I need ideas: Creative discipline for sassing

Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 06:38 pm
I think I've created a monster.

Some history:

Mo, a child I am raising and hope to adopt, is strongly suspected of having an attachment disorder. I have read a lot about this and have spoken to a counselor and have received some great advice from those familiar with attachement disorders. One thing they all agree on -- that "time out" is not an effective punishment for kids with RAD.

You should also know that I will not spank him. Please don't suggest that.

Here's the deal:

Much of what I hear suggest that when there is a problem that I react BIG.

This has worked well for most things but we are entering a big sassing stage and what I'm hearing now is him mimicing my BIG reactions:


Uh oh. Oh crap. What do I do now?

Big reactions don't seem to work on sass. I've been resorting to time out. As I've been warned: time out is not effective.

I need some creative ideas -- and I need them quick. This sass and back-talk stage is very difficult. By the end of the day I am depressed and desparing. I really need to find a non-violent way to stop this before it escalates and becomes a real problem for all of us.

I appreciate any advice you can give!

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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 06:40 pm
Duct tape . . . i cannot stress too highly the virtues of duct tape . . . so you have a basement with poor lighting?
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 06:51 pm
Do you think I'll get arrested if I'm found out?

Because I'm pretty willing to try anything.

(Actually a few months in jail sounds downright relaxing.......)
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 06:53 pm
If the responding officers have toddlers, you'd likely never see the inside of a squad car.
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 06:56 pm
Let me think about it a few minutes and I'll return.

(In case the duct tape doesn't work) Shocked
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Green Witch
Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 07:26 pm
I can only relate how my good old Jewish grandmother used to deal with us kids. It was sort of a guilt and Socrates thing. If we "smart mouthed" her she would ask us (in a hushed voice) - Why would you say such a thing to me? Why would you be so cruel? Do you want to hurt me? Have I hurt you?
She would make this very sad face. Sometimes she would sit down and put her face in her hands - all very dramatic. She would continue: "What did I do to create such a rude child?" "Would you say such a thing to someone you loved?" "Surely you don't love me or you would not say such a thing". etc. No yelling, no cursing, and especially no violence. Just old fashioned Jewish guilt. Eventually the guilt would sink in deep and we would apologize. She would hug us and say something like "I knew my good little girl (or boy) would come back to me" and she would then give us something like a cookie. I don't recommend the cookie part. To this day after I have a verbal spat with someone I head to the kitchen.
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 07:33 pm
Ooooh, sass. Not a fan of sass. Sozlet has been getting into sass stage, especially when her friends are around. Yesterday it came up, I looked her in the eye and said, "Just because [her best friend] is here doesn't mean you can't get a time out." She held my gaze for a minute, saw I was serious, and took it down a notch.

So, yeah, time-out, not helpful.

One thing that might be helpful, might not, is that occasionally we have little clarification sessions of who is the mom and who is the kid and what that means. It's in those kinds of situations, when she is saying things that I have said but it's not OK for her to say them, which is outside the norm around here. (Usually everyone is supposed to adhere to the same rules.) Just that kind of thing -- mimicking a "mom" reaction. ("What on EARTH are you doing???")

So sometimes when that happens I just get into "OK we need to talk" mode (beckoning her over to someplace comfy, getting her on my lap, making sure we can see each other) and talk about how it's my job to be the mom and make sure she's OK (broad definition, maybe more specific according to the situation) and that it's her job to be the kid. Yadda yadda, I'm blanking on how I specifically explain that I can say things that she can't say. If I think of it I'll come back (just popped in here for a minute while doing other things and need to get back to the other things but this grabbed my interest.)

Curious about what squinney will say, she always has great ideas.
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 08:21 pm
You know, the "Jewish grandmother" approach might be good. It's big but in a quiet sort of way. I do know that when Mo has seen me in moments of true sadness that he has been affected. And the reward at the end is nice. Thank you, Green Witch, I may give that a try.

