I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had some of the roughest weeks with P lately. Everything is a power struggle. Dinner time in particular has been horrific. She doesn’t want to eat. She doesn’t want to use utensils. But, put a piece of cake in front of her and she can eat like an aristocrat with proper manners and a fork and knife to boot.
Sunday night was the worst behavior I’ve ever seen from P. She didn’t want to eat dinner. I told her we were going to finish in 5 minutes and if she didn’t eat before we were done then she would have to go straight to bed. 5 minutes went by and there was no eating so to bed she went. The tantrum that followed was piercing. Awful. I’ve never heard such screams. I had to shut her bedroom door and it got worse. I gave her the option that she was either quiet or I’d shut the door. She started to quiet down but it still took a while for her to fall asleep.
The worst of it is hearing her plea and promise to be better once she’s in the middle of experiencing the consequence of her misbehaving. “I promise to do better Mamma!” It breaks my heart but I know if I cave, it’s over. P’s strong will is a good attribute but for me right now knowing how to tame it, but not kill it, is really hard.
On Mondays I attend a parenting class given by the director of P’s school. Phyllis is a great director. I like her on many levels: her extensive education, practical knowledge, her strength and her ability to inspire parents, toddlers and teachers. We’re on the third chapter of our book. The homework for the week was to become aware of the motivation behind our child’s misbehavior. All children have a goal for their actions. Misbehavior has one of four goals : attention, control, revenge or display of inadequacy. You know your child’s goal because of how it makes you feel. Attention = annoyance, control = anger, revenge = hurt, display of inadequacy = you feel like giving up. I find this so interesting. Our child’s behavior is a direct link to how we feel.
Throughout the week it became clear that P’s goal 90% of the time is to gain control. The other 10% of difficult behavior is due to being tired before a nap or bed time. That did not surprise me. Both D and I are control freaks. We both have strong personalities. I joke that D’s thickheadedness plus my stubbornness is an immovable rock. We gave birth to an immovable rock.
Back in chapter one we talked about identifiying our child’s character traits. You can not change your child’s traits. They are born with them and they will die with them. There are a series of questions that once answered give you a better idea of the child’s specific traits. Phyllis reminded me that P’s desire to control things is a great trait. It will serve her well as an adult. And then she told me how to harness it towards a positive outcome for today and the future.
She told us all to make a list of the behaviors or things that are important to us. ie; picking up toys, wearing seat belts, eating without fussing, bathing without fussing, putting shoes on before going outside, etc. Then we had to prioritize the list and pick the top 1-3 things. For the next 3-4 weeks we are only to focus on those 1-3 things, everything else we have to drop. The hard part is to be consistent with the correction of those 1-3 things. Consistency is key. We have to focus on correcting those 1-3 things always. The rest goes on the back burner.
I came home Monday afternoon geared with all this info. My main priority is to get P to eat without fussing. I want meal times to be fun and not a power struggle. As the day progressed I realized how much I had to hold back. I wanted to correct P about every 30 seconds but had to keep my mouth shut instead. And then like magic P became more cooperative. She listened again. She helped me in the kitchen again. The less I said the more she did. And she ate! Lunch and dinner were without fuss. I had to zip it about the crumbs flying all over. I didn’t say anything about her not using utensils at first and then like magic she started using them. I asked her to pick up toys but I only said it once and I started cleaning up myself. She helped me clean them up to but without me asking 10 times.
I have a great and dare I say fun relationship with P. I find myself laughing quite a bit throughout the day. Lately, I’ve missed my daughter. I’ve missed my friend. Even when I have to say no we usually talk about it but lately it was a constant struggle. Now, since Monday we’ve been back to good. I have to say I feel awful because I now know it was my fault. I have been over bearing on her. I know from experience as a child, I remember, how awful it is to be corrected all the time. You begin to feel inadequate. I must have been doing that to P.
I’ve learned so much in this class. There are books I could read that cover all this ground but it wouldn’t be the same. On Mondays I have a place to talk openly with other mothers. It’s so good to share and know I’m not the only one going through what I’m going through. It feels great to have guidance and feed back to my specific issues. And it’s a relief to know I’m not screwing up P for life but finding ways to smooth out the rough edges without taking away her core.
The other unexpected benefit from these classes is the ease of play dates. Wow! It’s a world of difference spending time with families who are on the same page. The kids all know what is expected of them from all angles. I don’t have to explain to the other mom or children why the last child holding the toy gets to keep it until they are ready to let it go. I don’t have to explain that sharing is not a word/emotion/concept that the toddler mind can grasp. I don’t have to explain that respecting a toddler’s wishes at this point develops a child without frustrations who does share and respect. We’re all just on the same page.