Thomas and I had a few items to pick up from the supermarket on our way home. Always eager to help, Thomas likes pulling the wheeled basket along behind him and eating the free fruit the shop puts out for kids. The two of us usually have fun together at the supermarket.
When we got to the supermarket, there were no wheeled baskets and the fruit box was empty. You can probably guess how the rest of this story goes.
Thomas, being 2, insisted on carrying the regular basket with only handles himself. It was awkward and heavy for him but I gave him a chance to try and to see for himself that he couldn’t manage it. Uncharacteristically, he was getting himself in knots over it and our shopping wasn’t getting done. In the end, I had to insist that I would carry the basket myself. I was ready for crying and complaints but not for what came next.
Tears, screaming, pulling at me and the basket. He had himself in hysterics. I am not exaggerating when I say the whole supermarket could hear Thomas – and I could sense their ears listening. I needed the few items on my shopping list and I knew it wouldn’t take long so I forged ahead.
But I had a choice to make about how I was going to forge ahead – with love or with fear. I chose love. And I mean self-love, not love for Thomas (bless him). He was in no state for reason or, even, comfort. He just needed his moment. So I mentally detached myself from Thomas. I detached myself from the shoppers and the staff. I detached from my embarrassment. “My child’s behaviour is not a reflection of me or my parenting,” I told myself as I charged down the aisles on my mission to get our essentials and get out of there. (Well, limped, really, as Thomas was semi-attached to me – but with the conviction of charging.)
I sensed the discomfort of the staff and shoppers at being witness to the scene I was responsible for. My strength was wavering as I was heading for the one last thing I needed when…a stranger came up to me and said, “Excuse me, can I give you a hug?”. She gave me a firm squeeze and said I was doing a good job. With her kindness and understanding, I was fortified enough to finish my job with composure both within and without. I am so appreciative of her support and, whoever you are – thank you, enormously.
I headed straight for the self-check-out as standing in queue wasn’t an option. Like the parting of the red seas, people made room for me and my red-faced child. A staff member pointed me to the next available check-out. The customer at the check-out next to me offered to scan my groceries through for me.
The whole ordeal felt like forever but was probably under five minutes, due to everyone’s effort. They and I both wanted us out of there!
By the time we got to the car, Thomas was hitting me in his frustration and overwhelm. I simply told him, “no hitting, hitting hurts”. He wasn’t in a place to receive any lessons. I figured I’d let him get it out and offer him comfort when he was ready to receive it. (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions)
So I had the joy of driving home with Thomas screaming in the back seat. By the time we pulled up outside our house, he had quietened somewhat but told me he wanted me to keep driving and to listen to “Yellow Submarine”, which we’ve been playing a lot of in the car recently. So I ended up reversing back down the driveway and cruising around the suburb with “Yellow Submarine” on repeat. I looked in my rear vision mirror and Thomas was happy in the back seat, pretending to play the trombone along with the music. He was reset.
That morning, I had listened to a podcast interview with Gabrielle Bernstein, author of The Universe Has Your Back as I was filling lunchboxes. The interviewer had asked her, “How do you know the Universe has your back?” This is how I know – the hugging stranger, the eager helpers at the self-checkout, Ringo Starr. My quick stop at the supermarket didn’t go the way I would have had it, but there was help for me everywhere I turned. I love the title of Gabby’s book and it is a truth I want my boys to know.
At the end of my last post, Discipline 101, I promised I’d share my best discipline technique with you so I’ll jump right in.
Here it is –
Maybe you were hoping for something a bit more “practical”- 3 steps to take when your child’s behaviour goes askew, perhaps. We all want a magical, quick-fix strategy to manage our children’s difficult behaviour and the discomfort it can cause. But, when they require guidance, it’s our presence, not strategies that is needed.
By “presence” I mean having our attention focussed fully on our child and the moment we are experiencing with them (not on the phone call we just finished or where we have to be in ten minutes’ time). Our total presence with our children enables us to tune into them and to see what is really going on. Without presence, our ego gets loud – “he’s blatantly disrespecting me!” it shouts in our heads. “He’s not getting away with it!” With presence, our Love asks, “what is he needing from me right now?”
