Monday, October 7, 2013

We've Got Spirit

PhotobucketIt's not a real secret that Gianna was a pretty high need baby and toddler.  Or that she took the definition of threenager to another level last year.  Lately, I have been having a hard time finding the right description of her personality.

She is:
  • hilarious
  • sweet
  • caring
  • temperamental
  • detail oriented
  • demanding
  • polite
  • loving
  • rough
  • hard headed
  • bossy
  • schedule-driven
  • independent
  • persistent
She is the complete opposite of "easy-going" or "laid-back".  She is in fact, very particular, very detail oriented.  She takes her time on things that matter to her.

There is not any one task that I would say is "easy" or "simple". Of course, there are TIMES when things go smoother, or she is more cooperative/understanding/willing, but that's not the case the majority of the time.

We spend a lot of time on transitions throughout the day: "Gianna, you have X minutes until it's time to get ready for school"...."Gianna your lunch will be ready in X minutes"... "When the next commercial comes on your show, it's time for a bath"... you get the idea.  We can't just say "time for a bath" and expect that bath to go down without a fight.  It's always been this way, so it's sort of second nature to us now to give that warning to her. 

All of these things I have typically just chalked up to her age.  We try to manage our expectations of her.  But so often we are met with a wall of resistance, a lot of "NO!", etc.  We are also often met with a lot of "Hey, Mommy/Daddy... I love you" which will make you forget about that last battle of the wills in 0.5 seconds flat.

Her attitude and general demeanour got really defiant and somewhat aggressive right before Aleesia was born and about a month after she was here - which made perfect sense.  Gianna's world just literally got turned upside down - A) we couldn't tell her when Sister was coming.  She would ask multiple times a day and she never understood why we didn't know. She still talks about how she wasn't allowed to come to the hospital to meet sissy no less than once a week. (this clearly had a really big impact on her) and B) Once she realized that Aleesia wasn't leaving and that all the time she used to have exclusively with me and Mike now had to be allocated and shared with a screaming baby - that was SO NOT COOL. 

The past few weeks (it feels like weeks, anyway) have been particularly hard. There are epic meltdowns over EV.ER.Y.THING  - what shoes to wear, what toothpaste to use, where that one hair on her head landed, which couch cushion she wants to sit on, if she got two tissues instead of one and clothes are an entirely different VERY LARGE battle (we let her pick out her own clothes and there are STILL tantrums that would make seasoned grandmothers run out of the house).  This is not an exaggeration in any way - she will scream, cry, kick, yell, screech, whimper, etc. for 20, 30, 40 or more minutes.  And literally, she can't be calmed down.  She will even say "I can't calm down" between sobs.  As maddening as it is - it is that much more heartbreaking.  She works herself up to this level that she can't easily come down from or tell us what even started the meltdown in the first place.

Mike and I are feeling very much like we should not or cannot parent her lately.  It's pretty tough, actually.  When I have to leave for work and she is screaming and carrying on so loudly that all of our neighbors probably think someone is plucking her finger nails off one by one because the shirt she picked out is "too big on my shoulders".  It makes for a lot of tears from me too. 

I am generally a very calm person - I don't get mad or yell often. I can handle a lot of nonsense before I just can't anymore.  However the level of  patience and understanding that I have for these epically giant meltdowns that occur, on average one to four times A DAY is quickly diminishing.   We have tried several methods of "charting" her behavior most of which she loses interest in before I am done telling her what the deal is.  Right now she has 4 behaviors each day that we mark with a face (smile, sad, angry, etc.) - if she has more happy faces that anything else she gets a prize (this week is pumpkin window clings!).  She seems to like and respond to this one pretty well so far, but it's not been a full week yet....

We have a few moments/days of perfection, of course.  In fact, today she is having one of the best days she has had in a really long time and she is getting a LOT of praise (and so far, 2 smiley faces) for that.  And generally, if she is having one:one time with anyone, she is amazingly awesome and well behaved.  I don't know anyone else who has a child with it makes it hard to relate and I am sure pretty much anyone who has not seen one of her meltdowns in person would think I over exaggerate.  I have been scouring the Internet for information - ideas on how to parent her better and more effectively, etc. 

