Do you ever feel like things aren’t quite right between you and your child? Before you had kids of your own, you may have assumed that when you became a mother you’d feel wonderful about them all the time. You knew, of course, that there would be occasional conflict; you didn’t expect them to be happy when you disciplined them, for example. But still, you knew how much you’d love your kids, and you thought that that love would help you avoid most relational conflict with them.
Now, though, as your kids have grown past the baby stage and developed personalities and desires of their own, things aren’t always as happy as you imagined they’d be. If you’re like a lot of mothers, you may feel guilty that things aren’t better more often. You might feel bad that sometimes you feel like you don’t even like your children or your role as a mom. You might feel like you’re the only one struggling with your kids. You might wonder what’s wrong with you.
The truth, though, is that relationships ebb and flow. We know that’s true, and we expect rough patches in long-term relationships.
Guess what? What you have with your kids is a relationship, too. And you’ll go through rough patches in that relationship, too.
Sometimes, you just aren’t in a good place to connect. Maybe you’re not taking care of yourself and your patience is chronically low. That’s not a good match for a child who is simultaneously pushing your buttons or who is struggling with patience herself.
Or maybe your child isn’t in a good place to connect. She may be going through a phase where she’s experimenting with being a little more independent, and it means you’re not hearing much about what’s going on with her, and this is happening at a time when you’re craving more connection. Sometimes needs of individuals in the family are in conflict, and we struggle.
Rough patches just happen sometimes. Here are four suggestions to help you get some perspective on the whole situation:
Take the long view.
Realize that it’s normal for relationships to have upswings and downswings, and if you’re not hitting your stride with your child at the moment, it will likely come back around. Today may be tough, but tomorrow will be better. Or this week may be tough, and next week better. As children develop, it’s normal for them to disconnect from their parents in various ways at various stages. Stay consistent and loving in your interactions with your child, and have faith that things will come back around.
Evaluate your child’s needs.
Ask yourself whether there’s something your child needs right now that he’s not getting. More time with you? More affection? More attention? Less conversation and more independence? More responsibility? Often, a child acts out because he’s needing something and doesn’t know how to ask. So do your best to listen to his actions and see what’s going on.
Evaluate your own needs.
What do you need right now that you’re not getting? Time by yourself? Time with your spouse or friends? More sleep? More exercise? You know that old saying: If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So take care of yourself.
Keep investing yourself in the relationship.
Time, effort, and intention go a long way. Just as in your adult relationships, you’ll see your relationship with your child grow and deepen as you put in the time and remain a consistent, steady, loving presence in his life. As the relationship ebbs and flows, be the rock your child knows she can count on when she needs you.
I’ve recently written two articles for mom.me about communicating with tweens. Here’s the one about talking with your pre-teen daughter.
She’s not a teenager yet. But she’s sure not a child anymore, at least in the way she used to be. Just last week her school notebook contained pictures of cute puppies. Now she actually talks about cute boys.
One foot in childhood, one in adolescence. Sometimes sweet and playful, sometimes moody and sensitive. She’s a tween.
How do you talk to her? Here are some suggestions.
Here’s a new post on Mom.me. It begins like this:
I know what you’re thinking: “File this one under ‘You can’t be serious.’”
But I am serious.
Nobody likes a tantrum: not your little one, and certainly not you. But even though we don’t enjoy our kids’ tantrums, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for the times when they get the most upset.
For example . . .
Yesterday I spent a fun hour with the delightful Richard Fidler on ABC Radio in Australia.
How well do you handle yourself when you’re upset with your kids?
Me? Sometimes I respond extremely well, making myself proud of how loving and understanding and patient I remained. At other times, I lower myself to my kids’ level and resort to the childishness that upset me in the first place.
My message to you today is that when you respond to your kids from a less-than-optimal place, take heart: most likely, you’re still providing them with all kinds of valuable experiences.