Two very different responses will come from these different kinds of thoughts. The ego will likely make a declaration of our authority and perhaps an arbitrary removal of a ‘privilege’. Love might acknowledge how our child is feeling, offer a comforting cuddle and, when they’re ready, an appropriate follow-up. (See my post, No Such Thing as a Naughty Child)
I’m not a fan of using strategies thoughtlessly, but some good ones have come to me in moments of presence that I’ve been able to reuse selectively in the future. One such technique is my “try that again” strategy for when my boys speak disrespectfully to myself or someone else. Jake went through a phase of putting up big resistance when it came time to set the table for dinner. I started feeling a sense of dread when I needed to ask him to do it because of the roaring, stomping and whining that would ensue. One evening, my simple request for Jake to set the table had evoked a shout of “No!” and an exaggerated stamp of the foot. He had struck me in a moment of presence and I realised it was upto me how things would go – whether I escalated the situation by arguing with him both about the way he had addressed me and the setting of the table or whether he accepted his job and did it, albeit grudgingly. I recognised that all he was needing was a bit of understanding that he didn’t want to set the table – he knew the expectation wouldn’t change. So I said to him, “try that again”. He looked at me, puzzled. “Tell me what you have to say respectfully”, I said. He hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “I don’t want to set the table”. “I know it can be annoying to be interrupted from your play to set the table”, I commiserated then continued, “ it still needs to be done so we can eat our dinner”. He went ahead and set the table. Through presence, I had reminded him to speak respectfully to others, given him a chance to say what he had to say and got him to set the table. Now, I just say, “try that again” when he speaks disrespectfully and usually the situation is diffused because he’s being polite and I’m listening to how he’s feeling. So simple, yet I don’t think I would’ve thought of it had I been trying to “figure out” what I should do when he refused to set the table.
I regard presence as an essential personal and parenting skill (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness). It helps us to discipline effectively and with Love. In any moment, disciplinary or otherwise, it allows us to really see our children and recognise what is required of us.
Jake has been planning his Christmas list for well over a month. He has reviewed it with me daily.
We all remember being children and the anticipation over what might be inside our presents on Christmas morning. Jake’s excitement is normal but it does have a touch of entitlement to it. As I wrote in my last post, Christmas: Santa or Jesus?, it’s the Christmas spirit of Love that I really want to emphasise in our family this season. I hope to show my boys that there are aspects to Christmas other than getting presents that are joyful also and to shift some of the focus off what they can get onto what they can give.
With that in mind, over the years, we have developed a few simple family traditions for giving at Christmas time. Spend twenty minutes on Pinterest and you’ll have lots of great ideas you might want to use with your family. Here, is what we do –
Making cards and gifts for others – Making homemade gifts and cards helps us to focus on the people we have in mind for them. Jake and Thomas have been involved in making things for others since their first Christmases. Initially, they contributed red and green art to homemade cards but now Jake can write his own messages and make simple gifts. Not everyone we know gets a homemade gift or card because that’s not manageable for us. We usually make them for teachers or the boys’ own friends.
Helping with Christmas jobs – learning the gift of service begins with helping me out with Christmas jobs! Perhaps it’s helping to bake for one of the shared morning teas we attend, to select an appropriate present for someone or tidying the house for Christmas visitors.
Candy cane elves – We did this activity for the first time last year. We attached notes to candy canes saying, “If you find this candy cane, it’s yours. Merry Christmas”. Jake then hid them around the local shopping mall for people to find as we did our errands. He was buzzing with excitement. The best part was walking past places where he had left a candy cane and discovering that they had been taken!
Christmas giving jar – at the beginning of this year, we put a Christmas Giving Jar in our playroom. I made a label for it and a slot in the lid to post coins through. Throughout the year, we have put our spare change in it. Jake has contributed small amounts of his pocket money and Thomas has posted coins in for my husband and I. We counted it up this weekend ($96.80) and will decide together how we can use it to do something kind for someone. We may donate it to an organisation we want to support, help someone we know who has a need or buy things we need to perform an act of service. I am hoping that, as the boys get older, they will want to contribute more of their own coins to the jar (though it’ll always be optional) and that they will begin to think of ways the money could be used to help others themselves.
As we do these things, we talk about the people we are doing them for and why we’re doing it for them. This is how we glue the meaning to the process. None of the ideas above are too time consuming and all can be kept very simple. But I hope they’ll add to the Christmas spirit in our hearts and show my boys that there is as much joy in giving as there is in receiving.
It was a sleepless night. Much of New Zealand had been woken by a significant earthquake and every shiver and jolt of an aftershock had us wondering if there was something even larger to come.
My son, Jake (5 years old), had slept through the main earthquake but my husband and I had woken him in order to get him to a safer place in the doorway. So he was awake for some of the aftershocks that followed and was anxious that the ground beneath him was no longer stable. He asked me to sleep in his bed with him for the rest of the night. Of course.
