About a month ago we went through a period where the girls were completely out of control. Someone was always being hurt, someone always being mean. There was a lot of yelling, a lot of tears, a lot of hurt feelings. The girls needed more attention , more love, more understanding, but the behaviours made it difficult to want to give them what they needed.
At some point, I believe, every parent gets to that point at least once. One night after a particularly rough evening, Ryan turns to me and says, “I just don’t get why she (Ella) does these things.”
The answer was painful. Obvious. We were responsible for her behaviours. Not directly of course, but in a lot of ways the things we did in response to her actions, caused more, bigger actions. At the time I wasn’t modeling calm behaviour. I didn’t model a gentle voice, I didn’t model patience, or a willingness to see someone else’s perspective. Her acting out directly mirrored my own acting out. Between Ella and I, Agatha also acted out. She no longer had comforting arms every time she needed them, she no longer had a soothing voice when scared, her sister no longer gave her the space she needed. With three people in the home angry and hurting, it only makes sense that Ryan felt the tension. It’s expected that he began to act out as well.
Use whatever analogy you choose. A family is a single unit, like the body, a car, or computer. When one part doesn’t functioning properly, the rest malfunction as well. As my hormones came back into balance and the quality of my sleep improved, my moods and level of patience improved. The difference was instantaneous and so beautiful. The girls calmed down, Ryan came home happier and better able to join the girls in their pursuits. Our family healed.
I believe, and please don’t take this as finger-pointing, that if a child is acting in a way that’s unacceptable to the family, then the parents need to look at their lives and see what the root cause is. Children, especially young children, pick up the stress and tension within the home and act on that. The moods in the home become substantial, palpable. A harsh word is as strong as a rough hand, a brick wall. When the people within the home are out of tune, then children aren’t capable of acting in a calm collected manner.
So what’s a parent to do? Sometimes situations are out of control. A person is sick, there isn’t enough money etc. Find out what you need in order to feel in control again. Or what can you do to make things better.
In my case it was a mental shift. I had to let go of needing certain things. I had to reaffirm my conviction that the parenting style we’ve chosen is the best for our family. If it was a lack of money, we’ve been there, we’d find a way to make the money go farther, or decrease our wants. If a person was sick, we’ve been there too, we’d try to find ways to work around the illness without taxing the person. We’d try to find ways to focus on the rest of the family, rather than the sick person.
In all cases we find ways to have unstructured fun as a family. Before starting our fun we, the adults, talk and try to guess what behaviours we’re likely to see – running, climbing, jumping, screaming, grabbing, pushing, pulling, hitting…. and try to find ways to allow the behaviour without anyone else being hurt or afraid. From the “Playful Parenting” book we’ve taken the ‘love hit’ suggestion to heart a few times. If a child hits us, instead of getting upset, lecturing, saying ‘no’ we laugh and look goofy as we inform them it was a ‘love hit’ and now we’re so madly in love with them we must hug them and kiss them forever. They run away squealing – the hit and whatever caused it completely forgotten. The parents are now back ‘in control’ and everyone is enjoying their time together.
In order to fix hurt hearts and down feelings we don’t need a ton of time, but we do need to prove that we’re there for our children. We don’t need to give them everything, we can still offer guidelines and boundaries, but we must do so gently and respectfully. If we model it, they will follow it.