It was another night spent getting ready for bedtime, but it was thankfully a little easier than most.
M., our oldest, who is five, took his bath and got his jammies on. Getting ready to brush his teeth is usually when he comes undone. We don’t know what it is about brushing teeth but for some reason when we utter the words, the switch flips and M. begins running around like a nut.
After a quick conversation, he brushed and got ready for bed. Then it happened as it frequently does at bedtime. M. fixated on an idea and was unable to deviate from his plan. When saying goodnight to my husband, he crouched down like a frog. Knowing him like we do, we both observed his stance and told him, “Don’t jump on dad. Give him a nice good-night hug”. The warning was said twice. He jumped anyway, causing my husband to hit his elbow against the bed rail. Husband left the room frustrated, I tried to talk to M. about what happened, and of course it being late and bedtime, he chose to stick his foot in my face.
Then my blood pressure went up.
And I yelled and told him he was being unkind.
And I walked out.
And I came back.
And I asked him why, even though he is a tiny five-year-old and I know he doesn’t have an answer.
Let me share something with you. I do this for a living.
I work with children my own son’s age EVERY DAY. Every day, for over 17 years I have had a deep well of patience for children that are not my own. I am good at my job – I understand young children. I GET young children. But this is my own child, and it is much, much harder.
I looked at my son in his bed, laying there upset because I walked out at 8pm and said I was frustrated. And I thought of the words of Ross Green (who is an expert in behavior issues and has trained many educators): “All children do as well as they can.”
All children do as well as they can.
I sat down by M.’s bed and I looked at him and I said, “I love you. Dad loves you. You make frustrating choices sometimes, but we will always love you.” My little guy choked up and turned his head. “I know, Mom,” he said.
I continued though. “No matter what you do, we will always love you.” M. stuck his face down in the pillow. “I want you to understand how much we love you.”
“I know, Mom,” He replied. “You say it a hundred million times.”
Yes, sweet boy. I do. I’ve said it one hundred million times. And I will say it a hundred million times more.
There is a saying popular among parents, caregivers, and teachers, that in order to get a behavior or an idea to stick you have to repeat it over 100 times. In school, we practice how to walk in line in the hall, how to work with others, how to sit in a circle and raise hands, and how not to interrupt. But what about the other stuff?
What about repeating for our children the behaviors we want to see at home?
That was kind!
Thank you for helping me.
I really appreciate that…
I like how you…
How do you feel about…?
And yes, I love you.
We can get so caught up in focusing on the behaviors we want to fix and change. There can be a lot of them. We pick our battles daily, knowing that there are some behaviors that are non-negotiable and others that are more flexible. We work hard with our children, hoping that they will be kind and generous and understanding, but also independent, fierce, and strong- all at the same time.
Children do as well as they can with the skills that they have.
So next time I feel my blood pressure rising, I will take a deep breath and repeat this mantra to myself, and with a little more patience model the behaviors that I want to see. Even at bedtime.