How To Love an Obnoxious Child

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KidRushing through the door, out of breath and out of patience, I slipped quietly into my seat and tried to push down the feelings of frustration and guilt. The choir sang boisterously around me, but my heart wasn’t ready to sing. I tried to gain my composure, as it seemed I had entered this room in the same manner far too many times. Getting to church on time is hard enough, why does she have to be so difficult?…I thought to myself. 

“Your daughter had a lot of snow days,” a friend commented. “How did that go? Was she ready to go back?”

“I was ready for her to go back! Sometimes she is just so….obnoxious.” I blurted out. Ahh…did I really just say that? In the moment I felt like a horrible mother. How could I use such a negative word to describe my daughter…with her caring and loving heart, generous spirit, and encouraging demeanor.  But regret soon slipped away as I saw the expression on my friend’s face illuminate.

“Oh I know what you mean.  I have called my mom in tears many times saying, ‘I just can’t even be his mom anymore. He is driving me crazy.’ I love him, I really do….but I just get so frustrated with him sometimes.” She went on to lament about her son’s need to always be right and to always have a solution to grown-up problems that he knows nothing about.  And then I felt free to share about my daughter’s marathon ramblings…and her bad habit of staying right on my heels so I crash into her every time I turn around…and her baby voice that never goes away…and her talking right in my face. I began to ponder…How can I love my child even when she is being obnoxious? How can I stop feeling like I’m going to lose my mind? In my own soul searching I came up with a few solutions for myself.

1. Know when to punish and when to practice patience. Mia needs to learn life skills…as her parent it is my job to teach her. I don’t have to let her turn into the kid that no one wants to be around just because I feel bad or because I feel like I have to just tolerate her annoying behavior. If it is frustrating to me, it is probably frustrating to other people and it’s a good opportunity to teach Mia about respecting other people and putting others before herself.  Just because she wants to hug doesn’t mean that someone else wants to. But I also need to know how to pick my battles…interrupting and a know-it-all attitude are rude and disrespectful while weird noises, silly voices and odd interests are just phases.

2. Get to the root of the behavior. I’ve come to learn that my daughter requires a lot more attention than my son.  She needs more cuddles, she needs a listening ear that lingers a little longer…and in my impatience, I often fail to give her the time she really needs. There seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend with her and her frustrating behavior. But extra attention should never be given as an immediate response to the behavior but more as a preventative measure because a lot of times the actual behavior needs to be punished or ignored because it is an undesirable or ineffective way to seek more attention.  Giving attention in the moment can actually perpetuate the behavior.  So, I need to help Mia develop a proper response to needing more attention by giving her words and actions to express that. “Instead of talking right in my face when you would like me to listen, try gently touching my hand or waiting until I am ready to hear you.” And then stick with it. Don’t listen until she has sought attention in the proper way.

3. Use the biblical principle of put off, put on. My daughter can be a bit overwhelming at times.  She loves to hug and she loves to talk but some more reserved children just cannot handle large doses of that. So instead of just saying, “Stop hugging your friend so much. It gets on her nerves.” I could say, “Instead of hugging your friend as soon as you see her, let’s try asking her a question about her week and wait for her to answer you all the way.” So then, I am not just trying to get rid of a negative action, I am replacing it with a good and thoughtful action.

4. Be a good example. Don’t be obnoxious in response to her obnoxious behavior…don’t yell or degrade her…don’t even sigh or huff in exasperation. Kids pick up so easily on these behaviors and it becomes and vicious cycle of “obnoxiousness”. Also it is helpful to model good communication skills when talking to other adults. Let Mia see me speaking politely to her teacher. Let her hear me answering the phone in a respectful way. And if I don’t want her to be a know-it-all or to interrupt then I should be cautious of my behavior in those areas as well.

5. Pray. I’m beginning to notice that her obnoxious behavior keeps Mia on my mind. It’s hard to stop thinking about her when I consistently remain somewhat frustrated with her. And what better to do with that time then to pray for her. But I’m learning not to just pray about her actions, but to mostly pray for her heart (and mine).  A relationship with Jesus is so much more about heart than actions and I want my daughter to know that. I don’t want to focus so much on her behavior that  I forget about her heart.