Soz, I find myself thinking that discerning "sass" might be hard for you but then it really is a lot about gesture and attitude!

I need to learn to get myself calmed down enough to consider an "I'm the mom..." kind of talk (and probably even to do a "Jewish grandmother").

I hate to admit this about myself but this sass stuff just sends me into orbit. Sending Mo to time out serves as much to give me a chance to calm myself as it does to "punish" him.

Maybe I need to send myself to a time out so I can get my wits together, do a "Jewish grandmother" then go to explaination, cuddle, cookie.

I too am looking forward to hearing what squinney has to say. She does come up with some creative solutions.
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 08:28 pm
Does lying go hand in hand with sass?

We've started having a smaller problem with lying at about the same time. Sometimes it's not really lying but a weird small distinction (I didn't get in the refridgerator, it was the freezer!)
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 08:41 pm
Boomerang, the best advice I can give you is to remember what your parents would have done if you were being sassy.

My mother would have grabbed me by the arm as tight as she could (oddly enough, she did the same thing for fear and concern, go figure...) and swirled me around so that I was forced to look into her eyes whereupon she would squish her face into all sorts of funny shapes and say in a quiet, but forced, voice through her teeth, "WHAT did you say?" or something more befitting of the situation. And, before I could answer, she would tell me never to do it again. Then, what seemed like hours later, she would disengage that frightful stare and walk away, obviously disappointed in me.

Edit: Haha, ooh...and now you're dealing with that irritating 'literal' stage. I can remember going through that. I would suggest just letting it slide on the petty things and really calling him out on more serious matters. I read a parenting article once and that sort of behavior is called "pulling the rope" or some other corny name...basically, when your child does that sort of taunting behavior, it's just to elicit a reaction out of you so that he can gain the upper hand (and probably in your case, get some much desired attention). Just remember that positive reinforcement is always, ALWAYS, better than negative attention.
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 09:06 pm
If I can see sozlet, I can usually understand her. And she usually knows enough to make sure I can see her before saying anything. But yeah, a lot of it is not just what she says but how she says it (I guess that's kind of the definition of sass). What I've been having a hard time with is when she acts like a 13-year-old in front of her friends (been happening more often lately, I know she got the idea from at least one friend). Minor things, mostly. But, like, I served the girls a snack, including some freshly washed grapes. Sozlet usually likes grapes. Her bf made some comment (I didn't see it) and then sozlet made a little "take it back" gesture to me and sneered, "these grapes are NASTY." Evil or Very Mad (That's when I got close and reminded her about time-outs, though it wasn't that bad in and of itself.)

Ummm, still thinking of solutions, still not coming up with much beyond a time-out.

I know just what Green Witch means, my grandma didn't do exactly that but I can so imagine her doing so. Guilt is a tricky one though, can be handled well especially with a big dose of humor but hard to pull off without creating landmines.

Something else I've done (also landmine-y) is that if she is acting annoying I'll just, like, go sit down with a book. She'll be like, hey, I was talking to you, and I'll say well, I'd rather talk to you when you're being civil. Then I read for a while either she goes off and plays for a while (which is fine) and then comes back when she's ready to be civil, or she changes her mind right away. Or she has a chicken fit. That one happens occasionally but if it does there's usually something else going on with her and so I do The Talk for that, too. ("Is something wrong? What's going on?") That seems to be another way of sending a message that what she's doing is unacceptable.
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Reply Thu 11 Aug, 2005 09:43 pm
Wow, the pressures on now!

I know how I handled it with each of mine. (Yes, this is a stage they all go through.) With my daughter I could speak to her about respect and let her know it hurt my feelings for her to talk to me like that, especially since I don't talk to her that way. Like sozlet, she would listen and soak it up.

With youngest cub, also a boy and most like Mo, I had to be more stern. I imagine Mo is like cub in that he rarely thinks ahead to consequences, has a fairly low tolerence for being still, and probably thinks he already knows what you are going to say so he probably doesn't really listen anyway.

