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Teaching to Adapt

  • Posted on May 16, 2011 at 3:51 PM

My kids are less adaptable than many children.  They want things to work the way they’re supposed to work, without any complications, and can’t cope when they don’t.  This can involve schedules, toys, technology, day-to-day activities, or anything else.  I’ve talked about this briefly in previous posts.

While those examples are especially poignant, these frustrations and aggravations are daily occurrences, especially with Alex and Ben.  Willy used to throw some pretty remarkable tantrums when things didn’t work.  He would throw himself on the ground and kick and scream, because he couldn’t deal with the stress of something not working as it ought to do.  Alex is more likely to jump out his frustrations on the trampoline, biting his wrist and screaming.  More frequently now, he’ll lash out at others by trying to bite or pinch them.  Ben is moving away from the aggression, and now he’s most likely to scream and flop himself on the floor.  Well, that doesn’t quite seem enough of an explanation.

It’s more like: Ben sssssccccrrreeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaammmmssss!

Back when Ben and Alex were both littler, their cries were distinguishable.  They’re still distinguishable from each other; however, they’re their cries have become universal.  If I was in another room, when they were little, I could tell by the type of cry whether they were hurt, frustrated, sad, or whatever.  Now, I can’t.  The only thing I can tell is the perceived extremity of the situation.  So whether they are hurt or their video won’t play right, they communicate it with the same cry that used to be reserved for physical pain.  Perhaps I’m misinterpreting their behavior, but it seems to me that their behavior indicates that their frustration is experienced much the same way physical pain.

Life only gets more frustrating, with more things that can and inevitably do go wrong as we get older.  How will my children adapt?  How can I teach my children to adapt?

While I try to lead by example, adapting with grace to the changes and unexpected troubles that come, I know this isn’t enough.  My children don’t learn best by example, by observation.  Besides, I still struggle with this myself and I wonder if the occasional poor example undoes whatever success we manage to achieve.  Even so, they need more than the example.  Yet, when the opportunity arises, they are often too lost in the frustration to learn how to deal with it.  Most of the time I cannot “bring them down” or stabilize their emotional energies without fixing the problem, and once I’ve fixed the problem they want to continue with what they “should have been doing” instead of trying to learn how I fixed the problem.

Has anyone out there succeeded in teaching their children to adapt?  How did you do it?  For Willy, he mostly “grew out of it” by learning in his own miraculous way to stay calm.  I’m not yet convinced it’s been our strategies and tools that have made this possible.  I suspect that Willy has accomplished a great deal of this on his own, beneath the surface of our interventions.  After all, we’ve tried much the same strategies for Alex and Ben with very different results.  Is there a strategy that works?  Or, do I just need to help my little ones cope as best I can until they have their own miracles?

Alex’s (Mis)Adventure

  • Posted on May 13, 2010 at 1:32 AM

Today was a big day.  I had quite the adventure planned for Alex.  We were going to try something new!  So, with great enthusiasm, I loaded Alex into the car.  And off we went!

We got about seven blocks from our house and stopped at a stoplight.  The light turned green and I pressed the gas to start into my turn.  The radio flickered and died.  Oh, great, I thought, now I’m going to have to find a way to replace the radio!  Stupid car.  Then—before we’d even moved—the rest of the car died.

With an inaudible sigh, the car just stopped.  I figured the engine stalled.  It’s happened before.  So, I turned the key.

Not even a sputter.  I mean nothing happened.  The car was dead.

So, thinking it might help, I turned everything off, and tried again.  Nothing.  Not a thing.

Being the car-savvy person I am, I hit the dashboard and told it, “You’ve got to start!”  I turned the key.  The car—thinking hard as cars do on bitter, cold Wisconsin mornings (which this wasn’t)—considered turning on.  The gas gauge flew from an 1/8th of a tank to a ½ a tank.  The bad lights that say the car needs a doctor flashed on.  For a moment, I thought the car had decided I was right.  The car was going to spark and perform a rumbling imitation of good health.  Then, with an almost audible sigh, it died.  The gas gauge, the lights, and all of it turned off.

By now, the people behind me figured out I wasn’t going anywhere.  They moved around me.  By now, Alex figured out we weren’t going anywhere.  He started fussing and bouncing in his seat belt.  He didn’t like this whole stopped-in-the-middle-of-the-road-with-a-car-that-won’t-go bit at all.  To tell the truth, neither did I.

Across the street I saw a car repair shop.  It seemed like my best guess, so I found the hazards (which were a bit off-center and up, considering I was just starting to turn when the car died) and flipped them on.  Then, I got out and let Alex out.  No, he said in his non-verbal way, you do not get out of the car when it’s in the middle of the road.  You don’t.  You make the car go!

But we did get out.  We crossed the street on foot.  Alex protested the whole way.  He continued his protest as I asked the nice gentlemen at the mechanic shop for assistance.  He continued his protest as we walked back to the car.  And when these fine gentlemen started pushing the car, of all the wrong-est of wrong things to do, he really let me have it, telling me in no uncertain terms that I was not supposed to let wrong, confusing, unscheduled events like this happen.

Cars go.  Mom drives.  The car does not die in the middle of the road.  Strangers do not push the car.  This is not how things work.  As the mom I should know this.  But push it they did—right into the mechanics’ parking lot.

Alex calmed down as he waited in the car and the men looked underneath the hood.  He calmed down further as they hooked the car up to a charger that whirred and purred.  You see, waiting inside a car that is parked in a parking lot is allowed.  This is how things are done.  You park in a parking lot, not in the road.  After a little while with no more deviations, Alex became quite content with his circumstances and even came up to the front of our minivan to sit on my lap.  Of course, we had to be buckled up, the two of us together, because you wear your seat belt in the car even if the car is stopped.

Turns out our alternator was not doing its alternating thing.  It’s supposed to go round and round at high speed, feeding juice into our battery.  It went round and round.  It even went at high speed.  But it wasn’t sending as much juice to the battery as the car was sucking out.  So, the battery died.  The kind servicemen charged my battery, gave me a quote on replacing the alternator, and sent us on our merry way.  Alex was quite pleased to see the car go as cars should.  He was blissful as we parked in our driveway and got out.  This was quite a trip, and he was more than satisfied with his adventure, though it wasn’t the one I’d planned.

All’s well that ends with a happy, things-working-as-they-should ending.  Just so long as you’re not the one who has to pay for the car repair.