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I’m Sierra. I live in the Boston area with my family.

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Solving a spitting problem

by Sierra on August 19, 2009 · 18 comments

in humor,parenting

The other day, Rio and I were walking home at the end of a long, tiring afternoon of play play play. I was pushing her sister in a stroller, and she kept riding her scooter into the wheels. Eventually, I told her I’d take the scooter away if she drove into me again. About a block from home, she did, and I took her scooter.

I expected the ensuing tantrum, for sure, because I have been around this block with her a few times. What I did not expect was to have my child spit at me.

Over the past five years, Rio has yelled, bitten, scratched, thrown objects, hit me, hit her sister to spite me, peed in my general direction and issued death threats in her defiance of my unreasonable authoritarian regime. I don’t recall previous spitting incidents, but I’m sure they’ve happened.

The physical outbursts have become pretty rare though, and I’m off my game in dealing with vigorously ignoring them. I lost it. I yelled like I have not yelled in years. I called her dad to come carry her home from where she was staging a sit-in on the sidewalk, and threatened to send her to bed without any supper. I told her I just did not know how to be her Mommy if she was going to spit at me. I sent her straight to her room.

Ten minutes later we had a good cry and snuggle on the couch and talked about our feelings, and ten minutes after that she ate supper and so did I and that made everything better. But all night she kept bursting into tears at odd moments and apologizing. She’s never done that before.

At bedtime she said, “Mommy, I promise never to spit at you again.”

I said, “Well, if you do, I will get very angry at you and say mean things. That is the consequence of spitting.”

(I do not think that is stellar parenting, what I did there. I regard it as a parenting fuck-up because I was in some sense holding her responsible for my emotional reactions or well-being. If I had it to do over I would not have done anything I did in this story so far except the snuggling and feeding her parts, since that’s clearly all she needed to help her tired, hungry overwhelmed self be good. But I digress…)

Fast forward a few days. We are hanging out, talking to an adult. Rio is antsy and trying to get my attention. After awhile she comes up to me and presses her face against my belly. “Spit! Spit! Spit!” she says. She gives me a naughty look and waits. What will happen now?

I’m pretty sure that a few years ago I would have yelled at her again, because I really want to nip the spitting thing in the bud. My first impulse was to wearily remind her that we don’t spit and carry on my conversation, but by the time it made it to my mouth, what happened was that I echoed her naughty look and playfully said, “Mad! mad! mad!”

We went back and forth like this for a long while. “Spit! Spit!” “Mad! Mad!” until we both dissolved in giggles on the kitchen floor. And then everything really was better.

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  • http://notlikeacat.blogspot.com/ Julia

    That’s a hilarious ending. And the whole blog is a refreshing read; it’s…maybe “nice” isn’t quite the right word…to hear that Mommies Who Seem the Most Sane and Centered lose it sometimes, too. :)

    [Reply]

  • http://notlikeacat.blogspot.com/ Julia

    That’s a hilarious ending. And the whole blog is a refreshing read; it’s…maybe “nice” isn’t quite the right word…to hear that Mommies Who Seem the Most Sane and Centered lose it sometimes, too. :)

    [Reply]

  • Rosa

    I, of course, don’t know the right answer to this sort of thing, but this caught my eye:

    “I regard it as a parenting fuck-up because I was in some sense holding her responsible for my emotional reactions or well-being.”

    I hear what you’re saying here, and I think I understand where it’s coming from — you’re the parent, so it’s your job to manage the relationship. That said, I have a bone to pick with the people who, in adult relationships, hold the position that they’re not responsible for how people react to their actions. If I say something upsetting to you, I upset you, even if the emotional reaction is your own. While it’s not the same when it’s a kid and an adult, I think it’s good for kids to understand that, in relationships, their actions have emotional consequences on the people they interact with.

    So, maybe that was a fuck-up, and maybe it wasn’t, but if it was, I think it was an important one to have.

    [Reply]

  • Rosa

    I, of course, don’t know the right answer to this sort of thing, but this caught my eye:

    “I regard it as a parenting fuck-up because I was in some sense holding her responsible for my emotional reactions or well-being.”

