When Martin launches a crying fit—usually because he doesn’t want to do whatever we’re about to do, like eat dinner, or put on clothes—I kneel, hold his hands in my left hand, raise my right index finger a few inches from his face, assume a stern expression, and look directly into his eyes, even if he avoids mine.
The desired effect of this is that, after a few seconds, Martin will say, “No crying,” sniffle, and regain control. The method succeeds in about 60% of tantrums.
If sternly raising my finger fails, then I direct Martin to the “crying spot.” At home, the crying spot is one end of our sofa. Anywhere else, the crying spot is wherever I indicate. (“That bench is a crying spot. Do you need to sit in the crying spot?”) Either the threat of the crying stop suffices to stanch the tears, or Martin sits (remarkably, he stays put) until he’s calmed down.
This method has tamed Martin’s tantrums. So yay! Yay for me and Martin.
Then there is discipline, which is a decided boo! Boo for me and Martin.
I have yet to find an effective way to discipline Martin. I use time-outs, of course, and they accomplish nada. (Of course?) Martin perches on the stair landing, our designated time-out spot, until the kitchen timer sounds, then leaps up, yells “Sorry!”, and goes about his business—his business being, often, to repeat whatever behavior just got him in time-out.
Of particular frustration is that Martin still lacks strong ability to read faces and emotions. I have trouble conveying genuine anger to him.
On our latest trip to Chicago, Martin and I pulled into a Whole Foods Market to buy food supplies. (We stay in a hotel “suite,” which offers a kitchenette where I prepare simple meals.) Martin, who was tired, rode in the cart. He asked to hold the ghee I selected.
“Be careful to hold on tight,” I said as I handed him the ghee. “That jar is glass. It will break if it falls.”
Martin needed a few reminders on that point. Nevertheless, we finished shopping and paid without incident. Back at the hotel, I unloaded the groceries onto the counter and informed Martin that we would head to his doctor’s as soon as I went potty.
I was doing just that when I heard a smash from the kitchenette.
Martin materialized in the bathroom doorway, smiling. “It fell,” he said.
He giggled and scampered away. I finished up and within seconds was yelling—
“No! No way. Get away from there. Now!”
—as I seized Martin under the arms and yanked his stocking feet from a pile of ghee-slicked glass shards. The evidence was indisputable: Martin had taken the ghee jar from the center of the counter and dropped it onto the tile floor. At the least. More likely still, Martin had thrown the jar.
I was furious. I marched Martin directly to the sofa for a time out. He lolled merrily there whilst I tried to use paper towels gather glass and ghee, and then he accompanied me to the front desk, where I sheepishly requested that our freshly cleaned kitchenette be re-cleaned. He evinced no remorse. To the contrary, notwithstanding my scolding, he appeared downright gleeful.
Readers, if you have suggestions, on how I might get Maritn to understand when he’s in trouble—please, send them.
For my part, I’ll try to keep perspective and focus on Martin’s testing limits, which I understand is a positive and natural developmental stage (unlike, say, misreading emotions). The next day I recounted the ghee incident to a good friend, also mother to a toddler.
My friend laughed at me.
“Well,” she said, “you’re the one who wanted neurotypicality.”