Last night, I caught myself falling into old patterns with Nathan. He's always had a tendency to the dramatic, so I've tried to discourage him from grand gestures of self-punishment (I won't watch the movie and then you'll be sorry kind of thing).
We were finishing up the bedtime routine and Nathan had been increasingly agitated during his shower. Dave got frustrated and told Nathan to dry himself. Nathan got upset, saying he didn't know how to do it (not true, but his perfectionism anxiety can come up when he's stressed). Dave explained: take the towel, rub it on the wet spot until your skin is dry, repeat until there's no more wet spots.
Nathan responded: But what if the dog is wet?
This is the point where we both lost our tempers somewhat. Dave left and I scolded Nathan. I told him that this is why it was hard for us to teach him things and trust him when he asked questions, because when he asked pointless questions like the dog one, it showed us that he wasn't interested in our answers, only in wasting our time and delaying what needed to be done. (Not my finest parenting moment, but could have been worse.)
Nathan stomped off to his room to get his pajamas and then shouted that he wasn't going to see a Text From Superheroes because he didn't deserve it. (He had already been told that we couldn't do a video because he'd taken so long in coming upstairs for bed and getting ready for his shower.)
This was where a red flag went off in my head. While I still think there was an element of wanting to delay bedtime, this was also an expression of self-harm. Nathan was punishing himself for having caused us to lose our tempers (re-affirming the negative thoughts in his head that he is not a good kid).
So we sat down for a chat, which was hard because I was still angry at his delays. I needed to unpick the delaying tactics from the self-harm stuff. I'm not sure if I managed it, but this was what I tried:
I talked about how cooperation is a sign of respect and how lots of joking around can make people feel disrespected and then angry. I made him tell me why he had asked the question about the dog. I'm not sure if I believe his ultimate response (trying to make a joke) since it was preceded by an attempt to make me believe the dog's level of wetness was of crucial concern and an integral part of the post-shower process, as well as a lot of shouting about how I was just mean and didn't want him to ever have any fun. I pushed him to recognize the "I don't deserve it" as both irrelevant and a lie. People don't get nice things because they deserve or don't deserve them, they get them because that's part of how families, friends and society works. We forgive each other for not being perfect all the time and for making mistakes, even if those mistakes hurt us, because we need everyone else to understand and forgive when we make mistakes. And making a mistake or telling a joke that wasn't funny isn't something worthy of punishment. Grown ups, even professional comedians, do that all the time and as long as they can understand and apologize, then we accept that it was a mistake and move on. It only becomes a problem when the person who made the mistake tries to insist that everyone else's feelings are wrong and stupid.
I probably could have done better but as an off-the-cuff parenting performance, I think it was reasonable.