My child and the thank you notes of doom

I’m going to start writing posts about our general life here.  I’ve mostly avoided this type of stuff because of not wanting to be judged.  However, I’ve come to a point as a parent where I looked at my husband and said, “One of us needs to go to therapy.”  It is either me or the boy.  There are days when I think this is all in my head and that there must be something wrong with me.  Then I sit down and talk to my husband and realize that I’m not really crazy as I think I am.

Oleg’s birthday party was a few weeks ago.  I’m trying to teach my son about responsibility and gratitude.  I’m fairly certain that is what a parent is supposed to do.  In addition, we’re also working on a few language arts skills at home.  Thinks like reading and writing.  Oleg can read well for a 1st grader, but his writing skills are a little behind.  I thought thank you notes would be a good opportunity for him to practice his writing while learning about gratitude.  I remember being a kid and my mother asking me to write thank you notes.  I remember not liking to do them (I still don’t), but I thought if I make this a positive experience things might be different for him.

Earlier this week I talked with Oleg about writing thank you notes.  I picked up some at the store and when he got home from school that day his job was to sit down and write them.  There were 11 all together.  I wanted this to be more than just me writing the notes and him writing his name.  He has the name writing part down.  That day he worked on the first 4 notes.  There were complaints, crying and a lot of “I’m not good at this.”  We discussed practicing and not being perfect.  It was like pulling teeth, but he got the 4 to his friends finished.

On Wednesday his job was to do 3 of the remaining notes and then Thursday he would do the last 4.  He came inside of the house and instead of getting the notes out he grabbed his journal from his room.  I asked him what he was doing and he said he was writing in his journal.  I asked if that was what he was supposed to be doing and he told me no.  He said he was supposed to be writing his thank you notes, but he couldn’t find them.  I’m also trying desperately to teach him to think for himself.  Rather than ask where the notes were, knowing full well that he should be doing them, he kept writing in his journal.  I let him continue letting the scenario play out.  He knew that if he didn’t write 3 today he would have 7 to write tomorrow.

Yesterday rolls around and here is where the actual story begins.

Oleg got off the bus and he knew that we had to go to the store to pick up snacks for soccer.  I threw him for a loop and said that we had to get cat food (different store) and run by the bank.  Miracle of miracles… he was fine with that.  He then said, “and when we get home I have to do my thank you notes.”  Yep.  Good job buddy.

We ran our errands.  We have a lovely time.  He helped me make decisions, we did math problems in the car, he was well behaved, he said, “IF I finish my thank you notes in time I can play with my friends before soccer (he knew what he had to do), he looked at me in the grocery store and said, “I love you mommy.”  It was fantastic.

When we got home I had laid out his thank you notes and the list of notes to write.  Earlier I took time to rewrite the list into the best legible teacher-esque handwriting I could muster.  He sat down to write and got the first one done.  I had to remind him that he needed to do more than just write the giver’s name and the gift, but also needed to write thank you.  Ok.  He moved on to note number 2.  This is where things went rapidly down hill.  He started to complain that he couldn’t read my handwriting.  He started to complain that he couldn’t write an upper case G.  I gathered my anti-crabby strength and tried to talk him off the ledge.  It only made the situation worse.  He argued.  He cried.  He whined.  He yelled at me.  I looked at him and calmly said, “I don’t care to talk to you when you treat me like that,” and I went in my room and closed the door.  From there I could hear the crying and yelling get worse.  “I’m a terrible note writer!”  “I can’t do this!”  Over and over and over.

I didn’t want him to end up like me with bad associations with note writing.  I went out to talk to him about not giving up and practicing.  He argued with me about the most miniscule little things.  He couldn’t speak to me without whining.  I once again walked away.  I could hear him crying and yelling again.  “I can’t do this.”  “I don’t know what letter I’m on.”  “I’m a terrible note writer.”  “I don’t like our new table*.”  “Our old table was beautiful.”  “I feel like I’m in trouble.”  Then I could hear something in between the cries.  Then he got quiet and wasn’t crying any more.  I went out to see what was going on.  I could hear the music coming from his rocking chair.  I found him sitting in it.  I asked why he was sitting there.  He said it was because he thought he was in trouble.  I told him I didn’t put him there.  He got up to sit at the table to resume the note writing… and the crying about the upper case G.

