You will have to trust me when I tell you that I have spent a lot of time thinking about how adults speak to children. I could talk for hours (and often do) about how praise is likely to backfire, threats are useless, and bribes will only haunt you in the end. And just when I started to feel like I had a pretty good handle on this whole parenting thing, I took a closer look and saw a fresh, new place that needed my attention: a big old double standard.
I often implore my son; “Please practice patience,” when waiting is necessary. I then snap at him, “I’m losing my patience!” when he makes me wait. I want him to move from playtime to mealtime to bedtime with ease (and on my timetable), while I tell him, “Just wait a minute,” or “Hang on a second while I finish this email,” at every turn. I tell him, “You’re not listening to me!” or “You’re not paying attention.” Oh, but it is I who am not paying attention.
I saw this on Facebook tonight: Remember, you are not managing an inconvenience; you are raising a human being. Right. I forgot.
One reason I forgot is that I work full-time, among other things. But hey, I know it’s just as stressful on the so-called “greener” side. At home or at the office, we are all busting our humps. Deborah Jacobs suggests we don’t judge each other. I completely agree. The truth is I’d be working just as hard even if I didn’t go to the office everyday—self-aware parenting is no joke, no matter where you spend your days.
You know how sometimes people say, “He’s just doing that to get attention.”? Yeah well, that’s because your attention is required.
Pay attention when he says, “I want to tell you something.”
Pay attention when she says, “Watch me Daddy!”
Pay attention to the way he looks up at you and says, “I want to hold your hand Mommy,” as he steps out of the car. This means he has listened, and then integrated what you have requested.
Pay attention when she falls apart after losing Go Fish. This means that she is too young to be a “good loser.” Skip the lecture and try to stay relaxed. Maybe you can get her laughing if you apologize profusely and make a heartfelt promise to lose all the rest of the games.
Pay attention when he asks for every toy in the store. Notice that he is likely over-stimulated, or needs a good cry. Offer the warm, firm limit that you are not getting any toys today. Acknowledge that this is hard—this wanting and not getting.
Last I checked wanting and not getting was still hard. Even for those of us with mature, adult brains. For his small, still developing mind, it might be unbearable. This and all the other all-too-human lessons will be learned in good time, and will be best incorporated as you stay connected and loving.
Remember, you are not managing an inconvenience; you are raising a human being.
Remember in as many moments as you can.
Inconvenient behavior is your child saying: “Please, pay attention.”