Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Ebb and Flow of Words

I've been particularly drawn to my children and their use of words lately. Perhaps its because Joey has been using barking more than usual, so when he uses words, I take note. Perhaps I've been reading stuff about communication in a variety of settings lately, so I've been attuned to the listening. But its been interesting.

For example, both boys have been using words more to ask for help, especially when they are looking for something. Andy came in this morning with a quiet "Mommy, please help me find my ball. I can't find it." Naturally, I got up and found the toy desired, and praised him for asking. Not long ago, I would have been awakened by screaming and crying, rather than those quiet words.

Joey has also been into the words for finding. He's still very bad at hunting for lost items, but now he chants, and it takes him longer to get to the point of explosive frustration while trying to find a thing. I wish the chants were something other than, "i can't find it! It's gone! It's not here! Someone took it! It's gone forever!" but it sure beats cutting straight to the screaming.

We also have more words after school. The current rhythm is Andy gets off the bus first, then we walk back to the house to get Joey. Andy will chatter about his school day all the way home- a miracle in and of itself. Joey comes off the bus and tends to barrel in the door, and he's not that interested in talk, but will at least answer a few yes/no questions. That sure beats silence.

So I found it of equal note when words were out of the question. We took Andy to the doctor on Friday because he was sent home with fever and cough, and we're on Flu Alert. Turns out he does have the flu, but not the H1N1 variety, yay. He had no words at all in the presence of the doctor. She wasn't our usual doctor, but a very nice lady all the same- and he had no words at all. He wasn't as chatty as usual eve when she wasn't in the room. Tired boys run out of words. However, I knew he was really on the mend this evening- he spent much of it pacing the livingroom, in constant conversation with himself (he got upset when I thought he was talking to me, and I answered something. Eep.) The return of the constant motion.

I also note that when Joey is upset, he is using words, repeating back words and phrases that upset him. Its actually very annoying when you are upset with him, and he's echoing you, or simply keeps talking, even back-and forth. If you aren't careful, you get caught in a net of exchange that spirals into the abyss, when you shouldn't really answer him in the first place. Not that you can ignore him, but there are evasive responses that work better than actually responding to the words he is saying.

"Joey, please clean up the mess you made."
"Clean up! Clean up!"
"Yes, please. Let's go get some paper towels..."
"Towels?" (spoken as if he has never heard this word before in his life).
"Yes, towels. Please get some paper towels and clean up the spill..."
"Spill? What spill? AAAAA!"
"This spill. Let's get some towels and clean up... "
"Clean up? Clean up? I don't want to clean up."
"You made the mess, you need to clean it up..."
"Up! No! Clean down!"
"We don't clean down, we clean up. We get the water up off the floor with the towel. Now come on, here's a towel, let's..."
"AAAAA! I'm a stupid boy!"
"No, you aren't a stupid boy, you're a very clever boy, but we need to clean up this spill..."
"AAAAAAAAAAAAA! Stupid! Stupid!"

See all the mistakes I made? Instead of feeding into the banter, I should have not really responded to his "clean up!" chant. Instead, I should have just handed him the towels, maybe with a plain, gentle, vague, "yes, dear."

But then, will that be teaching hi to not use his words?


Niksmom said...

I don't think you need to worry that you'll teach either of your boys to not use their words. You are a teacher, a communicator (among many other things)...they will get it in their time.

I've noticed that Nik really loses all communication skills when he's really under the weather. Even the few signs he has disappear.

VAB said...

You know, I always agree with your insight, but this time I am not sure that I agree that you did the wrong thing by engaging in a conversation. It's a hard call. One thing we learned with our guy was that it is often better just to stand back, because talking when he was upset could just push him further along the spiral, just as you describe. On the other hand, being of the habit of communicating when under stress can be good. It's a hard call.

We got a fair amount of mileage out of modeling calming scripts. We put in a lot of "It's not a big deal/You know how to do this/You are good at this/You are going to find it/etc." type comments into our communication and our guy picked up on using some of them for self calming.