Julia was fed up. Her kids fought daily about their responsibilities, and Julia was at the end of her patience. Daily power struggles were beginning to define their relationships as the kids grew more discouraged and Julia more determined to stop the “misbehavior.” So Julia came to us for help.
As we sat and talked, it was clear from Julia’s description of her children’s behavior that there was more going on than mere misbehavior. We discussed how kids’ “misbehavior” is often just the tip of the iceberg of hunger, discouragement, anxiety, or tiredness. Julia went away from her session with a resolve to better understand both her challenging son Josh and her daughter Ashley, and help them better understand themselves. She wrote this report in preparation for our next session:
We had a couple great victories recently. Last Wednesday Ashley started falling apart because she was struggling with schoolwork. My natural impulse was to get frustrated and anxious, but instead I stayed calm and helped her in a compassionate way.
Then I made a little written list for her of what she might need in the moment to calm down:
- Am I hungry?
- Am I tired?
- Do I need to switch subjects?
- Do I need something to drink?
- Do I need some ice water?
- Do I need a break?
- Do I need help?
In this list Julia had sent a new and powerful message to Ashley: “I care about why this is hard for you. With a little help you can figure out what you need in order to be successful.” The tide had turned. Julia’s note continued.
Ashley filled out the list by putting 4 checks by “I am tired”. So I suggested some ice water in her fun Rapunzel cup with the crazy straw and then tickled her back while she drank it. She went back to work, turned her attitude around and did great the rest of the day!
A couple days later, she started falling apart again while doing homework, but she didn’t want to put the work aside and do something different. I took out the list again and reminded her of how great we both did on Wednesday.
Can you feel the difference? Julia’s approach became encouraging instead of discouraging. Ashley was still accountable to do her work, but in an environment of support instead of criticism. But Julia’s note wasn’t done.
I snuggled with her, tried to make her laugh and reminded her that she is “my sunshine girl”. I also added some silly humor from a movie that we watched recently. When we had a little playful momentum going, I said, “Let’s add to the list”:
- Do I need to tell my mom how awesome she is?
- Do I need to serve my smart, beautiful, awesome mom?
Then she wrote in:
- Do I need my mom to sing opera and dance to “Call me, Maybe”?
With a little dancing and singing we turned it around again and she got through her school work, with both of us really having fun and enjoying each other.
I’m so excited about the victory of empathizing, helping Ashley communicate about her needs, and being playful. I am more hopeful that we can use this strategy and not lose so much time with me “fighting fire with fire” when she gets frustrated and overwhelmed, as I have in the past. Yay!
Are you kidding? Dancing and singing during homework?
We are not kidding. This is real life. A real parent. Real struggles, transformed because a mom came to understand that below the surface of apparent misbehavior can be a whole host of complicating factors. This realization helped her empathize and encourage on the way to equipping her daughter to better manage those complexities.
The simple process here: Empathize. Encourage. Equip. Julia did it. So can you!
Apply it Now:
- What might be some basic physical needs that contribute to your child’s misbehavior – like overstimulation, boredom, low blood sugar, fatigue, lack of exercise/sleep… Make a list of the possibilities and use the list like Julia did.