Archive for the ‘Week 10: The Rabbit Hole’ category

Close calls

June 14, 2009

I love the phrase “What will it take…” It rivals “Yes, as soon as …” and “Would you be willing …” on my list of most powerful language tools. I’m pretty sure it saved us from the rabbit hole this morning.

We had our second family meeting and all went well. Everyone wanted the same job as last week. (This time Charlotte opened the meeting with a musical Jack-in-the-box. She cranked the handle and when the toy popped out, the meeting had begun. She loved it.) Ellen was the treasurer again and after appreciations, she handed out the allowance. Charlotte ended the meeting and we went about our day. Soon, however, I heard this:

“Charlotte! Give it back!” “No, I want the one with the purple five.” “But that’s mine! You took it. You have to give it back!” “No.” Ellen was anxious, but not yelling. I glanced over and saw Charlotte folding the 5-dollar-bill into a little ball and Ellen helplessly watching. “Moooooom! She won’t give it back! It’s mine and now she’s folding it up and ruining it!” Charlotte looked at me. “Mom? Do I go back to zero if I don’t give something back?” “Um. Well, what I see is the two of you working on a problem pretty respectfully,” I said, and walked away. They continued along the same lines for a few minutes. Ellen was on the verge of tears, and just then I heard the magic words come out of her mouth: “Charlotte, what will it take for you to give that back to me?” Charlotte thought for a minute and then said, “Um … for you to give me five of your ones for this five.” “Ok!” said Ellen. They happily made the trade, and the problem vanished. I walked right over to them. “Girls. I just saw you solve a difficult problem and there was no yelling and no hitting and no name calling.” “Mom, go away,” said Ellen with a smirk, not looking up from counting her money. I did, with a big smile.

Later I went for a walk and Charlotte wanted to come with me. We had a nice time and Charlotte brought her new camera and took lots of pictures. On the way back she asked if we could stop at the neighbor’s pond and catch a frog. “Well, I need to get back in time for supper. So how about we stop and look for frogs for five minutes and then head home?” “Ok!” she said. Five minutes came and went. We had found a large pollywog and lots of salamanders, but no frogs. “Time to go!” “No!” she said. “Yep, we agreed on five minutes.” “Okaaaay … Mom, will you please get my camera?” she said and walked over to her shoes. I picked up her camera and walked to the other side of the pond. “Oh no, now I have to wash my feet!” She walked back to the water and stuck her feet in. “Ohhh! Look at the cutie salamanders!” I could feel my blood-pressure rising. “Charlotte, this is taking a long time. If you don’t do what you say then I can’t let you come with me.” “I’m coming! Just have to get my shoes, and then …” I started to walk slowly toward the road. She ran to catch up. “Mom, can I have my camera?” “Yes, as soon as we get to the road, I’ll give it back.” We stepped onto the road and I handed her the camera. She took the camera, turned around, and started to walk back toward the pond. “No. Charlotte? If you go back to the pond, then you will not be coming with me next time,” I said, trying hard to stay calm. “I don’t care!” she shouted and broke into a run. “I don’t care if I never come with you again!” she called happily over her shoulder.

I stood there, stewing: Well, I can’t leave her alone by the water, and now I’m mad. Yep, mad, mad, mad. I’ll stand here at a distance and make sure she doesn’t drown. I’m not going over there. If I do, I’ll say something I’ll regret. So what will I say when she does come back? Charlotte, you broke your agreement, so you know what that means! Yep, back to zero you go. How do you like them apples? At this rate, you might never see your friends! Ok, wait. That might blow off some steam, but what was that Vicki said about natural consequences? Don’t use them as punishment? Ok, ok. But if I put her back to zero, how is that not punishment? What turns natural consequences into punishment? Hmm … I guess I do. I have the power to do that with my approach, my attitude, my words, my tone. If I do the verbal equivalent of shaking my finger at her, then the context becomes punishment. If I relax, accept this moment as it is, and quietly, gently put her back to zero then we get a neutral if ____, then _____. No judgment, no baggage, no punishment. Just learning.

Luckily Charlotte took long enough getting her frog pictures that I was able to cool down. When she was done, we walked and talked and looked at her pictures on the camera. Then when we got home I calmly got out my stickers and changed the date for Charlotte to earn her friends privilege. She gave me one wide-eyed look, and that was it. She had made her choice: frog photos over friends. Done.

