We recently went through a period when Caroline was acting out a lot. I had been sick for a few weeks and was feeling awful. My mom was staying with us for the week to help out. Nothing was “normal” around here. Every mealtime became a battleground. Caroline would come completely unglued if her chair wasn’t in the exact right spot at the table or if we weren’t sitting exactly where she thought we should be. I was already feeling terrible and this happening at almost every meal every day was adding significantly to my stress.
Some people would say that Caroline needed a spanking. She needed to be whipped into submission. She needed to put a smile on that little face, say “Yes, Ma’am” and sit wherever we deemed fit. Some would go so far as to put her where she doesn’t want to be just to prove that we’re in charge and she has to obey us immediately.
(Can I just say that even typing those words makes me sick to my stomach?)
Looking for What My Child is Trying to Tell Me
Thank God, literally and truly, that we were not inclined to handle it that way. Whether it was the Holy Spirit or my mothering instinct or my better judgment, I don’t know. But I knew deep down inside that she wasn’t being naughty. She wasn’t defying us. She was acting out because her world was turned upside down. The normalcy she expects in life was not there. Her mother was not available to take care of her in normal ways.
It was completely unlike her to be like this. The only time she has a meltdown is when she is over-tired or over-stimulated. Normally she’s a happy, helpful, compliant child who only occasionally tests the boundaries in a normal toddler way.
Somehow we got through those couple of weeks. It was extremely stressful at times, but we tried to accommodate her as much as possible and give in when she insisted on things like the fact that our placemats HAD to be touching at the table. In fact, it was the insistence that our placemats be touching that confirmed to me this was a control and security issue for her. She was frightened by the way things were and trying to keep some level of control in whatever way she could.
Listening to What She Can’t Say
I’m happy to say that in the past two weeks since I’ve been making steady progress at getting better and life has been mostly normal, we’ve not had any meltdowns. Last week we had an almost normal week and did normal out and about things. We went to church yesterday. Caroline has been a very happy camper.
I shudder to think the damage we would have done if we had cracked down on her and insisted on “happy obedience” when she was acting out those few weeks.
Caroline is just a little person who can hardly understand all the emotions racing around in her heart and mind. It was hard enough for me as an adult to deal with the emotions and stress of being ill. How much more for a little one who has barely begun to grasp her world and how it works?
So among the many things I’ve learned through this physical trial, I’m thankful to have this experience that reinforced the importance of listening to what my child is really saying. It is something I’ve always believed, but having the opportunity to put it into practice in a situation that was already difficult and stressful reminded me again of how important it is to back off from a situation and really try to understand what is being said.
Have you had an experience where you had to take a different approach to listening to your child in order to understand what he or she was really saying?