The Positive Feedback Loop Of Crazy

One of the reasons I have this little blog is to recount the hilarity and insanity that is parenting my children, so we can all commiserate on how bizarre kids are and hopefully feel slightly more normal as we go about our day raising the future leaders of the planet.

I learned in school about the difference between a positive feedback loop and a negative feedback loop in the body (you may all know this – and if so, feel free to skip to the next paragraph). A negative feedback loop is when, in response to a stimulus that throws a system out of balance, a control center triggers an opposite reaction to return the body to normalcy (think of how a thermostat regulates temperature). A positive feedback loop is when, in response to a stimulus that throws a system out of balance, a control center triggers that exact same stimulus and amplifies the original stimulus. A great example of positive feedback is in response to a wound. The body senses a breach in defenses (open wound) and sends more blood to the area in an attempt to clot and close the breach. Which, if your body can clot the wound, works and closes the wound. If the body cannot – you simply send all of your blood to the breach and wah-lah – you go home to Jesus.

Life with a four year-old is much like this, I’ve determined. At least with my four year-old. Except it’s a positive feedback loop of crazy. She reacts to a stimulus by doing something crazy, and when that doesn’t work, she pours on more and more crazy until she explodes into a flaming ball of truly insane crazy.

Each time I request something of my child, she has to choose one of three options:

Option A – Comply with the completely reasonable request made by a parent who loves her (i.e. eat a meal, or take pain medication for the surgery you just had, or brush your teeth).

Option B –  Attempt to negotiate/manipulate/delay obedience by placing some absurd condition on obedience (i.e. “Mommy I’ll take ONE bite but then I want a popsicle” (no), or “I’ll only eat if you feed me” (no), or “I’ll only take the purple medicine, and only if I have a glass of water at 65 degrees in my Ariel cup, and am holding my favorite stuffed animal Eeyo while you give it to me” (takes forever and is crazy).

Option C – Melt down in a fit and have a completely disproportional emotional response to the request (i.e. stomping foot, screaming something crazy and dramatic like “I’ll NEVER take medicine, EVER!”, hitting, running out of room, talking back in disrespect). This response always ends in discipline of some sort.

So, all day long as my four year-old is presented with normal life choices, she has three options. Sane, normal, rational people would almost always choose option A. It’s easier, it takes less time, and since she knows somewhere in that head that her mommy loves her, it’s ultimately for her good.

But anyone raising a four year-old knows that sane and rational does not apply to the four year-old brain. So, our life is a series of our strong-willed little four year-old choosing to manipulate and delay obedience (option B), while inching closer to with every denial to a total meltdown fit (option C).

A positive feedback loop of crazy. Crazy added to more crazy until finally, a crazy meltdown.

It somehow never occurs to her in the heat of the moment that the end result of Option C is ALWAYS discipline, and that option C should be avoided. Despite how bright she is, somehow this eludes her. Sometimes 15 – 20 times a day she chooses Option C and after her discipline, each and every time, we discuss that the reason she is getting in trouble is that she chose to throw a fit, and yet somehow, 30 minutes later, she chooses the fit.

This is, as you can imagine, a tiring process. I am a (slight) control freak who wants badly to be a peacemaker, so it’s a constant mental battle for me to determine where to counter the crazy, and with how much force. My instinct (to offset the control freak part of me) is to allow some negotiation and compromise, but what we have recently learned is that this is feeding her choice to constantly negotiate and hold our family hostage by inching closer to a meltdown, so I have had to begin to be more insistent on her doing things without argument the first time. Until we can “reprogram” her to obey the first time, every time, we are in a very tiring process of reestablishing our authority.

This gets harder when the four year-old is sick, tired, or has consumed too much sugar.

So as you can imagine, when we have a child who has had surgery (sick), because she had sleep apnea (which made her perpetually tired), during Halloween week (the annual celebration of all things sugary) – our positive feedback loop of crazy was, well, monumentally CRAZY.

As parents, I know we all feel slightly better when we hear that other homes are in the same crazy condition as our home. It makes us feel (almost) normal. So when my sweet friend Holly shared this little video with me this week, I sighed a sigh of relief. The positive feedback loop of crazy isn’t exclusive to the Wells home. Yay! We’re normal!

So for all the people stuck with us in the positive feedback loop of crazy, I feel your pain, I empathize, and next time I see you, I’ll buy you a well-deserved glass of wine if you are so inclined. We will survive the four year-old drama, friends, and we will be victorious!

Of course, we’ll likely face it all again when they are teenagers (only amped up a couple dozen times) but that’s another blog for another decade.

(I know for a person who is not a parent, or who only parents angelic cherubs straight from the throneroom of Jesus, this may sound ridiculous. You may be thinking “This is a four year-old, how hard can it be?” or “I would not let this child walk all over me.” My answer to that would be a kind and gentle “Bless your heart”).

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