Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Temperamentally Yours

Following H's four-year check-up yesterday where I had a tearful moment after H spent the better half of the time I was trying to converse with the doctor enamoured with the crinkling sound of the exam table paper, I dusted off my copy of Temperament Tools: Working With Your Child's Inborn Traits.

Yes, I cried at the doctor's office. I cried because I'm tired of looking like she who cannot control her offspring. I cried because I'm terrified that my kid who couldn't sit still for three seconds during the appointment will be labeled as ADHD, ODD, ADD or whatever other thing I don't think he is. Lastly, I cried because laughing just didn't fit the bill. (see intensity of emotions below, maybe that's why we butt heads) Never fear, H didn't even notice because he was too busy with his symphony o' scratchy noises on the exam table.

I'm not saying I broke down, but the voice got quivery and my eyes welled with tears. I love our pediatrician, and he was very reassuring that he wasn't seeing anything that was concerning; H was behaving like a four-year old boy in a new situation and I was correcting him appropriately. Given that H is adapting so well to preschool and listening well there, that is a more important indicator than how they act in a 30 minute appointment. A fact that my rational self knows, but my perfect parenting self does not. He asked at that point why I was being so hard on myself. I explained then what has been dawning on me more and more; I don't have anything to 'show' for my 'work' anymore except how my kids turn out. He said "Well, then you're getting an A! H is great He's fine."

Emotional crisis averted, I asked him to check H's foreskin because I didn't think it had retracted yet, and it's not exactly easy to check at home. Yes, I'm going there, and you'll see why. Sure enough, still stubbornly in place. He said that he wasn't concerned, but that if it wasn't retracted by the time he was around 8, but definintely by puberty, that I could go see a urologist. I dumbly asked "And what will they do?" Yep, you guessed it, a circumcision.

I just let my head drop back. "Awesome, we chose not to do it when he was an infant because we didn't want to do something that would cause unnecessary pain, and now he might have to do it when he's eight?!" Doctor: "There you go being hard on yourself again! You made a good decision when he was born, and it's most likely that this will resolve itself. It's not medically necessary at birth."

Sweet. If you want your son to stop liking you, I've got an idea, make a decision for him at birth that causes him to have penis surgery when he's about to enter puberty! Here I thought baptizing our infants into the Catholic faith would cause controversy later. Oh no, no, we'll go ahead and one up that with pain in the here and now. But enough about that.

Back to Temperament Tools. Tired of constantly going to bed at night thinking of what I should have done better, questioning why I said that and promising that tomorrow would be a better day where I didn't let my four year-old wind me up only to repeat said routine, I realized that this just wasn't a battle of the wills I was winning.

So I got a pen this time, instead of just trying to mentally picture my scores as I went and I began marking the x's where both H and Charlie fall on the temperament traits of Activity, Adaptability, Approach to New Things, Frustration Reaction, Intensity of Emotions, Mood, Regularity and Sensitivity.

When I reached the end, I read the brief descriptions of the behaviors that go with certain 'temperament clusters' and was having a hard time finding which of the last three to pick. Then I saw "This high-energy child has many of the behaviors of the previous three. If you are therefore having trouble deciding which chapter to pick, turn first to page 117." Okay...turning pages, turning pages...then (because all the temperament examples are named after animals) 'The Bear Cub Combo";

Imagine the darting speed of a bird combined with the intesity of a prowling tiger and the powerful determination of a whale. When the temperaments of BeiLing Bluebird, Tiganda Tiger and Walocka Whale all combine in one small body, the result is the Olympic Challenge of Parenting.

You don't say!

The book then moves on to talk about learning styles, parenting tips and common behavioral issues. I have to say, as I was reading the three chapters of the animals that combine to make the temperament most like H's, the more disturbing or truly hard characteristics did not describe him. It's amazing how arming yourself with more information can suddenly turn "What the hell?! How am I this horrible a parent, and where did this ferral child come from?!" into "Oh, H isn't anywhere near that bad!" It's all relative, folks.

Learning about temperament is important to me, because I feel like the one thing I'm always so concerned about is smothering his spirit. Providing examples of effective discipline for each temperament-style, it's certainly not a book that just wants parents to let their children be free as a bird, but instead to incorporate all personalities and temperaments into a harmonious family, and not letting the intensity of one child, or your fear of their reaction to something rule the roost.

J had commented a couple times how H and I just wind each other up. Sure enough (in the Tiganda Tiger example); Intensity fuels intensity. When Mom yells, "Stop that!" or, "Be quiet!" or spanks Tiganda for hitting another child, Tiganda's intensity rises even higher. Which makes the kiddo less flexible, which makes mama mad, and the circle of strife continues.

Aparrently remaining calm will allow you to take control of the situation more effectively than flapping your arms around as you direct, demand and shout in loud tones. Oh, and probably having a non-neurotic parent helps out as well. Who knew?


The Caffeinated Mommy said...

Hang in there!!! MOMS ARE WAY TOO HARD ON THEMSELVES. It seems to come with the territory...and I'm like you, I love having a book I can turn to that will at least make me realize "okay, this behavior IS normal...annoying, but normal...". I so admire full-time stay at home moms--you're doing an awesome job!

Portlandia said...

Momming is HARD and 4 year old boy energy is exhausting! You are fabulous being aware and trying to be your best makes you perfect!

Unknown said...

Four years old is still pretty early for foreskin retraction....don't stress yourself out about it!
You are being too hard on yourself! But I think as Moms that's our job; what could we have done better, what do we have to show for it, etc. etc.
Hang in there!