My son is the type of child who commands a lot of me. A lot of hugs, a lot of one-on-one time, a lot of attention, a lot of limit setting, a lot of time with him before bed in his room, a lot of everything. However, I have two younger children who also need their mother.
Often times my son will walk by his siblings and push them down or punch them on their backs or yell in their faces. If they are doing something that irritates him, he will get extremely close and ball up his fists and visibly shake with anger.
At this point I always step in because I know where it would lead. We’ve tried Playlistening multiple times (he doesn’t open up much at all), we wrestle, we snuggle vigorously. Many times when I suggest that my son and I have Special Time he often says, “ok, what would YOU like to do? You pick something.” I point out to him that the point of Special Time is to let him lead, but there are times where I come up with something because there would be no Special Time if I didn’t.
I’m yelling way more that I want to and because of this, I feel extremely guilty. I’ve often felt irritated and annoyed by the situation. What I need help with the most is helping my son to manage his behaviors in a more appropriate way. He just gets so angry at the smallest things and he can’t keep his hands to himself. Please help!
-Baffled by Behavior
Sounds like your son has a big emotional project going here, and you’ve been patient beyond patience.
I think that he’s aching to cry hard in your arms, but is too “tight” to do that. The behaviors stick out all over, but you didn’t mention him crying hard in your arms, and fighting and squirming and feeling like your touch and your attention is awful, everything is awful. That’s the kind of release he probably needs. It’s described well in the “Healing Children’s Fears” of our booklet set, or you can join us for our “Overcoming Fears Through Play” teleseminar this month.
He needs enough added reassurance that he can soften on the inside, relax a little, and eventually, cry hard with you about wanting your undivided attention, and offload the feelings (separation anxiety, I would suppose, because he’s not the only child any longer, and he feels needy every time he sees you mothering a sibling–a very common upset for siblings).
I would set up a good long time together, just with him, on a weekend when someone else can take the younger two. Some of this can be Special Time, but don’t try to do hours of Special Time–no adult can come through with 100% attention for hours like that. Just maybe 1/2 hour of Special Time, but then stay with him, and have some arrangement for the other children. Or, another means of reassurance is to sleep with him for a week or two, and then propose to sleep again in your own bed. This will allow a different outlet for his fears around separation. Propose to get up from his bed, and listen to him cry. Propose, and listen. Propose, and listen.
Then, with some energy to spare, bring him back into the family situation, and be totally alert for the first hint of upset with a sibling. Move in, put your arms around him softly, and bring the limit, and yourself. The feel of your attention so recently may help him to get to tears, or to get to fighting and struggling in your arms, which is what most likely needs to happen.
You don’t want to blow all your energy in the time together. Spend 2/3 or your energy with him in this separate sweet time, and save 1/3 of it for the explosions to follow. I would repeat this weekend after weekend until he has unpacked some of this backup of feelings and worries there. The things you can say to him while he struggles and cries are something like this,
“Even when I can’t be with you, I still love you.”
“I have plenty of love for you and the little ones.”
“I know this is hard. I know.”
“You are special to me.”
“You are my beautiful son. My beautiful son.”
“I”m never going to stop loving you. No matter what.”
And, if he has just blown up because you looked at or talked to a sibling, after listening to his upset for a good while, you can go ahead and help him with that precise upset, but saying calmly, “I know this will be hard, but I’m going to look at your little brother now.”
If his feelings intensify, keep your gaze on him, but keep proposing that you will look at his brother. This allows a very safe time and place to face how awful it feels to have you look at anyone but him. It’s separation work, and very necessary for him. Keep proposing that you will look away, but stay with him, until he can agree that it’s OK. It could be a whole hour, and that would be so helpful to him. Propose, and listen. Propose, and listen. He will work and work and work on his feelings about having you look at and pay attention to his siblings. If you’re interested in developing the Listening Tools further, we offer a six-week course specifically for parents of siblings that gives a complete toolbox for working with your child’s emotions.
Hope this is helpful.