Put Your Hand in Your Pocket & Other Ways to Avoid Hurting Your Kids
I am mama to an extraordinary kid. He is my light. My heart. But he also struggles with self-control just like any other three-year-old. And on top of being three, he struggles with all these added elements. The feeling of his body moving through space can send him into panic or confusion. His inability to communicate can make his world come crashing down fast. And his tendency towards obsessive compulsive pattern behavior is sometimes comforting to him but also sometimes very frightening to him. And for me. When he gets confused or frightened, he lashes out and often it's with great intensity.
We've been having some really challenging days and by challenging, I mean that I want to sell the children on Ebay and move to Vegas. That would get me in a lot of trouble and I would no doubt regret it. But dang, there are times when I am at the end of the string that is dangling off the end of my tether.
Staying home is exactly where I need to be right now, but it has brought with it some added stress that I did not expect. The joys far outweigh the struggle, but that doesn't discount that the struggle is very real. I have had some moments that I am equal parts ashamed of and also grateful for. You might be thinking, "Grateful? For realz? That girl is crazy" ...and you would be exactly right. I am crazy. I stay at home with my littles and no one speaks English to me for 10 plus hours a day. That can be crazy making stuff. But I digress, Yes I am grateful for these moments that I am ashamed of and I'm going to tell you about them because I think it's important. And then I'm going to tell you how I get through them, because I know that every single parent out there has had moments they would like to take back. Moments where they were less than their best self. Sometimes by a lot. And every single one of us needs to think long about how to prevent angry parenting. Because even really great people can do stupid stupid things.
It's that understanding that brought me to my plan for when I feel that I am losing control. One of worst moments happened when I was too forceful stopping Mr. Pants from hitting Ms. Plum with his Tonka truck. I grabbed his arm too hard and pulled him too hard. He was fine. Physically. But his look of surprise and fear spoke more to me than any bruise ever could have. Another time, I yelled so loud at him when he was jumping on the bed and purposefully dropped a knee onto his sister's head as she nursed, that his face was pure fear. Fear of me. And who am I kidding, that's happened more than once.
So here I am. Thinking, thinking, thinking. How do I do better? Because my belief is that I have to do better or I risk crossing an even bigger line. The hitting line. And guess what? I did that once.
I was changing his diaper and I was 8 months pregnant with Ms. Plum. He was thrashing and trying to kick me and his attempts were getting faster and harder with every miss. Then he landed a kick that knocked the wind out of me, right on my pregnant belly. I didn't even think. I snapped and I slapped his naked butt. The second after my hand made contact with his bottom, I was ashamed. And it broke both of our hearts. He broke into the most heartbroken sob and I cried with him. Because I hurt him, because I lost control. Because I betrayed his trust in me. I should have walked away long before he was able to get that kick landed. I should have been in the other room already. But I wasn't. I decided that his diaper had to go on that second and I was going to get it on if it was the last thing I ever did. I was angry and I wasn't controlling it. Thankfully I put one of my rules into action and got up after comforting him and called my mom. I needed someone to talk me off the ledge a bit and I knew it. I was dangling and I needed pulled back.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I know I am not the only one that this has happened to.
We are firmly in the No. Spanking. Ever. camp of parenting and I absolutely believe that hitting is never the answer to childhood misbehavior. So how did this happen to me? How do I handle my frustrations and urge to scream when I am in the moment? How do I safely control my obsessive three-year-old when he is locked in on hurting his sister, himself or me? How do I not lose it when that same three-year-old is destroying anything he can get his hands on for an entire day? How do I not snap when both kids are screaming crying, my head is pounding and my blood pressure is rising?
Well, here are a few of the ways I do...
1. Walk away. If it is safe to, just walk away.
2. Sit your butt down and play. I have found myself way too caught up in the managing the house some days, that I forget to just sit down and play with my kids. Mr. Pants will get my attention and let me know. One of the quickest ways I have found to diffuse hurricane Pants is to simply sit down and start playing with his toys. And he almost always comes over to play with me. A lot of times that is all he wants. Some positive attention. Remind yourself that the dishes will not get their feelings hurt if they sit for another hour but your kid just might. So play with them. Even if it's the last thing you want to do at that moment. After the first fit of laughter, you just might forget that you were stressed to begin with.
3. Go drink a full glass of water. Or even a small glass of wine. Take a minute to regroup and start again.
4. Does the behavior really need to be stopped? This is a biggie for me. Choosing your battles. Consider for a moment that the paper he is ripping to shreds is not as important to you as he is. If that paper is something really important then take the paper and replace it with something less important. The other day, Mr. Pants was trying to rip up some bills (good boy!). At first I was flustered and angry. But I took them from him and got out the craft paper and started ripping away. He joined me. Problem solved.
5. Call someone/text someone. Decide who your "I'm about to lose it" buddy is. Give them a call and say "Hey, when I'm at the end of my rope, I'd like to give you a call to cool down. Is that ok with you?" For me, I have about five of these very important people. The other day I called three of them until someone answered. If you go through the texts on my phone you will find some that say, "I am texting you to cool down. Having a rough day. You got a minute?"
6. Put the kids in the car and take a drive. A long long drive.
7. Bake. Kids love to help make food. Even the little ones. Give it a try.
8. Change it up. I use this one a lot. Morning not going so well? Let them take a bubble bath during the day. Or take the lunch outside for a picnic or eat on a blanket on the floor. Make your routine a little different. When Mr. Pants is melting down bad, I almost always start the bath water and he comes running. It relaxes both of us and it almost always works. Is there something that you child loves to do like that? Try it.
9. Use the TV. I know I know, TV is the devil. Oh well, because Sesame Street is part of the Pants Family culture. Pretty much every single day, that blessed show has made it possible to get a meal on the table or Ms. Plum nursed without Mr. Pants jumping all over us. I love you, Sesame Street. Even if Cookie Monster taught lil dude to chew up crackers like a crazed lunatic and spit them all over the floor. I still love you because that is a small price to pay for the respite you give. Viva La Street!
10. Put your hands in you pocket and talk to yourself. I am totally serious. I have a mantra. You can have one too. Mine is "I will not teach my child aggression. I will not teach him violence." It may seem silly but for me it has worked more times that I can count. When I am in the thick of it and it is not possible to walk away or make a call because Pants could hurt himself or Ms. Plum, I say my mantra out loud as many times as I need to. If I can, I put my hands in my pockets. Because just that act of being aware of my hands and saying those words, reminds me that I am a strong adult and my actions in that moment have the potential to harm. It brings me back to my center. That my hands must remain gentle to my children and that I do have control over them. That I must have control over them.
11. Remember that you love them and tell them. This seems obvious because, of course, we love our kids. But saying it out loud, not a joke but for real, even as they are peeing in their food, can give you pause long enough to not over react. Remind yourself of how you looked at them when they were tiny and snuggled into your arms. Remind yourself how you promised them that you would move the earth for them and protect them for as long as you lived. Remember how that felt. And be gentle.
Photo Credit: kellyhogaboom.