It was ridiculously hot outside, and we’d all been cooped up in the cool house for hours. While I took the indoor reprieve to allow for getting some work done in the house, the kids took it another direction: they bickered, they roughhoused, they argued, they whined.
To say I’d had enough is so much of an understatement as to actually be better classified as a lie. I was losing my precious hold on patience. My attempt at leaving the little ones mostly to their own entertainment for a calm day indoors had failed. I’m all for allowing them the space to work their way out of a bit of boredom, but I fear that the days of heat had exhausted us into a corner.
Looking back on that day (and many others that have ended the same way: with frustration over misbehavior), I’m beginning to see where we went wrong.
Not necessarily where the kids went wrong – their behavior was completely expected and rational for their ages – but where I went wrong. Each time their behavior became frustrating or stepped out of line with what we’re trying to teach them, the discipline became more and more severe. There were warnings, time-outs, loss of privileges, and loss of favorite toys. These aren’t unrealistic consequences, and I’m not abandoning them, but I see now that the specific combination of boredom and lack of attention had driven my kids up a wall.
And there was an easier way to handle the situation than to mete out punishment while I went about my business, unwilling to be disturbed.
The easier way would have been, instead of putting the kids into time-outs, to give them a time-IN. With me. And my attention.
It’s become clear to me now that the more irritating a child’s behavior becomes, the more I need to get close to that child. While their means of grabbing my attention are ill-advised – whining, arguing, disobeying – the reasons behind those needs are real. Our kids need our attention. It fulfills a basic human need, and it’s vital to their growing into secure and confident adults. This need presents itself more obviously in youngsters than with older kids, though I’d argue that even when it’s not verbalized, the need for positive attention is still great.
If children are acting out, it’s for a reason. Either they’re angry or upset or bored or lonely or…any number of things. And as parents, it’s our job to discover the root cause.
In the case of the boring, hot day, the cause was fairly clear cut. And the remedy would have been just as simple: stepping away from my task or entertainment long enough to play a game, read a story, have a conversation, or simply snuggle would have filled the kids’ tanks with just enough respectful attention to relieve all of our irritations.
I understand that there are plenty of times when we have real tasks which can’t be ignored in favor of giving our kids attention in the form of time-ins. But it seems to follow that if we make a point of showing positive attention – not just a stream of instructions or reprimands when they need intervention – our kids will understand the leeway. Their need for attention won’t be at the breaking point, because they will have received it on a regular basis.
And our days, hopefully, will be easier to navigate until their needs change once more.