So I've been trying to think like Mo. If I were Mo, what would make me stop sassing? What would bring it home quickly without duct tape or violence? What would get my attention and make me say "I don't like the results I get from sassing, so I need to stop."

What does he want when he sasses you? Is it usually associated with you having told him he couldn't have or do something? Have you just corrected him and that is his response back to you? Figure out when he does it and why.

For instance, if you tell him he can't have a cookie before dinner, and he sasses back "You aren't the boss of me!" you can extrapulate that he is feeling overpowered (powerless) and is trying to get some power from you through his words and tone.

With that knowledge you can change your response so that now the conversation goes:

"I want a cookie."

"Mmmm. a cookie sounds good to me too. I'm fixing dinner right now. Will you have a cookie with me after dinner?"

What's he gonna say? No?

And, you've given him the power to decide.

That's just one example. It's difficult to imagine all the possibilities, but if you can give me some feedback on when the sassing is likely to occur I'll think some more.

(I'm trying to think of scenarios and end up laughing at the idea of:

Boomer, "Pick your toys up so we can go to the store."

Mo, "No."

Boomer, "Then you can't go to the store. If you don't pick your toys up I won't take you to the store."


As a parent I'd be so shocked I'd probably start laughing, which is totally NOT the right response. I'd just be too surprised for any other reaction at the moment.)

BTW, from what you have said on A2K, Mo is extremely bright. I have a feeling some of what you are dealing with is a combination of his brightness and restlessness due to lack of intellectual challenges. I have a sneaking suspicion his little brain chugs along at such a speed that he will always be a step ahead of the rest of us.
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Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 07:53 am
Maybe try something like I do when my girls whine. I tell them, whining or crying will not work, say it like a big girl or something along those lines. They get rewarded when they speak politely or ask nicely. I tell them when they say these correctly (and in the correct tone) that is how a big girl talks or look at you, you know how ask nicely and make a big deal about it.

You could say something like, if something is bothering you, say it nicely. Then give him an example. Whenever he responds that way praise him.

Great idea sozobe - ignoring seems to work wonders. My girls thrive off attention so if they get to the stage where they are uncontrollable or so riled up. I will put them in their room and go else where - until the fussing ends, they get no attention. Almost verbatim what sozobe's says. I will talk with you when you can behave or stop yelling is usually my line.

One other thing that sometimes works better than time outs with my girls is to take away a toy or privilege. Say if you talk to me that way next time you cannot watch Dora today.

Squinney I have a girl like your little cub. You know what her response is if I asked about a cookie after dinner - she would say - No I want it now! Stubborn little monster.
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material girl
Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 08:21 am
Green Witchs idea was fabulous.

I was thinking, kids love to mimic adults(for some reason they want to be like grown ups)If they know it will annoy you they will do it more.
ALso I think they want a reaction/'fight' but to respond in a positive way would make a change and throw them,maybe make them think about what they are saying.
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Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 08:41 am
I like the idea of time out for Mom. It lets him know that you are upset about his behavior and do not want to get sucked into it.

Saying something like, "I need to go to me room for a few minutes because right now I don't think I could talk to you without becoming very angry. It hurts me when you talk to me that way and I need to calm down before we discuss this further."

Also, both the sassing and lying are very typical for 4 year olds. They have a talent for seeing truth as they wish it to be. I got a lot a valuable info from "Your Four Year Old", by Ames and Ilg (or Ames and Haber, I'm not sure which one co-authored this one).
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Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 09:10 am
I thought about the ignoring Mo or "time out" for Boomer, but I don't think that will work with Mo. He can't be ignored, nor can he be left alone while Boomer goes to her room.

Also, with the attachment disorder, this would reinforce to him that people leave him because he's bad.

I think a more direct approach needs to be taken. Something that deals with it on the spot, sternly but without requiring a lot of "talk." I don't see Mo listening to rationalizations or explanations or anything drawn out. You'll lose him but quick with a speech.

While the tactics mentioned would work with other children, and have worked with my own, I just see Mo needing a different approach to account for the other things going on with him.