That night after church, we all piled back in the car to head home.  It was late and we were all exhausted. In the dark quietness Mia piped up from the backseat, “Mommy, I wish I didn’t talk all the time. Then I wouldn’t get in trouble so much.”

And then I knew, she doesn’t want to act the way she does either, but she doesn’t know how to stop. It’s not her fault, it’s mine. “It’s not so bad that you like to talk. You are good at making people feel welcome because you always have something to say. I will help you from now on to learn when it’s okay to talk so that you don’t get in trouble so much.”

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Precious Things

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The only thing that keeps me going on a day like to today is to remember what I have and how precious those things are to me…

The imagination of a three-year-old boy is a wonderful thing.  Unending entertainment flows from his lips with stories of fishermen and monsters and doctors and rainbows.  And when he wants his make-believe name to be “Water” I oblige happily, knowing he is forming his confidence in the opinion of the world by my reaction.

And the glimpse of a scar on my daughter’s back reminds me of where she has been and where God has brought her.  It convicts me as I sigh in frustration over another spill or her unending stories…for as she walks away I must continually be reminded that her walking was almost not so.  And instead of being irritated by her constantly being underfoot, I must remember that her freedom from hospitals and doctors visits should be forever celebrated.

Kisses and hugs are continually accessible to me…never ending, all I must do is ask.  A hug is healing and a kiss, a symbol that I am loved.  Why do I not ask for more?

Clean dishes and a warm bath after a long day are the most treasured gift and I should not expect them but be surprised by their presence and grateful for their existence.  And a husband who makes sure these gifts are not infrequent is rare and should be cherished and adored.

The freedom to fall before a holy, loving and compassionate God at the end of an exhausting day is worth all the precious things in the world for only there do I find the comfort I need.

 

Parenting: A Lesson in Tantrums, Revisited

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Last week, I relayed the events of what I may from here forward refer to as”The Great Fit of 2013″. My account and thoughts on the situation brought in a whopping 300 hits to by blog.  And in the process I have received numerous inquiries about my daughter.  In a matter of seven days, I have been approached at church, at the grocery store, at work, on Facebook and by family members to ask about my little princess.  As of now we have gone an entire week without a fit.  She is as happy and talkative as ever.  She has gone to school, to dance class, out to eat, to the grocery store and to church…all without any incident whatsoever.  I wrote briefly on what I had learned from the situation but one aspect that many people have asked about and offered advice on is the consequences for the actions.  What did I or should I have done when my child threw a fit?

1. In the moment, it may be necessary for your child’s safety (and sometimes for the safety of those around them) to just remove them from the situation.  I have heard many moms say that they had to wrestle a flailing child to the car, leaving a cart full of groceries behind in the store just to be able to find a place for their child to calm down.  It also lets the child know that you are serious, especially in a situation where the child is somewhere they would like to stay.  If the child throws a fit while at a friends house…they have to leave.  If a child throws a fit while at the park…they have to leave.  But be careful and use your “mommy sense” or your child may figure out a way to use this tactic to their advantage.  I have known quite a few kids who have thrown a fit to get out of a situation (they don’t want to stay in the nursery at church, they don’t want to stay at school, they don’t want to be at the store to begin with,etc.).

2. Use the opportunity to talk about self-control. The Bible speaks abundantly about self-control (and I know plenty of adults who have yet to learn this lesson…so why not start as soon as possible).  It is a great chance to teach your child how scripture applies to their lives. While my husband was in seminary we were privileged to observe a great Christian couple in our church raise their four children to be able to apply scripture to life situations because of the way they disciplined them.  If their child disobeyed, they had a verse for that.  If their child told a lie, they had a verse for that.  And they used those verses in conversation to rebuke and instruct their children so that it didn’t seem awkward and confusing. Here’s an example of what I could have said to my daughter once she had calmed down.

