04 November 2014

The Littlest Bully

Speaking of the littlest bully, I need to get vulnerable and spend a moment talking about some heavier-hitting Down syndrome stuff. I promise I'll finish the week out with a light n' fluffy dresser reveal to balance us out.

I don't know how to start this out gracefully, so I'm just going to jump right in. My sister-in-law came out for a playdate yesterday with her five children ages 1-9, and Abigail and her cousins did not jive very well. Abigail gets home from preschool, tired (and therefore more likely to misbehave) and finds a house full of cousins all playing with her toys. After she spends a few minutes warming up, she jumps right in to play, but finds herself completely shut out. The older kids are circled up around Abigail's toys with their backs to her. On one hand, it really hurts to see my baby completely shut out, ignored, rejected. But on the other hand, I totally get where her cousins are coming from: Abigail is not an easy playmate. She rampages their carefully designed forests and horse pens, grabs prized baby pigs, usually throws foxes and owls. Abigail barely imaginative plays and doesn't have much interest in many toys. She wants their attention and their attention is on the forest friends playset, so she ends the forest friends playset.

But when she gets shut out of the circle of fun, she doesn't give up trying to get their attention. When her attempts to read Curious George books with them failed, she turned toward patting, hitting, and bopping on the head with books (Abigail escalates things quickly - an impulse control thing we're working on). At first the kids think it's funny - which encourages Abigail to do it more - but once it turns to hair pulling, they get angry and dramatically burst into sobs. It becomes a vicious cycle: the more they ignore and try to get away from Abigail, the more dramatic she becomes in trying to get their attention.

I'm so torn. It hurts to see Abigail so obviously rejected. But she's acting in a way to encourage rejection. It's so frustrating to demonstrate to Abigail time and time again proper interactions and see her fail to act them out. But it's also maddening to see her cousins flip out when Abigail - who is only two inches taller than their one-year-old brother - swats them or see them edge up closer to Abigail when I just finished separating them. Arg! Aside from screaming at everyone to knock it off and grow the $*%& up, (which I obviously didn't do), I don't know how to handle the situation.

My sister-in-law handled her kids marvelously, encouraging them to incorporate Abigail, pat her gently when she pulls their hair to break the cycle, be creative in how they play so that she will feel included and stop the hitting. I mean seriously, she's referencing saints and talking about maturity in a way kids can totally access. But at the end of the day, they're 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, and want attention when they are unjustly bopped on the head with a book.

I have no idea how much of this is normal toddler behavior (three-year-olds will be three-year-olds) and Abigail is usually at her worst after preschool (we had to cut out her nap in order to go to the afternoon session) and how much is because in certain ways, she really is different. It hurts when the misunderstood bully is your own child. And it hurts when you know this is only the beginning of the pain. I wish my girls were closer in age - a sister would be a spectacular ambassador, understanding of what Abigail's motivations are and able to demonstrate to the group how to handle her maladaptive ways of expressing herself.

Bleh. If you have advice for me, I'd totally love to hear it. Or, if you could just say a prayer for us for wisdom that we can help Abigail navigate the world, and maybe that her cousins show some forgiveness toward her. Maybe I need to create some sort of team-building exercise where, in order to win, her cousins have to work with Abigail. Oh geeze.


~Katherine~ said...

Might it work to sit down with the 9 and 7 year old beforehand and explain that they can help Abigail learn how to play better? Specifically, when she does something right, have them make a big, freaking, HUGE deal out of how well she did it--by interjecting herself *gently* into their play, or asking nicely (by touching or patting) for attention? The older kids might get a kick out of being her "helpers," especially if you explain that you want her to learn how to play well and that they might be the best teachers for that.

Also, could more physical games be incorporated for them all, rather than imaginative ones? "Duck, Duck, Goose," "The Farmer in the Dell," that kind of thing? I wonder if she'd have an easier time doing something like that in a group than trying to play imaginary games, and those things might help with coordination, too.

Liz said...

I think watching our kids work through social situations is really hard for us moms!

On M's first day of co-op, two little girls that she thought she had made friends with ignored her for over an hour and she was so upset, she cried and wanted to go home and it about broke my heart.

There's a three year old that sometimes comes to play with us and he pretty much spends his visits running away from John and trying to play with the older girls. John tries, but he can't seem to figure out how to play with this particular boy. So the little boy who is only six months older than John goes and plays with the girls and either I play with John or I let him watch his own show. I feel bad for him too.

I just want to make those other kids be more sensitive and compassionate! But I can't.

That being said, some groups of kids aren't ideal together -- the playdates go sour because it is the wrong combination of personalities and ages. It might just be that the cousin free-for-all was an unfair social situation for everyone. It's no fun when you have to make kids play together. It's better when you find kids that want to play together or at least play happily side by side!

Amelia Bentrup said...

When my oldest was a "bully" from around age 2-3...much like you described. She would hit other kids, take their toys, push them. I was so embarassed and horrified by it. We actually avoided indoor playgroup situtaions (anything where there were toys) for awhile because of it. It was really hard, but I didn't do anything other than redirect her from hitting and watch her closely to try to intervene before she could hit another child or take their toy. If she did take another child's toy, I would make her give it back.

By age 4, she had totally outgrown it, and is now 12 and pretty much the opposite of a bully...super sweet and helpful and kind and friendly to everyone.

So there is hope! Really, I think it has a lot to do with language skills. As their language skills get better and they are able to express themselves with words they stop a lot of the physical acting out. At least that is how it worked with my kids.

Honestly, I wouldn't worry about it that much...I mean don't let her hit and be mean, but she probably will just outgrow it as her language skills improve.