Waiting for input on when it occurs and under what circumstances. Does he just think he's being cute in mocking? Or, does he think this is the proper response since that is what he's learned?
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Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 10:41 am
We had such a beautiful little period of calm right before all of this started that I'm thinking he was just plotting the whole thing out.

My mom handled it just like Individuals did -- it doesn't work with Mo. Actually, that seems to be how the whole thing starts boiling out of control.

And squinney's right -- you ignore Mo at your own peril.

The stupid thing about this is that it leads to this very unproductive circle of behavior between us. He starts with the sass, or sometimes just muttering at me and I feel myself shutting down. (I imagine it's a similar response one would have to anyone who is being verbally absuive.) The more I withdraw, the worse it gets. He continues to provoke until he gets a response. I hate to confess that my usual response it to wordlessly yank him up and put him in time out.

I KNOW I'm not handling this well.

And there doesn't seem to be any particular thing that triggers this stuff in him.

Just since I've started typing this response:

He comes in and starts muttering:

"You're a big stinking bully."

This is out of nowhere - we've been having fun all morning -- planning how to build a little fence in the yard to keep the dogs away from the tomatos, getting our tools together, that kind of stuff. We came in so that he could have breakfast before we got started. I was checking my mail and A2K while he ate.

Usually though, it happens when he's been reprimanded for something.... anything.... even just being asked why he did something... things that aren't that big a deal...

Here's like a typical situation:

Mo, you need to pick up those toys.
NO! You pick them up yourself.
Okay, if I pick them up you don't get them back.
Yes I do get them back! They're mine!
If you want to keep them, you need to pick them up
Don't you threaten me. You'll go to time out blah blah blah blah blah.....

Mo never whines or cries for things, he demands things:

Come outside with me.
Okay, Mo, it's going to be just a minute....
No. It's going to be a minute.
NOW! <muttering> You'd better stop it... I'm telling you..... you're not supposed to do that.

His responses and comments really don't even make sense to the situation.

No, I don't think he's doing it to be cute. He is an excellent mimic and will act out scenes and be characters from his favorite movies and shows. For instance - when when go to the grocery store he always has to wear one of the hand basket things on his head and pretend he is Calky from the Pee-Wee Herman show -- he's got Calky's mechanical stutter down pat. We get some strange looks but it is downright hilarous so we just have fun with it.
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Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 11:07 am
Doing it when you check in to A2k (turning attention away from him) seems to go towards wanting attention/ control of the situation.

I know what you mean about the circle/ feedback loop.

I like squinney's idea of trying to phrase things in a way that leads him towards a given response. Like, I dunno, "As soon as we finish picking up these toys we can [insert fun activity here]."


While it was kind of an aside, I think the Calky thing is one of the most important things you can do, being laid-back, positive and affirming. (I.e. not, in that situation, looking around anxiously and telling him to "behave".) (I know plenty of parents who would.)
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Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 11:19 am
Yes, soz. I do think it is a control, or manipulation thing that he's doing.

I threw in the Calky thing to show that he does know the difference in what kind of response different mimicing will produce.

I'm not sure where the "bully" stuff comes from, maybe Thomas the Train. The island of Sodor is populated with bullies.

He knows that some things are funny and some things are hurtful and he does seem to choose which response he wants to provoke.
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Devious Britches
Reply Fri 12 Aug, 2005 11:41 am
Oi I know what you mean. Mine is 7 and I have a 1, 2, and a 3 year old foster kids. The 3 year old could live in time out. It just doesn't work. I put him there and explain why he is ithere and then have him tell me why he is there after the time out. There is eye contact and all. He gets out of time out and I swear 1 min after he is doing that same thing again. He is driving me crazy. I don't think the guilt thing will work for him but it's worth a try. It may for my 7 year old I hope anyway. With foster kids there is very little you can do anyway other than time out so I find I have to become very creative. Haven't become that way as of yet. Good luck and if you come up with anything let me know.
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