26 December 2012

Newtown and Bad Attitudes

Newtown really messed me up. I am not alone in this, of course. Only those with cold, hard hearts of stone could remain unaffected by Newtown. In the days following the shooting, I felt like I should post something, that I should have something meaningful or significant to say, but no, nothing. And now, nearly two weeks later, till nothing, no. I have plenty of emotions and feelings, but they seem small in scale and I can't figure out an eloquent way to express them and most of them have been expressed better by others already.

I have opinions about gun control and mental health access, but they are not revolutionary, surprising, or insightful. I will say that if the idea of arming classroom teachers with guns ever gains any traction, I will be homeschooling faster than you can say dumbest idea ever. See, gah, this is another reason I haven't written about this. I don't want some kind of Second Amendment self-defense debate in the comments because I'm sick of it, but I'm terrified by the fact that giving more people more guns is a "solution" that anyone is actually considering.

(In any case, who am I kidding, my readership is down far enough to make debate in the comments nigh impossible!)

That those children were the same age as Maddie and Riley made the Newtown shooting that much harder to bear. That one of the children who was killed was half of a twin pair, and that the other twin lived, hit ever too close to home.

Two days after the shooting, I took Maddie and Riley to visit some friends, another set of boy/girl twins. Riley fell asleep in the car on the way there. Upon arrival, I took Maddie and our stuff inside, then went back out to the car for Riley. He was sound, sound asleep, and it took a few seconds to rouse him. When he shuddered awake, he barely registered me, but immediately turned his head, saw Maddie's empty carseat, and yelped, "Maddie!" His heart was racing and his eyes were full of fear. I told him that Maddie was OK, that she was inside with our friends. He couldn't get inside fast enough to verify that with his own two eyes. I sometimes think that Riley is still not totally clear that he and Maddie are two separate people. It's touching, and fragile.

While I have certainly had my don't sweat the small stuff/children are precious/love every moment/hug them every chance you get reactions in the aftermath of Newtown, the truth is that Riley is driving me insane. He is so full of life, so funny and chatty and energetic. But he is also disrespectful, quick to blame others, and obsessed with videogames. And I wonder how much the videogames have to do with the disrespect and unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions.

Since some short time after the start of first grade, Riley has gone from a sweet, cuddly boy who I wanted to shrink down and carry with me at all times to . . . something else. The tone of his voice is usually bossy and snide, he contradicts me all the time (often just for sport, or so it seems), and the "I'm bored!" incantations are constant. I remind him constantly that the tone he's using and his word choice and body language are not acceptable; he says most things twice these days: once the way he seems to prefer, and once the way that is an acceptable way to communicate with others. It's exhausting to be constantly reminding him about how to use kind words and a respectful tone, to answer questions when he's spoken to.

As for the videogames, I allow Riley to have a limited amount of game time on approved games for either Wii or iPad/iPhone. During the usual school day routine, I'm pretty strict. Videogames are not a daily thing, and he has to do his homework before he can have that time if it's one of his days to have it (Tuesday and Thursday). Then it's limited to the time between when I get home and when dinner is served. I also let him play on my phone if we have a long wait at a restaurant, or if we're traveling by air.

That's all fine. What bothers me is his obsession with it all. At any opportunity, he's angling for MORE. He'll walk up to perfect strangers and look over their shoulders at what they are doing on their phones. When my dad comes to visit, Riley barely says hello before he asks if he can play on my dad's tablet. There are certain friends he'll beg me to see not because he wants to spend time with them but because he knows that those friends have videogames that he might get to play.

This is a type of play that's hard for me to like. It's upsetting to me when after opening a bunch of Christmas presents (Beyblades, board games, books), all he wanted to do was play on my dad's tablet. When I told him no, he actually said to me, "What am I supposed to do?" When I reminded him that he had gotten a bunch of new toys and offered to play a game with him, he sulked. The obsessive/exclusionary desire he has to play with electronics gives me a knee-jerk reaction not to let him do it at all, but then I worry about the forbidden fruit syndrome. Argh.

I try to set a good example about this. I keep my phone put away unless I hear a call/message or need to send one. Absolutely no phones at the table, for sure.

I just don't know how to take this interest and special kind of intelligence of his and use it for good. And I worry about how the gaming/electronics stuff is feeding the bad attitude he has had of late. Or are six year olds often testing limits and learning something by seeing what kind of reactions they get to this type of behavior? I could read books about this, I suppose, but here I am, asking the Internet. Internet, what do you have for me? How do those of you with kids this age (and older) manage the electronics? Do you know where my sweet boy went? How can I get him back?


Jenn Gruden said...