For example, have you ever found yourself so frustrated with your kids that you call out, a good bit louder than you need to, “That’s it! The next one who complains about where they’re sitting in the car, has to sit in that same seat for the rest of the year!”
Or maybe, when your eight-year-old pouts and complains all the way to school because you made her practice her piano, you say, with your parting words as she departs the mini-van, “I hope you have a great day, now that you’ve ruined the whole morning.”
Obviously, these aren’t examples of perfect parenting. And if you’re like me, you beat yourself up for the times when you don’t handle things like you wish you had.
So here’s hope: Those not-so-great parenting moments are not necessarily such bad things for our kids to have to go through. In fact, they’re actually incredibly valuable.
Why? Because these less-than-perfect parental responses Continue Reading »
Here are some things parents say to me about their discipline frustrations:
–I don’t feel like I have an overall theory of discipline. It’s more that I just do whatever comes out at the time. Sometimes my reaction or instinct is really good, and other times I’m being just as immature or reactive as my toddler. I just feel like I need to give more thought to it and have a plan.
–I feel disempowered. I think I’ve been told a list of things that I should NOT do –spank, yell, etc. – but I don’t know what I CAN do, other than just take a toy away. So I find myself making empty or meaningless threats (“Do that again and you’re going to be in BIG trouble!”) and then I’m just so frustrated. I don’t know what to do in the moment.
Do these parents’ comments resonate with you? I can certainly identify. I remember how clueless I felt as a new parent, and even though the stories often end up being funny in retrospect, I’m embarrassed at how I responded at times when my kids acted out.
The Parenting Expert Gets Taken Down by Her Own Reactive Brain
One day my three-year-old got mad and hit me. I guided him to his time-out spot at the bottom of our stairway, sat next to him, and smiled. I lovingly (and naively) said, “Hands are for helping and loving, not for hurting.”
While I was uttering this truism, he hit me again.
So I tried the empathy approach: “Ouch! That hurts mommy. You don’t want to hurt me, do you?”
At which point he hit me again.
I then tried the firm approach: “Hitting is not OK. Don’t hit any more. If you’re mad you need to use your words.”
Yup, you guessed it. He hit me again.
I was lost. I felt I needed to up the ante. In my most powerful voice I said, “Now you’re in time out at the top of the stairs.”
I marched him up to the top of our stairs. He was probably thinking, “Cool! We’ve never done this before. . . I wonder what will happen next if I keep hitting her?”
At the top of the stairs, I bent over at the waist, my pointer finger wagging, and said, “NO MORE HITTING!”
He didn’t hit me again. Continue Reading »
Toddlers and preschoolers see their grown-ups and older siblings doing everything so easily. It can be frustrating and discouraging for these little ones to try and try, and not be able to do what they see everyone else doing.
Knowing that self-esteem can come from being competent at something, there are several ways we can empower our toddlers and preschoolers and give them opportunities to feel capable and competent:
Let them do things for themselves.
Sometimes it’s hard for a parent not to step in and quickly do something a child is trying to do. Especially if the child is taking a long time to, say, figure out how all of the chalk pieces will go back into the box. (Sometimes I want to pull my hair out when I’m watching my own four-year-old meticulously try to fix the Velcro fastener on the back of his Continue Reading »
One day my seven-year-old became furious with me because I told him he couldn’t invite a friend over to play. He stormed off to his room and slammed the door. About a minute later, I heard the door open, then slam again. I went up to check on him, and taped to the outside of his door, I saw the picture you see here. (You can see from the drawing below that he regularly uses his artistic talents to communicate his feelings about his parents.)
I went into his room and saw what I knew I’d see: a big child-sized lump under the covers on his bed. I sat next to the lump and put my hand on what I assumed was a shoulder, and suddenly the lump moved away from me, towards the wall. From beneath the covers, he cried out, “Get away from me!”