I flipped out.  Probably not the best thing I could have done.  I sat down on the kitchen floor and sobbed.  It has been 4 straight weeks of being yelled at, screamed at, cried at, argued with and whined at.  Every day.  Every. last. day.  I couldn’t do it anymore.  I cried.  And cried.  And cried.

Eventually he and I got around to a conversation about that this can’t keep happening.  He begrudgingly apologized.  He did that yesterday.  He did it the day before and the day before that.  Every day he apologizes and says he’s not going to whine and cry at me yet he turns around and does it the following day.  Yesterday it was because he couldn’t write an upper case G.  The day before it was because he dropped an egg.  The day before that it was about the thank you notes, the day before that it was about cleaning his room.

These stories are mostly so I remember.  With every instance there is something that comes up that is totally “irrational.”  Or at least something that doesn’t go with the rest of the problem.  With this story it started with writing the G, but he didn’t like the dining room table and at one point told me he didn’t like that daddy wasn’t home (Derek has been traveling a lot for work).  The “irrational” moments are what these arguments are about.  I need to remember these so if (and or) when we do take him to a therapist we can see where the issue is.

For now we think we have a plan.


I recently refinished Derek’s Great Grandparent’s drop-leaf dining table and it is our new dining room table.

6 Comment

  1. Tricia says: Reply

    Are we sure our children are not siblings? Last night we had an argument about capital letters (“I don’t know how to make a capital G” … Yes, I think we fought about “G” too), and putting a title on the top line of the paper (as instructed in the homework, “I don’t know how to underline!”). We’ve also had fights about putting periods at the end of a sentence (“I don’t know how!”) and many other fun nights.

    I have been stopping homework, and going back to 1,2,3 and timeouts.

  2. Wendy says: Reply

    Wait, when did you put cameras in my house to spy on me? You have just described Seth to a T. He even used to put himself in timeout and refuse to come out and the issues were always illogical and out of the blue. I have seen improvements lately (I probably just jinxed us) after we started ABA therapy. ABA is an intense, hands-on behavior modification therapy. Seth spends 2 hours a week, one-on-one, with a therapist. She is training his ability to work independently, to judge emotions by facial expressions (he has zero ability to read expressions)and to think through a situation and make his own good decisions. I found this type of therapy associated with a school for autism. It has only recently been applied to kids with other issues, but the other approaches we had tried had only gotten us so far.
    The final straw was the screaming at me for no reason. That totally pushed me over the edge. I had to try something. Besides, the two hours of attention he receives make him feel special. He really enjoys all of it.

    Good luck!

  3. Alicia says: Reply

    OMG it does make a momma (or dada) insane! I’m so glad the eldest is to the point of stomping off to her room now when she’s upset. The Boy screams, pushes things over, throws things, etc. Over having to write four sentences of homework because he hates reading and sucks at writing and blah blah blah. (Which is not true, it just frustrates him because it’s not as interesting as Star Wars.) Then the it blows over and all is happy hunky dory, until the next thing. He is getting more rational with each year, but oh my gosh the screaming. Ugh. *hugs honey*

  4. Lea says: Reply

    Yep; this could have been my house too (for one of my sons – N). But then, he probably would have been doing good to get 2 cards written in one sitting. 4 would have been overwhelming for him. He still throws big fits at times, including throwing things, screaming, hitting, knocking over a kitchen chair, etc. He is quick to anger. I started doing holding time with him quite a while back and he is definitely improving now. He is easily frustrated (at times), which results in the angry fits (at times). He is improving but I am still very helpful that we will see much more improvement soon. He will turn 6 this week.

    We have seen a counselor a few times. She is a good listener and basically tells us to hang in there, we are doing the right things and he will improve with age.

  5. This is an interesting article! I have a 3mo old daughter, and I know I will be feeling like this some days. It’s encouraging to know that other mothers struggle and become frustrated. I know I do!


  6. renee martens says: Reply

    My thoughts are when things get really rough… to the point of breaking… leave the room. Whining children push us. Headphones on… breath deeply… at least till YOU are under control. As long as it takes. You’s a good mama Lisa!

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