Yesterday when Chris picked Gwen up from her caregiver's house, he was told that Gwen's behaviour had been significantly bad. He ended up talking with the caregiver for a good fifteen minutes to hear all about Gwen's day, which included:
- not listening/obeying the caregiver
- drawing all over her playmates' pictures even when they asked her to stop
- acting out when her playmates then didn't want to play with her
- grabbing toys away from other children
- LYING DOWN on one of the other kids and not getting up even though the other kid was crying
- running full-tilt into another kid and knocking her down
The caregiver suggested that we emphasize listening to her playmates, in addition to listening to adults. Her behaviour didn't improve at that point: she even hit Chris in the face when he tried to take her out of the car.
I feel worried and discouraged about this, because it's such a struggle to get through to her with her incredibly selective listening skills. Moreover, she has no empathy at all - cognitively, she just doesn't get it. I ask, "Do you think your friend felt sad when you knocked her down?" and she replies, "Yup," with no emotion whatsoever. She truly doesn't grasp that her friend is a person just like she is, and that her emotions are just as valid.
Speaking of Gwen's emotions, she is definitely a turbulent girl and always has been. Lately this takes the form of extreme crying and shrieking fits that she can't come down from. She will be nearly hysterical crying and saying, "Mama, help me calm down!" Her emotions are beyond her control and that scares her, which makes the whole process worse. With my help (she will rarely accept Chris's ... more on that in another post) she will get herself somewhat calmed down for a moment, but immediately breaks down agan. Over and over.
So last night when I tucked Gwen into bed, I told her a special story. This, I have noticed, is one of the few times I can really connect with her and feel that she is really hearing me.
"Once upon a time, there was a little girl ..." and she fills in, "named Gwen!" "She had a grouchy, grumpy day. She didn't play nicely with her friends. She took their drawings and drew on them. She grabbed their toys away from them. Her friends didn't want to play with her because she wasn't kind or gentle with them. She wouldn't listen to them, and she even hurt them."
Gwen's eyes, at this point, were huge and even starting to fill with tears. Her voice was shaky as she said, "Mama, that story was a little bit scary!" It was certainly a different response from our earlier conversation where I'd tried to seek out empathy for her friend's hurt feelings.
"Just wait, Gwen, there's more to the story. Then Gwen came home with her Mama and Dada. She was still grouchy. She wouldn't listen to Mama and Dada. She shouted at them. She wouldn't do as they asked her to. She even hit Dada in the face.
"Then Gwen went to bed. She cuddled up with her bunny and her lambie. She snuggled down under her blankets. And just as she was about to fall asleep, she heard a noise. She opened her eyes to see ... The Magical Ballerina Fairy Princess!"
(This is a character who often makes appearances in our bedtime stories. For example, I have often told the story of how the MBFP gave Gwen her bed, which is magical and helps her have a good sleep and wonderful dreams. The MBFP, she is a MIRACLE WORKER.)
"She was so BEAUTIFUL!" Gwen interjected. Her eyes had lit up as if she really could see the MBFP in her room.
"The Magical Ballerina Fairy Princess said to Gwen, 'I hear you didn't have a very good day today.' And Gwen said, 'No. I was grouchy and angry and mad!' 'Well,' said the Magical Ballerina Fairy Princess, 'I have something very important to tell you. It's always okay for you to feel angry, or grouchy, or mad, or sad, or any way that you feel. But no matter how you feel, you always need to be kind and gentle to your friends, no matter what. And if you don't feel like you can be kind and gentle with your friends, then you need to say, 'I need some alone time,' and cuddle up with your lambie, and calm down until you feel ready to be kind and gentle to everyone.' And Gwen said, 'Okay, Magical Ballerina Fairy Princess, I think I can do that.'
"And then Gwen went to sleep. And the next day, Gwen got up and she was cheerful with her Mama and Dada. And she listened to them and did what they asked her to do. And then she went to daycare and played with her friends. She was kind and gentle with them and her friends were so happy to play with her. They shared toys with each other and played together and had such a fun and wonderful day. Sometimes, Gwen felt mad or angry or sad or upset, and when she did, she said 'I need some alone time,' and she cuddled with her lambie until she felt better.
"Then Gwen came home with Mama and Dada. She listened to them and did what they asked her to do. She was kind and gentle with them. They read stories together and did puzzles and had a yummy dinner. Gwen even got to help make dinner! Everyone had a really nice evening together. THE END."
I told Chris about the phrases and strategies that I had emphasized, and asked him to pass that on to the caregiver so we can be consistent. I don't know yet how successful this will be. Gwen was very responsive during the story, which gives me hope, and this morning I reiterated the concepts and she voluntarily practiced saying "I need some alone time," and removing herself. We'll see how she is at daycare today.
If anyone has any other suggestions or strategies or resources, I'm very open to advice on this topic!