Definitions

The Excitement Threshold

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I was goofing around with the boy the other night just prior to his going to bed. We were having a fine time of it when I figured it was time quit the stalling and get him settled. The boy hadn’t come to that conclusion and it took several attempts on my part before he settled down.

Even so, as I walked away from the bed he couldn’t help himself and he gave out one final playful kick. It caught the watch on my wrist and immediately, the watch fell to the ground. I knew as soon as it happened that he’d broken the band. I surprised myself because I didn’t get mad or overly upset. A little reflection on the matter revealed the reason- I realized I’d fallen victim to the excitement threshold.

The excitement threshold is a point of no return for kids. A state where their excitement level overwhelms their common sense, ability to self-regulate, their hearing and several other critical functions necessary for getting themselves back under control. The excitement threshold is different for every child and tends to get higher with age, though in some cases noticeable improvement can be painfully slow. Crossing the excitement threshold can result in anything from timeouts, to punishment, to broken things, to crying and/or tantrums.

The ET is difficult to predict, though the signs that it’s been crossed are unmistakable. The child will not want to stop the current activity and when asked will act as though they never heard the request to stop (likely because they haven’t). If another child is involved, that child will begin to yell and escalate the situation into a mini-crisis. The child who has crossed the ET often will become visibly frustrated that the “good times” are over.

The best way to deal with a child whom has crossed the ET is with a firm calm. If other kids are involved, remove them from the equation by some means, if necessary instructing them to ignore the over-excited child. Give the child space and time, be sure to get their attention when speaking to them. The main goal at this point is to get the child to calm down.

Unfortunately, the child is not always so accommodating. As often as they will eventually and uneventfully calm down, they will also get upset or refuse to stop or intentionally escalate in a desperate attempt to recapture the fun they were having before they were so callously interrupted.

It is the hope of every parent that their child will outgrow their current ET.

Beware the Phantom Fear

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I took the boy and his fellow Cub Scouts out on a hike for their final den meeting last night. We went to checkout a couple of historical landmarks here in the area. Well, one historical landmark and one quirk-of-nature landmark. That’s been one of the nice surprises regarding Scouting- being forced to do some thing we might otherwise not have bothered with.

The hike itself was probably a couple mile in total. It wasn’t the easiest hike because the trail was rocky and consisted of descending into a valley and then climbing the other side to get to our final destination. We got pictures of the kids along the way and everyone had a good time generally.

But the boy got a little more than he bargained for, courtesy one of his den mates.

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The Smile Reflex

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Here’s the situation. One of the kids has done something wrong and we’ve got them dead to rights. We know exactly what to say, how to say it and how it to finish it with a flourish for maximum effect. They’ll never make that mistake again after this little speech.

And now the speech is well underway and hitting it’s stride where maximum corrective benefit is about to be attained.

Wait wait wait. What’s that? What’s the kid doing?

Are they … smiling?

This is the Smiling Reflex. It seems to appear sometime around the 5 year mark. The characteristics are as simple as described above. In the middle of some kind of behavior correcting dialog, the child gets a big grin on their face. This then leads to all kinds of facial contortions as the try to stifle the smile. Usually, they’ll immediately look away or down and kind of pull their lips in to try and get it under control. This attempted control typically fails and makes matters worse.

Which, depending on the disposition of the parent at the time, is only half the problem. I’ve come to the determination that they don’t, in fact, find the situation funny. So don’t make that mistake. Further, whatever you do, don’t ask them if they think something is funny. It only makes them smile more. Rather, the best approach really is to just ignore it as best you can.

Unfortunately, that can be hard to do. The Smiling Reflex really crosses the communication wires because it seems like such a blatant act of disrespect. Right in the middle of scolding them to boot! The nerve! But, as I said, I really don’t think it has anything to do with that. I think it’s more like one of those moments we get where a screw comes loose and we can’t help but laugh. Like a newscaster who loses it on the air, all the while fighting desperately to not lose it.

The Smiling Reflex appears without warning and its occurrence is unpredictable. The best defense is to be aware of it’s possibility. Like hiccups, there is no known way to stop the Smiling Reflex.

DoA Attack

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The Denial of Ability, DoA, Attack is probably the most common form of tantrum once a child reaches ages 4-6. These are the years when the child is learning many different fundamental, but necessary, life skills such as: tying shoes, buttoning shirts (cuffs in particular), zipping coats, brushing teeth, putting clothes on hangers and any other taken-for-granted task adults handle.

The DoA Attack is characterized by the simple phrase “I can’t do it!” The phrase can be uttered with varying degrees of conviction, as well as whining qualities. Several factors are the child’s level of fatigue, overall progress in mastering the activity, age and temperament. The last one I think is the biggest factor. Also, how frequently the adult capitulates to the child and “does it for them” is a contributor.

