I imagine a similar scene has been playing out all over the country lately, as kids return to school and spend their days trying to manage new environments with new people who have new agendas, but have not yet established new predictable routines. This time of year is exhausting for Bud and though he's been making a smooth transition to school, it's taking everything he has. By the time he got to me late this afternoon, he had exhausted his reserves. The poor kid was just a big jumbled mess of reaction and emotion and dysregulation.
You can probably imagine the behavior that typically results from reaction and emotion and dysregulation - and it played out just that way. As it did, I tried to be clear about expectations and boundaries and consequences, but, despite that, Bud kept pushing until, ultimately, he pushed too far.
When the consequences I'd promised finally ensued, Bud's emotional dysregulation escalated and his emotion ran even higher. I tried to stay even, recognizing that the more he escalated, the more I needed to be consistent. We spent a lot of time and he shed a lot of tears, but eventually, he accepted the reality of the situation and settled into it.
At about that time, he called his dad. I only heard Bud's side of the conversation, but I could surmise what was happening on the other end, as his dad tried to assess the situation, seize the teachable moment, and affirm that the consequences were warranted and fair. But, what I heard from Bud was this:
"I lost my computer today."
pause to listen to dad
"Well... because I made a bad choice."
"I hit Mom."
"I'm going to be nice to her from now on."
Bud and his dad continued to process the events of the afternoon, while I sat at the table slack-jawed, deconstructing what I'd just heard him say.
First: "I lost my computer today."
He didn't say "Mom took my computer" - which really would have meant "I am a victim of circumstance" or "A terrible injustice has been done to me."
No. He said, "I lost my computer today." In other words, he said, "I am responsible for what happened today." He said, "I did something that caused something else to happen."
In this story, as Bud told it, the main character, the subject, the one who owned the action, was Bud himself.
Then: "I made a bad choice."
He didn't say "I was bad." He didn't internalize the action and allow it to chip away at his sense of self. He isolated the event, framing it not as who he is, but simply as what he did.
But it was even more than that. He didn't say, as I've often heard him say, "I did a wrong thing." He took it a step further and acknowledged that as the event unfolded, he had choices. He acknowledged that he didn't make the best choice and that he could have made a different one.
Then: "I hit Mom."
Bingo. In three words, he acknowledged that he knew exactly what caused him to lose his computer - exactly where the line was - exactly when he made the wrong choice.
And finally: "I'm going to be nice to her from now on."
In other words, "I know what the other choices look like." "I know that I have another chance to make a different choice." "I know that our relationship will remain intact."
By the time Bud went to bed, he was no longer talking about his computer. He was reading books and going through his normal nighttime routine, complete with cuddling and kisses, and completely devoid of hard feelings.
He understands why things unfolded the way they did today. He trusts that he will get his computer back, as promised, tomorrow. He knows how to avoid a similar situation in the future.
It was a hard afternoon for Bud and me. I know Bud struggled without his beloved computer. I know that it was a hard and meaningful loss to him.
But it sure felt like an educational, developmental, milestone-marking win to me.