As the mom of two boys, I am in the thick of parenting. Whatever I am writing about is usually directly related to some of the challenges I face with my own kids. It’s as if I am using this forum to help and support myself through this incredibly demanding life process with the hopeful intent that I may help others, too. The real question is ‘do I practice what I preach’?
In my last article I was trying desperately to get a handle on my eleven year old’s big emotions without much success. After some reflection and a little research, I concluded that big emotions have to run their course. The best solution is to back off and see where it goes.
Wouldn’t you know, less than a week after I wrote about these issues, I was faced with a real-life moment to ‘practice what I preach’. The day had started out innocently enough. In fact, it actually was a rather boisterously happy morning. My son was pumped for a class speech contest. He actually enjoys public speaking, a concept that completely boggles my mind, and he was looking forward to giving his speech in the coming week (again, complete bogglement on my part). He had it neatly typed up, printed out and had practiced it sufficiently. I thought it was most amazing speech I had ever heard in my entire life, and he took my praise with a grain of salt. Apparently, he is suspect that I think EVERYTHING he does is AMAZING. He went off to school in a fantastic mood and I expected him to return in the same positive mind-set. After school as he walked towards our car, I could see he was mad. He was scowling and looked extremely annoyed.
I rolled down the window, “What’s wrong, Kid?”
“Mom! I have to put my speech on index cards!!! I don’t want to do that!!! I like it how it is and I don’t want to have to rewrite by hand on cards. I’m so mad right now!” I could tell his bad mood was about to get even uglier.
Immediately, I started to scroll through options on how to handle this. My first thought (per last blog post) was that I was going to have to let him be cranky and upset. Even though I’m so used to going into rescue mode, I knew I had to ultimately let him be. I also thought of the acronym HALT. This is a therapy acronym often used by people going through addiction treatment, but I find that it’s a helpful run-down when dealing with disgruntled kids (I modify it slightly). It’s a reminder to step back and not personalize the situation as there are lots of factors that can contribute to a bad mood.
(H)ungry – Is my kid hungry? Would some food help?
(A)ngry – Is my kid upset about something?
(L)onely – This is the one I modify, I think of it more in terms of their social and interpersonal interactions. Did they have an upsetting incident at school? Was someone mean to them? Did they feel left out?
(Ti)red – Did my kid get enough rest the night before? Did they have an extra-busy day? Are they feeling overwhelmed?
Turns out, for my son, the anger part was obvious, but he was also hot, thirsty, hungry and tired. So, I addressed these issues first. I told him as soon as we got home to have something to eat and drink. Then, I told him to go read for twenty minutes (his favorite way to de-stress) and then he could deal with the speech.
In my attempt to stay out of it I said the following:
“I completely understand your frustration. I would be frustrated, too. Here’s the thing, you can look at this in two ways and make a choice on how you are going to handle it. You can be so upset and frustrated that you give up on yourself and your speech. Or, you can still be mad, but channel your frustration into making your speech the best it can possibly be. Either way, I’m staying out of it.”
He followed the plan, had a snack and drink then read for a while. Eventually, he came to me for help. Together we came up with a solution to shrink the font size on his current speech and change the margins. With the smaller text, it glued neatly on the index cards after being cut down to size. He then turned his focus back to mastering the content of his speech having worked through much of his frustration on his own.
This won’t be the last time life will hand him difficult choices. My only job is to get out of his way and let him make his own decisions.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent