We had a situation happen in our home the other day that I want to share here with you. I was able to take away a lot of lessons and improve my parenting skills from it, so I’m hoping it will help you as well!
Matthew has always been a really good kid. Granted, he has his moments as all children will, but overall we’ve never had anything worthy of labels like “The Terrible 2’s!” (Though a good friend tells me that it’s not really the terrible 2’s, it’s actually the terrible 3’s).
Right now Matthew is almost 3 ½. And I still wouldn’t call the 3’s terrible…. but they are more challenging. Not only for him (learning to be more independent, pushing boundaries, having more responsibility and higher expectations from us, etc.), but they are challenging a lot of preconceived notions I have about parenting and my own personal expectations as well. And since Matthew is my first, we are learning together.
For the past few months, when Matthew comes home from a day at daycare, 5 PM – 8 PM can be his “crazy” time. He’s generally very full of energy, loud and demanding of our attention. His ability and desire to listen to our instructions also is less during this time of day. And when I think about it out of context, I can understand why. He’s been away from us all day, wants our 1-on-1 attention, and is excited to be home and play together. He also hasn’t had to pay attention to the rules in our home all day, so he’s not in the habit of listening to them. Unfortunately, that’s also a tricky time of day because either my husband or I am trying to get dinner together while the other parent is generally feeding or attending to Emma. And the less personal attention Matthew gets, the louder and more demanding he becomes.
And as every mom knows, there are some days that you can handle this behavior better than others. If you have had a trying day, are frazzled and your patience is thin, having a 3-year-old running around, yelling, making a bunch of noise and constantly demanding your attention is not the easiest thing to handle when you are trying to get something else done. But no one in my family (myself included!) functions or behaves well on an empty stomach, so delaying dinner to give him one-on-one time isn’t an option. (And I do try to engage him by having him help in the kitchen, but it doesn’t always work).
Well, on this one particular day, my husband was the more frazzled of the two of us. I was prepping dinner, and my husband was trying to get Emma to take a nap (it was one of her first days at daycare and she didn’t nap well all day, so she was crying her head off from being over tired). Matthew was jumping and singing in the living room, and even though he really wasn’t being super loud, I guess it was loud enough in Emma’s room to frustrate my husband further. He came out and told Matthew that he needed to be quiet so Emma could sleep. Matthew unfortunately didn’t listen and continued making noise, which caused Rob to go into disciplinary mode. He started to take Matthew into a time-out, which then caused Matthew to yell no and hit Rob. Hitting is an absolutely no in our house, so Matthew did end up in time-out. While in time-out, he continued to be noisy and combative, so Rob kept extending the time-out, which created more bad behavior from Matthew. Pretty soon, Rob was so angry that I could see him getting irritated with every little thing that Matthew was doing. And as Rob’s patience wore out, Matthew’s response to him kept getting worse and worse – he was simply mirroring Rob’s emotions.
The evening, which started out ok, was spiraling downhill by the second. When Rob decides that a discipline is in order, he doesn’t generally let it go till he’s satisfied with the outcome. And it’s not just Rob. I’ve been guilty of this as well. There’s been times that I have overreacted to a situation (generally triggered by too much noise, craziness, or mess in the house) and am the one demanding to be listened to and obeyed, so I get where Rob was coming from that day. Trust me, I’m not perfect with this. If my emotions are pushed to the brink, I can parent from a more dictating place.
But that day I did learn something. Since I was the less frazzled parent at that time and wasn’t directly emotionally involved in the situation, I was able to step back and assess what was happening from the outside. When I had a chance to really think about the course of events that created this war between Rob and Matthew, I wasn’t sure that the punishment was fitting the crime.
So I stepped in. I picked up Matthew, asked both him and Rob to take a deep breath, and took the opportunity to talk through the course of events. I tried my best to express to Rob that I didn’t think the discipline he was aiming for was necessary, without demeaning his role as a parent in front of Matthew.
Matthew was still being combative, but was starting to calm down as I held him. I asked him to apologize to Rob for hitting, which he was reluctant to do, but eventually did. Then I just simply asked him for a big hug. He did, and as I hugged him, I could just feel the tension of the past 15 minutes or so melting away. I told him that we do not hit, and then asked Rob to give him a big hug, which he did. Rob was still bristling a little from the encounter, but handling it well like the mature adult he is. Matthew on the other hand was back to being the sweet little boy that I know and love, and he immediately asked daddy if they could go and play together. It was a complete change of attitude and all it took was a little love and connection.
It’s not always easy to step back and assess a parenting situation without raw emotions clouding your decision making. But if you can, and if you try to parent more from a place of love and support instead of a dictatorship with hard and fast rules, kids will respond so much better. Since that day, I’ve really made a conscious effort to stop, breathe, and think about what’s happening before I start handing out punishments or consequences. I’ve also changed my time-out style. Instead of a few minutes of sitting quietly by himself, now Matthew and I will go to a place away from wherever the issue was, and talk calmly together about what happened and why we don’t act that way. And he’s really responding well to this new method. Is he perfect and always following the household rules? No. But he’s also three and I understand that his maturity at this age is limited. I also understand now that he’s learning so much through example, and I want to set the best example I can.
And parenting from a place of love is always the best example to give.
All the best,