My 8 year old dd has also required me to change my approach to meet her needs. I do not like punishments or rewards and I really tried to avoid taking something away for mean/destructive behavior or just not cooperating. It has been a long learning curve and I have to say that I'm still learning . . . .but my dd is now behaving and also showing genuine empathy. I've had to do away with the idea of letting her discover good behavior for herself (it worked so well for her older sister). My younger one really needs modeling and expectations. She has responded to this so readily that I am sad I didn't realize it sooner - but we can only do what we can . . . parenthood is quite the adventure!
Here is what I found out:
DD comes across as outgoing and wanting to be the center of attention . . . needing to control everything from what she eats to how play happens. She insisted on choosing her own clothes at 18 months when she realized she could take her clothes off if she didn't like them. What we finally learned (because dd was able to finally put it into words) is that she is really shy and really wants someone else to take a strong lead so she can melt into the crowd (or to melt into clear expectations). Her shyness makes her feel very uncomfortable and when she's uncomfortable or doesn't not know the expectations or boundaries in a situation she will manically take control to get a sense of boundaries.
So we did an experiment and removed many choices so that boundaries and expectations where solid. She tested them at first, throwing some awesome fits and being quite mean to her older sister but she very quickly relaxed into being the kid and not trying to control everything. When I see the behavior come up I know it's a sign I'm not "holding" her as firmly as she needs. This has been very uncomfortable for me . . . but we have very different personalities and I've needed to be the mom she needs me to be. It's getting a whole lot better! We had only 1 fit in the last 7 weeks. It used to be multiple fits a day. Here is some of what we did:
- Dessert is only on Fridays only - if she and her sister agree, they can request a particularly favorite dessert. When I'm asked if she can have dessert I get to say yes! "yes, on Friday . . . maybe you want to talk with your sister about what sounds good".
- Clothes follow the Waldorf colors of the week (reducing the dressing overwhelm . . . just find your purple outfit for tomorrow because it will be Monday) and must be chosen the day before or earlier if she wants to have choice is what she wears. Otherwise I set out her clothes.
- Meals follow a pattern (Tuesday is sourdough pancakes for breakfast, leftovers for lunch and a pasta meal for dinner). I particularly don't like this one because I like to be inspired by the day or the grocery sales, but for some reason this patterning has really helped. I give myself some leeway - pasta dinner could be spaghetti with meat sauce or bow ties with dairy-free pesto but it's still a pasta dinner. Evening meal does not always happen at the same time, due to an older sister with some late afternoon/evening activities, but there is still a pattern that seems to help our 8year old relax.
- We found stories about bravery and helpers and read them so dd could have someone to look to as an example when she starts feeling overwhelmed and wants to start controlling things. Quiet time, 3 deep breaths, etc. did/do not work for her . . . she needs calming tools that are more active - like drawing or repeating something from a story where someone had a similar conflict and had to be brave and remain calm, or the opportunity to punch couch pillows. As she has been able to read independently she has found reading helpful.
-I found that low blood sugar affects her moods in a major way. I've had to reduce sugars so she doesn't go through the sugar high/low roller coaster. Sometimes, if I'm late on a snack or didn't get enough protein in her breakfast and she starts swirling into a mood I've found a half spoonful of honey, followed by "we are not doing anything until we have snack" has helped to completely reverse a breakdown. We've gone through this enough that she now is starting to recognize when she feels weird and probably needs some food.
- I had to find out what her "currency" is. Currency is something she values and would be very upset if it were taken away. This has changed over time, but it was eye opening to realize that her currency has usually been very different than what I would have thought. It turns out that the length of story time at bedtime is really important to her, so reducing that for misbehavior has been a very strong motivator. (yuk, I hated taking that one away) Taking away her favorite toys for a day at a time has also been in the rotation. Sounds like treats and screen time are important to your dd.
- Play dates with friends who are comfortable within their own skin and can happily say "no I don't want to play that, how about we do this?" and then are open to compromise. Friends who never stand up for what they want and friends who only want their own way are too much of a trigger for dd, so we've reduce our exposure to them so dd can experience positive play dates.
- I given myself timeouts. When I find myself yelling I stop and tell the girls I need a time out for a few minutes because "this is not working for any of us". I go to my room and endure 3 minutes of chaos and door pounding. I don't say anything back unless it is to say I'm extending the time because it seems we need more time to quiet down.
- A family calendar and charts for expectations have been very helpful. It has removed the potential for direct conflict. Rather than "I said you need to do this" it's "Let's see, it's 4:30pm what do we need to do? Let's go check the chart!"
Hang in there! Spring is well on its way.