It had been a rough couple weeks. I had a just-turned-4-year-old son throwing tantrum after tantrum, complete with throwing and grabbing and . . . ugh, it was just bad. I don’t want to revisit it, really. But lately? So much better. There will never be a perfect day when every child behaves every single moment (heck, I can’t even do that). But we’ve been having some time to actually breathe and oh my does that feel delightful.
Here’s the thing: this whole process has been such a great reminder that I have to study my kids and act accordingly. So, for my son, I know that he’s more of an introvert and he really loves and needs physical affection. But in the moments of frustration when my son is acting out, I don’t often think of how they’re wired. I forget what I learned about him from studying him. And I quickly (or sometimes not so quickly) realize that I will not break the cycle until I communicate in a way that my child will receive what I’m saying and also meet his needs (not his wants–that’s a totally different thing altogether).
What does this practically look like? Well the other day, my son was in the beginning of a meltdown. He was under his bed and I was on the floor, at his level. I tried to remain calm and let him talk (he hates to be interrupted and responds poorly to me raising my voice). He then yelled, “I JUST WANT TO GIVE YOU A HUG!” So I said, “Well then come give me a hug you goof!” And he sat on my lap and immediately calmed down.
Another day that week, he started a tantrum over the iPad. This doesn’t usually happen because I set time limits on the microwave and the kids know when their time is up. But I had a timer set so it would shut off after 30 minutes because this particular app has that. I warned him it would happen. But of course when it shut off, he was in the middle of something and then flipped out. I expected it since this was a new thing I was trying so I was prepared to be calm and respond as lovingly as possible. I also know that he is wired in a way that he HAS to finish what he’s doing before he can move on (his sister isn’t so much that way). He threw his cup across the room and started to yell. I very calmly and softly said, “We do not throw things. You may go to your room and scream into your pillow and even hit it. But you will not hurt me. I will not let you hurt me.” And then I thought about how much he needs physical touch and I followed it up with, “You can hug me. But you cannot hurt me.” And after a couple seconds, he came over to me and hugged me and calmed down.
Would I love it if he wouldn’t even start the tantrum in the first place? Sure. But this is major progress. He’s a highly emotional little guy and doesn’t always think in the moment (nor do I and I’m almost 30 at the time of this posting). So I’m all about praising the steps he’s taking and how he had the self-control to stop himself in the middle of a tantrum and make a better choice.
It’s not about perfection; it’s about progress.
“You can hug me but you may not hurt me” has become a mantra in our house. It has been a lifesaver. He is starting to communicate to me that he needs a hug sometimes before getting to the point where he has an outburst and other times it’s right after he starts and he is able to stop himself before it gets out of hand. It’s tough as a mom because I need to remember to prompt him in that way, rather than just get frustrated and respond in a way that isn’t so helpful. I don’t always succeed. But again, we’re making progress and that’s what it’s about.
So the next time your kid is acting in an undesirable way, whether it’s as severe as what I saw in my kid with aggression or simply just a child who is out of sorts and seems a bit off, no matter the age of the child, maybe think about how they’re wired. Study your child. Look for patterns, pressure points, and needs/cravings you see (which may be simply a love language like physical affection, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, or receiving gifts). What can you provide for your child to help walk him/her through a difficult time?
And, as always, I’m writing this totally for me as a reminder to myself. I will likely forget or draw a blank on how to reach one of my kids in a moment of frustration. I won’t always remember to try to initiate physical affection with my son when he’s upset. I won’t always be aware when my oldest hasn’t had any play dates in a couple weeks and therefore needs that time with people. Until my youngest starts acting out, I may not be self-aware enough to always realize I’ve been preoccupied to the point of not getting much quality time with her. I’m human and flawed just like you. But I’ll make the attempt and remember that every morning is a new day and I can pick myself up to try again. Good intention is a good place to start.