To which I have learned that she fits the bill of a "spirited child" almost 100%:

INTENSITY (loud and dramatic-focused outward, quiet and intently observant - focused inward),

PERSISTENCE ("lock in" to important ideas, love to debate, goal oriented),

SENSITIVITY (easily overstimulated by their environment, low sensory thresholds to any of the five senses),

PERCEPTIVENESS (easily distracted, notice everything going on all the time),

ADAPTIBILITY (don't transition/shift from one activity to another easily),

"bonus" characteristics
REGULARITY (natural schedules for eating or sleeping),

ENERGY (physically active, busy exploring all the time),

FIRST REACTION (quick with drawl when first encountering anything new), and

MOOD (as in moody)

You can probably pick out how each of these fit her personality just from this post - but especially if you know her in real life or have read this blog for any period of time.  I might, for my own sake, take some time to explore each of these further in a separate post, but not today.

When she was a baby someone recommended the book "Raising Your Spirited Child" to me and I never read it.  And it turns out that I need to stop at the store tonight to pick that book up because we NEED IT.  I also ran across a blog post that I NEEDED to read today.  It rang so true to me and it made me feel better. 

This part, specifically, hit me like a ton of bricks - especially the underlined part:

"More than anything, our son wants to feel like he matters. He might only be four and some change, but he feels as if his opinion is just as important as the rest. Yes, occasionally being his mom is like caring for someone with a drinking problem (slurring, falling down, tantrums, moments of love and incoherence). Yes, occasionally he freaks out for no apparent reason. But he’s almost always upset about things that matter to him, things we take for granted. The more responsibility we’ve given him, the more praise he gets for his accomplishments,"

I know Gianna doesn't freak out to get back at us, or to make us mad.  She is having a VERY hard time articulating exactly what the problem is but sometimes, when she can tell me, it's something so simple or something that I would brush off as "nothing" that clearly was NOT "nothing" to her.  We need to focus on those things that matter to her - even  (and especially) if we don't understand why.

It's no secret that this girl is spirited - we all just need to keep learning the best ways to encourage and engage her so that we help her to grow. Life isn't going to get any easier for her if we don't help her understand how to effectively articulate her opinion.  I can appreciate that throwing yourself on the floor screaming "I don't want to deal with you" does seem like an appropriate solution sometimes, but it's not practical.  One thing that does give me comfort is that she always says "I'm sorry, I love you" when it's all over.  And I always tell her that I love her more.  She's always extra sweet after a meltdown blows over.

There is so much more we need to learn and understand about each other as she grows.  And we are heading into another time of transition for our family (more on this soon) so I'm buckling in tight over the next few weeks because I think it's going to get bumpier.  But if you have any advice, I'd love to hear it.

and if you read this and have felt as alone as I have trying to parent a child who tests all.the.limits.all.the.time - you ARE NOT alone.


Annegirrl said...

Oh my, girl. Katie was exactly like Gianna at that age. We read a book recommended by Paige
Sometimes I'm a Bombaloo ( We got it from the library and what a difference. It helped us give a name to the behavior and it came across in a story that turned into something funny and gave the little girl a way to get out of the tantrum. GO.GET.IT.

Katie would get so upset she would spit. Actual spit spray coming out uncontrollably. Now I understand that phrase, "spitting mad". It gets better, I promise. Katie is still very high energy and fun. We still have to do the warning countdowns to changes that will be coming up soon. 10 more minutes, and it will be time to eat. 15 minutes until bedtime. 5 minutes until we leave for the store.

Now that she is older, her tantrums have turned into jealousy fits over Mira getting or doing something she didn't get to do. Mira got more pizza, Mira got more bedtime snuggles/talks/songs, Mira got more iPad time, and so on. She doesn't lose her control as much, but the spirit is still there.

alison said...

Sending you love. Brecken is this way at times (but probably 1/12 of the time that G is) and I am exhausted by it. I can't imagine having him be "on" all day and night. She is precious and lucky to have you as her parents. xo

Deborah said...

This is so hard, having a child like this. J is like this in a lot of ways. I read the Spirited Child book and didn't feel he fit the mold exactly. It sounds like you are doing a great job trying to figure out what Gianna needs and how to help her. We can't get it right all the time.