    I hear what you’re saying here, and I think I understand where it’s coming from — you’re the parent, so it’s your job to manage the relationship. That said, I have a bone to pick with the people who, in adult relationships, hold the position that they’re not responsible for how people react to their actions. If I say something upsetting to you, I upset you, even if the emotional reaction is your own. While it’s not the same when it’s a kid and an adult, I think it’s good for kids to understand that, in relationships, their actions have emotional consequences on the people they interact with.

    So, maybe that was a fuck-up, and maybe it wasn’t, but if it was, I think it was an important one to have.

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    @Rosa: I confess I’m confused about this. You’re right that where I was coming from was a deep belief that as the parent of a young child I’m the responsible party. I need to teach her how to behave so that other people, including me, will enjoy her company, and also how to manage relationships herself.

    So I want her to know that her actions affect the emotions of the people she interacts with, and have consequences for her relationships with those people.

    Here’s the thing: let’s say she’d spit at me and I’d lost my temper and hit her. And then everything else was the same, and we calmed down and snuggled and ate, but at the end I said, “If you ever spit at me again, I will hit you again. That’s the consequence for spitting.”

    I think in that case, it’s a pretty obvious victim blaming maneuver. Imaginary Me didn’t hit Imaginary Rio because she spit, Imaginary Me did that because Imaginary Me did not sufficiently learn the “no hitting” rule.

    If we agree that “yelling and saying mean things” is also a poor method for expressing anger toward a loved one, then it’s the same: I’m holding her inappropriately responsible for my bad choice.

    [Reply]

  • Sierra

    @Rosa: I confess I’m confused about this. You’re right that where I was coming from was a deep belief that as the parent of a young child I’m the responsible party. I need to teach her how to behave so that other people, including me, will enjoy her company, and also how to manage relationships herself.

    So I want her to know that her actions affect the emotions of the people she interacts with, and have consequences for her relationships with those people.

    Here’s the thing: let’s say she’d spit at me and I’d lost my temper and hit her. And then everything else was the same, and we calmed down and snuggled and ate, but at the end I said, “If you ever spit at me again, I will hit you again. That’s the consequence for spitting.”

    I think in that case, it’s a pretty obvious victim blaming maneuver. Imaginary Me didn’t hit Imaginary Rio because she spit, Imaginary Me did that because Imaginary Me did not sufficiently learn the “no hitting” rule.

    If we agree that “yelling and saying mean things” is also a poor method for expressing anger toward a loved one, then it’s the same: I’m holding her inappropriately responsible for my bad choice.

    [Reply]

  • Vis

    Have you read “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” by Naomi Aldort? She suggests playing “power games” with your kids – exactly what you did when you playfully responded “mad, mad, mad!”

    I do this all the time with my toddler: she grabs a bunch of the laundry I am folding and I chase her to get it and playfully yell “oh no!” My toddler *loves* this game and always collapses in giggles. Aldort says this type of thing helps kids vent their frustration about having to follow adult rules all the time.

    [Reply]

  • Vis

    Have you read “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” by Naomi Aldort? She suggests playing “power games” with your kids – exactly what you did when you playfully responded “mad, mad, mad!”

    I do this all the time with my toddler: she grabs a bunch of the laundry I am folding and I chase her to get it and playfully yell “oh no!” My toddler *loves* this game and always collapses in giggles. Aldort says this type of thing helps kids vent their frustration about having to follow adult rules all the time.

    [Reply]

  • Ellen

    I’m afraid I’m with Rosa on this one. I agree with you that hitting is not an appropriate way to show anger, but I personally don’t feel swallowing it and *not* losing your temper is stellar parenting, either. I think that at least in our family, modeling “you hurt and upset me, but I’m going to be nice to you anyway” might be a recipe for creating manipulative children who either lack awareness of or fail to care about the consequences of their actions on the people around them. :/

    I’m glad that what you did worked for you and Rio, though.