… and I can kinda see why – cool pics!




June 13, 2009

Not many rabbit hole stories to tell, which is good news. This program has done wonders for the number of times per week I feel like losing it. Jerry did say he came close with Fenner earlier tonight though. Here’s a taste:

Fenner was in the kitchen making a grilled cheese for herself and Jerry was there too, making quesadillas for us. I was in my office and overheard part of the conversation. “Dad, how would you get the burned part off?” “Let’s see, I would take it like this and scrape it …” “Dad! Now there’s a hole in it!” “Well, that’s ok, it’s still good.” “No, I don’t like that!” “Well, I’m sorry, I should never have touched it … I should have just stayed out of it, it’s your food and I shouldn’t have had anything to do with it.” It was quiet for a moment and then I heard Fenner’s voice say, “Glass man!” Jerry didn’t respond. I asked him about it later:

“Yeah, I almost went down the rabbit hole with Fenner. She wanted me to scrape the burned part off her grilled cheese and I made a hole and she didn’t like that. But I told her I shouldn’t have touched it and then I stopped talking and let it go and it was fine.” “Did you apologize?” I asked. “Oh… no … is that part of the rabbit hole thing?” “Yes, you’re supposed to apologize for your part in it.” “We’ll, I think I actually did say I was sorry.” “Mmm. What were you feeling when you said it, though. Angry?” “Yeah, I had the angry response, but then I backed off from that and we ended up fine.” “I’m just curious because I heard her say ‘glass man’ to you.” “Glass man? What’s that?” “Remember when we had the week about our buttons, the girls could say ‘glass man’ to us anytime they thought we were overreacting? The term came from Charlotte’s classroom at school …” He still had a puzzled look on his face. “Well, anyway, I think when she said it she was reacting to your tone. Tone is just so powerful,” I said. “Huh. I didn’t hear her say that.” “So, that wasn’t really an apology if you were still feeling angry.” “Right, yeah.”

Later on, Fenner motioned for me to give her a hug and she said, “I’m bored.” “Oh … want to help me with the kitchen?” “No.” “Hmm. Want to collect all the clothes from your room that need washing?” “No. No chores.” “Ok. How about Ping-Pong with dad?” She perked up. “Where is he?” “I don’t know. Let’s go find him.” We found him outside taking a stroll in the yard. “Dad, want to play Ping-Pong with me?” “Of course!” he said. They disappeared into the barn together and soon I could hear shouting (the good kind) and laughing.

Ping-Pong’s not ice cream, but it was just as sweet.

ps A little P&R update: Charlotte’s date for earning back her friends privilege has moved out a bit more. She likes to claim that she forgot or that she doesn’t understand, and then I get sucked into too much explanation and she doesn’t want to hear that either. Next time, instead of explaining more, I need to focus on encouragement. Here’s basically how it went this time: yesterday at pick up time after school, the girls ran ahead of me to the car. As I approached, they were already in their seats and Fenner was holding something behind her back saying, “Ask me nicely and I’ll give it back to you.” Charlotte was grunting and grabbing at her hand. “Charlotte, please ask me nicely and I’ll give it back.” “No!!! Give it back to me now!!!” she yelled and reached behind Fenner’s back again, trying to grab whatever it was. “Um … Charlotte?” I said gently. She looked at me and slumped down in her seat. “I forgot again!!! This is too hard for me!! I hate going back to zero!!! Fenner and Ellen have to go back to zero too!!!” “Well, no, I mean, for TV and bedtime, you’re all together, but for the visiting with friends privilege, you’re each on your own.” “What? I don’t get it!” I kept talking, trying to explain. “Oh, fine … just start the car,” she said, looking defeated. “Charlotte, you can do this. It’s ok if you need a little more practice.” “Mom, just start the car!” she said, very annoyed. Enough talking, mom. Let her sit with it. She’ll be ok…

Wondering …

June 12, 2009

Phew. Way too busy yesterday. Not much to tell in between going from one thing to the next. But I was wondering…

Fenner has been begging for her own email account, and I thought, hmm, that sounds like a privilege! Soooooo, yes! As soon as you show me … what? Here’s what I said to her the other day;

“Uh, yes … I can say yes to that when you show me you’re ready.” “How do I do that?!” “Well, you know, it’s possible to yell with email, and you can call names with email, so you need to have earned back your friends privilege.” “Oh.” “And the other thing that comes to mind is time management. It’s like TV or computer. Once you’ve earned those back, I need to see that you can self-regulate them on your own, because email can take over your day if you let it.” “So, for how long?” “I’m not sure … I’ll think about it.” “Humpf!” She said frowning and crossing her arms at me.

