If you have children, and are considering a radical change in lifestyle for your family, this article might be worth reading!
When reflecting back about our decision about changing our lifestyle – to pack in the day job, sell all our possessions and sail around the world, I’d have to say that my largest fears revolved around my daughter. I’m sure most parents would be similar. There are safety issues, concerns over education and the whole sociability area.
With such a massive change of lifestyle it’s impossible to speculate how I was going to adjust let alone my 3-year-old daughter.
People always say that kids adjust to change quickly so I hoped for the best
You don’t know what you don’t know so my husband and I progressed with our plans to leave the rat-race, get a boat and sail around the world. We had to sell our house, learn everything we could about world cruising, make the necessary arrangements and set off. The plan was to keep our daughter in pre-school (3 days/week) until we left and then see how things went.
With so many things on my mind, I didn’t think about whether or not my daughter, Sienna, would be able to cope with the massive change in lifestyle. I didn’t think that the lack of routine, unpredictability of sailing and inability to have control over daily events would cause behavior issues.
I also failed to consider how she’d take to playing alone. Up until living on a boat, my daughter always had many friends to play with in addition to having granddad next door. She was never alone and she never had to play by herself.
By month three into our travels and after peeing on the floor, spitting, punching me, kicking me, biting my arm (drawing blood) and smashing a plate I was at my wits end
Things started off okay and over time progressively got worse.
Ever since Sienna was born, she required quite a bit of attention. As a baby it wasn’t uncommon for her to cry for 3 to 4 hours at a time. I read books, purchased DVD’s and sought medical advice. The prognosis was ‘Colic’ something that no one could help me with. It’s a situation where the baby cries uncontrollably for hours and doesn’t sleep but will eventually grow out of it.
As Sienna grew, she would go through stages. For months, her behavior would be fine and then it seemed that she’d suddenly have a lapse and become somewhat uncontrollable. She went through a biting stage, a scratching stage (and was aptly named Sienna Scissorhands) and a ‘I’m not going to bed!’ stage.
I thought she was a ‘difficult’ child but for the most part, managing her behavior progressed. With the help of friends and time, she seemed to grow out of her negative stages. From a parenting perspective, we used ‘The Step,’ counting to three, sticker charts, time-out, consequences of bad behavior and all the normal punishment approaches.
Sometimes they would work and sometimes they wouldn’t but overall I felt we had a handle on Sienna’s behavior. She seemed fine at home but when we went on vacation to visit family her behavior declined. I put it down to jetlag and being in a different environment.
Well, the first month of living our new lifestyle was overwhelming for all of us
We spent a week getting the sailboat ready, a week sailing from Gibraltar to Malta getting stormbound in Algeria, and a week enjoying the sites of Malta. Every day was different – for a week we sailed non-stop, for another week we were in one country and then we were in another.
None of us knew what time it was let alone what the day was. We were all walking around somewhat dazed. Most of the time, my husband, cousin (who has joined us from the beginning) and I couldn’t believe how amazing life was. We were seeing new sights, experiencing new experiences and life just seemed incredible. Sienna seemed to go along with the flow.
Life was too busy for her to have time to behave badly!
By the second month, when things started to slightly normalize, I noticed that Sienna’s behavior took a turn for the worse. She’d argue about going to bed, freak out if her cereal wasn’t just right or have a melt down because she didn’t get what she wanted.
As we neared the end of month two her behavior became even worse…
…she started kicking, scratching and hitting. And then when she freaked out, she’d spit all over the floor. When playing a game, it would seem as if she was working hard to start an ‘episode.’ She’d be bossy, play the game incorrectly or become difficult. After discussing things with my cousin, we decided that the best word for her behavior was ‘defiant.’
Every day we’d have more blow-outs, more tantrums and more tears – and Sienna wasn’t the only one crying. I spent several days up on deck crying while Sienna was down below screaming her lungs out.
