Life With Nine Kids

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dear Sebastian,

Ohhh Sebastian. You are so wild, brave, silly and serious; you've always been all of those things, but as you've gotten older you have gotten even more so! Recently, or maybe not so recently, you started screaming and being really demanding. Really, you've acted like a jerk. Your brothers and sisters finally got fed up with you, mom and dad were busy and hoping it would pass. Time went by, more TV was watched, and soon you turned into a preschooler that I for one could not believe. I actually said to your daddy, "I cannot believe this is my child!" You were not very nice, you were awfully temperamental, you were mean. For a long tome you also had trouble controlling your anger and hitting / scratching people. You once scratched your dads arm in an angry tantrum and he actually got an infected, red, swollen scratch from your dirty little kid fingernails. I remember him washing his arm with soap and hot water in the bathroom. Finally I knew you weren't growing out of this; you needed more attention, you needed more time with your mom and dad and we had to stop turning the TV on when we were busy or you were bored. We are a reluctant TV watching family. We don't have cable or satellite; we have only a few basic channels, Netflix and video tapes. We limit TV watching for all the kids, but ALWAYS, always every preschool child of ours ends up watching too much TV at some point. By the time they are four or five years old our TV dependent preschooler gets angry when we tell them no more.  (Charlotte and Layla are the only exceptions, they never got immersed in TV.) We have to fix a cycle of boredom, habits and lack of imagination. TV suffocates the imagination of a child and it's entirely our fault it happens.

 Since we let your meanness problem get out of hand we knew it would get worse before it got better. And it did. Oh the screaming. :( It tore a hole in my heart, but a couple of kids had already done that over the years so your Daddy was there to help me remember we've gone through bad times with other kids and that it would be okay. You told me you didn't like me, you told me I was mean, you told me I wasn't your family anymore. I reacted by not looking at you. Sometimes I'd tell you that you could go get a job and move away and take care of yourself if you don't want a family. Sometimes I'd tell you that I love my family and would never tell them they weren't my family. Sometimes I'd tell you that you will not have any family if you treat people that way. I would remind you of all the things I do for you and when you'd ask for something I'd tell you I didn't feel like doing it because I don't do nice things for mean people, I stay away from mean people. "I don't want to get you a drink, get it yourself because you are mean to me and you tell me I'm not your family." This helped you understand that relationships are a two way street where people must mutually respect each other to get anywhere.

 There are many hard stages of parenting, but dealing with the willpower and independence of a toddler or preschooler is pretty high on the list. They are their own people and they feel so good about themselves when they are making decisions, but on the other side they feel so bad about themselves when we try to "control" them. Different personalities in these little people add another element. Charlotte always trusted I knew what was best for her so we reached compromise easier, Layla did not and so it was always a battle of wits with her. Sebastian, you fall in the unique category called 'I know what's best because I'm as tough as nails and a superhero-man-boy.'

 After months of your behavior going from bad to worse and a bunch of time-outs that had various results I asked myself what I needed to do. The answer is just about the same for every kid problem we've ever faced: less or no TV, more one-on-one time, more family fun time (games, exercise, field trips), more outside time, more attention, more story books read. So that's what we did. Magically (or not so magically) you have transformed over the past month. You only yell or scream about once a day instead of six times a day. You are more thoughtful, more kind and happier. You think before you act most of the time. I have had the great pleasure of watching a respect bloom between us as well. Recently if I raise my voice, get mad or say "What?!" in a frustrated tone (usually because three kids are talking to me and a baby is crying at me and I'm rushed and impatient) you will get a very serious look on your face and in a very particular and concerned tone you will say, "Don't talk to me like that" or, "You are talking mean Mommy." When that happens I drop to my knees and I go to your level. I immediately apologize and thank you for teaching me how to talk nicer. Since you have started asking me to talk nicer and I respect you, you in turn respect me when I ask you to be nicer or not yell. It's been a joyous uplifting time in our relationship with each other. Communication with people is such a wonderful skill to have and I feel like you are really learning that.

 Every morning you say good morning to everyone. This morning you happily said good morning to Everett and kissed him. You then looked at me and said, "Do you know why I say good morning to Everett? Because I love him so much." You are so sweet. I remember this sweetness, it was always inside of you. Last winter I made you breakfast and you hopped up on a stool, looked at it and cheerfully said, "Tank you Mommy for this breakfast that you made for me."

 THAT is the Sebastian I lost and found. That is the love you have in your heart for your family.

 I don't even know how many months ago it was when I noticed there was something missing, something was lacking inside of you. I mentioned to your daddy that I feel like there's no preschool magic in your life. I did this project with Penelope and Everett while you sulked and complained to watch TV. Since attempting to reclaim you as a preschooler everything feels better. You used to not want to leave the house very much, now you bring a backpack of toys and do well on outings. You used to throw fits when it was TV-off time, now you don't. You do projects more willingly and everything just seems better. The sparkle in your eye is back. Today we did that same project and you proudly worked hard at stringing your cereal necklace. You stopped halfway through and said it was a long project. I could tell you were proud and determined. I told you that you could stop and do more later or just not string it all of the way. You were enjoying having focus, seeing the results, making something useful and feeling good about your ability. You talked cheerfully, joked, laughed and worked hard.

You are four and of course this isn't the end of fits and troubles, but we're on the right path again. You have also matured tons over the past 6 months, so that you listen and talk about things. That is something that can't be forced, it comes with time. This will make things so much easier on all of us. Yesterday there was an issue and you were mad at Sage, but you listened when I talked to you about it and you actually saw a different point of view. You want to understand and you are open to the idea that the world is a big place and you are just one person. What a big boy you are becoming!



crunchymama said...

Hi Shauna, I know you are busy but I'm wondering if maybe you have a blog post already you could point me to, about tv- I really identified with a lot of what you were saying about Sebastian and the behavior problems that come between 3 and 4, exacerbated by screen time. How do you handle setting tv/computer screen time limits for your family? TIA ~Alison

Mom of a bunch of great kids... said...

I don't but I'd like to write one soon. Thanks for the idea! :)

We do good for a while and slip and then do good and then.... slip. The kids have been really sick for a week so the TV has been on a lot right now.

As a general rule I have certain times of the day, LONG stretches, where there is no TV/video games allowed. Usually between 9 and 3 pm.

Anne said...

I have a boy just as you describe Sebastian to be. He's also 4. Smart as a whip, but very very needy. If it's not about him, he makes sure it gets to be.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm not the only one!