I had it all planned out.
I had a great post in mind for this week. It was about how I use logic whenever I can to make decisions and how usually those decisions work out well for me. They sometimes don’t, obviously, because the world is not always a logical place.1 But, most of the time, logic steers me in the right direction.
I was going to write about how parents of young children don’t always get the opportunity to use logic to make decisions. There are certain areas where logic always applies, like keeping toys with little pieces away from babies so they don’t wind up choking or changing one’s approach to a teen in order to create more positive interactions. But there are so many times in parenting – when you find that your son has taken it upon himself to unlock the front door and take his sister trick or treating without telling anyone, for instance – where logic seems to just fly out the window.
I had a perfect scenario to write about too. Eitan had been misbehaving in the morning when he was supposed to be getting ready for school and he had started doing so somewhat frequently. It was fairly typical behavior for his age; Eitan wanted to watch television or he didn’t want to stop playing or he wanted to tie his pants around his head like a bandanna. It was attention-seeking behavior and Eitan was making sure he got what he was looking for, even if it meant he got negative attention instead of positive.
Here’s a quick lesson about the three kinds of attention. Positive attention is just what it sounds like: showing your child that you love them by complimenting them, spending time with them and being affectionate. Negative attention comes up when parents are angry with their children and have to discipline them. The last kind – the worst kind for children – is no attention. Kids need attention in order to feel valued and to develop their identities, just as adults do. If kids feel ignored or neglected, they’re going to start acting out until someone starts paying attention, which is just what Eitan was doing. He was sending me the message that he wanted me to spend less time emptying the dishwasher and preparing his lunch and more time playing with him.
The logical response, as I had planned to write in the original post, was to start making sure that the tasks I had been completing in the morning were done the night before. I started taking showers at night instead of the morning and Trudy and I began preparing Eitan’s lunch every evening, among other things. They were small tasks, of course, but they added up to a significant chunk of time that I was then able to shift from busywork to reading or playing with Eitan.
I was going to write about how well it had worked. I was going to say how nice it was that implementing a logical solution to a problem had yielded immediate results. It was like a light switch had flipped; Eitan suddenly started getting himself together much more quickly in the morning and the arguments seemed to occur much less frequently. On some mornings when I hadn’t finished everything the night before, we saw Eitan’s behavior start to revert back to his previous antics.
I keep referring to what I would have written because today didn’t fit the pattern. I showered last night and my work bag was all together. Trudy got Eitan’s lunch together last night and we ran the dishwasher in advance so I could empty it before bed instead of in the morning. When the kids and I were up this morning, I sat with Eitan for a half hour. We read some of his books and played with a sticker book. The plan had worked to perfection, as I had plenty of time to sit with Eitan and give him positive attention and still get breakfast together before school.
Except it wasn’t perfect. Eitan started goofing off after breakfast; he threw his pajamas up in the air instead of putting them in the laundry and getting dressed. He started taking out toys instead of putting his backpack in the stroller. A request for Eitan to go to the bathroom before leaving for school sent him into hysterics. The time that could have been spent relaxing together before it was time to leave was instead spent arguing about the fact that we were now running late.
I’m not really angry, of course;2 most of what Eitan was doing was pretty typical behavior for a five-year-old. Kids goof off and they don’t have the same concepts of time or urgency as adults do. At their cores, kids just want to play and be acknowledged and validated; again, just like adults. The frustrating part was that Trudy and I implemented a plan that had worked in the past and executed it pretty well in this instance and it still didn’t work.
It reminded me of the saying that the day a parent becomes an expert at parenting a five-year-old is the day before the child’s sixth birthday. Kids’ personalities are changing every day; they learn so much so quickly that parents just have to do their best to keep up. Parents can – and should – learn from their mistakes and change their approaches as much as they can but it is still difficult to predict results with any sort of accuracy. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law tends to hold true, especially with young children. If there is any opportunity for children to get into mischief, they are going to find it. Neither Eitan nor Shayna are old enough to pitch yet, but they still manage to throw curveballs at us every day.
1. I’m not going to give you examples. You know what I’m talking about.↩
2. Not anymore, at least. I was pretty annoyed at the time, though.↩