Lately I very much wonder about this tendency many parents have to think of their child(ren) as, pretty much, the enemy. Things that act out to spite us, that try to manipulate to get their own little way.
Last week my brother called me via Facetime. (You have to love iPads and iPhones!) It was my birthday and my brother, his girlfriend, 6 year old (step)daughter Y. and 20 month old daughter E. wanted to wish me a happy birthday from Belgium.
As we were chatting away, bedtime rolled around for the girls. At one point my brother took his iPad upstairs to show me the girls getting ready for bed. As he looks at his 6 year old, she asks if he will read her a bedtime story. My brother tells her no in a rather sarcastic and belittling manner. (Something like “No, why on earth would I?”) I watch how Y. manages to keep a smile on her face and then produces a ‘playful pout’. But I also see how inwardly she feels hurt and rejected. My brother then sighs and tells her he will be there shortly.
When Y. is gone, I tell my brother I thought he was rather harsh and even mean. His reply? “Oh, I don’t fall for that little ploy anymore.” I just shook my head and told him we would agree to disagree.
My brother and I have completely different parenting styles. We both know it. And we give eachother the freedom to parent as we like.
I just wonder why he thought Y. was manipulating him. Did he not see the genuine hurt in her eyes? Does he not remember his own childhood? How getting attention and love from your parents was not about manipulation, but a genuine need?
I had to think of this as I put my own 29 month old son in his bed last night. This is kind of our routine these days. We brush his teeth, give daddy a goodnight kiss and then nurse. As J. says; “First the right one, then the left one.” Sometimes he still drifts off nursing. But usually these days he will stop nursing, cuddle and then ask for his water bottle. I’ll put it on his night stand, give him a kiss, leave the room and he falls asleep. Eventually.
Two nights ago we did the same thing. But instead of happily playing with his stuffed animals, he started crying. At that point I could have reasoned like my brother, and so many other parents, that J. is able to fall asleep on his own and that he was trying to manipulate me into coming to him. I however heard that he really needed me, and even though I’d rather have sat on the couch and watched tv, I layed back down in bed with him. He hugged me tight and fell asleep.
Of course, some would think, J. would have tried the same last night, right? He got away with it once, surely he would expect it again. Guess again. He fell asleep quietly after getting his water bottle.
Your child is not the enemy. Your child is not a master manipulator. Children do not want to get on their parents’ nerves. They do not want their mother or father mad at them. They want to feel loved and accepted. Just think of how you, a parent now yourself, feel towards your parents. Or how you felt as a kid.
I’m sure I am not the only one out there who can clearly remember just wanting to feel loved. Never did I think of manipulating my parents. OK, maybe I did sometimes wonder how I would get them to buy me a new toy. But I was definitely not subtle about it. A lot of pouting and sulking was involved.
But when I couldn’t sleep, I cried because I couldn’t sleep and needed help. Not because I wanted to annoy my parents by making them spend time with me.
This is what I know and use when dealing with my son. He does not want me to be mad at him. He does not want to get yelled at. So he is not behaving in this way in order for one of these things to happen. And when you really, truly, deeply know this, you are ready to stay objective and calm.
When J. starts acting out, I know there are 3 possible reasons. He’s tired, hungry or needs my full attention. Or all of the above. Easy fixes. This morning J. started fighting getting dressed. So I simply asked him if something was wrong. If he needed something. I repeated this until he calmed down and payed attention to me. He gave me no answer. At which point I told him I loved him and asked if he needed a hug. He did. And we got past the bad moment in a peaceful, fully-connected manner.
So yes, my son was acting out and I hugged him for it. (We also ate some kiwi after, because my growing boy is always hungry. That’s two out of three of my checklist.) I really don’t see how yelling ever works. Let alone spanking. The one time I totally lost my temper and yelled and spoke angry words and sent J. to his room, I found him quietly sobbing in his pillow, shaking from head to toe. The only thing I had accomplished, was making a two year old feel scared and confused. Nothing was learned. Nothing was gained.
The difference is night and day when you take the time to connect. Before you get to the point where you lose it. Remember your child is a whole person who deserves to be treated with respect. He is not the enemy. You can get through his or her childhood together.