I spanked my oldest last Wednesday. Twice. He's only four, he's autistic, and I hadn't seen him all day. I am such a jerk.
My day had started at five a.m. I had several extremely complicated and sick patients and several extremely complicated phone calls and a load of logistical paperwork and an inpatient to see and it was downpouring when I left work and I had to walk a mile to my car and the afternoon rush-hour traffic was standstill in the tunnel and I was forced to breathe car exhaust and I felt sick all the way to Nana's house blah blah blah.
I had been truly looking forward to seeing my little man and my little bug. But all the way to my mother's house (she picks the kids up from school/ daycare), all I was thinking was that I had to get the kids rounded up and in my car and back home for baths and bedtime, and I wasn't sure what time Hubby was coming home. I was stressed that I might be solo for the whole night-night routine (Panic!!!!)
When I got there, Babyboy had a poop and a terrible diaper rash, and he didn't want to be changed, so he twisted and turned, and he started grabbing things and throwing them at me, including poop-covered baby wipes, and I yelled STOP IT and swatted him on his butt. Then five minutes later he shoved a throw pillow at my infant niece, and I yelled THAT'S IT and I spanked him.
Now I feel terrible.
I've yelled and spanked before, and it always makes me feel like the most ineffective, inept, stupid, bad mommy. I intend to avoid this primordial parenting technique. But when I'm exhausted, and I can't seem to get control of my kids, I just get so frustrated and angry, and I can't seem to access any of the more advanced parenting skills I've read about.
And, spanking works. In the very short term. Very, very short term. Babyboy stopped throwing poopie wipes the first time, and he stopped shoving pillows the second time. But he cried and wailed for Nana, who never loses it and is always calm.
So, obviously not a great parenting tactic. And if my colleagues and patients saw me lose it and get physical over poopie wipes and pillows, I would be mortified.
The best book on parenting an autistic child that I have encountered so far has several wonderful lessons and suggestions on this very topic. I've dog-eared the pages and read them several times.
The book is Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohm (Future Horizons, 2012), and chapter 9, "Identify What Triggers My Meltdowns" is applicable to any parent of any child who ever throws a tantrum for any reason.
She writes: "If you react with anger and frustration to your child or student's meltdowns, you're modeling the very behavior you want him or her to change. It's incumbent upon you as an adult, at all times and in every situation, to refrain from responding in kind. Be your own behavior detective. Figure out what triggers your own boiling point and interrupt the episode before you reach that point. When your thermostat zooms skyward, better to temorarily remove yourself from that situation."
In my case, Babyboy may have been overstimulated, and then protesting. There were many family members in the house and in the room; I had just arrived; the television was on; it was stormy outside... and I was pinning him down to the unpleasant and even painful task of a diaper change. When he acted out, I could have held in all my frustration, got the poop reasonably cleaned up, and put Babyboy in time-out in another room, away from everyone. That may have avoided the second outburst and spanking.
Of course, there are many people who feel that spanking is acceptable parenting behavior, and Ellen Notbohm has these questions for those folks:
Does spanking follow careful weighing of alternative responses and a reasoned decision that, yes, striking someone one-quarter our size is logical, provides a good example for them to follow, and will produce the desired long-term result? Can we be sure that it teaches the child what she did wrong?
Does it give her the knowledge and skills to correct the behavior? Or does spanking spring from aggravation, wrath and desperation?
Does it foster respect and understanding, or humiliation and bewilderment? Does it enhance the child's ability to trust us? Is it a behavior we want the child to emulate?"
Of course, this all makes perfect, clear, sane sense. And I've read it, and I get it. But in the moment, I haven't been able to consistently refrain from yelling and spanking. And I'd like to.
I think the real answer is in identifying Babyboy's triggers and trying to avoid them. In my case that day, there was an even better potential solution: I could have taken him to another, quiet room to change his diaper, and, after a bit of cuddly mommy time, I could have given him some control over the process, a job to do, like handing me the wipes or unfolding his clean diaper.
That response would have been ideal. It would have required some thoughtfulness, some space, some time.
As Ellen Notbohm writes, "Many will be the wearying moment when the root cause of your child's meltdown won't be immediately evident. There may never be a time in your life when it's more incumbent upon you to become a detective, that is, to ascertain, become aware of, diagnose, discover, expose, ferret out..."
As a physician, I am so accustomed to multitasking, problem-solving, wasting no time, get the job done... With Babyboy I need to slow down, breathe, and think. Study him, and anticipate the acting out, the outbursts, the tantrums, and steer around, or make them disappear. I do think it's possible...
Has anyone else out there had any similar experiences/ got any suggestions to share?