Often at times like this I can become childish and drop down to my child’s level. I’ve even been known to say things like, “Fine! If you won’t let me cut that toenail that’s hurting, you can stay in pain all week!” (Sometimes I’ll throw in a “See if I care!” for good measure.)
But this particular day, I maintained control and handled myself pretty well. I first tried to acknowledge his feelings: “I know that makes you mad that Ryan can’t come over today.”
His response? “Yes, and I hate you!”
I stayed calm and said, “Sweetie, I know this is frustrating, but there’s just not time to have Ryan over. We’re meeting your grandparents for dinner in just a little while.”
After that, he returned to the familiar refrain as he curled tighter and moved as far away from me as possible: “I said get away from me!”
I reminded him of our rule about talking with each other respectfully, then I went through a series of responses, the ones I regularly talk to parents about. I comforted; I tried to use nonverbal connection like touch and tone of voice before I tried to problem-solve; I empathized; I tried again to explain. I even offered an incentive to talk: a playdate the next day. But at that moment, he refused to calm down or let me help him in any way.
The point of this story is a reality that people rarely talk about: Sometimes Continue Reading »
Yesterday my eight-year-old was making a smoothie. He’s been making one every day for the last week and now takes pride in his “smoothie-making mastery.” These repeated experiences, along with the delicious products of his efforts, have made him confident in his ability, and the science of neural plasticity confirms his due confidence. The brain changes – yes, actually physically changes – from repeated experiences, so his memory has now been wired for how to make a good smoothie.
And yet, even though I know this, when I hear the blender going longer than what I think is the right amount of time – twenty seconds can be a very long time, by the way – my reaction is to step in and say, “Luke, that’s probably long enough. Should you turn it off?”
He says, “Mom, I know what I’m doing. I like it really smooth and creamy, and the trick is to let it blend a little longer so the ice isn’t as chunky.”
Then I have to respond, “You’re right. I’m sorry to mess with the Smoothie Master.”
We learn best from doing. But ask yourself: Do you step in and help when your kids don’t need help? When they ask for assistance, could still do it themselves? How often do you request that they do something your way, when the way they’re doing it is fine (just different)? Do you do things for them that they could do for themselves? You probably do at times when you don’t even realize it, just like I did yesterday with my smoothie intrusiveness.
Sometimes we need to lend a hand because we’re on a schedule and we need them to finish something so we can get out the door quickly and peacefully. Sometimes we need to assist because our child is getting too frustrated and they need help. Sometimes we should step in because they need to learn the right way to do something – like when they need to learn that “flushing doesn’t actually CLEAN the toilet. You need to use actual cleaning supplies.”
But sometimes we’re stepping in because it makes things easier on us or them. And of course that’s a good reason at times, but not all the time. Sometimes we are taking over because we’re being too particular or controlling, or we underestimate them and their ability to do something or handle the struggle and frustration of working through it. Just be thoughtful about why and when to butt in, to rescue, to assist. They know what they’re doing lots of times. In those moments, the problem can be that we don’t know what we’re doing.
Auto-pilot may be a great tool when you’re flying a plane. Just flip the switch, sit back and relax, and let the computer take you where it’s been pre-programmed to go. Pretty great.
But I’ve found that auto-pilot is not so great when I’m disciplining my children. It can fly me straight into whatever dark and stormy cloudbank is looming, meaning my kids and I are all in for a bumpy ride. So instead, I’m always working on DECIDING how I want to interact with my kids when I discipline them.
For example, let’s talk about consequences. For most parents, when we need to discipline our kids, the first question we ask ourselves is, “What consequence should I give?” That’s our auto-pilot. But through my years of parenting, I’ve begun to significantly re-think my use of consequences.
My four-year-old, for instance, hit me the other day. He was angry because I told him I needed to finish an email before I could play legos with him, and he came up and slapped me on the back. (I’m always surprised that a person that small can inflict so much pain.)
My immediate, auto-pilot reaction was to want to grab him, probably harder than I needed to, and Continue Reading »