No matter what we did, things got worse
I thought perhaps it was a food allergy causing her to malfunction but after eliminating certain foods the behavior still continued.
And taking away her toys didn’t work. Using a time-out didn’t work. Locking her in her room didn’t work. Using consequences didn’t work, ‘if you don’t go to bed now, I’m going to take your blanky from you.’ One night I emptied every toy out of her room – that didn’t work either!
At one point my husband grew so frustrated and yelled out, ‘she just needs a good smack!’ We discussed the idea of a slap on the wrist or a spanking but the whole concept never made sense to me. Teaching kids to inflict physical harm to control people seems illogical to me. Further, I didn’t want my daughter to fear us. Respect us and know we’re in charge, yes, but not to fear us.
The night of the big blow out, Sienna went crazy. I couldn’t control her. We tried to hold her down as I was afraid she was going to thrash about and hurt herself and then she bit me.
That’s when Sienna took a chunk out of my arm – there was blood seeping through my sweatshirt
I couldn’t help but think that I must be a terrible parent. I thought perhaps I’m not consistent enough. Maybe I’m to soft or perhaps too hard? Maybe I’m not applying punishments appropriately. Then I thought it’s not just me…it’s the situation we’re in.
That’s it – we’ll have to go home. Living on the boat and this new lifestyle isn’t working for our daughter
At first, and in dramatic fashion, I thought that life on the sea wasn’t going to work for Sienna. She just wasn’t handling the transition. I felt ‘woe is me,’ and wanted to cry out that my life is finally a dream come true ACCEPT for the fact that my daughter has turned into a hell child.
The day after our big blow-out I went in search of wifi to find help at Amazon
Being moored up in a marina in Corfu, Greece at the time I was limited as to where to find help. I talked to some friends but their suggestions wouldn’t work. I had already tried them or it didn’t feel right. Once on Amazon, I searched on ‘defiant child’ and ‘badly behaved children’ and then searched amongst the books that came up.
Eventually I found a book entitled, ‘The Explosive Child: A New Approach to Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children’ (by Ross W. Green, Ph.D) and wanted to read more. I read through the description and all the comments that parents wrote. Immediately, I felt a sense of relief. The comments from other parents sounded not only like they had a hell child but that the booked helped them to change their child for the better.
I went to buy the book and the wifi at the bar I was at dropped. WTH (What-the-heck?!) Fortunately, I was able to find another bar and download the book. Once I was back on the boat I told my husband and cousin to give me a bit of time so that I could quickly read how to prevent yet another explosion.
The worst was the bedtime explosion that last one to two hours – none of us could handle it anymore
After reading only a few chapters I immediately perceived the whole situation in a different light and went about changing MY behavior. Thankfully, since that major bust-up that ended with my arm bleeding and a smashed plate we haven’t had another explosion. Yes, we’ve had crying and upsets but we haven’t had any kicking, punching, biting, spitting or weeing again.
So what’s the secret formula?
It’s common sense actually. We were all focusing on the wrong thing. My husband, cousin and I were focusing on Sienna’s behavior rather than whatever was causing the behavior. This will all sound logical but I’m positive that there are many other desperate parents out there that need this small bit of advice…
Badly behaved kids aren’t necessarily behaving badly because they want to. In many cases, they are behaving badly because they lack the skills necessary to process the situation that they’re in.
With help from the book I was able to figure out the times where Sienna freaked out. It was often a case of transitioning from doing one thing to another. For example, the transition of playing to going to bed or being at the playground to leaving. She didn’t cause a problem every time there was a transition – just some of the time. However, bedtime was always an issue.
I then realized that Sienna had an issue with frustration
If she became too frustrated about something she switched from being rational to crazy. In fact, she went from a normal kid into an animal where she grunted, spit and scratched.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that Sienna lacked the skills necessary to handle a certain level of frustration. Further, I could see the signs that she was heading towards an explosion. My observations led me to see that she had a tipping point.