My son is now 7. At 6 and in grade one he demonstrated a lot of the behaviour you're describing, and he had gone from a pretty laid-back kid who sure, liked that stuff but totally self-limited, to a lot of the same bugging about it. We opted to basically not allow screen time during the week (it helps that he does martial arts a few nights) and just aim for some balance on weekends. We also tried a token system and with a different kid it might have worked well (redeem each token, handed out at the start of the week, for x minutes; you decide if it's a big Sat am fest or a bit every day). With ours it wasn't such a hit.

Anyways, here's my working theory which is only a theory: 6 is _hard_. Those egos, especially the little boys' in school where it's so verbal and they may be seeing the kids who are great at writing excel sometimes (depending on the class; that was my son's experience - he is more a Lego/math guy), are taking a huge bruising every day. Also the social dynamics are harder to figure out.

I think my son in particular just wanted some control, and a video game is a controlled environment where the rules are clear and you win and get levels and tokens and everything. And he did seek to control the time he had with the video games. And at 7, he still does but I see some balance coming in...he channels it into other projects which I will not get too into but let's just say if I hear "oh _there_ are the scissors" I check it out. :)

I was pretty hardcore about respect. It's okay to want to play video games. It's okay to be upset at a no. But it's not okay to be nasty about it. Also, I don't personally care if he is bored if I say no. My stock phrase is (said with as little engagement as possible, to leave him space) "Well, boredom is supposed to be good for your brain."

I did not get my sweet early childhood guy back. I got a slightly more private, slightly mouthier, screwing-up sometimes child and yet one who basically is respectful and who has shown moments of breathtaking kindness and care.

I do not have answers and I share your concerns daily, and wow, it's tough. But being ahead in time, just wanted to share...I do see this..._person_...emerging who is really neat. But it is different. I don't know if it's normal or whatever, but I am regaining some faith in it.

Keri said...

I think that attitude is pretty common with boys between six and nine. Girls usually navigate that time better, because they mature that little bit more quickly, but basically the control thing is massive in a boys brain. It seems to me observing all the kids I've seen at that age who've all gone through the same thing that the lack of choices is a massive issue for them, because they are in first grade now and they're being moulded into independent little thinkers who are still children, but are really on the cusp of child and youth, and that adjustment results in stretching that time both ways. They hate that they're still a kid, but they kind of also want to STAY a kid and be indulged like one.

Something I've seen work really well is to give them choices, but there are a limited amount of choices, and they are responsible for picking one of those few choices. (i think this is where the token system might work well for some kids). So for instance, if he complains of boredom, give him the choice of two things he generally enjoys doing and you're happy with him doing, and tell him it's his choice. Also, and I know this is a bit left field, but I've seen it work SO often I can't not recommend it, but if the twins have seperate rooms, let him (again, within set parameters) choose how he arranges it. Maybe his next birthday, give him a set budget that he can decorate the room with (again, within reason), and take him to hardware stores and ikea and the like, and he gets to choose - with his budget - what he puts in his room. If he wants to paint, let him pick the colour and be involved in putting up posters and painting small bits, and choose where the furniture is. At that age a lot of the issues with challenging authority - and that's what he's doing - are about control. He doesn't have control and he wants it. So let him have control over appropriate things, and he's not going to be pushing against small things all the time. Controlling his environment will give him a sense of his own place in it, and he's go somewhere to go that he's set up and controlled when he is butting against the fact that he's still a kid.

Also, if he's into video games, how about things like Meccano and Lego or building kits? It has the same advantage of control and setting the rules, but it's a bit more imaginative.

Melani said...

Sorry to say, it's pretty normal for boys that age to have that kind of attitude. My kids are 15 and 13 and my son drove me crazy about 1st to 3rd grade and then my daughter drove me crazy from about 4th to 6th. There are always phases where struggling to "like" your children is difficult. The love is there, of course, but man.... Most of my friends have had the same type of experiences. As for the obsession, I think that he just has happened to choose video games. For my son, it was music--creative, yes, but still a problem when he wouldn't do anything else without being forced to do it. We're in a golden period right now where both kids are enjoyable to hang out with but I'm sure when my son turns 16 in April there will be power struggles galore.

E said...

I can't say that it's the right thing to do, but my sister has an 8 year-old and he is also totally obsessed with video games. She uses it as reinforcement for pretty much everything - he earns "time" instead of an allowance and when he acts up, talks back, etc.. he loses "time". He learned the system quickly and the attitude was shut down pretty fast. He still bugs, but it's usually "Is there anything I can do to earn time tonight?" which is infinitely less annoying than the writhing on the floor, whining, begging, and getting nasty when told no. It works for her!

Anonymous said...

Whoa, I could have written this post. I have 6 y.o. b/g twins in 1st grade (and I grew up in CT) so Newtown hit me hard in many of the same ways.