“You lost control of yourself today didn’t you? When you threw a fit in the store you were not practicing self-control.  Did you know that the bible tells us that a person without self-control is like a city or a house with broken down walls.  What would happen if our house didn’t have any walls? We would not be safe, would we? Animals, and rain, and wind and snow and other people could get in and hurt us. God wants us to have self-control because it keeps us safe.  Having control of yourself keeps out bad thoughts and bad actions that can cause bad things to happen.  But the good new is that the bible also says that if we love Jesus and we have faith in him, he will help us to have self-control.  It is hard to have self-control….it is hard not to throw fits, isn’t it? But the more we love Jesus and follow him, the more we will learn to have self-control.  That is why mommy has to punish you…because Jesus has put me in charge of helping you to learn about self-control and about following him. Do you understand?

  • Proverbs 25:28
  • Galatians 5:22-23

3. Talk about consequences. Children must learn the consistent patterns of actions and consequences or they begin to think they can get away with disobeying and acting out.  If nothing bad happens when they misbehave, why should they act any differently?  Sometimes consequences are deliberately introduced such as in the situation with my daughter at the restaurant. I explained to her that the plans had been to go to Nana’s house after we ate so that she could play with her cousins, but because she did not have self-control, we had to leave and go straight home.  I made the decision to take away a privilege. But sometimes the consequence is a natural part of the situation.  For example, if your child left their toys outside when you asked them to bring them in, a consequence may be that the toys get ruined in the rain.  That is a natural consequence.  But in either case, the consequences must be discussed so that they child is aware of the correlation.

4. Follow through with the punishment.  This is something that I really struggle with.  I often make idle threats or set up a punishment and forget about it, or take away a privilege only to return it a short while later because I feel bad.  But this is a very important step in the process.  If punishment is non-existent, the child becomes out of control because they do not connect their wrong action with anything negative. If punishment is sporadic, the child becomes confused and frustrated because they do not know what to expect.  So don’t say, “If you don’t stop throwing a fit, you will not have your birthday party” unless you really intend on canceling their birthday party.  And if you have a tendency to forget about punishments like I do, write a reminder where you know you will see it so that you (and your fellow disciplinarian in the house) remember, Sarah got her Barbie taken away because she threw a fit at the store. She may not have it back until she can go to the store without throwing a fit. And I need to be reminded that a punishment is for my child’s good and I should not feel bad about doing it…it is destructive and harmful to my child not to punish them.

5. Pray! I will be honest…I often, wrongfully, leave this step out of the process.  I become emotional and overwhelmed. I become frustrated and self-focused.  And I forget that God has a remedy for all of those feelings.  God offers a chance for us to bring our feelings to him and he will, if we ask, shed light on our situation…giving us peace and wisdom in the chaos.  Not only should we pray for our thoughts and actions but we should pray for the child as well.  God has entrusted us with the discipline and encouragement and love and nurturing of these little souls…they are not just children, they are eternal souls given to us to guide and influence so that they will someday grow and be called to faith in God.  Should we not then pray for them?…crying out on their behalf for them to be saved…praying for God’s will to be done in their lives…praying that they will make good decisions and that their hearts will be open to the teaching that we provide.

A tantrum is not such a bad thing…when it can be used to teach a good lesson in self-control and to teach me, as a parent, to love and discipline my child in the right way. A fit can actually be a productive tool when it has taught me to trust in God and pray for my child and to seek wisdom from the Word of God.

Parenting: A Lesson in Tantrums

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The last couple weeks have been hard on all of us but it seems the changes have affected my little princess more than I had ever imagined.  As my husband left for his first day of work, she stood pitifully at the window, tears gleaming in her eyes…”I don’t want Daddy to go to work.  I will miss him and he will be gone for a long time.” She had gotten used to spending every Tuesday and Thursday with Daddy while Mommy went to work.  She had gotten used to Daddy bathing her and helping to tuck her in.  She had gotten used to Daddy being home on Saturdays to play Monster High and watch movies with her.  But this week her pitiful expressions of sadness have been replaced by rage and turmoil that I have never seen from my timid , cautious child.

