Disciplining my child (and failing)

What do you do when…

~ Your child simply refuses to sit in time-out and instead makes a game of you chasing him around the house?

~  Your child head butts you when you’ve decided to give holding him down in time-out a try?

~  Your child hides from you — at home, in the garage, at the store — and he is an impeccable hider?

~  You yell at your child in exasperation and he simply yells back?

~  You spank your child in a last-ditch effort and he either 1) yells at you 2) laughs or 3) smacks you back?

~  Your child gives a wicked smile of victory after he’s finally caused you to blow your top?


Let me provide you a little background and anecdote so you can fully appreciate the exasperation I am feeling.

Big C is almost four years old now and was diagnosed with high-functioning autism back in February.  Lately, he has been testing me (and I mean me very specifically).  If medals could be handed out for making mothers lose their cool, Big C would have a trophy case.

There have been a lot of changes recently, and I know this affects Big C.  I know this, and yet, it is still so hard to cope with.  School is out and I’m a teacher, so he is no longer going to daycare or his special needs preschool.  We’re only on day two of him spending his days with me and his one-year old brother, and I’m already at my wit’s end.

Case in point: this morning, I was trying to get the boys out the door because Big C is taking a social skills class (imagine that) once a week and today was the first day.  Naturally, it didn’t go smoothly at all.  Transitions are always a struggle for Big C, even with his visual schedule.  Honestly, I don’t even remember what set him off this morning, but all of the sudden, he was punching me on the back, quite hard if I might add.

I tried to stay calm. I really did.  I tried to recall what his in-home ABA therapists have been telling me: “Ignore the behavior.  He wants your attention.  Eventually, it will stop.”  So, I took a deep breath and ignored it.  I focused on Little C instead (per the ABA therapists’ instruction) and told him what a great day we were going to have.

The punching got more intense.  Big C started saying, quite calmly, “I’m hitting you, Mommy.  I’m hitting you, Mommy.”

He may as well have been saying, “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

I got up, carried Little C into the garage, and buckled him into his car seat, still ignoring Big C.   He proceeded to follow me into the garage too, sans socks and shoes, and sit on the tractor.  At this point, we had to get going, or we were going to be late.   No more time for ignoring. I told him, calmly, to get in the car.  He refused.  I then carried him into the car seat and begin putting his socks and shoes on.  He started hitting me again, this time adding in some arm-scratching (I need to remember to cut his nails).

Then, with his rather long legs, he stretched across the car to the other car seat and kicked his little brother’s fingers with his shoe-clad foot.

And then I lost it.

I grabbed his leg roughly, yanked it down, and then leaned in until I was half an inch from his face and screamed.

Of course he screamed back.  What the hell else did I expect?  For him to cry?  For him to obey?  Not Big C. He got pissed right back. The last ten minutes of demonstrating a calm demeanor were obliterated.  I let Big C use my back as a punching bag, and for what? I demonstrated for Big C exactly what not to do.

I know it’s not the end of the world.  He’ll be fine.  I’ll be fine.  Yet, I’m still living in fear every day.  Not of Big C, but of my own intense emotions.  I literally have to tell myself every morning to be calm, don’t let him get to me, he’s just a little boy. More times than not though, I explode, I do let him get to me, I do forget he’s a little boy, I do fail, and within that failure is a real fear that my inadequacies are hurting my child, a child who needs, and deserves, proper guidance.

No one ever said raising a child was easy, but for once, can’t it just be for a day?

K. Sawyer Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC