Beyond Hungry, Tired, Or Sick
My son is 5 years old and recently began kindergarten. Long gone are the days when fussiness only meant 1 of 3 things, either my son was tired, hungry, or sick with a cold.
Those seem like simpler times now in reflection, knowing that most distress from a baby can be directly attributed to 1 of 3 reasons, each having a direct course of action to remedy them.
Ever since my son began his toddler years, especially as he socialized into a daycare, life has started to offer up subtle stressors for my son. The true source of these newer strains are not so easily identifiable now, which present a new realm of challenges for me as a parent.
We have leaped well beyond hungry, tired, or sick in our household and now have the entire world of social and emotional worries to contend with.
To be clear, the types of stressors I am talking about in this discussion are issues along the lines of problems sharing toys with a schoolmate, a disruptive classmate in preschool, nervousness over organized sports activities, and more recently the beginning of kindergarten.
These are all legitimate issues to have to contend with as a parent and they can seem overwhelming to a 5-year-old, but I feel compelled to make the distinction between the themes being discussed in this article and something truly traumatic.
Being Put To The Parental Test
When kids grow into their toddler years and beyond, a disturbance to their world can often get displayed or communicated through some unruly behavior of their own. Still lacking a comprehensive vocabulary and skill set to communicate hurt or sad feelings, they often resort to testing our parental bond with them.
This type of poor behavior is an outlet for discomforting feelings that kids can feel but are not necessarily equipped yet for sharing how and why they are feeling those emotions.
In fairness to them, not every adult is equipped to proactively share feelings of hurt or anxiety either, so you could only imagine trying to do so when you are still trying to master a language or grappling for the first time with shame and embarrassment.
When a young child is feeling the brunt of some social or emotional angst, they can and will turn to you as their parent, and put you to the test. They seem to be literally testing us as parents to make sure we are there for them and love them unconditionally.
This presents a multi-layered challenge for parents. Beyond identifying the true source of our kid’s disquiet, we need to ensure them that they are indeed loved and secured in the household, while also being firm in the face of their unruly behavior. Good luck with all of that parents.
I Have Failed The Test At Times
My son is sweet, smart, and thankfully seems to be well adjusted in all manners of life so far. While he has been a total joy, there have undoubtedly been some confounding and taxing moments for me as a parent.
In the past, we have had week-long stretches of difficult evenings getting him into bed. He would be rammy, uncooperative, and at times just flat out mean to me and my wife while we attempted to go through our wind-down routine each of these evenings.
The time this occurred was during the return back to school after my son and wife had enjoyed a nice long vacation during the holiday season. My son was out of his preschool for around 10 days during that vacation. The transition back into his preschool routine was more of a challenge than I would have anticipated, especially being his 3rd year in that building.
The moments when my son was choosing to act out was the time I am typically running most low on patience, which is in the evening getting him ready for bed. His uncooperative stunts were reaching new depths for him and I was admittedly failing his test at times.
Trying to balance discipline and preserving the order of the routines in your home, while also recognizing your kid is acting out over some social stress, is a tightrope walk. The unruly behavior needs to be addressed, but it must be coming from a firm place of love and not an uncontrolled overreaction.
Admittedly, this is much easier to sit and type about in theory, as opposed to putting it into practice. In the evening, like most parents, I am usually spent and eagerly anticipating my son going to bed so I can enjoy an hour or so of winding down myself.
Some of my more regretful parenting moments have come in the evening hours, in the face of my son not wanting to cooperate at all with our bedtime routine.
It takes some considerable grounding and conscious focus on my part, to try and stay centered when embroiled in these moments.
Some simple tips and strategies, prior to and in the midst of a struggle with your kid:
Take a seat on the floor. Get on their eye level and change the dynamic of your situation in an instant with this calming gesture of respect.
Give your kid some space. When I do a bad parenting job, it is often the result of getting too caught up in negative energy with my kid. Instead of feeding into negative energy, just separate and give it a moment to dissipate. This is a hard one for me to remember, but when I do step back within an unwound moment, it typically calms us both.
Identify an activity you can do with your kid that is away from the distraction and pull of cell phones and televisions. For me and my son, that is either playing nerf basketball in his room or taking a brief walk around the block. Those connected moments seem to be a safe space for my son to productively let off some steam or begin to share about his day with some depth beyond the usual small talk.
Take up a mindfulness practice. This is time you spend on yourself well ahead of any parenting situation, that can and will pay off tenfold when those challenging moments arise.
Become a frequent walker. Walking relieves stress and changes my emotional state for the better, every single time. This again is a step you will be doing for yourself, ahead of any situation with your kid, but the alleviation of stress can make a huge impact on your ability to parent with presence later on in the day.
Talk to your kids about unconditional love. This seems to resonate with my son, especially in the aftermath of major blowups, like me taking a smack to the face from my boy. I emphasize that even when he is whacking my head, which is not acceptable, he is loved dearly.
Seek Presence As A Parent
At the end of the day, kids are searching mightily for the reassurance that we do love them unconditionally. When they are going through some transition or nervousness over social stressors, they seek our love and support by prodding and poking for it.
It can be gut-wrenching to know your kid is struggling a bit from social tensions. At times as parents, we feel truly helpless, especially when our kids begin their elementary schooling years. Things only get further compounded when the clues to our kid’s challenges come in the form of their own disruptive behavior.
These moments call for us to be as free from our own baggage and egos as best as possible so we can parent our kids from a place of presence.
When we can remain centered and loving in the face of these upsetting behavior patterns, our kids will be all the better adjusted for it and our homes will ultimately be filled with more joy.