As parents we think a lot about what we want our children to do or not do. We make a lot of rules, we have a lot of talks and take actions all around their behavior. Why? Hopefully it’s because we believe that how we shape them now will make them into good people later.
The greatest gift you can give to your child
is time, attention, and not caring about
the opinions of others.
This really is many things at once, but it takes the form of a single decision. It’s happened so many times for me now that I really see it as one action. Obviously, with more than one child this becomes more difficult. At that point, I suppose you will have to use your judgement to decide who needs it the most. The classic and most perfect example I can think of to illustrate this gift is the grocery store meltdown. Anyone who is a parent now nods and thinks, “Ah, yes” and maybe even a few chills run along your spine. Those who aren’t parents know it just as well. We’ve all seen the screaming toddler in the store. Now, normally, parents will threaten and lay down the law or give the child whatever they want to appease them long enough to leave the store more quietly. Neither of these cases really solve the issue. The meltdown is a symptom of something else, and it isn’t the candy bar. This is when you give that child the greatest gift ever. Whatever you’re doing, stop. Give that child your 100% attention and whatever that takes, do it. It does not matter how long that takes. And don’t care whatsoever about what people will do or say if they’re watching. This will change everything. It’s not a magical spell that works every time, but you can change the dynamic of your relationship.
What does that actually look like in real life? I’ll give you my real-life example: Olivia and I were in the store. Luka was not with us. I was pushing her in the shopping cart. Honestly, I can’t even remember how it got started. She wanted something, wanted to stand up in the cart, I said no and we have your typical meltdown. I started out with all the hushing, quiet!, stern commands, and they only seemed to escalate the volume. That’s when I stopped the cart in the middle of the aisle and got down on my knees so I would be at eye-level with her. “Olivia, you may not have that. No matter how you object right now, it will not change that. Now we are not going to do anything else until you sit down and stop screaming.” I said this in a very calm, caring, and firm tone. And then I waited. Calmly. I gave her my full attention, eye-to-eye, for as long as it took. I really believe this is important because it puts us on the same level instead of making me physically dominating her. My goal isn’t to force her into obedience and submission. The goal is that we build our relationship of mutual love and respect. The goal is that she learns that I am not controlled by her behavior nor distraught by it. The goal is that she sees clearly that she means more to me than anyone or anything. The goal is that she learns to not be afraid of what other people think. The goal is that from this negative experience, we come out with a positive experience from which she learns that next time the tantrum doesn’t bring a reward. The goal is that she learns to use her mind and develop her communication skills. I don’t expect her to “get this” on the first try or even on the second or third. I believe that after a childhood of these encounters she will become a better communicator and we will have a great relationship.
There is a caveat here and that is that I don’t drop whatever I’m doing for my kid the moment she makes an interruption, especially when I am talking with someone else. If I am in a conversation and Olivia interrupts me or the other person, I will either ignore her, hold her hand while ignoring her, or tell her, “Wait until I’m done and then I will be ready of you” and then I go back to ignoring her until there is a break in the conversation. Then I really make an effort to not rush the conversation, but to quickly find an opening where I can then say, “Olivia, thank you so much for waiting! Now, what can I help you with?”
As much as we love to love our kids when they are smiling, laughing, and loving, they really need us most when they are none of those things. This one idea changed my relationship with my child. If I decided that whenever she needed me, whenever she wasn’t perfect or happy, that I would be there for her, then she would really know that she is more important to me than anything else and I’m not afraid to show it. Not all children are the same and when it comes to parenting there is no one size fits all method. I have noticed that most “bad” behavior is really the child’s attempt to get attention from the parent. Most of the time the child doesn’t even realize this. Even if they are getting negative attention from the parent, it’s as if subconsciously they are asking for help, love, attention. When I started applying this to Olivia we made really great progress. When I was firm, strict, and strong with her the struggle lasted twice as long and was never really resolved. We never ended on a good note. I changed this. If she had a meltdown, even if I was at my wit’s end, I gathered my strength to become calm, gentle, kind, and start with something like, “Olivia, come here, let me give you a hug” or “Olivia, this isn’t okay. We can take as long as we need to fix it and then we will go on.” What. A. Difference. I was truly amazed. She is a very sweet, sensitive, observant soul so that is probably one of the reasons this type of communication works well with her. Whatever the case is, when I use this we may struggle for a few more minutes, but then we take as much time as we need, resolve the issue, hug and cuddle for a few minutes, then go on and have fun. The most common example of this is when she throws something on the floor and I tell her she needs to pick it up and we have a meltdown. You know there is at least one of those a day.
I’m not an ideal parent here either. I am by no means a perfect example every time. I have my meltdowns too. Probably the hardest bit for me is the moving on from an exhausting parenting battle and acting like everything is now wonderful and happy when I really don’t feel like it. However, if I don’t and I stay in my exhausted unhappy state I am telling her 2 things: 1) I don’t really forgive her 2) It’s okay to be emotionally manipulative. Neither of these are okay and while I try to honestly express my feelings to her, I want to do that when it’s not at her expense. I really try overall to treat her the way I wanted to be treated as a child: with respect, love, and transparent communication. After all, that’s how we want our children to be as people in the world, right? It doesn’t magically happen when they become adults. It starts, as does everything, with us at home.
What is your greatest gift to your children?