Winning when worn out
Nothing, but nothing, wears a parent out more than a child who is controlling, manipulative, pouty, or demanding. If you know my kids and former foster kids, you already know how I know. The solution is to beat the child at his own mettle.1 You must outwit your child and do it by parenting by staging.2
Your child is the actor, but you get to direct the play. He wants the attention, the control, and the power. He might want to make you pay for what you expect of him; or, he might want to show you that he is in charge, instead of you. What do you do? You let him be on the stage, but you control the stage.
When a child is noncompliant, he is difficult. Discipline or punishment sometimes only make him set his feet down deeper as he bucks your system. Perhaps he refuses to communicate, giving you the silent treatment (it’s another way to “make you pay”). Maybe he keeps talking back, or refuses to do what is expected of him. Or, perhaps he keeps antagonizing other kids (or even you), deliberately pushing emotional buttons on other kids to take your attention off of himself. That’s okay.
Let him batten down the hatches, because you can still beat him at his game. You do this in parenting by staging. He is allowed his own stage, but he has to stay right there on that stage. He gets to keep playing on that same stage until he’s tired of it, or bored, or until he realizes he is not going to win.
Parenting by staging
Do not allow yourself to be “afraid” of this child or his mood. Do not tiptoe around his attitude, hoping you won’t set off another earthquake. You, the parent, set up the rules for this staging. You have several options.
He can be relocated to his room, to another room in the house, or in the very same room with you. Your kid doesn’t want to cooperate? That’s okay. He gets a special place to stay so he can pout all he wants, refuse to talk, or keep his eyes away from you. His special place means he stays there until he decides he wants to fix the attitude and not want to be there anymore. To come out of his special place, he must nix the attitude and the behavior, or he stays there. You are the parent. Be the parent. Take the opportunity of parenting by staging. Make sure he knows he is the child, not the parent, and that he cannot bully you. (Bullying is not just physical – it can also be emotional. Remember that!)
Naming the stage
Some parents call this Time Out, and it basically serves the same purpose. I’d give it a different name so the child knows this is for him, for his particular (problem) stage. You can call it his stage or his platform. If you don’t like how that sounds like he’s in control, find another term that works for you. He stays there until he is not only sitting down on the outside, but on the inside as well. You will know when his heart is sitting down. You can call it his “special place, “special nook”, “alone time” or “safe space”. Designate a name based on where this place is. Be creative and keep him guessing, because you are the director of this stage.
During this parenting by staging time, there is no communication, no conversation, no snacks, no privileges, and no participation in anything anyone else is doing [and if he just has to go to the bathroom, you accompany him, giving him a certain amount of time.] This is why necessity might call for him to go to his room away from other things happening. If his siblings are involved in a game or a movie, he is not allowed to “participate”, even from the next room where he might see and watch what is happening.
Winning at the parenting game
I do not think a child must be sequestered in a room, off and alone, but if he fights your stage elsewhere in the house, he needs to go someplace else. Your kid wants to pout? Let him pout, but give him his own stage in which to pout: that special chair or room. He’s “safe” to pout there, but he can’t participate in anything else until he’s completely done with the pout. Doing this makes him lose control of you and the others in the house. He wants to be in control. When he loses that control, he will more readily give in and give up. It’s no fun being in control when no one is watching.
One day my husband put a child in another room, just far enough away that he could hear and yet not see the other kids playing their game. The child was initially allowed to be in the same room, but he kept making noises, running his mouth (not allowed), and sliding his chair to get a better view. Thus, the “isolation” to another room where he could hear the fun the kids were having, but could not enjoy watching. It didn’t take this kid long to change his attitude. Before the move to another room, he was having a ball doing everything he was not supposed to do because the other kids could see him. Once he was removed from the setting (the curtain was closed), it was no longer fun and games.
Make it work for you
If some of your rules or your place for sequestering do not work, change the stage. Redo the lines. Remember: sometimes a child does not realize what he needs. That’s why he needs a responsible parent to help him find that safety net. Sometimes a child has had too much stimulation or commotion in his day. Sometimes he’s trying to sort things out, but he’s too “busy” to figure out what is bothering him. Help your child find himself – it’s called winning by staging.
1 determination, power, spunk, gumption, grit, temper. For more synonyms, click here.
2 The performance of a play on a stage. https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/staging
Photo credits: pixabay.com