As we lay there in the dark, the questioning began. “Mum, will there be more earthquakes?” “Will they be big?” “What if there’s a volcano?” (a budding volcanologist, he had read in one of his library books that earthquakes can create volcanoes). His worst-case-scenario thinking was in full swing.
I desperately wanted to assure Jake that there was nothing to worry about. I wanted him to feel safe and to sleep peacefully. But I knew that the earth could prove me wrong at any time if I made promises I shouldn’t. And I knew that children shouldn’t be protected from the truth – they should know the world as it is and be supported in handling life as it really is. When answering Jake’s questions, I erred on the more favourable side of the answers, “there probably won’t be another big one.” But I also conceded – “I don’t know for sure”.
There’s so much about life we don’t know for sure. I had to admit to Jake that I can’t guarantee that our home and our lives won’t be disrupted, maybe devastated, by a future earthquake. In a way, I felt that I was contradicting all I have been trying to show him about having faith in life and the comfort that faith can bring. I didn’t want to take that away from him.
Later in the week, I got talking to other parents about how they had been supporting their children through the quake and it’s aftershocks. One mum spoke of showing her daughter that their family was prepared and ready to handle an earthquake. They had got out their Civil Defence kit and discussed their safety plans so she could see for herself that their family was prepared. I was reminded that having faith is not trusting that it’ll all be ok according to our own idea of what “ok” is (in this case, no more large earthquakes). Having faith is trusting that we will be able to handle whatever happens. Faith is also practical. We do our bit (prepare the Civil Defence kit, have plans in place etc) and let go of that which we can’t control.
The earthquake has provided opportunity for many spiritual lessons for myself and my family. I’ve not delved into all of them with my boys as I don’t want to spend too long focusing on the earthquakes. One thing we did do on the morning of the first earthquake was to offer a prayer of thanks for the safety of ourselves, loved ones and others. We also asked that those who were worse off than ourselves because of the quake be comforted and receive the help they needed. When I put Jake to bed that night, we each shared one thing we were grateful for (as we do) and he said he was grateful for our safety. Gratitude is available every time.
Recently, my youngest, Thomas, had a tickly cough that had worsened over the week. By nap-time on Friday, he was barely able to sleep because the cough would disturb him every few minutes. The prospect of a whole night ahead spent listening to him cough was one I dreaded – for his sake and mine – so, we made a trip to the pharmacy. I knew they would be unable to give us “the good stuff” because Thomas is only two-years-old and those cough medicines can only be taken by older children. But I came away with every product and tip the assistant suggested, determined that Thomas and I both would get a decent night’s sleep.
The night started off well. Having readily swallowed a liquid fruit salad of remedies (one was even peach-flavoured) and with the head of his bed propped up by my husband’s cricket books, Thomas drifted off to sleep quickly. It wasn’t until 3am that the coughing began. I waited a while to see if it would pass on its own but it was insistent on keeping Thomas awake. So, I forced myself into alertness and went in to see him. I offered a drink and some herbal cough liquid and snuggled into bed with him for a few minutes. His cough seemed to calm down and Thomas was still so I kissed his cheek and went back to my own bed. Easier than I thought.
I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in bed with my boys for more than 10 minutes during the night. They are give-an-inch-take-a-mile characters, likely to insist on middle-of-the night cuddles the following night and the night after that if I give in once. I’ve always been happy to climb in for a bit to give comfort and help them settle down but I never settle in.
However, within five minutes of my leaving Thomas’ room, his cough was in full swing again. I had no more tricks up my sleeve. Then I realised that what had really calmed the cough initially was not the expensive concoctions I had bought from the pharmacy but my snuggling into bed with Thomas. So, I tip-toed down the hall and climbed back in with him. He put his arm around my neck and, within a few minutes, his breathing was even and I knew he was asleep. I drifted off too and, when I woke, I had been there over an hour. I slipped out of Thomas’ bed, tip-toed back down the hall and we both slept well for the rest of the night.
OK, not the most exciting story but I wanted to write about it because it’s such a clear example of the mind-body-spirit connection. I’ve been aware of the connection for many years but have never witnessed it in such a simple, immediate way. I lay in bed with Thomas, fully present and not resistant (I’d usually be thinking, “I just want to get back to my own bed” and “I’m making a rod for my back, he’ll expect me to do this tomorrow night”). The cuddle almost instantly soothed his cough. It reinforced for me the health benefits of spiritual connection (which I also touched on in Spirituality & Depression – What’s the Relationship?) If a loving cuddle can soothe a cough, imagine the impact of all the other things we are doing for our children’s spirituality on their well-being.