And my son is in the same phase. He was in private K last year so I chalked it up to the switch to public school. So much mouthiness! So much, "it's all your fault!" and fake punches and everything in a sassy tone. And if we let him, he'd play with our phones all day long. We don't have other video games so that's his only outlet for that.

I don't have a lot of advice. My son did get a non-video game for the holidays that he's obsessed with, perplexus. You may want to check it out, though watching my son get absorbed by it, and frustrated by it, I'm not 100% sure it's better than videogames. But it's not a screen...

Otherwise, I'm searching for the solutions for this behavior as much as you are. Sometimes when we go through a phase like this we come up with a behavior chart, where all 4 of us have things we can get pluses and minuses for -- so rude tone could be a minus, asking politely could be a plus for instance. And we make sure the parents have things they can get praised and dinged for. And then there's an end of the week reward -- maybe the person with the best total (add pluses, subtract minuses) gets to pick where we go out to dinner. It makes us all aware, but it doesn't single one person out, and it sends the message that adults are responsible for their own behavior, too. We haven't done it in a bit, but we may need to!

Good luck -- and happy new year.

ste said...

I'm too tired to read all the comments that you have gotten and I'm sure they are much better than what I can contribute but Riley and his video game obsession reminds me of my nephew. He's 5.5 and it's the same thing!

Liz Jimenez said...

I don't have anything insightful to add about Newtown, either. It punches my gut to think about it, makes me feel almost guilty for how lucky I am to have my kids here and safe.

But OH MY GOODNESS, I think you just described Daniel. At 5.5, he's doing all of those things. CONSTANT angling for any type of video games, complete with negotiations and pestering if I don't immediately say yes (we also have limits, as you do). And the contradicting for sport... today he was literally trying to tell me our house (in which he has lived his entire life) was a different color than it actually is. Arguing just because. Blame is always on someone else. Nothing is his fault.


No useful advice, just sympathy from someone who is going through the same.

mek said...

I have to echo what others are saying about control and also the desire to be *good* at something. When we struggle with our kids responses, I eventually remember that what has worked in the past is giving an alternate response. (When she was 2 it was "you may not hit me, but you can growl at me") or asking her to preface her mouthy comeback with something like "Because I'm mad I want to say x" and then she can say it, but it is acknowledged that her emotions are driving her words. For me anyway - and I try to model this same behavior (only fair).

And I hear you - so clearly - on the response to Newtown. I gave minimal information, but Cora got more at school from other kids. I answered questions and cleared up confusion without adding to her information, but she had most of the details I had hoped to spare her. It took a week, but this week we saw the first nightmare that seemed related. I'm hoping it will be the only one.

kris (lower case) said...

my son (now 13) always got nasty after playing any video game for more than 20 minutes. so we set a timer and after 20 minutes he was off of the computer. he would be obsessed with a game for a bit and then..nothing.. it is a pattern he has kept. will play a game for hours and then... not at all. but i can tell you from what i have seen of the girls.. i will take a boy any day.. so much more reasonable 90% of the time..

Anonymous said...

Have you read about the Nurtured Heart technique? "The Nurtured Heart Approach to Transforming the Difficult Child"? It takes a lot of energy, but we keep coming back to it because it is so successful and makes us all feel better.

Coral said...

I'm afraid I'd be asking Riley 'Who speaks to you like that, so you think it's ok to talk to ME like that?' And 'Do I speak like that to you?' He will answer 'no', at which point you can say 'well you can't speak to me like that, we don't talk to each other like that here'.

It's hard, and I feel for you.

Kathleen said...

I would say cracking down on the sassiness is very important. You have to let him know it is not okay to speak disrespectfully to you or any adult. If you let him do it, it just goes on and on.

We have one obsessed with video games too. We cope by only giving him screens from 2-4 on weekends. If he asks us at other times, he might lose his privileges for the weekend. And he knows that he is not allowed to pounce on his dad or I and immediately ask for screens when we walk in the door. That's a good way to lose his screens privileges. We also use losing the screens as a punishment at times.

I honestly think lumping all items with screens into one bucket and then severely limiting the time is the only way to go. Otherwise the obsession only grows.

Snoopyfan said...

Well, from you and most of the other 12 commenters I have gleaned that my 6.5 yr old is not the only boy that is obsessed with video games and beyond sassy and disrespectful. Drives me crazy on a nearly daily basis. You are not alone!

Anonymous said...

When my daughter who is now 9 got her first video game system at 6 we instituted a no video games on school nights policy. Once homework is done on Friday night until Sunday night I pretty much give her free reign for gaming on Wii, DS, Ipod Touch, etc...at first she would spend almost every waking moment playing games but now only does so if she has something new and interesting. I don't know if this is the best way to handle but it does stop the asking to play as she knows that the answer is always no unless it is a weekend or school vacation...one less thing for us to argue about. She does get to use the computer for school projects and a math program during the week starting this year (4th grade) and can use her Ipod Touch for listening to music if she would like.

jill said...

