We just returned from a big overseas trip to America a few weeks ago, and my 5 1/2 year old had been really driving me crazy. During this trying time with her, my patience had been especially thin, since I was already run down and tired myself. When she walked past me and whacked me on the butt. Or… threw something at her little sister… Or purposely dumped her toys all over the floor with a menacing grin on her face… You know…
I was all like, “WHAT.ARE.YOU.DOING!?!?”
This was not her normal behavior. At one point, I nearly blurted out, “If you don’t stop acting like this, you’re not going to get any presents for Christmas!”
I caught myself before I said it, because those words were not mine. I guess I had heard too many tired parents in the shops, yelling at their overwhelmed kids and the words sneaked into my consciousness. Not only do I not believe in threatening children, but our family does not make the condition that receiving Christmas presents is contingent on desirable behavior.
When children act obnoxious, it’s because they have a need that is not being fulfilled. I mentally checked our recent interactions… What had we been doing lately? Lot’s of shuffling the kids around and trying to get things back to normal? Check. Lots of chaos in the shopping centers and disruption from it being Christmas time? Check. Lots of quality connection time? Unchecked…
As mad as I felt about her behavior, I had to understand. Her behavior was telling me that she needed something. That afternoon, I spent about half an hour, giving her full attention, high energy, laughter play. We did some funny role playing, where she pretended to be me and she got to boss me around. Then, we played hide and seek. Lots of giggling and running. When we had to finish playing, she cried over something. She cried hard. This crying, I knew, was something that had to come out. It had been brewing for a while.
Kids love receiving presents. But, what they really love, especially around the silly season, is our connection. Threatening, punishing and bribing kids with Christmas presents works for achieving short term compliance. If you’re desperate to get cooperation, go for it, but know that threats only postpone getting to the root of the problem. Using threats creates disconnection and can cause even more trouble down the line. One day the threats will stop working and the peaceful lines of communication will be in dire need of repair.
When we’re on the threshold of our sanity, it’s hard to peel ourselves out of that rut of anger and of seeing intention. But, if we can see that undesirable behavior in children is only a cry for help, then we can be more useful in facilitating the long term emotional development of our children. My daughter will still get her presents this year, regardless of her behavior. I know that what she desperately needs right now is connection time from me. What’s funny, is that when I feel too tired to give her the connection time, her behavior is much more exhausting than just giving her a small session of play.
Already, her behavior has improved immensely after just a few sessions of play and connection. Wishing you all peace and joy this holiday season!
For more information on was to play with your child to create connection, I highly recommend reading Aletha Solter’s book, “Attachment Play‘. I’ve also written several blog posts on types of play, power reversal games and other types of play .