Yesterday afternoon my husband and I picked M up at the daycare around 4:30 to go to the school’s film festival. All the classes have spent the last several months putting short films together and yesterday was the big screening. The school rented a theatre and held two showings – one during the day and one after school for parents and others. The tickets went on sale weeks ago and we checked with M before we sent in our $15 ($5 per ticket). We reminded him several times during the week, including yesterday am.
Except Thursday is a special activity day at the daycare. Whatever they were doing, M did not want to leave. Didn’t matter that he had committed to going. He had seen the films earlier in the day and they were “dumb.”
I could tell by the expression on M’s face as we got in the car that he was angry. He’s always had trouble with transitions from one activity to the next. As his psychologist reminded us when we met with her earlier this week, when he doesn’t want to do something, it is almost impossible to get him to do it. He was upset about missing the activity at the daycare and did not want to go the school event.
My husband suggested we go home and M yelled his agreement from the backseat. But we made a committment to go – we paid for the tickets (only $15 but it was the principal), plus my husband and I had both left work early. Since he didn’t want to go to the event, going home would have put the control in M’s hands. Not to mention setting a precedent for the future – if I make a big enough fuss, I will get my own way. So I said we were going.
I tried reasoning with him, but M was well past the stage where any rational conversation was possible. He sat in the back seat and told me I was stupid. When I didn’t respond, he started poking me over the seat. I adjusted my position so he couldn’t get to me but at one point he grabbed my hair. Luckily, he wasn’t able to maintain his grip. I told him he was going to lose electronics for the rest of the day: “I don’t care, you’re stupid!”
We continued to ignore him. His language got progressively worse as we got closer to our destination. At one point, my husband, who was driving, had to break suddenly to avoid slamming into the car in front of us who had stopped with no warning to let someone cross the street. We all got jostled and M said “what the hell.” My husband, who looked like his head was going to pop off, told M to watch his language. M relied: “I can say what I want” and then proceeded to say “hell, hell, hell” over and over. After about the 10th repetition, I heard my husband mutter “…is being with you.” Totally inappropriate but understandable, given he was trying to navigate through rush hour traffic with a raging beast in the back.
When we got to the theatre, M refused to get out of the car.
M: I’m staying here.
M: Can I have my iPod?
Me: No, you’ve lost it for the day.
M: Then I’ll destroy the inside of the car.
Me: Fine, but you will pay for the damages from your bank account.
M: No, I won’t.
Me: Yes, you will.
M: Fine, I’ll come in (gets out of the car and slams the door).
We got into the theatre and M made a bee-line for a couple of his buddies. He sat with them for a couple of minutes and poof! evil alien disappears and M returns.
The film was great – the kids had all worked very hard. M’s group’s firm was very funny. By the time it was over, M was calm. My husband and I were still in a bit of a state of a shock but we had regained enough of our equilibrium to talk to M in full sentences. At his request, we swung by the library on our way home so M could pick up some books – “no electronics” also precluded watching tv.
M was contrite. When I talked to him later, I asked him if he liked himself when he behaved like that – he shook his head no. I told him that I loved him, but I did not like that behaviour. I also told him that we would need to work together to figure out how he could better manage his reaction when he gets angry – ask for 5 minutes to pull himself together; stop for something to eat, etc. As a final point, I indicated that beyond losing electronics for the day, he would have to come up with a second consequence, something he could do to help around the house.
While M was in his temper, I kept thinking to myself, “is this what he will be like as a teenager”?It was as if M had been possessed by an evil alien – he looked like the same child but he sounded and acted like a completely different creature. He didn’t care what he said or did at the time, nor about the consequences. This was not the first time he’s acted this way, but the first time we’ve been out of the house. What worries me is that when he is in the “anger zone,” he is completely lacking in judgement and can be incredibly impulsive. What if he did something in that 15 minute window that had long-term consequences?
I have no idea what M will be like as a teenager. Given his temperament, I expect he will be challenging at times. At the moment, access to electronics is the most effective carrot that we have, but that may not work forever. Rationally, I know we are doing everything we can to equip M to manage his reactions to certain situations. But an incident like yesterday afternoon plants a little seed of doubt in my mind. It usually doesn’t grow very big; I’ve gotten pretty good at shutting down the negative thoughts and focusing on the positive. So while we had a rough 15 minutes yesterday, M did pull himself together and apologized afterward. He was very polite and affectionate today.
Still, I’ll be keeping an eye out, just in case the alien bodysnatcher puts in another appearance.