Thursday, June 26, 2014


Here’s a spectrum for you: a Sneaky Spectrum.

On one end we have G, who does stuff like shouting “Don’t look! I’m changing!” when doing a changing-inside-towel thinger at the beach. As you might imagine, he’s not much of a sneaker. His sneaking is always cartoonish and ridiculous – stomping down the stairs on his tiptoes with a sheepish expression on his face as he tries to sneak a granola bar after bedtime, spitting his greens into the toilet then forgetting to flush

My father told me when I was very young that I was a bad liar and I’ve pretty much not lied since. That was a pretty good teaching. He also tried to teach me to be subtle and ladylike. Which did not work. Both of which – not lying, not being subtle (subtlety usually reads to me as manipulative) – now totally make sense in my corner of the spectrum.

At the other end of the Sneaky Spectrum, we have Z, who is a Master Sneak. And it scares me because I have no idea how to deal with it.

Here’s an example: WADS. One of Z’s special habits is making little balls of chewed up paper with water and spit. She likes to take them in and out of her mouth, and store them for long periods of time. This results in a reeking, festering mess; and, in her mother here, a mixture of exasperation, disgust and compassion. Obviously, wads fulfill a deep need in my daughter, whether for oral sensory seeking or something more emo-, and orphanage-related. But…I need to help her fulfill that particular need in a healthier way.

So I tried Solution 1: No Water in the Bedroom. This did not work, as Z is worlds above me in the Sneak Department. She found a myriad of ways to sneak water into her room and create wads. Stashing water in the containers of “beauty products” I gave her so she wouldn’t eat mine…a tiny doll’s mug under the bed with murky, saliva-y water…wads hidden wrapped in non-masticated tissues next to her bed “in case she needed to blow her nose”…

Over years, we’d have the talk – “Please don’t chew up paper and leave it in your room. It’s not healthy because the wads get full of germs and smell bad too.  If you need food or a drink I will give them to you…” OR “You may NOT have water in your room!” – and a few days (or weeks) later I would find a glass (or another vessel) of water and an (increasingly tiny) container full of paper/water/spit wads.


The mildly unsanitary aspect of the wads gets to me less than the sneaking. The worst part is feeling that I am somehow helping her to become a Master Sneak.

Telling Z not to do something just doesn’t work. (Lest you forget that this is a Full Spectrum we are working with, telling G not to do something doesn’t always work either. But he’s – I was going to say more sanitary, but no – less potentially dangerous in his efforts.)

Like many children with attachment disorders, Z has a deep underlying need for control. I can wear myself out supervising her every moment, but we are already almost there. And I need to help her learn healthy habits and heal her attachment disordered behavior, rather than training her to stay one step ahead of The Law.

I’ve long known I need to do something indirect, something subtle in this, the Matter of the Wads. Unfortunately, my brain just does not work that way!

Meanwhile, over the years, my early bird G spends his mornings reading; early bird Z seems to spend them making wads.

Until now!

Solution 2: After years of worrying about the implications of Z alone in her room with needles and scissors, I finally gave her a whole bunch of sewing and weaving stuff to play with at her own discretion.

I noticed a few weeks after the crafty gifts that these activities seem to have worked to channel/redirect her wad-making energy, indirectly and subtly!

This was so indirect and subtle I didn’t even know I was doing it.

Anyway: Huzzah!

Fingers crossed on the sharps.

Full Spectrum Mama


  1. I disagree with much (most?) of what Paul is quoted to have said in the Bible but I've long been intrigued with Romans 7: 19 "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." This is a mature adult confessing to something I believe is a problem for most of us. Once when I was a principal a 1st grader stopped me as I was making my rounds and said, "I feel like I'm going to do something I don't want to do. Can you help me." I sat down and just held him while he cried a little. Then I asked him how I might help him do what he wants? He said, "I feel better now." Ask the kids how you might help them with various problems. It might not be the panacea but they also might have a better idea than either Mom, Pop, a Principal or a shrink.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thank you so much for your wise comment! It's a great reference and terrific idea. I totally agree.
      My only caveat : often with children with attachment disorders the feeling that the parent doesn't know the answer is a big trigger, making that child feel out of control. Thus, sometimes, behaviors can actually degenerate further.
      Going on what you said, I think a solution for an attachment-disordered situation might involve conveying stable omniscience whilst encouraging free expression? Or something!
      Love and thanks,

  2. I had not thought about that possibility. I do believe you can have your cake and eat it to. Once the child shares her or his suggestion you can say, "I'm glad to see we're on the same wave length" or "I respect your opinion but it's best to..." The points I was trying to make is that the possibility exists a child understand herself better than we do and empowering them a little at a time moves them toward the time when we will no longer be around. It appears to me if we are seen with all the answers and are either absent or failing miserably in time our voice will be discarded.

    1. As Usual, dear Anonymous, your suggestions are perfect!
      Scripts can be very helpful and these sound like they might really work...for the next incarnation of Wads.
      Many thanks,

  3. I don't know if it correlates, but when my step son was young it took a lot of effort to convince him he could trust me. Part of it was that his mother the "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all" category. Her mode of discipline tended to involve extreme threats and unpredictable enforcement. In short, he learned to sneak and he got pretty good at it. He also lacked discernment, like most kids did. He didn't know what would be a big deal and what wouldn't and it was different over here than it was over there, which complicated things. He also learned distrust of authority figures, like police officers, and applied it to parental authority, too.

    Anyway, the point is that we got over most of these hang-ups, at least to some degree. I told him, "You'll always get in less trouble if you tell the truth than if you lie." (Lying included sneaking.) I reinforced this message at every opportunity. When I caught him, I would remind him that if he'd just told me, then it we could have dealt with it without a punishment. When he did come to me, there was either no punishment or a lessened punishment. Usually it would be a "problem solving" lesson/exercise where we would work together to come up with a good solution to whatever the situation was.

    He's a crafty one, so I never really learned whether or not my strategy was working. Until something that was definitely a big deal happened. I'm not going to go into details, but someone accused him of doing something terrible and his mother "punished" him for it and "banished" him to our house. It didn't seem right to me. I spent hours talking to him that night. Finally, when Mark was at work and the little boys were asleep, he told me what really happened. Not only had he not done anything wrong, but he had been the victim. What others wanted to sweep under the rug, I ended up calling the police about and the other kid went to jail.

    It's hard to earn someone's trust when that person has learned that trusting others is dangerous, especially as a caregiver when caregivers have been untrustworthy in the past. But it's important to establish that trust and to reinforce the authority of the caregiver (always maintaining the respect that the little person involved is a person) with the little things, so that it's there and in place for the big things. Every child needs someone -- an adult, preferably a parent -- that they can tell anything to, no matter how bad it is or how bad it seems, because the trust is there.

    1. Dear Stephanie,
      Thank you for this incredibly insightful comment. Your honesty is generous and helpful.
      As I read, your ongoing story reinforced one aspect of this sort of situation which is the repetition, the reinforcement over can be grueling - and, as you hint, you're never 100% sure it's working! I hope it really has for the two of you and your family.
      Trust is perhaps the most important thing in life, along with hope. I know what it's like to feel neither, and I am determined my child have better.
      Thanks for the suggestions and the empathy,

    2. You are very welcome. It does take repetition and reinforcement and it is grueling. But, on the other hand, picking up the pieces after a life has fallen apart is harder. Prevention is the better choice.

    3. Well said! I am always grateful for PERSPECTIVE :)


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