We were supposed to revisit Tortuga's grounding on Tuesday but he had a really difficult time on Tuesday while we were at my sister's house and by the time we got home he had really worked himself up. He was rude, disrespectful, and downright mean to everyone who went near him. He had asked if we were going to have our follow-up talk about his being grounded on Tuesday so I think he was anticipating that conversation. I had reminded him that we couldn't have that conversation until C. got home (around 7:15 pm) and if he couldn't hold it together we would have to postpone it. Clearly, he couldn't hold it together even after several attempts to redirect and give him calming strategies and "cooling off" time. I finally told him I was done waiting on him, he needed to go to his room and he had even blown "family" dinner (which meant he was only entitled to oatmeal [as much as he wants] or peanut butter sandwiches as soon as he calmed down or 8:00 p.m. (bedtime) whichever came first.
He quieted down and when C. came home I left her with the other three kids while I went upstairs to talk with Tortuga. I grabbed a sippy cup filled with vanilla milk and figured we might as well do some "baby" time. I am a "touchy" person so I hold hands, hug and hold my kids as much as possible. He has a lot of sensitivities which have made this harder for him but he generally does like to be held. So, off I went upstairs and we talked about anger (for the thousandth time) and other feelings. We talked about his little sister, Milagro, and how we picked her up and comforted her anytime she cried from the minute she was born to this very day. We talked about what happened to him when he was a baby and cried and how no one came to comfort him and how that still comes up for him. His eyes welled up with tears and he cried so I asked him what he was feeling. He said "sad." I made him repeat it to make sure he hadn't said "mad." I was ecstatic! I held him while he cried and then he felt better and we talked about the things that make him happy living in our family and he seemed to feel better. Then I rubbed his back and held him while he had his milk. After that I reminded him he hadn't had any dinner, that he had blown the family dinner, but could have oatmeal or peanut butter. He started to challenge me but stopped himself then he said, "OK, mom. I am not really hungry right now. Just tired." So we settled on half a peanut butter sandwich, which he ate and then happily went to bed.
Please don't think I am crazy for being happy that my son is sad. It is just that he is always such a jumble of raw feelings that always look like anger or over the top giddiness. I asked when the last time he felt sad was and he said "never." Yeah, right. Okay, but at least he is talking about it and accurately recognized his sadness, which is progress. This is one of the problems we are having with him. There is so much anger and frustration inside him that he cannot allow or recognize other feelings. When he is sad, tired, frustrated, bored, or whatever it comes out as anger AND he says he feels anger. We work hard to name emotions for him or to point them out in others. But he does have a hard time getting it.
We waited until today to revisit the grounding. We asked him if he liked being grounded, had he noticed any differences in his behavior, and was there anything he had missed doing. He said he didn't like being grounded, he hadn't noticed any difference in his behavior and he missed spending time with the family (which he mostly spends fighting and picking on whoever is around.) We told him we missed him too but that we had noticed a significant improvement in his behavior since the grounding began. He was more pleasant when he did encounter his siblings, he tried to be helpful to the two youngest children, he didn't yell at me every time I tried to help him with his homework or whenever I sent him upstairs to read, shower, get his clothes ready for school, etc. We explained that we thought it was because it was less stressful for him to have all those interactions or potential interactions.
The other thing we tried to explain (not sure he got it but we are barely getting it) was that because he wasn't expecting anything then he had less to anticipate incorrectly. I don't know if I can explain this but I am starting to think that one of the problems he is facing is that he always anticipates something "good" but unrealistic is going to happen and when it doesn't happen he gets mad at the reality and we don't even know why he is angry. It can be something big or small. There is a nice older woman who lives two houses down from us who often sends us food that she picks up or receives but is too much for her. It might be a loaf of bread or a container of tootsie rolls. If he sees it he might mutter under his breath "tootsie rolls for dessert tonight." When we hear it we might say, "no, that isn't going to happen" or we might ignore it. He will be giddy during the entire dinner and then when I say it is time for him to go take his shower he will storm off in a huff, kick a wall, throw his books or shoes, or scream at the first person in his path. Or I might be cleaning the playroom and leave a board game out or move it to the top of the pile. He will say "yay, we are going to play "Uno Spins" tonight" even though we never play board games on school nights. This pattern is repeated over and over and over again each and every day. This week while he was grounded he was out of the fray most of the time and he did better. A whole lot better.
The other thing that came up in our discussion is that he doesn't seem to recognize if he is exhibiting "good" behavior or "bad" behavior. We try to call attention to all the good choices he makes and compliment him when he is being kind, respectful, responsible and making safe choices. But maybe we are not being explicit enough? Sometimes he rides in the car and fights the whole way with his 4 year old brother about nothing and he makes faces at me, rolls his eyes when I ask him to stop, kicks the seat in front of him with his sister in it and then when we get home he asks me if he can get candy for "being good" in the car. When I remind him of all the things he did that weren't acceptable he just says "oh, so am I getting candy?" or he starts yelling at me and storms off! So, maybe he really isn't getting it.
We ended the conversation about his grounding by telling him he would be joining the family again for meals but the rest of the conditions of his grounding would remain to try and help him. He didn't seem upset about this. We reminded him that the mealtimes require that he do all the nice and respectful things that we expect of all the children and he will get no "warnings." If he does not meet the expectation he will eat at a different table from everyone else for the rest of that meal. He didn't object and today he did fine with breakfast and snack with the members of the family at the table. He asked me after snack how he was doing with his behavior at meals and I told him he had done well. We haven't had dinner so we will see how he does then.
I am not sure we are doing the right thing here but I am fresh out of ideas right now.