Just limiting video games isn't that easy when they excel at it. I struggle with the knowledge that my kid (14)is probably going to do something in that industry, so how do I limit it when he needs to be very good at it?

In addition, I have a friend who is a fine surgeon who played video games for hours and hours, and says it really helped his fine motor skills... plus, he turned out okay.

Boomviolet said...

My son is nearly 18 and I still CLEARLY remember those same arguments/discussions/issues when he was in 1st grade. The wanting to play with someone just because of their games? Yep. That one too. It was HARD. I remember telling him that I hated the games because it was the primary source of our arguments. We muddled through. I tried to be steadfast in my rules, but you know...that only works for so long. There are exceptions and odd situations and then they ask "but you let me do it before?"

I don't know the answer. You will muddle through however you can. Your concern for Riley is the best guarantee that you'll both come out the other side -- Riley less scarred than you, undoubtedly!

My son is now applying to colleges. He's sharp as a tack, funny, bright, a great friend, he self limits himself on electronics and he is destined for greatness. I will bet Riley is going to be just the same!

Have faith in yourself.

twingles said...

My DS is also obsessed with video games....he was in 1st grade when we got a Wii. Same thing - easy going, happy kid who became totally out of sorts when video games came into play. I finally just said NO to video games during the week - period - and 5 years later that is still our rule. He gets PLENTY of time on weekends and will play for hours if allowed. My other two kids are not nearly so obsessed. Now I will say he is much more mechanically inclined that the others (he has a twin brother) so maybe that is it?? Don't know. They are pretty much limited to sports related games too.
Don't think you are doing anything wrong but some kids are just more into this than others for some reason.

Liz Miller said...

We had to ban the live-action Disney tv shows in our house, because we noticed that our son was imitating the snotty attitude he was seeing in those shows, and - hey! It was funny on the show!

But, sadly, just not funny in real life.

And, yes, to all you said about Sandy Hook.

Mommy, Esq. said...

Should I be worried that Ned exhibits these same tendencies at age 4? Does that mean we'll come out of it sooner? Or am I looking forward to two more years of this?

Susan said...

This post makes me sad and the comments even sadder!! I have raised 5 boys, the youngest being 19. I loved loved first grade. I have always expressed one of my favorite ages is 6!!! Times have changed so much and so fast electronically and I have always said not necessarily for the good. I have no advice other than I agree with one comment about staying strong and consistent on the sassiness because that will only get worse as they get older. My kids were into video games but not nearly as much as what I'm reading today. Not sure how I would handle it today. I have always respected and enjoyed your love of books/reading and board games. Pick your fights, win the ones you pick and stay consistent. Your answesome mom!!

Kim said...

I would definitely crack down on that behavior now whilst you can - as if he gets away with it he will be a nightmare in his teens. You still hvae a chance to shape him up a bit now but not then. As for computer time - I have a 7 yr old and he always wants it to, but it is like instant gratification so he can only have it for a predetermined time each day - 1/2 hr - but sometimes goes a bit longer. I thinks it saps creativity and use of imagination cos it doesn't require it. There's always a pull but you have to stick to your guns otherwise they wont want to draw, read and other stuff where they use their imagination and normal board games will be too boring.There will be whining and complaining but you have to be hard. Also, regarding Riley ad Maddie - do they have friends whose houses they go to - separately. Maybe you could start getting him to go to playdates on his own so he has his own interests.

Rebecca said...

Being the mom of twins when I first heard about the likely number of child victims in Newtown, I prayed that none of them were twins. I didn't want parents to lose both of their babies but even more I didn't want a surviving twin to suffer the loss of his/her sibling.It ripped my heart when I saw one little girl lost her twin brother. I feel bad for all of the families and their losses.

Jill said...

I can't agree more with the poster who mentioned that kids this age seem to be mouthy and disrespectful when their confidence/ego is being shattered or compromised at school. I have seen it in my 6 year old daughter-- being sassy as a way to show control and confidence at home, with the people who love you unconditionally, because you can't let out that hostility at school. For us, karate was a huge help in getting back on track. Your description of your son reminds me of my daughter-- sensitive, caring, etc. Karate has built her confidence in herself, and I believe, has given her an outlet for frustrations that maybe she can't put into words yet. Good luck, it's tough.

Andi said...

I'm curious if the type of video game has anything to do with children's subsequent behavior? I'm sure Riley isn't playing violent games, but from what I've seen on screens, they don't have to be violent to display snarky, inappropriate behavior. My 10 y.o son loves video games. has loved them since he was very young, but has gotten into civilization building games that are very creative, team-oriented, and are set to rather nice music. His attitude is generally sweet and loving, and the blips I blame more on hormones than video games.