Hanging out with little kids all day, it is easy to get frustrated with challenging or difficult behavior. I speak from experience, having been a teen when my siblings were young and now having an almost 2 and 4-year-old of my own.
This past year has taken my stress level to epic proportions as both of them are working to assert their will. The Little Man, at 20 months, is struggling with continuing to scream for things instead of speaking the words he can. He is demonstrating even more forcefully that he NEVER EVER wants to have his diaper or his clothes changed. And coming in from outside results in window shattering screams.
Our daughter, at almost 4, is also tough. Very sharp and very challenging. Best way to describe her is that her emotional capabilities have not caught up to her mental capabilities. She wants to do what she wants to do now, and there will be a tantrum if things don’t go her way.
One way of thinking that has proved very helpful for me is remembering that your child is doing the best that they can. This is not a natural thought for me. Most of the time, it feels like they are acting out on purpose, testing me, challenging, and simply trying to get their way.
That’s the key – they are doing all of those things.
And THAT is the best that they can do.
THAT is what they are supposed to be doing.
Meltdowns & Tantrums
Consider an example. My daughter at almost 4, had a meltdown the other day because I wouldn’t let her color before getting dressed for school. I had already conceded to allowing her a glass of milk before getting dressed, and she had agreed to do it afterwards. When she asked to color, I told her “no” and reminded her that she had agreed to get dressed. Immediately, I could see her dig in. Tears of anger came to her eyes and she was escalating. I tried again to calmly remind her but I could not stop the train. She started screaming and spewing “nasties” and I sent her to her room to work it out. As awful as it is, this is where she is at. This is her skill level at this time. She has not developed the emotional control needed to remain calm when she doesn’t get what she wants or the patience and logic to see that she will get to color after she does her obligations.
Even when a child behaves “badly,” they are doing the best that they can. That doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t mean that we must allow certain behaviors to continue. What it means is that there are certain limitations still in play developmentally, and additional time and coaching are needed to correct them.
I’m telling you this because I have to remind myself of this ALL THE TIME. Without this perspective, I react with anger and frustration instead of calm understanding of their limitations. This can create a bad cycle because then the kids are reacting to my anger instead of focusing on the lesson that they must learn.
This perspective can be applied to adults as well. The way people choose to behave (good and bad) is a result of their personality, upbringing, and life experiences. I encounter grownups all the time whose actions make me stop and scratch my head. I have to remember that I am viewing their behaviors through my own framework of how adults should act, as opposed to looking at it from their point of view.
You might see people making poor decisions on how they spend their money or prioritize their time. You might see people who act aggressively on the road or act rudely to wait staff in a restaurant over something minor. You might encounter a boss who takes credit for your work or a coworker who throws you under a bus in order to get ahead. These examples demonstrate some true limitations in character, self-control, self-awareness, and work ethic. It’s where they are at. Not to be tolerated when it impacts you, of course, but it helps to remember that people are the product of their lives. And that is their problem, not yours.
Have you tried this or a similar mantra for being patient with your children? Do you know any adults who still act like toddlers sometimes?