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Challenge: Life Changes

What Are Our Children Really Saying? It’s Our Responsibility to Interpret It

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I was attending a BBQ over the weekend with my youngest son and daughter to celebrate the closing of my son’s baseball tournament which preoccupied the entire weekend. My husband was away in PA with my middle son who was participating in a hockey tournament. Another weekend separated and feeling frustrated that I was being dragged from baseball field to baseball field with only half of my family. With one son playing hockey and the other two playing recreation baseball and travel baseball I can hardly call my weekends relaxing and bonding family time. Who knows what will happen when my daughter stumbles upon her passions.

It’s such a quandary for me. I complain that I personally never had the opportunity to be on a team or join one and would have liked to but this constant motion and separation isn’t working for me. When I brought this up to my husband he reminded me about the numerous benefits we would be depriving our children of if we curtailed their participation. He explained that this is truly what they want, what makes them happy, fosters their self-esteem because they all excel in athletics, and teaches them team work, independence, compromise, problem-solving skills, not to mention all the health benefits they are afforded with. What was I to say to all of that? I didn’t and couldn’t say much.

I don’t know the right answer but realize that the way we’re living our lives doesn’t give us the opportunity to just be or enough time to bond and build on our familial relationships. I know there needs to be a balance that makes sense but that balance seems impossible to find. My husband and I personally have a challenging time at it so why should it be any different for my children. I realize I have to model these skills or the chances are it will carry over to them. Interestingly enough I used this phrase “work life and family balance” when I pitched a workshop to a large corporation just the other week and was corrected. The PC and more en vogue way to express it is “work life and family fit.” It so makes sense to me based on my philosophy of being “good enough.” Reaching for balance is an impossibility, a “fit” is manageable. I consider myself a work in progress. There’s never an end point; there’s always room for growth and expansion.

While I was at the BBQ, my son hardly listened to anything I was saying or it sure felt that way. The first occurrence was when I asked him to either take off his socks or put on his sneakers on as he was strutting across the dirt lawn. The second was when I asked him to be mindful about his doritos intake and another was when we were getting ready to leave. Just one more pitch he pleaded and one after that and another after that, etc. We were the last men standing.

I was at my wits end. It felt like anything I would request from him I received a, “you could say whatever you want to but I’m going to do what I want to do.” I was tempted to grab him, confront him and demand that he listen to me. Remember what our parents would say, you have to listen because I said so. It doesn’t work anymore! I felt myself becoming increasingly irritated that he wasn’t being considerate of my feelings and was being entirely self-focused and obstinate.

A good friend and behaviorist once said something to me that changed the way in which I communicated and behaved toward my children. She said it all comes down to them wanting something or wanting to get rid of something. That all made sense to me and helped me to interpret my children’s behavior. It gave me a context from which to communicate with them.

Instead of focusing on the specific behavior that presents itself, I ask myself, what behavior do they want or want to rid themselves of? I feel like it’s my responsibility to interpret their thoughts and feelings because they are often not sophisticated enough to interpret it for themselves.

I think about, what are they “really” saying, the underlining implicit messages that is not as obvious. For example, when angry, aggressive feelings (secondary feelings) or behavior presents, it’s our job as parents to interpret what the primary feelings are. They general tend to be laden with fear, frustration, sadness and/or disappointment. Our children are often not developmentally mature enough to make sense of it all and tap into their deep emotional thoughts & feelings.

I speak to interpreting our children’s language because we generally can’t take what they say literally because it generally isn’t literal. Even when they say jarring things like “I hate you”, there’s content there. There is major consideration about what they are frustrated by or disappointed about when they make abrasive comments. The feelings behind the statement are acceptable; the words and behavior that follow are not. I first deal with the thoughts and feelings and may express, “You used strong feelings to describe how you’re feeling about me. Could you please share with me what you’re frustrated by or disappointed about? Once they’re able to feel listened and attended to, then I deal with the hurtful inappropriate behavior. In the moment their intention is to hurt and they do a good job of it!

I share that and may say, “You were really angry and were out to hurt my feelings and make me feel bad when you said that you hate me. It did hurt me but didn’t get you what you wanted or were looking for which was for me to listen to you. What might be a better way for you to get my attention and would more likely get you what you need which is for me to listen to you?” After that dialogue, I would explain that speaking that way to me is unacceptable because it is hurtful and doesn’t explain anything to me about the way they think or feel. When they express themselves out of anger and frustration they are being disrespectful to me and if that behavior continues there will be consequences. I would list specifically what those consequences are so they know exactly what to expect. I would most definitely keep my word and if need be review the dialogue.

I use the example with clients that if their child had a broken leg would they create barriers in their home and block their path with furniture or would they be sure to move the furniture out of the way so their child can get around with as much ease as possible. Parents can elicit these underlining thoughts and feelings with deep empathy and care. It can be a pivotal time to model compassion, care, patience, and tolerance. To treat you and others (including their siblings!) with more compassion.

I feel so fortunate that I have the training I do because I think about how parents in general would know how to make these interpretations. How could we expected to know, no one ever teaches or explains it to us. Child development continues to change with the times because of advancement in technology, how we’re socialized and our cultural mores. There is a need for us to always update and consider alternative and modernized methods to parenting. The static approach doesn’t work which lends to the idea that there cannot be a rule book because the rules would need to be amended periodically based on our individual children, the era they are raised in and the social structural changes in our society.

My darling son who would not listen to me to save my life heard a mouthful. When I realized I was talking too much, I changed my tactic. I thought about the wanting something or wanting to get rid of something theory and realized that when I was asking him to get off the lawn, I was interrupting “his game.” I etched forward to him and expressed that I get the sense that he doesn’t want to stop playing and requested that he quickly give me his socks so he’s bothered in the least way possible.

The doritos were much trickier. I knew it was a novelty for him because I limit the amount of fatty snacks we have in our household. I said he can have four more and might take one at a time when he makes his rounds so that they last longer. That didn’t work out that well, as I stated in another blog, he behaved like an addicted child. I eventually had to move the doritos indicating to him that he just can’t control himself so I’m doing what I need to in order to help him cease from eating them.

Last, leaving the place, I asked him what’s keeping him there to continue throwing the ball. He stated that he just wants one good hit and then he would be satisfied. I negotiated with him to get one hit, whether he assessed it as good or bad and if he needed some more he could continue playing with his brothers at home. When he was able to feel more control over the situation, he was more open to listening. It wasn’t effortless, nevertheless we made it home without screaming, punishing and too much exasperation. I was pleased with that.

Baseball and hockey season is almost over. Hooray, I get my family back! That is until my boys go off to sleep away camp… Only four months to contemplate getting a better work life and family fit…

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