My nephew is consistently teaching me. He’s so intelligent and funny and creative, but he’s also six and still learning how to process his emotions. One of the major things he’s taught me is patience. I have to remind myself of his age and even though I may know more than he does, he can still teach me plenty. Both of his parents hate to be wrong and he’s got it honest!
He’s an only child, too, so I think he has to work a little longer to develop constructive reactions to criticism and be ok with accountability, but I love these teachable moments when I’m frustrated with his behavior and he’s frustrated with mine. So after the mini lecture on how we’re all wrong sometimes, we can all use improvement and no one knows everything, I swoop down and ask do you think that behavior will get you what you want? (If he uses his typical I don’t know answer, I follow up with): Has that behavior worked before? Did you think about how everyone else would feel if you _________? Do you behave this way in school?! And, my favorite: how would you feel if (insert loving relative) did ____________ to you?
I recently read that if the child isn’t endangering himself or others, the parent should ignore the poor behavior until it improves. Once improved, give mad praise for him acting in such a big boy fashion. Instead of shutting the shit all the way down (which is sometimes very f-ing necessary), work through it. Together. My hope is that he remembers these actions when he may think to repeat the offense. Like a new age verbal whooping (because the physical pop does not phase him. At all.)
This brings me to the point: poor behavior needs an audience. I know some children act out just for attention; just like any publicity is good publicity to a celebrity, any attention is good attention to a child. I know if it went on unattended (it won’t), he would only act out more. He would be one of those kids at school. Kids are not dumb; they know how to press buttons and will do what they have to do to get what they want. The sad thing is, when this goes on too long, normal childhood behaviors transcend into adulthood and plague good people and solid relationships. Now we have grown people acting a fool because they didn’t get checked, checked enough or heard by the family that’s supposed to love them most.
There may not be much hope for adult children to change, but we can still check the children children by showing up and showing that we care. They’ll thank us later.