When I had kids of my own, that wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I also wasn’t prepared for my kids to constantly challenge everything I said. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t make my (and their) lives easier by listening to me.
Because that’s not the way it works, that’s why.
Kids have minds, thoughts, feelings, and emotions of their own. Oftentimes adults feel like kids shouldn’t get upset about something as small as not being able to eat with the pink fork, and we don’t always handle it well when our kids start melting down for these crazy reasons.
I mean, I’ve had seventeen years’ experience with my kids and I still get flustered when they act in a way I don’t understand or think they should. I’m sad to say it took me until they were a lot older, and could really tell me how they were feeling, that I began to understand that kids’ behavior is often a reaction to their inner emotions. I know it seems like ‘duh lady!’ but it’s not as easy to see when you’re buried in the trenches of motherhood.
Once when my daughter was really upset about a friend problem at school, she got really sassy with me. She was storming around the house, didn’t want to do her chores, and instead of taking the time to check in and see what was wrong, my first reaction was to punish her by taking her phone away. I didn’t appreciate her attitude, and I wanted her to do her damn chores, and I didn’t think about why she may be acting out of sorts.
I certainly will not be getting the Mom-Of-The-Year award anytime soon, that’s for damn sure. But, we are all learning here, right?
Since the time they were young, when they acted up, my gut told me to fix the problem by either giving in, or punishing them. I think many parents react this way. Who doesn’t want their toddler who is tantrumming in Target — because they can’t have a damn cookie — to shut the hell up?
But what if I told you I read an article that totally changed (and blew) my mind about how we treat the situation when kids are being “difficult”?
News flash: It doesn’t involve giving in or punishment.
Meghan Leahy is a parenting coach who penned an article for Working Mother with the title “The Discipline Strategy That Stops Tantrums And Bossy Behavior In Its Tracks” — and I think it’s a must-read for every parent.
Leahy explains when we pay attention to, and acknowledge, our children’s emotions and let them know we understand how something is making them feel, that’s sometimes all it take to get to the root of the problem and solve for the frustrating behaviors.
“The easiest and simplest way to tap into your child’s emotional life and begin to unspool their need to bully is to begin a sentence with, ‘It sounds like…” or ‘It sounds like you feel…’and insert any feeling word that seems to fill the bill. The beautiful thing about children is that they are happy to correct you when you are wrong about their emotions,” says Leahy.
If we stick to our guns and talk to them without giving a consequence or giving into them, we are showing compassion and understanding while letting them know life will not always hand them what they want, and they will still be okay. It’s okay for them to be mad, sad, frustrated, tired. Those are emotion that happen to adults too, and we wouldn’t want someone to punish us for them.
It’s excruciating, annoying, and sometimes embarrassing when our children cry, or get angry when they don’t get what they want. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the hardest (and most exhausting) things about parenting, which is why we talk about it so much.
Leahy explains that when we feel like we have lost control and just want the behavior to stop (I’ve been there practically every day since becoming a mom) and “we chronically drop our boundaries, the child becomes increasingly insecure due to the flip in the roles of who should have the power in the family.”
After reading this, I was able to think of many examples where I’d done the “wrong” thing by dropping the boundaries I had set, and giving into whatever my child was demanding, so we could move on with our day.
But as I reflected back, I was also able to remember a time when I had put these thoughts into action.
My son wore diapers until he was four and potty training was a huge fight with him. He never wanted to take the time away from playing to have me change a soiled diaper. One afternoon at the beach, he had a blowout that was up his back and I had to pin down his tantrumming body and change that nasty mess because he refused to stay still and wanted to run off.
He cried and kicked and screamed and I told him I knew he didn’t like it and he was frustrated because he was missing out and that must be hard. I told him I would try to clean him up a quickly as possible, so he could go back to playing with his new friends.
After the tantrum and diaper changing was over, he came to me with big crocodile tears in his eyes and told me he was sorry, and that he just liked going potty in his diaper.
That night though, he pooped in the potty on his own, and that diaper I changed on the beach was the last one I changed. He realized he had to make some changes if he wanted more bodily autonomy and uninterrupted playtime, and he did.
Believe me, I didn’t want to force my kid to go through a diaper change and I definitely didn’t want to deal with a tantrum — but you can’t just let a kid wander around smeared with crap up their back, so I didn’t have the choice to give in to him at that moment. And I’m glad, because as it turned out, simply acknowledging, and validating, his emotions that day was like the magic key. He felt seen and heard, and that made him feel empowered to make his own choices.
This trick makes so much sense when you think about it. This is what adults want from our relationships too. And if it lessens the tantrums, questionable behavior, and lets our kids know there are boundaries we won’t be willing to drop, it’s a win-win for everyone.