Can you recall a time or times when you felt annoyed, irritated, worried or guilty based on your child’s behavior?
Here is an example; you’re on the computer trying to get something wrapped up, it may simply be an email or a last minute project or even just checking in on social media or news. Your child seems to be melting down, whining, picking on their sibling, calling your name repeatedly, climbing on you, getting into things you prefer they didn’t. You can feel the annoyance building and tell them “Just a minute, I need to finish this one thing.” Then it gradually escalates to snapping at them or yelling and some parents may resort to a physical reaction or punitive reaction because your child has become relentless and you can’t get one single thing done while they’re around. You’re angry, annoyed, overwhelmed and suddenly the purest joy of your child in your life feels like a burnder. Your child is crying and the behavior is quickly spinning out of control and your child ends up punished; in time out, no TV, toys taken away, special activities gone.
“How did I get here? This isn’t what I thought parenthood would be like. My kid’s behavior is just getting worse, I can’t handle this anymore.” These may be similar to the thoughts that go through your head when the fantasy of being the perfect parent is so far behind you and you’re facing the drudgery of parenthood. “Am I ruining my kids?”
In this instant your child is not feeling important or connected and neither are you. You may have tried multiple times to remind them that you need just a minute and to coax them to find ways to entertain themselves. They may have even stopped interrupting temporarily and start up again or try another disruptive attention getting behavior. They may stop when they get your one on one attention.
You and your child are thinking about the circumstance, reacting to feelings stirred up and deciding how to approach things in the future. As a parent you may decide you can’t get anything done while the kids are around, so why try. Your child may be deciding that the only way they can get you to pay attention is by demanding special service or attention “I’m keeping you busy with me. That’s how I know I’m important to you.”
Your child is asking to be noticed and involved. You can redirect your child and save so much time and frustration by doing one of two things. 1) If you think of it ahead of time speak with them about what you’re going to do, how much time it will take (set the timer), what you expect of them. 2) If they catch off guard and you haven’t had a proactive opportunity with them address them as soon as they approach you and redirect them to a useful task.
Susie, I have something I need to get done before we leave for our activity. It will take me 10 minutes. Come with me and we can set the timer together. While I’m doing this it is very important that I finish this uninterrupted. Do you want to read books or play in your room while I’m doing this?
Susie, I love you and I know you would like some attention right now. I am going to finish this in ten minutes. Can you please set the timer and I will come read a book with you when the timer goes off. Are you going to play in your room or outside until then? Then you follow through after saying it only once.
· To prepare (read; train) yourself and your children for this new dynamic it takes repeating it on some level every day for at least one week. It could be something simple such as making a planned phone call, which somehow elicits everyone’s need for attention, to reading a book for ten minutes. (I highly recommend Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids).
· Set up routines such as how you approach daily tasks, timing, and how you set boundaries / expectations around the completion of these tasks. Using the above example of explaining the expectation, the timing and using a planned distraction.
· Use touch without words when you are caught up in the moment and are unable to dialogue with your child. A simple hand on the shoulder, top of the head, back or a side hug indicates that you see them, they are important to you and briefly you can address them.
· Set up non-verbal signals that they can begin to rely on, a sly smile with a wink (I see you, I know you need my attention and I’ll be with you briefly, a finger to the lips (quiet) or a unique sign language sign that works for your family.
· Communicate to your children “I love you and I want to spend time with you.” We need time and space to get through the stuff of daily life. In order to do this in the least stressful manner AND communicate the importance of our children and spouses we need to verbalize it and to structure time for both.
At first retraining your brain and behaviors may feel very robotic. Some people may say it takes too much time. I challenge you to choose one thing to differently and to report back the changes that you see in the level of stress, the attention seeking and intensity of the associated behaviors and the time it takes to integrate this. You should see a decrease in all of these and an increase in productivity, connection with your children and a more calm household.