A couple of days ago, my son was acting out, which is the nice way of saying he was being a total jerk to everyone around him. His manners had flown out the window. He was blaming everyone around him for what was going wrong, and he kept accusing his little brother of punching him (truth be told: they were punching each other equally, which is pretty much always the case and definitely not something I am fond of).
At first, I switched on my most patient, but stern mommy persona. I urged him to take some space and calm down in his room, so that we could talk about whatever was bothering him without all the added rage that he was bringing to the table. I even offered to come sit with him to help him relax. Of course, he denied that he was upset to begin with and said that I was the problem here (the tween years are fun, ya’ll).
I told him I wouldn’t be able to talk to him or do much of anything with him until he started speaking more respectfully to those around him. And when he snapped at his brother at few minutes later, making him cry, I told my son that he’d lost his video game privileges for that day.
That put the lid on it for the rest of the day, but he continued to act out for a few more days. And even though I’ve been doing this parenting thing for over 10 years, as per usual, I started to question whether I knew what the heck I was doing. Was I being strict enough? Maybe I was being too strict? Was something wrong with him? Or me?
But then, in the middle of a rough couple of days, my son came into my bedroom, where I was trying get some work done on my computer. I was ready to kick him out because my work hours are precious and few, but he said, “I just want to lie down near you.”
Holy moly. When your moody tween says that, you oblige. So I let him lie there with me. I showed him the article I was editing, even asked him for a little input. And then, when I was done, we just hung out and talked. I got under the blanket and gave him a few cuddles. He mostly ranted on and on about video games, but then he talked about school, life, and all that. Nothing remarkable, nothing earth-shattering, but it was truly sweet and lovely to feel connected to him again.
And I bet you can guess what happened. After that half hour of undivided attention, his behavior improved pretty dramatically. And not just for that day — the whole rest of the week was better. Most of the sass and misbehavior had just vanished.
I’m not sure why my son needed this extra attention. It wasn’t a particularly stressful week at home, and I couldn’t figure out if anything in particular was bothering him at school or with his friends. But whatever was causing the problem, this proved to be the solution.
This isn’t the first time that the answer to a behavioral problem for one of my kids was as simple as spending some real, quality one-on-one time together — some time to remember what the core of our relationship is; some time to say, “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I see you, and I’m here.”
I always forget this little tactic, because usually I’m trying to address the behavior issue I see right in front of my eyes. Of course, misbehavior — especially if it’s hurting someone or is just plain cruel — needs to be addressed right away. But if normal discipline tactics aren’t working, and your child seems to be stuck in a loop of acting out, spending some quality one-on-one time just may well be the golden ticket out of the funk you and your child are stuck in. At the very least, it will help smooth the edges.
Disciplining kids is so damn hard. I don’t profess to have all the answers, not by any means. And what works for me may not work for you or your child. I honestly feel like I’m usually just making it up as I go along. But I will say that taking some time out of my day to reconnect with my kids when they are misbehaving often makes us both feel much better. If it doesn’t solve the problem, it makes us feel more calm and able to work through it more efficiently.
And the extra snuggles with the kid who is growing up faster than you can keep up with is a damn good added bonus.