Friday, March 23, 2007

Patience Report #4 -- I Lost it

Ugh! Grrr! And *&#$*!! I lost it today. Just a few minutes ago, actually. Remind me why I wanted to try to be patient. Because apparently I’ve forgotten.

I suppose it started with the puppy. Lately when she’s been inside she hasn’t been behaving. I say, “Off!” (meaning keep off people, or off furniture) and “No bite!” but it doesn’t seem to phase her. She’s not allowed downstairs on her own, but at least three times a day she dashes down the stairs to make mischief exploring or peeing. It’s the peeing that really bothers me. I guess she thinks it’s far enough removed from where she usually spends her time that it qualifies as a good potty place. Wrong!

I think I could have kept control if I just had a puppy to deal with today, but I also have a boy home from school because it’s the end of the quarter. Something like that. And he’s been Mister Attitude this morning. I warned him that if he didn’t start talking to me with respect he’d have to find another place to stay today, that I’m not going to put up with his lip. My warning produced marginal results.

Prior to losing it, I went to retrieve the dog from the basement and noticed she’d made a puddle in my son’s room. Great. I clipped her leash to my belt loop and trudged back upstairs to get a towel and pet cleaner/deoderizer. Just as I started to clean up her puddle on the carpet, the phone rang. I asked Mr. Attitude to answer it. He didn’t. Meanwhile the puppy thinks that biting at the rag I’m using to clean up the puddle is a great game. As I head to answer the phone, the puppy nips at me. Trying to get the puppy from jumping on me, I answer the phone and cradle it between my cheek and shoulder. “Hello?” I say. “My friend just barely has time to get a complete sentence out before I accidentally cut her off trying to deal with my rambunctious puppy. And that’s when I lost it.

All the books I’ve been reading about puppy training say not to hit or yell at your puppy. I haven’t hit her, but she definitely got yelled at. She also got a scruff shake. She continued to bite at me and pick up a watch from the carpet that I’d told her to drop. I guess you could say that I gave her a loud lesson on the “No,” “Leave it,” and “Drop it” commands.

Since my meltdown Annie has been perfect. A little leery of me, but 100% obedient. At present she’s asleep on her mat by my chair, and I’m feeling guilty about my outburst. I’ve reminded my son again and again that Annie is a puppy, that her nipping and jumping are part of puppy play and that with patience and consistency she’ll learn to not bite and jump. He’s had a hard time being consistent when he interacts with Annie, and sometimes when I’ve been patiently re-shaping her behaviors he’ll say, “Just beat her.” Or if she whines a little when I’ve held her muzzle closed while calmly telling her “No bite,” he’ll say, “How do I get her to make that noise for me?”

So what do I do? I lose it with the dog in front of the very person who has his own issues of patience with the puppy. (How’s that for modeling appropriate behavior as the adult in the situation?)

Based on Annie’s response to my outburst, I’m guessing that my training has been a bit too light. A bit too cheery. A bit too fun and not enough firmness. My plan is to apologize to my son for losing it with the dog in front of him. Just now he’s gone with some neighborhood boys to pass out bags for the Scouting for Food Drive tomorrow. When he gets back I’ll explain to him what mistakes I’ve been making in Annie’s training and hopefully help him see that I’m committed to firm, calm, and consistent puppy training.

And parenting too. Ever since I’ve begun to pay attention to whether or not I’m being patient, my parenting has improved. For the most part I’ve done a better job of expressing my frustrations with the kids early on – before their behaviors have gotten under my skin and begin to drive me nuts.

I think part of my problem is that I expect too much from my kids. For example, I’ve been expecting Loula Belle to be able to take a shower when she needs to without my having to remind her. But yesterday when I was at my friend’s house, she said that her daughter that’s a year older than Loula Belle still needs near-constant reminding. “Every time I tell my daughter to take shower, she thinks she just took one the night before. It doesn’t matter if she hasn’t taken one in three days. I guess to her it feels like she just took one last night.”

I needed to hear that. Part of my problem is I get tired of nagging. I tell myself that I shouldn’t have to. That my kids should know by now what they need to be doing without being constantly reminded. But I guess that’s not a realistic expectation. Looks like I’ll have to take a page out of my mom’s book and make peace with nagging. She prefers to call it “spaced repetition.”

So I’m going to start thinking of nagging as spaced repetition. Instead of having unrealistic expectations of my kids, I’ll remind myself that they’re still growing up. Like my puppy, they’re just exhibiting common behavior for their age. And like puppy training, my kids need firm, calm, and consistent training too.

How do you cool off when you’re about to lose it? I know I can’t be the only mom to blow her top. Please share your tips on how to maintaining composure during stressful flare-ups.

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