It Takes Two to Fight

  I love this girl with all my heart but she really knows how to push my buttons.  She will seek out a negative interaction with me on purpose (a common pattern in kids from traumatic backgrounds) even when she knows it won't gain her anything and until recently, I didn't deal with her behavior very well. I used to dread her coming home from school because I just knew we would fight. I just didn't know how to redirect her off of a negative path and would let her keep pushing me until I exploded.  It became a standard pattern and I hated it.

  I've gradually put together a "mental tool box" to help me (and Sky) move out of these damaging habits and she and I have been getting along a lot better.  Here's what I've figured out:

-Increased physical contact: I give Sky a big hug when she gets off the bus.  She craves deep touch and this satisfies that and renews her emotional connection with me at the same time.  While she's doing her homework, I'll touch her head, tickle her chin, or sneak in kisses.  I'll grab her for a hug when she's running out to play with friends or surprise her with a tickle while I'm doing her hair.  All little tiny things that mean so much to her.  I wasn't raised in a physical household so I have to remind myself to do them but they're really helping.

-CrossFit workouts: Sky school gets out an hour early on Wednesdays and she is a mess when she gets home.  Even though we've been on this school schedule for months now and did it last year, she just can't deal with the difference in her usual routine.  When I discussed this with her behavioral therapist, she recommended occupational therapy or gymnastics to fill that time but I couldn't find anything like that here that would work.  Enter Coach Wayne!  He's the father of one of Fire's friends and is a certified CrossFit trainer.  Now every Wednesday she spends a half hour or so training with him and comes home a changed girl, ready to have positive interactions with the rest of the family. 

-Not taking the bait: Every parenting book tells you to do it.  So does every parenting podcast. But in the moment, who of us can really take a step back and take a deep breath?  Sky really knows what to say and do to  throw me out of my rhythm and it's been hard for me not to let my anger rise to the occasion.  Lately though, I've gotten a lot better at taking a step back mentally before I reply.  I can recognize when she's starting to pick a fight and by not responding in the way she expects (negatively), I can keep the upper hand and reset the situation.  I'm also getting better at answering her sass with my own sass, or with silliness and tickles, both of which make her laugh and break her out of her negative cycle.

-Staying on point:  As I said earlier, Sky is great at picking fights.  She'll use this tactic (with a lot of success) typically to get out of doing things she doesn't want to do.  A great example is homework.  Sky gets a homework packet every Friday and it's due the following Friday.  We do a little each day, only a half hour at a time, but it can be like pulling teeth to even get her to sit down for that long.  My preferred solution would be to just not have homework but since that's not an option, we needed to find a way to get it done without it being so contentious.
   A typical homework session would start with me telling Sky to get out her folder and Sky pretending not to hear me and then asking for something she knows she can't have, like candy for a snack.  Before I would have grabbed onto the snack comment and it would have turned into a fight about why she can't have candy, making me upset and putting Sky in a "winning" position because she destabilized me and delayed homework.  Recently, I've noticed my tendency to be derailed and have started answering those sorts of questions with, "That's not what we're talking about.  We're talking about getting out your homework."  I'll say it in a calm voice and continue on with what I was doing.  That's all I'll reply until she does the thing I"m asking her to.  My friends, it's working so well!  She still drags her feet but we're not fighting about it.  Bringing her back to the point has worked with getting ready in the morning and lots of other areas that we were fighting about.

  I know these "tools" may not work for long but for now they're helping us get through the day with much less conflict and much more peace.  Do you have a challenging child in your home?  Have you found any "tools" to help you manage difficult behavior?

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  1. Gosh...this is so my mother and I and we're adults! Thanks for this tools---it's so hard in the moment to use them, but the more I practice, the better I'll be, right?

    1. I have to remind myself to use them over and over and over again. And yes, in the moment, I just want her to do what I tell her but that never seems to work. Good luck with your mom, and thanks for stopping by!

  2. Nina and I are working on the same kinds of things. Sometimes I still slip up (like last week when I ripped up her party invitation after she shredded my couponing pages) but we've made great progress along the way. Keep up the good work!

    1. That sounds so familiar! Kids have an amazing power to hurt us, don't they? Do you have any other tips for getting past those difficult moments without fighting? I'd love to hear what worked for you because with kids (and especially trauma kids) what worked today won't always work tomorrow).

  3. This is me. I am Sky in a couple of these ways. I have to tell you that working out really helps me mentality. I know it's a good thing for my health as well but honestly, it's more of a mental cleansing for me and I can't imagine not having it as an outlet.

  4. I have one that really knows how to push my buttons and it is so hard to not engage back.


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