    [Reply]

  • Ellen

    I’m afraid I’m with Rosa on this one. I agree with you that hitting is not an appropriate way to show anger, but I personally don’t feel swallowing it and *not* losing your temper is stellar parenting, either. I think that at least in our family, modeling “you hurt and upset me, but I’m going to be nice to you anyway” might be a recipe for creating manipulative children who either lack awareness of or fail to care about the consequences of their actions on the people around them. :/

    I’m glad that what you did worked for you and Rio, though.

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    @Ellen: It’s interesting that you mention the option of modeling, ‘You hurt and upset me, but I’m going to be nice to you anyway.’ Rio and I are not often in conflict these days, but a technique that has worked well in the past has been for me to say, “Wow that made me so angry I just want to yell and scream and throw things, but instead I am using words to tell you I’m mad.”

    [Reply]

  • Sierra

    @Ellen: It’s interesting that you mention the option of modeling, ‘You hurt and upset me, but I’m going to be nice to you anyway.’ Rio and I are not often in conflict these days, but a technique that has worked well in the past has been for me to say, “Wow that made me so angry I just want to yell and scream and throw things, but instead I am using words to tell you I’m mad.”

    [Reply]

  • Rich Wilson

    @Sierra

    There are times when my son is extremely frustrated (usually tired) and we’re trying to figure out what he wants, but whatever he says (or screams) he wants, he doesn’t want once he has it. I think the actual need is to win a battle. If we give him whatever he dreams up, he hasn’t struggled for it. He wants to take us on and win. In that moment it’s hard to try to come up with something for him to win, but that’s my theory anyway.

    [Reply]

    Sierra Reply:

    Rich, I’m just getting back to this after being away from my desk for a week, but I wanted to say my kids do the exact same thing. I’ve never had any luck fighting them once they’re in full tantrum mode. What I do is try to identify the kids’ real need: is she hungry, tired, cold, thirsty, scared? I address that and just ignore what she’s shouting about. She’ll get more frustrated briefly but then calm down once her body is taken care of.

    I think I got that trick from Mary Kurshinka Sheedy’s Spirited Child book, which is my parenting bible.

    [Reply]

  • Rich Wilson

    @Sierra

    There are times when my son is extremely frustrated (usually tired) and we’re trying to figure out what he wants, but whatever he says (or screams) he wants, he doesn’t want once he has it. I think the actual need is to win a battle. If we give him whatever he dreams up, he hasn’t struggled for it. He wants to take us on and win. In that moment it’s hard to try to come up with something for him to win, but that’s my theory anyway.

    [Reply]

    Sierra Reply:

    Rich, I’m just getting back to this after being away from my desk for a week, but I wanted to say my kids do the exact same thing. I’ve never had any luck fighting them once they’re in full tantrum mode. What I do is try to identify the kids’ real need: is she hungry, tired, cold, thirsty, scared? I address that and just ignore what she’s shouting about. She’ll get more frustrated briefly but then calm down once her body is taken care of.

    I think I got that trick from Mary Kurshinka Sheedy’s Spirited Child book, which is my parenting bible.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.lifeenergycoaching.com.au/ Alice

    Beautiful story Sierra. So REAL. Made me laugh and cry!
    Do you know the work of  Robin Grille? He writes about letting children know your real feelings (in a moderated age-suitable dose as best we can) because they need to find the real you. Also he talks about “repair”  – what we do to reconnect our hearts when we don’t get the expression of our feelings quite as moderate as we aim to!  I reckon you did that with the snuggle on the couch etc.  I think your story is a perfect example of that “theory” being put into practice, in the messiness of real life.

    By the way I’m a grandmother in my 60′s in Australia – found your lovely site when I looked for a review of Mindsight by Dan Siegel. What a life-changing book that is. Robin Grille’s books are similarly transformational for me.

    Alice Aird, http://www.lifeenergycoaching.com.au
    http://www.empathyfoundation.ning.com

    [Reply]

    Sierra Reply:

    Thank you! I haven’t read those books, but I’ll look into them.

    [Reply]

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