So, readers, can you think of other responsibilites and agreements that might go along with earning the privilege of email? Suggestions are much appreciated!

Rabbit hole, jr.

June 10, 2009

In the past week, the girls’ treatment of each other has improved 300%. The privilege of visiting friends is a most powerful motivator, and they are clearly, simply, liking each other more lately. The other day Fenner said, “Charlotte, we haven’t hit or kicked you in a long time. … Mom! We’re treating Charlotte with more respect!” Yay!

Yesterday, however, we did have a small relapse.

While Fenner was at riding, Ellen and Charlotte were playing nicely together again. (So, so love seeing that.) Meanwhile, Charlotte’s new bedroom, which has been under construction for several months, was finally ready. I was moving some of her stuff into it so she could spend her first night in her new room.

Charlotte's room

As I was putting some of her books away, I overheard their voices in Ellen’s room next door: “Charlotte, get out of my swing, I didn’t say you could do that.” “No. Not until you pull out the trundle so I can get in it.” “Charlotte, please. I don’t want you in my swing. Please get out!” “No!!” Charlotte shouted, “I want a turn, you never give me a turn!!!” Then some shuffling around and footsteps running down the hall and then, “OW!!!!” Charlotte began to cry. “Moooom!” She walked into her room where I was standing, “Ellen pushed and scratched my neck!” I looked at Charlotte. “Uh oh,” I said softly, “The things I just heard were not respectful.” She stopped crying and looked at me. “Am I not going to the birthday party?” Charlotte’s best friend’s birthday party was ten days away, just after she had been scheduled to earn back her visiting friends privilege. “Uh …” It was hard for me to say it. I half-whispered, “… I think that’s right.” Just then Ellen appeared in the doorway, “No, mom, you didn’t see it!” I looked at her and said, “But I heard it.” “So I go back to zero too?” I winced and said, “Yes.” Then Charlotte started to wail, “I don’t waaaaaant to miss the party!!!!! I want to gooooooooo!!!!!!” She dropped to her knees and continued crying, “I want to goooooo!!!! … I hate this room!!!! I don’t want it anymore!!!!!! … Give it to someone else!!!!!… I want new parents!!!!!!!…” I sat next to her and put my hand on her back. She moved away. I said, “Charlotte, I know this is hard. You have all really been getting the hang of this thing. You will do it. You will get to see your friends. It’s just going to take more practice.” “Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!”

At that point the voice of doubt piped up in my head: Is this right? Should I be doing this? Is this doing more harm than good? Do I make an exception for birthday parties? Maybe if I attended it with her? But I don’t want to go to the party. And we already agreed that she’d have to earn this privilege in order to go. If I go back on that now, they’ll stop taking this thing seriously. I took a deep breath and said, “Do you want some time by yourself?” “Yes! … But mom, you didn’t put Fenner and Ellen back to zero that time.” “When was that?” “I don’t know … like a few days ago.” I paused, trying to remember what she was talking about, and then I said, “Remember, I don’t want this job and I’m not very good at it. I’m going to get it wrong sometimes. But you all have made amazing progress. Just a little more practice and you’ll have it!”

It was getting close to bedtime and as I headed downstairs I heard Fenner ask Charlotte, “Are you going to get ready for bed?” “No! I don’t want any mommy time!” “Well, you don’t have to let her in … will you please just get ready?” “No!” said Charlotte. I continued down the stairs and Ellen followed. “So what’s my new date?” she asked. “Um, let’s see, Charlotte’s got until the 23rd now, and you ‘til the 30th.” “Ugh! Oh well.” I put my arm around her and gave a squeeze. Then suddenly from the top of the stairs I heard Charlotte’s voice, “Mom! Come quick I have to show you something!” I went back up and she was skipping toward the window in her new room excitedly. “Look! A deer!” Out in the meadow I could see the head of a deer poking up from the long grass. “I saw it walking around and then it lied down!” “Awwww,” I said, “She looks so cute.” “I think it’s a boy deer,” she said and then she skipped down to the bathroom to brush her teeth and get ready for bed.