The DoA Attack is impossible to prevent even though it is all to easy to predict. DoA Attacks are most common when time is of the essence. In fact, it’s not unusual for a dreaded DoA Chain to occur if you are running late for an appointment or event.

For instance, you’re heading out to soccer practice and the child doesn’t have shoes on. Because of the rush the child barely pulls the shoe on before launching into a DoA. After the shoes are on, the coat is next and the child, still flustered by the shoe experience, now is unable to zipper their jacket. They launch DoA Attack number 2. Finally, the child gets to the car where they are unable to buckle themselves in and they launch DoA attack number 3.

DoA chains are emotionally devastating, exhausting affairs for everyone and may require a stiff drink for the adult later on. It is not unusual for the child to be extremely sensitive and snippy afterwards. If going to a sporting event, expect their enthusiasm level to be low or even gone. Be careful, a “Vibrating Why” could ensue upon arrival at practice.

There is no one, right way to counter a DoA Attack. Though, generally speaking, patience and complete emotionless committal to having the child see the task through is the preferred approach. Be warned, it is not unusual for the child to sabotage themselves if they are pressed to continue trying. For instance, when a child is attempting to tie their sneakers they will create a Gordian Knot out of the laces making your intervention impossible to avoid, as most adults will be challenged to undo the resulting knot.

Also, generally speaking, reacting with anger or threats generally lead to an escalation. Though, if the child is reasonably accomplished at the task and has launched a DoA Attack largely due to fatigue or grumpiness, such a response can be effective at prodding the child to finish their task.

A common myth about DoA attacks is that quiet, gentle reminders that “You can do it- you’ve done it before…” are effective parental counters. In reality, they are no more successful than any other technique and, if relied upon too much, can result in the child simply walking away from the task with the declaration “This is stupid, I’m not doing it.”

The worst case outcome for a DoA Attack is an intervention by a stranger, whom, thinking they are Switzerland or something, swoops in with a smile and enthusiasm to complete the task for the child. The parent has now been completely undermined and made to appear an unreasonable ogre in front of their child. More annoying, the stranger typically is convinced they’ve done a good deed and is noticeably full of self-congratulation at their initiative. Generally speaking, giving the interloper a good swift kick would be nice, but is, practically speaking, impossible. Best to go home and have a drink.

Or 2.

The Vibrating Why

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“The Vibrating Why” is a technique used by children to question a parental decision. There are a number of characteristics:

  • A whiny, protracted “But, whyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeee?” Unsurprisingly, this is a key element to The Vibrating Why.

  • Often, the body language of the child will be as follows: shoulders and arms slumped forward limply, head thrown back so that the child is looking almost straight up- except their eyes will be focused on you. Sometimes the child’s eyes will close. Often times, after the “whyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeee” the child will exhibit Pouting Lip.

  • During the “Whyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeee” sound, the child will bounce rapidly on their toes or alternatively at the knees; thus, they will appear to vibrate. Depending on overall agitation level, the bouncing can actually manifest as small hops in place.

  • Due to the vibrating, the “Whyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee” sound can take on a warbled quality or even a vibrato.

  • It is almost always due to a parent denying the child access to something like cookies, ice cream, the Wii or any other electronic gaming device; i.e., some treasured or favored object. On occasion, it can occur when the child is informed it’s time to stop playing or leave the playground.

In general, The Vibrating Why is an indication that the parent has gained the upper hand in a confrontation with the child. It is also an indication of any one of the following: excitement, fatigue, low blood-sugar levels. It is not unusual for circumstances to bring about a Vibrating Why just prior to a meal.

How to handle a Vibrating Why is highly situation dependent and can really only be mastered through direct experience. If the child is highly agitated to begin with, a parent should expect escalation from the child if they choose to follow through. The escalation can end in anything from blind child rage to full on balling. If the Vibrating Why is due to low blood-sugar (typically one that precedes a meal by 30 seconds), the situation can typically be defused by calmly pointing out that food is on the way. Vibrating Why’s that result from fatigue are the most difficult to deal with due to the extreme unpredictability of the child’s response to the parent’s response. A parent must proceed with extreme caution under these circumstances.

It is not unheard of for Vibrating Why’s to be caused by a combination of factors. For instance, low-blood sugar combined with excitement (typically they’ve been playing with friends) can result in a Vibrating Why. Seemingly paradoxically, it is also possible(though extremely rare) for fatigue and excitement to combine and result in a Vibrating Why. Usually, this combination involves bedtime or nap time.

If confronted with a Vibrating Why, the parent should exercise great care to remain calm and recognize that they have temporarily gained the upper hand. Still, caution is warranted as overplaying the advantage can cause the situation to degenerate rapidly. If a parent ends up losing their temper, they have lost the advantage and will typically resort to brute force techniques to maintain sanity, such as grounding, early bed times, denial of video games for the month, etc. Suffice it to say, this outcome is highly undesirable and usually ends up with the parent feeling regret and second-guessing their reaction.

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