My children have taken misbehaving to a whole new level. They start by getting silly and fooling around by themselves. A sibling will join in the fun and they feed off of each other’s energy and antics. The third will attempt to join in and all hell breaks loose. Usually, two will turn on one. There will be tears. Maybe some retaliation, some violence, an object or two might be thrown. Then they join forces in the world of silly. The volume reaches ear-deafening levels and all rules are thrown out the window (maybe with a toy or two). Suddenly, as quickly as it all began, it feels like the three of them have turned on me, conspiring to make me yell or cry or crazy or any combination of the above.
It’s hard not to take that personally.
I know deep down that it is not a conspiracy. There are no clandestine midnight meetings where they are secretly planning ways to make me lose it. But how is it that they know exactly what drives me to drink?
Children are masters at learning which of their parents’ buttons to press. Mine definitely have my number. Loud noises, silliness that escalates until someone gets hurt, whining, stubbornness... Well, they have a long list to choose from.
Parenting guru Alyson Schafer writes in her second book Honey I Wrecked The Kids (aka my bible) that the most likely reason that children fight or misbehave is a subconscious effort to gain undue attention. It’s true. When my children are playing quietly and getting along fantastically, I breathe a sigh of relief and find ways to make use of the quiet time: tidying the house, cooking dinner, checking email, blogging. I am not paying attention to them. But one wrong move and I’m all over them. Things can escalate quickly and although it is negative, they most certainly have my attention.
So what can I do? I reread Alyson’s chapter on dealing with attention-seekers and will try her suggestions of ignoring the behaviour (that’s going to be a toughie), distracting and redirecting (takes some creativity but works) and natural/logical consequences. What is more important, I’m going to try to “catch” them being good and give them positive attention when I can (read: put down my iPhone and spend more focussed time with them). Hopefully they'll feel their "attention quota" is being met and they won't look for it in negative ways.
And I will remind myself NOT to take it personally when they do.