When I came in to say goodnight she said, “Let’s see if the deer is still there!” We peered into the fading light of dusk and could just barely still make out the deer’s head. “Yep, still there,” she said with a big smile. We both said goodnight to the deer, and in my head I added, ‘And thank you.’

Walk this way

June 10, 2009

It was dinner time. Fenner, Ellen, Jerry and I were all at the table together. Charlotte had finished eating and was playing in the den. Fenner sighed and said, “I wish this was our whole family, just the four of us. That would be nice.” “What?” said Jerry, “What do you mean?” “You know, without Charlotte.” “Hmm,” he said and looked down at the floor as his face filled with tension and disapproval. Fenner looked at him. “I was just saying what I wanted. I’m allowed to do that!” “Yes, yes you are,” I said. Then everyone was quiet. Suddenly, Ellen spoke loudly, “Everyone look at the grump!” We all looked at Jerry and he broke into a smile, “What? No … I just … I don’t know … I don’t think that’s ok … what you said, Fenner. It was disrespectful.” “Do I have to go back to zero?!” Fenner looked at me. I said, “No, no … you don’t.” Jerry and I stared at each other not knowing what to say. “Maybe I should go outside,” he said. I nodded. Fresh air does him good.

Later that night we talked about it. “I know it’s hard when Fenner says things like that,” I began. “Yeah, I don’t like it and I need to register my disapproval somehow,” he said. “Well, for me, I see it like, she wasn’t yelling, she wasn’t hitting, she wasn’t calling anyone names. She was just saying how she feels.” “Well, when you say it like that …” “Mmm. And those feelings she’s having are going to get better as we keep doing this work. It’s just going to take more time. But I think, like a year from now, things will look very different.” Just like the roadmap says ….

ps Jerry’s main strategy for staying out of the rabbit hole these days is walking away. Many times it’s appropriate, but there are some nuances we need to work on. For example, there are times when the girls are having an argument – not even a nasty fight – and they’ll see Jerry walk away in frustration. At that point they usually say to me, “Why does daddy do that? I don’t like it when he walks away and doesn’t say anything!” And they seem genuinely hurt by it. So I’ve been thinking once again about attitude. Walking away in a huff is very different from walking away with a neutral attitude. The key is, I think, to approach it the same way you would if you were in a room with two friends and they started to argue. If the argument had nothing to do with you, what would you do? You might quietly excuse yourself, but you probably wouldn’t express your disapproval as you went. Or you might say something like, “You guys go ahead, I’ll be waiting outside.” But there would be no judgment there. People argue. Kids argue. Sisters definitely argue. Who are we to judge? Gotta get neutral.

The beauty of saying nothing

June 10, 2009

I have to say, this whole keeping my mouth shut thing is still a challenge, but it gets easier everyday. Yesterday morning we were all getting in the car to go. “I can’t find my shoes!” said Charlotte, “Oh well, I’ll just wear my crocks.” The voice in my head spoke loudly: does she have gym today? But my mouth stayed quiet, and two seconds later Fenner said, “Charlotte, do you have gym today?” “Yes,” she said with a worried look on her face. “Well, you don’t want to wear crocks then.” And then, to my amazement, Fenner put her impatience about getting to school early aside and got out of the car to help Charlotte find her shoes. It’s just so simple! By keeping my mouth shut, I not only avoided the thankless job of shoe-finder / gym-day reminderer, but also made space for Fenner to be able to choose to help her sister. And all I had to do was nothing.

By the way, it was also pouring down rain and as I backed out of the garage I glanced at Charlotte. No coat, no umbrella, no comment. It was so hard not to say anything! And yet, she was fine. As we approached the school she mumbled, “Oh, I didn’t bring anything for the rain.” Then she asked if I could pull up closer to the front, hopped out, and ran as fast as she could to get inside. The downside: she got a little wet. The upside: she gained experience for making choices about rain gear; she kept her independence and personal power; and we avoided any chance of the morning (and our relationship) getting soured by a fight over umbrellas and raincoats.

It’s just so simple.

Staying on track

June 9, 2009

Things are good. Things are so much better than they were. We’re armed with new awareness, knowledge, and strategies. So we say goodbye to all our old patterns and frustrations, right? No, not exactly.

One of the ways to stay on track with this approach is to set expectations for ourselves at a realistic level. Doing what works best 50% of the time is a whole lot better than before. 75% of the time is way above average. And 90% of the time is a goal we can strive for.

