…A Bushel and a Peck, and a Hug Around the Neck

Months ago, B was in the throes of a terrible fit. I was out of answers, out of patience. I told her that I just didn’t know what to do with her to get her to behave, and asked her how I could help her to stop.

Tears running down her face, she choked, “hug me.”

Thus, what our family refers to as “hug therapy” began.

It isn’t a hold-you-down-so-you-don’t-break-anything hug, or a get-along-t-shirt style hug. It is a genuine hug, full of love and compassion.

When the girls are edging quickly toward a poor choice, or not listening well, or boiling over into a fit…I give them a hug. When I am at my wits’ end, about to venture into the bad parenting zone, I get a hug too.

Feelings get out of control. Emotions build and grow until they explode like a scary, ugly monster. Sometimes, “frustration” becomes an understatement.

During times like this, I take my volcano-girl and envelope her in my arms, let her climb into my lap, and hug her. Some moments, my hug is fiercely returned. Other times, it is fought against. My hug then becomes a loose hug, an “I’m here when you are ready” hug.

image: flickr

B is learning to realize when she is getting out of control, and will growl in the angriest of voices, “I need a hug.” Under the growl, is a sad, angry five year old who knows her emotions have escalated too far, but hasn’t yet learned how to bring them back down.

The hug is is not a “get out of jail free” card, by any means. It is a moment to pull emotions out of overdrive, and back to a place in which they can be handled more appropriately. A silent reminder that I love and will encourage my girls no matter what they do. Once the crying and flailing have ceased, we revisit the source of the problem and figure out a resolution.

My littlest one often cannot stand a hug; the physical contact would be too much in the high-sensory moment. Sometimes, she simply isn’t ready to let go of her fit and fury and find a less tempered spot.  In that circumstance, I give her a quick, loose hug, or just sit beside her, hoping I can express the same love and compassion, without the physical touch. Slowly, though, she is beginning to ask for a hug before she gets to “high alert”.

I am not perfect, and dealing with intense emotions day in and day out can wear on me. During some particularly difficult weeks, I feel as though I do not have one more moment of patience left to give. My temperature rises and I launch into the equivalent of a mom fit. As I begin to fume, however, a little 44-inch tall figure tells me, “Mom. You need a hug.” And I do.

Now and then, I behave like C, and fight the hug…”I’d love a hug, but I don’t have time right now. At this moment, I just need you and your sister to please go put on your shoes like I asked you to so we are only 5 minutes late instead of 15″, I will reply in a strained I’m-about-to-lose-it tone.

“Mom”, She tells me firmly, “there is ALWAYS enough time for a hug.”

Five year olds can be so wise.

I make time for the hug. I feel better. Somehow, we still make it out the door with 20 seconds to spare.

Shel Silverstein had it figured out, didn’t he?

Hug-o-War, Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

The tantrums have decreased significantly lately. Cooperation has been on high. The kids are improving, too. 😉

It’s working for us. What works for you?

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P is for Perfectionist

C lays on the floor, coloring with a pencil. She screams in exasperation.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”

“My pencil is frustrating me!”

She erases all of her work and begins again. Five minutes later, she throws her pencil across the room in a rage. She stomps off, returns with a pair of scissors and chops the offending piece of paper into teeny-tiny pieces.

“THERE!!”, she yells.

I chuckle to myself. That one is a firecracker, and sometimes I see reminders of myself in her.

* * * * *

At gymnastics, she is focused.  She wants to complete her skills correctly. She holds up the line while she walks on the beam. She doesn’t have 100% balance, and can’t bring herself to move to the next activity until she tries it again and gets it right. She steps out of line and lets others take their turn until she can attempt it again.

She is learning, carefully, that these skills…the cartwheels, the backward rolls, the pullovers…are endeavors that take time to learn, and practice to improve.

Sometimes (most times),  perfection doesn’t happen on the first try.

In fact, sometimes it doesn’t happen on the 56976 try.

* * * * *

B has big expectations for herself. She sets the bar high, and becomes upset with herself if she doesn’t fulfill her ambitions on the first pursuit.

She has a new addition facts set to work on.  She sets her two-minute goal. She reaches it, just barely. She sets her one-minute goal – but it is twice as many problems as her two-minute goal. I interrupt her, ask her if she thinks that is reasonable given her progress in the two minute time span.

She gets irritable with me. “I can finish this today, Mom. I just want to learn them all right now.”

I back away, give her space. She doesn’t complete her one-minute goal. Her face is dark. She asks for a new paper.

“Are you sure? You’ve already…”

“I didn’t do as many as I said I would. Please give me a new paper!”

Three papers later, she stomps off in frustration, only one math problem away from where she wanted to be.

“I don’t understand why I can’t just know them, Mom. I don’t want to have to learn them.”

* * * * *

“I don’t want to go to gymnastics!”

“But B, you enjoy gymnastics! Your coaches love you!” After asking some questions over several weeks of complaints, and getting a variety of answers, what I believe is the real issue emerges.

“Every time I do a skill, my coach fixes me. I don’t like to be fixed. I know how to do it.”

I explain that although she is able to do many things, the next step is to work on her form, hold her body just right, strengthen her muscles.

“I can do that myself. I wish they wouldn’t fix me.”

I send her to class anyway, where she has a great day and practices hard, but makes a subtle face every time she is corrected by a coach.

* * * * *

I can empathize. I am the same way. When I was younger, if I couldn’t learn something the first time that I tried it, it was “boring”, “not my thing”, and all of the other excuses perfectionists use. I couldn’t stand being coached…by a trainer, by an expert. I could figure it out myself.

Now in my adult life, I work very hard to re-train myself away from this, for my own growth and to be a better example for my girls. It is an obstinate way to approach life, and I am trying to soften my rebel spirit a bit, and allow others to help me and teach me. It still makes me a little squirmy, though.

* * * * *

People handle perfectionism in different ways. C exhibits the more productive version as her father does, the kind that pushes you to be better, do more. B and I struggle with the halting variant that whispers, “Why try? You won’t be good enough.

I want my children to strive for excellence; I know they are capable of doing whatever they set their minds to. Perfectionism, though, can be all encompassing and at times, debilitating. My husband seems to have a huge case of Imposter Syndrome, although, of course,  he does not believe it. I have a research compulsion, and read everything I can find on how to help us change the cycle. We can teach these young ones the importance of setting realistic goals, being proud of their accomplishments, and enjoying their interests without the self-deprecating words that perfectionism murmurs.

Then I have to stop and laugh at myself, and ask the hubby if he too sees the irony in my reading “Moving Past Perfectionism” in an attempt to make us better? 🙂

* * * * *

Some fantastic resources on helping gifted kids cope with perfectionism can be found here:

Perfectionism and the Gifted from Hoagies’

Helping Gifted Students Cope with Perfectionism, from Davidson 

Sylvia Rimm on Perfectionism from SENG

Imposter Syndrome from Hoagies’

flickr, Creative Commons