One of my sons has been really grumpy lately.
Actually, that son has had grumpiness issues all his life, probably related to a stroke in utero and ADHD and a couple of other things. He usually balances the grumpiness out with cuddliness (think about a grumpy teddy bear?), but the older he gets, the less the cuddliness side of the equation works.
There's been a bit of inadvertent destruction that has accompanied the grumpiness lately. It's not violent; it's things like picking at electronics, until the electronics are in a pile of unattached wires. Or trying to do chin-ups on his brother's clothes closet rod, after which the rod bends and breaks.
What I really want to do is send the kid to his room. I want to quarantine him for just long enough that this mood passes -- say, for 3 or 4 years, when he's about to turn 20. That, and I want to nag him into submission: "STOP being so GRUMPY, you!!!!! You're driving everyone CRAZY!!"
Somehow, nagging and criticizing him doesn't help with the mood thing, though. And banishment leads to angry boredom, which leads to more inadvertent destruction.
So instead of doing "time outs", we do "time ins". This is so much harder: these Time Ins are just terrible, terrible punishments . . . for the parent. Mustering my self control and cheerfulness around someone acting like a hedgehog is just incredibly energy consuming. I have to muffle all those "Stop it right now!" impulses, and instead model that calm, focused presence. "Please come back in this room and then practice leaving it without stomping."
Last weekend the Time In included practice at the many stages of restitution. The closet rod had been broken, and my son is old enough now to take responsibility for choosing a new rod, paying for a new rod, and installing a new rod.
And like going for a long run, the hardest part was getting started. Once we were out the door, the whole experience turned into an adventure, a bout of camaraderie. We biked to the hardware store, and I realized I'd never shown my son the secret back-way route that avoids all the automobile traffic. He was delighted. We got to the hardware store, and I realized I'd never shown my son that I walk my bike through the store with me. ("If people can bring in shopping carts," I told him, "then we can bring in bicycles.") He was delighted again. I had my son ask a clerk for help finding the right kind of rod and attachments, and the clerk was very friendly and helpful, which surprised my son. Clearly, I've missed out on many teachable moments.
We got home, and my son got to have yet another lesson in proper use of a drill and a screwdriver. He's getting better and better as he gets older.
And then we got the financial lessons: how to read a receipt, how to calculate sales tax, how to be grateful that you saved money up for a rainy day (or a destructive day), so that this round of expenses doesn't plunge you into debt.
And since then, he's seemed much calmer. Maybe that's just what he needed: a bit of attention. Supervised practice at doing things well. A sense of accomplishment; something he created (instead of destructed). A glimpse into the adult world of commuting and commerce. The satisfaction of knowing he's made restitution.
I think I've earned myself a Time Out.