I like to think I’m an attentive mom. I play with trains and Legos. I construct blanket forts and prepare enough snacks to feed an army. When my son’s pants become highwaters, I purchase new ones, and I ensure that artwork brought home from school gets displayed on the refrigerator for all to admire. I am present and I pay attention.
Or so I thought.
December was a crazy month. That’s a given. We actually spent a lot of time as a family, doing fun things and my husband and I wrote off our children’s unruly behavior as a combination of excitement, late nights, and schedule change.
Then we all got sick and everybody was in some form of recovery: grumpy, sleepy, ornery…you get the picture. It wasn’t until a week or two into January that I noticed a distinct change in my younger son. He was STILL grumpy and ornery. He STILL wasn’t sleeping. He didn’t want to go to school, he didn’t want to do the things that usually made him happy (Except play with trains. Let it be known, people, that if that EVER happens, the Apocalypse is upon us).
And since it wasn’t an overnight change, his shift in behavior sparked annoyance in mine. Why are you up again? You already peed 50 times! No more milk. Stay in your bed! You have to go to school to learn. Mommies and Daddies can get in trouble if they don’t send their children to school. No more whining: Use a four-year-old voice.
This former school counselor needed a lesson in empathy.
But before I could begin to look into his woes, my older son started getting notes home from school. He was not listening, he was being silly. He wasn’t taking his work seriously.
Well, kids, at this point in time, if I had been working at a school and a teacher presented either of these children to me, I’d be looking for a change in home life. Are parents arguing? Was there a death in the family? Have they moved? What has rocked their little worlds and caused them to act out? And that was the most baffling part! Aside from what I consider the typical adjustment from winter break to our regular routine NOTHING HAD CHANGED.
My Mom once told me when Max was very small that one of the greatest frustrations and ironies of motherhood – parenthood, really – is that once you finally have something figured out, your kid will go ahead and change again. You finally have a great feeding schedule, and then your son drops his morning nap and wants to eat earlier. You have perfected the way they want their hot dogs cut and then they don’t like hot dogs any more. Playing outside is so fun and exciting and now we’re scared of raindrops. Wait…what? It’s truly mind-boggling and can lend itself to the questioning of one’s sanity.
My boys were going through a change, and they needed me to be their constant. As much as our children develop and grow at the speed of light, they need routine and they need predictability. It provides them with a sense of safety; and, believe it or not, allows them to be brave enough to try new things and explore their world. We as parents are a beacon so that if something seems too scary, or doesn’t work out as anticipated, our littles can always return to us, and we can provide comfort and reassurance that it will be okay, and give them the confidence to try again.
At this particular time in Max and Quint’s lives, they needed me to set their shifting worlds aright. There is a quote by L.R. Knost that says, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.” They needed me to cover them in the same Grace that I had given myself, and actually see them and their struggles. I needed to be a welcome place of comfort and love; not a squawking dictator.
Their actions were shouting, “Look at me, Mommy!” “See ME, Mommy!” and all I could see where the consequences of their dire need for my compassion…my support.
No matter how educated or studied one is in behavioral psychology sometimes we just DON’T KNOW WHY people – kids in this instance – act the way they do. And heaven forbid you ask them, “Why did you do that?” because you know (and I know) half the time they cannot give you a straight answer if their lives depended on it.
Regardless of that fact, please take note: All behavior is a form of communication. We can’t always tell you why but we know it means something. My 4 and 6-year-olds have a great vocabulary, but I highly doubt that Quint will take my hand and sit me on the couch to say, “Mother, I’m having a tough time lately, so if you could kindly provide some extra snuggles, and give me some one-on-one time this evening, that would be spectacular.”
He will throw his trains against the wall or break his popcorn into tiny bits and sprinkle it all over the floor instead of eating it (all while laughing maniacally).
See ME, Mommy. Look at ME.
There are fewer things that get my attention faster than flying toys and a food mess, for the record. Impending injury is one, but like I said: fewer things.
My husband and I had a pow-wow and we decided that we had to take action. Our kids needed us and their behavior was screaming for a change in how things were happening in our home.
And there began the re-institution of Special Time. I think this name is just “special” in itself, but I didn’t come up with it so…moving along. Long story short, Max and I went through a counseling program last year to better help us deal with his undesirable behavior. Our counselor introduced the concept of Special Time as a part of this program, which we utilized with great fidelity throughout our counseling and for the months thereafter. She had said that should Max’s behavior return, it would most likely mean that he is craving a closeness with us and we needed to establish that bond again.
Had we done anything wrong? No. We played with our kids. We had fun. Somehow both boys had entered a period of their lives in which they needed more. They needed all of us. Not a side glance to see their latest trick on the bike while we chat with our friends. Not a car ride to soccer to be cheered from the sidelines. Certainly not a “just one minute” while we sneak a look at Facebook (Except when you’re reading this…because it’s educational). They needed ALL of us.
So every night after dinner, we’d leave the food, we’d leave the dishes, and we’d divide up and we’d play. There are several rules of S.T. but one is that the child chooses what to do (can’t be anything violent) and you play with them. Not half-heartedly alongside them, or folding your laundry and nodding your head, you are IN THERE, PLAYING. No phones, no TV, no gaming consoles…just good ol’ fashioned play. And while you are playing, you are praising and encouraging your child for the things he or she is doing and relating it to what makes them a great person. “Wow, Max, you figured out where that puzzle piece went all by itself!” But don’t stop there! The next sentence could be, “You were so great at sticking with that problem until you solved it.” Over and over again. Building them up. What we do all the time as parents, but in a condensed timeframe so that they come away from that Special Time feeling like a million bucks (And a little secret: You do too).
In bed each night after we say our prayers, my husband and I make a point to thank the boys for sharing Special Time with us. And we tell them our favorite part from that evening, and give them a chance to share theirs.
We have to take the time. We have to slow down. If my children don’t see me as a safe place now – who will they turn to when they are 15? 25? And please don’t take this as me laying on the guilt. Everyone has busy periods. There will always be more to do. I just want you to look at your child a little differently when they have their next “moment”. What is their behavior begging you to see?
I say, “I love you” to my guys all the time, but I am making a conscious effort to have my behavior say it as well.
What’s that thing they say?
Oh, yeah: Actions speak louder than words.