We pulled away from the restaurant the other night, the princess screaming wildly in the back seat, thrashing and sweating like a caged beast.  “What happened to you?” I calmly inquired, “You were a little girl when we went in there and now you look like a little monster.  You tried to hurt Mommy and Nana and Jayme. And you almost made yourself sick acting like that.”  As I pulled into the driveway at home I could still hear tiny whimpers coming from the back seat but the chaotic fit had subsided.  She scrambled from the car and tried to open the door for me.  “Let me help you, let me help you…” she frantically raced ahead of me.  She pulled at her sleeping brother’s coat, “Can I help you get his ‘jamas on? Please.  I want to do better.  I want to help.” I felt frustrated and exhausted, but my heart hurt for her as well…she really is a helpful and loving little girl, but what happened?

As I helped her get into bed my mind began to race with thoughts about how I could fix this situation…and how to make it not happen again. I ignorantly chalked it up to exhaustion and hunger and assured myself it would be fine in the morning.  But when our trip to Wal-Mart the next day turned into a repeat offense, I sent my little monster to her room, in the process locking all her toys away in the attic.  I returned to talk calmly about honoring Mommy and Daddy and about consequences when she chooses to disobey.  The conversation ended in cries of repentance and a soft-spoken, “Mommy, do you forgive me?” Am I convinced this won’t happen again? Not at all.  Am I over the feelings of frustration and embarrassment I felt? Not at all.  But it has done me some good to be reminded…

1. I throw fits too.  That is why I clean my house like a crazy person when someone makes me mad. That is why I eat brownies til I make myself sick when I am exhausted from a stressful day. Those are my “fits”.    And many other adults throw fits as well…that is why you see angry Facebook rants and vengeful blog posts.  Temper tantrums are not a kid problem, they are a people problem and if I don’t help my daughter to express her anger more appropriately, she will inherit my tendency to try to clean away my feelings.

2. I am not alone.  Sometimes when my kids get out of control, the world seems to turn into a vacant tunnel, stretching endlessly to what I hope is a way out.  I don’t have the focus to see anyone else.  I don’t have the strength to do anything but get through the situation.  But somewhere in the sea of chaos and the judging glares, there is that one person who can offer up-lifting encouragement…but in the moment, I often forget.  Sometimes all I need is to call my husband, or throw the kids in the car and drive to my parents, or just stop to listen to the lady at the store saying, “I have been there.  It does get easier.” (Thank you, by the way, to the nice lady from church for not judging….sorry I was lost in trying to get my screaming child to the car).

3. It is not me against my children…it is me FOR my children.  As a parent it is hard not to develop the mindset that I am fighting an uphill battle…or to give in to the concept that I always need to be on the defense or my kids will overtake me.  I will be honest, if I had done things right to begin with, I never would have had to face the consequences of my neglect to parent preemptively.  I constantly let my kids get away with things and then fight an all out war when all of my bad decisions pile up.  When I give in to the concept that I am just trying to keep my kids from doing bad things instead of reminding myself that I am training a future adult, I am nurturing a living soul who I will be responsible for before God, that is when their behavior becomes horrible.  But if I take the time to train and correct…encourage and uplift….warn and discipline….before the situation gets out of hand, then I won’t have the explosions that I experienced over the last few days.

4.  I need to learn to listen to my children’s needs.  I knew my daughter was under a lot of stress.  Last week her “Daddy time” was cut very drastically.  She started at a new school where the hours are much longer.  She has walked in on conversations about other changes that may be taking place.  And she has been pushed and pulled in every direction trying to force our crazy schedule of classes and work and church and school to develop into a somewhat cohesive routine.  She made many attempts to warn me of the upcoming meltdown but I kept pushing and never encouraged a break. Wouldn’t it be much more prudent to give my daughter some quiet time…even if she doesn’t think she needs it…instead of pushing her to her breaking point? Wouldn’t it be wise to give my child an opportunity to calmly voice her frustrations and help her find a solution instead of waiting until she becomes so overwhelmed that she explodes in uncontrollable rage?

Though I know I can not be certain this won’t happen again, my children’s fits are yet another situation that can be used by God to train me in raising my kids….an unwelcome  but needed reprimand when my parenting does not align with the loving instruction found in the Bible.  For in loving and training my child to honor and obey me…I am ultimately training them to love and obey their Heavenly Father.