My old patterns are not gone and forgotten. They linger stubbornly in the wings of my brain. They’re the understudy that waits for the unexpected, the trip-up, the bad mood, and is ready to take over at a moment’s notice and then flub all the lines.

So here’s the three-step plan this program recommends we use when things begin to unravel before our eyes — when we begin to go down what Vicki calls, the rabbit hole:

  1. Stop talking. Walk away, and cool off.
  2. Apologize.
  3. Eat ice cream together – either literally or figuratively.

Then reflect, re-assess, and keep going.

Here’s a small example from yesterday:

Charlotte had agreed to take a bath every Monday at 8pm. At 7:50 I announced, “The bath is full!” Meanwhile, Jerry and Fenner were sitting at the table playing hangman. Charlotte was very interested in watching, but she still managed to tear herself away in order to keep her agreement. She marched upstairs and I thought to myself, this is working so well! No reminding, no nagging, no power struggle. I felt at peace. Then suddenly from upstairs I heard: “Moooooooom! It’s too hot! The bath is too hot! I really need your help!” Pop! went my peace bubble. I stood there not answering, thinking: come on, it’s the same temperature I always do it, she’s just a little tired and wanting attention, maybe if I don’t say anything…. “MOOOOOOOM! Why won’t you answer me! I really need your help!” and then she started to cry. As I walked upstairs I felt crabbiness taking over my brain, and I let it. I was tired too.

I’m not a yeller. My parents do not yell, they withdraw, they go dark and quiet and they taught me well. That is my rabbit hole, and I was beginning to slide down it. I stood in the doorway of the bathroom, refusing to go in, keeping my distance, and, oozing with irritation, I said, “What’s the problem?” She was standing there, naked and upset. She said, “It’s too hot and I don’t know what to do!” “Well, I don’t either. I did the temperature the same as always, so what are you going to do?” “I don’t know!” At this point she looked so pitiful that my wall began to crack. I took a deep breath. “Well you’ve still got a few more minutes until 8 o’clock, maybe it will cool down a bit by then.” “Why didn’t you tell me that! You were just ignoring me!” Still laced with irritation I said, “Because I don’t think you really need help. I think you can do this.” I walked away, trying to shake off the residual crabbiness.

A minute later she walked downstairs, fully dressed. Fenner said, “Charlotte, are you going to take a bath?” “No. … Mom? What happens if I don’t take a bath?” “Well, if you choose to break your agreement, then you go back to zero either with friends or TV.” “TV!” she declared. (Earlier I acknowledged that they had made it through one whole week without TV and I asked them how it felt. Fenner said, “Bleh!” and Charlotte said, “I feel great! All we do is more games and activities!”)

“Nooooooooo, Charlotte, pleeeeaaaaaaaassseeee!” pleaded Fenner, “We want TV again, we’ve done a whole week already. Will you please take a bath?!” “No,” said Charlotte. Just then my eyes focused on Jerry. He was still sitting across from Fenner in front of the hangman game, but now he had his elbows on the table, his head down, and his face in his hands. Ellen was staring at him. “Uh, honey? Are you ok?” “What? Yeah!” he looked up at me in surprise. “Oh. You didn’t look ok.” “No, I was just, you know, trying to stay out of it.” “Ok,” I said. But I thought to myself — stay out of what? The argument or the rabbit hole? My guess is both.

Seeing Jerry’s silent physical display of frustration snapped me out of my last bit of crabbiness. I looked at Charlotte and said gently, “Charlotte, what will it take for you to keep your agreement?” “If you never do that again!” “Do what?” “Make the bath too hot and then ignore me!” “Ok. What if I help you add some cold water, and you can tell me when it feels right to you.” “Okaaaaay,” she said. We went back upstairs.

I ran the cold water and she stuck her hand in and swished it around. After a minute she said, “That feels right.” And then she got in the bath. “See mom? This is the way I like it.” I stuck my hand in and said, “I see what you mean that it was too hot before. It doesn’t feel good when it’s too hot. I feel the difference now, Charlotte, I apologize. Next time I’ll ask you to feel it when it’s part way full and then we can adjust it if it’s too hot or too cold.” She smiled. “Mom?” “Yes?” “Will you make my towel warm in the dryer for when I get out?” I smiled back. “Yes, I will.” A little extra warmth was definitely in order.