15 years ago, when I was interviewing for teaching positions, I was often asked what method of discipline I would use in my classroom. My response was that I didn't subscribe to just one method of discipline, but rather had a bucketful of ideas. I felt that each student and each situation might call for a different method, so I became knowledgeable about them all and and applied them as needed. My future employers must have liked my response because (in a market where there were 75 applicants for each job) they offered me the job.
I apply the same approach to discipline now that I'm a mother. More and more, I am recognizing the importance of applying the same principle, a bucketful of ideas, to N as he recovers from the anorexia. N's therapist started the idea. He called it a tool box.
This morning, N lapsed into some of his worst anorexic behaviors. He spent 2+ hours trying to choose a shirt, comb his hair, get out of the car, etc. Each new step in the process reset the anorexic behaviors again and I would have to start over -- trying to convince him that he would be okay, trying to help him find a shirt, and trying to get him out of the car and into the school. I found myself mentally scrolling through the different strategies that we've used to help him in similar situations. I realized that I had developed a bucketful of ideas for use with N. N often struggles most in the morning and late at night. We've had these same issues a million times, it seems, before. But some of the strategies only worked once. Other strategies have been used too many times and don't work any more.
Here are some of the contents of my Bucketful of Ideas.
Encouragement - This didn't work at all this morning. But sometimes, just expressing our belief in him helps N to pull through the current struggle.
Time - Sometimes N can work things out on his own, if I leave him alone and he has some time to think.
Calm-Down Time - This is different than "time" as listed above. Sometimes I have to send him to his room for "calm down time." It's kind of like a time-out -- but the purpose is not punishment. I usually use this idea when he is starting to get out of control (hitting, yelling, pushing, etc.).
Talking - I've tried to talk him through what is happening, to acknowledge the struggles and discuss what we can do to help him in that moment.
Listening - This is different than talking. Sometimes N just needs to talk. He doesn't need or even want me to say anything. He'll usually feel a lot better once he just gets everything out.
Hugs - We apply this to almost every situation. I'll hug him while he cries.
Lecturing - I try to not do this very often. Every once in a while, I can see that N is mostly just having bad behaviour. I'll just remind him of our rules and expectations.
Music - Music seems to help him calm down. N also recovers more quickly if he plays his guitar for a while.
Distraction - We use tv, video games, books, basketball, family discussions, and daily life as a distraction. Sometimes nothing will distract him. Sometimes all he wants to do is be distracted (like this morning he wanted to read instead of going to school). I try to not let him use distraction as denial.
Prayer - N has found inner peace and personal revelation about the anorexia when he has prayed for guidance.
Phone Call - Sometimes if N calls dad, Dad will say something that turns N around.
Write - N has a blog and a personal journal. He doesn't use this outlet much, but there have been a few times when writing down his feelings has helped.
Persistence - I just have to keep working with him and helping him through these hard moments.
Humor - Ultimately, this is what worked this morning. Really, this is my husband's talent. I had cycled through the whole bucketful of ideas this morning and couldn't get my husband on the phone (bad snowstorm). I found myself asking, what would T do? I knew it would be humor -- but I wasn't sure I could pull it off. It takes a lot of energy to find humor in anorexic situations. But I did it. I can't even remember what I said. But N laughed. And once he laughed, his whole approach to the morning changed.