cheated her when she put all her trust on you. There’s no way around it. I feel awful .. really really awful. Those lessons on promises and negotiations are going to fade real soon, if we keep at this. Technically, I’ve made big changes with the above. But this last one, it feels like the worst of them all. I don’t know that I can continue this for a while until age catches up and she starts getting it. I fear it might be too late. Just hanging around .. waiting for the perfect answer to come by google!! I’m googling “respecting children while ensuring safety”, “respecting child while occasionally lying to them” .. you have no idea. The S*@# that I’m googling up. I don’t look to parenting books or google to help me get through rough patches with my girl, especially behavioral issues. For medical or biological issues — I’m totally into google. But guilt … it’s eating me up on this issue. We just forcibly thrust some medication into her after agreeing to not do it. She was out of control, in pain. And it was the only way to help her. Now I’m curled up on my couch feeling guilty, struggling to come up with an alternative!!

8 responses to “On boundaries, promises and successful negotiations … 3 steps forward, 2 steps backward!

    • 🙂 they do but my daughter seems to have a memory unlike anyone I’ve seen before. She remembers every incident, every pain, every doctor visit from the last year across both continents! And promptly throws it at me at my lowest.

  1. Bribing. Excellent solution to lot of problems, dealing with unpleasant things and avoiding tantrums.
    With medicines, for example – I never had a problem with the older one, but the younger guy will faithfully puke out the meds and whatever else he ate, if I force feed it. So I warn him and promise something he likes – worst case with the very bitter ones, some honey or candy after if he swallows the medicines.
    With other situations, I offer something tempting in exchange for good/ positive behaviour… like reading an extra book, some art activity, food related-treats, doing big-people-chores, tv time for really BIG promises. So if we are to go to some place where I know they will make a huge fuss to leave, I negotiate before we reach, and say, “hey if you leave without making a fuss, we can read the new book/ colour with the new paints/ etc when we get home”. As long as I stick to my promise, I find that they also stick to theirs….

    • Bribing has never ever worked on little A! Nothing you offer can make her give in. Logic is the only thing I have working for me. And that takes time. I’ll explain the logic and she comes around eventually … Whether that’s a day or a week or more. Since I’ve written this post she’s started having her own meds. We have to hand the syrup over to her and she drinks it slowly over 5 mins. So we got there but there are days I’m soooooo willing to sit her and explain the benefits of a bribe 😀 Bribing kids was the one thing that was supposed to be fool proof … And I don’t have that working for me!!

      • Logic is always the first option… even my 2 yr old can understand why something has to be done a certain way when he is told patiently and kindly. But all kids like to push limits and adhere to their own rules (why, adults are the same!) So for example, we would have had a discussion about why he shouldn’t cry in school because Amma is going to come and get him really soon and he is gonna have fun there etc etc etc. And he also repeats it and promises me and is fine till he gets down from the car and enters school. And despite all this understanding and self-assurance, he will cry (because he’s a child, right?) So then I think logic+bribe helps. Hey if you are happy in school and don’t cry, we can go for a swim in the evening.. then it gives him more reason to stick to the rules or do what he’s “supposed” to. Positive incentives I guess.

      • Logic bribe positive incentives Etc work in normal cases / environments. Little A is not in what you would call a normal life … for her she’s been uprooted from her life her world and placed in an entirely new one. So even logic, which always worked for her – she didnt push her limits on random things like having her meds or bathing – now her life is about unusual or random fears in the new environment. Logic takes that extra week or in some cases months to make sense with time to build trust.

  2. Wow! You’re such a mature handler of all things related to kids. The one that got me interested was the last point. Yes, parents do things for the well being of kids, even when the kids don’t like them. And to see that you have the patience to think over how to make her understand why you’re doing it, in itself is a big thing. Not many think in that direction. And petty things like giving medicines forcefully will be forgotten when they grow up and realize that you had to do it. But then there will be stuff which will hurt them more and they won’t ever forget it. I remember so much from my childhood that still kinda hurts when reminisced. I can remember how sad I felt. And I found out when I grew up, not many people remembered hurts like that. I guess you will be careful with stuff like that with little A. I thought I’d tell you nonetheless.

    • That was really sweet Wanderer but I’m anything but completely in control of all things Little A. I think a lot but its a struggle translating 1/100 of that to a successful action, all you can do at the end of the day is try and improvise where possible. Most kids do heal eventually but it’s crazy to get past the moment when you’re in the heat of it. Even if that moment is like a week’s time! Oh well.

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