So, armed with the knowledge that my daughter isn’t being defiant just to piss me off I handled things in a totally different way. I realized that she needed help! She didn’t need a ‘time out’ or for me to take her dolls away…she needed me to first of all define the problem and then ask her how we could work together to solve it.
I’m not kidding when I say that the first time I tried my new tactics Sienna changed for the better!
Seconds after I finished chapter 3, I realized that Sienna didn’t need her toys to be taken off her. She didn’t need me to lock her in her room. She didn’t need a smack!
When it came to bedtime, I said to her, ‘Sienna, you seem to have a difficulty with going to bed. Can we work together to figure out a solution?
Sienna: Mummy, I’m just not tired
Me: I can see that Sienna. Back home, you seemed okay to go to bed at bedtime. Why is it different now?
Sienna: I don’t know
Me: Why do you think you can’t sleep?
Sienna: I’m not tired mummy. I’m wide awake. Can we play?
Me: No, we can’t play. Do you know why it’s important to sleep?
Me: When you sleep your body repairs itself and makes it energized again – ready for another day. It helps you to grow tall, grow strong and make you a fast runner (things that Sienna wants).
Me: Yes. So how can I help you to sleep?
Sienna: I don’t know. You can sleep next to me. That might work.
Me: I sleep in my bed. You know what Sienna – when I can’t sleep I have this trick where I use my mind to tell my body to relax the parts of my body. And once I’m relaxed I fall asleep. Should we try it on you?
Sienna: Yes please (in an excited voice)
Me: Okay…relax your big toe, relax your next toe… (I mentioned every body part as I massaged her all the way up to her head. At first she giggled but by the time I got to her thighs she started to yawn and her eyes grew tired.)
When I was done, Sienna wasn’t asleep but she was in the mood to sleep. You could see that she was able to reduce her level of awake-ness. I left the room before she fell asleep and she came out once or twice but she went to sleep on her own.
This was one day after the ‘child from hell’ explosion!
The next night, I again said that I wanted to help her with her difficulty to get to sleep. She once again said she wasn’t tired. I asked how I could help and she responded that she wanted me to do the ‘relaxation thing’. I started on her feet and she was asleep before I got to her ankles. Who knows if it will continue? Perhaps something else will trigger her but at least I have a new way of understanding her and a new way of dealing with things.
My thoughts on everything?
I think that our change in lifestyle was a bit too much for our daughter to deal with. She could handle so much but at a certain point she lost the ability to cope. She lacked the skill to deal with too much frustration. Sienna wasn’t premeditating her explosions. She wasn’t thinking, ‘hmmmm, I really want to throw a wobble before I go to bed tonight!’
Sienna simply didn’t have the skill to cope with the situation she was in
And no behavioral technique will help with a lack of skills. You wouldn’t punish someone because they didn’t know how to do something, would you? Yes – in the past, Sienna was able to go to sleep on her own. But right now with all this change the whole going to sleep thing was a problem…and it was a problem that caused her massive frustration. Not only did she find it impossible to fall asleep but she found it super frustrating when we took her toys away or locked her in her room!
The book really opened my eyes
It helped me to gain more patience and perhaps seek to understand rather than to be understood. All it took was a different approach and a deeper understanding as to why my daughter did what she did.
This journey I’m on – it’s not just about seeing the sights, eating foods from around the world or meeting fascinating new people. It’s also about gaining a deeper connection to my family and learning how to be the best mom I can be. It’s not always champagne and caviar. My life is not perfect but WOW is it fulfilling and WOW am I happy that my husband and I traded in our old lifestyle for this new one.
So, yes, changing our lifestyle caused my daughters behavior to go into rapid decline but we’ve found some solutions and things are getting better. Do I wish that we didn’t change our lifestyle – NO WAY! Do I think my daughter is suffering – NO WAY! If nothing else, we’ve all learned some valuable lessons that will help us better communicate and grow closer.