In order to encourage more cooperation around daily tasks, a friend suggests the genius idea of having your 4 year old earn video time, which he loves, by doing things like putting on his clothes, cleaning his room, taking his dishes to the table. You launch into the new plan with optimism and vigor, and lo and behold, he earns 15 minutes of video time and is standing in his straightened up room all ready and dressed for school. He wants to watch the video now, which you didn’t consider, since now there are exactly 14 minutes until you need to leave for school, but what the heck? You want him to enjoy the fruits of his labor in hopes that this earning video time system will continue to work in your favor. You crack open the laptop and will the red bar on Netflix to move a little faster so the video will start. He joyously watches Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater in a variety of highly gender stereotypical scenarios and you enjoy some “uninterrupted” time to chatter with the baby while he squirms in his bouncy seat while making sure the lunches are packed and finishing your oatmeal. You hear the requisite music signaling that Tow Mater has emerged victorious again. The video is ending. You walk up to your son and say, “We’re going to close the computer now. You watched your 15 minutes that you earned today. Good job.” And as you move your hand towards the screen, he erupts with animal yowls and starts kicking your side. “It’s really time to close this, honey. And I’m not going to let you kick me.” You reach out with one arm, trying to calm the kicking legs and close the screen with your other hand. Animal screams ensue and he launches towards the laptop, knocking it off of the table.
If this scenario sounds even vaguely familiar to you, read on. If not, I either 1) want to know your secret and welcome you to leave a lengthy comment including as many instructional details as possible or 2) think you might be kidding yourself.
Surprise! This scenario happened in our house not long ago. And though the details vary, we run up against similar moments on a daily if not hourly basis.
Since my recent tangle with anxiety, I upgraded “figure out how to set boundaries without Jo going completely ape or if he does go ape, have a plan” to the top of my list, since it was, largely, anxiety provoking.
I’ve found some great resources, so I’m going to share them with you in this little multi-part series, as I have the time.
This book is super cool. It gives very direct and simple explanations for why our children can react in the ways that they do and how we can work with the actual brains that our children have to help them. The single most helpful thing in this book for me was its clarity on what you can reasonably expect from a child and what you can’t. Since I often feel like understanding Jo’s motivations and reactions is like trying to speak a familar-sounding but completely foreign alien language, I found those distinctions really helpful.
It’s unrealistic to expect them always to be rational, regulate their emotions, make good decisions, think before acting and be empathetic–all of the things a developed upstairs brain helps them do. They can demonstrate some of these qualities to varying degrees much of the time, depending on their age. But for the most part, kids just don’t have the biological skill set to do so all the time. Sometimes they can use their upstairs brain, and sometimes they can’t Just knowing this and adjusting our expectations can help us see that our kids are often doing the best they can with the brain they have.
And like all parenting books that I end up loving, this one helps you understand yourself and your own reactions too. After all, parents also have brains that were once children’s brains. And they do an awful lot of the same things.
There are also great sections of the book that are designed to read to your kid. They describe the upstairs and downstairs brain, the different sides of the brain and different ways that kids can work with their brains to help them move through various states of upset. I wasn’t sure how the book would fly with Jo, but he keeps asking to “read the brain book again,” so I think I’m going to break down and buy a copy, now that I had to return ours to the library.
This goes without saying, but as you read these little nuggets describing things I’ve found helpful, please share yours too. Cause we all know it takes a village. And since few of us actually live in a village, we can at least take refuge in a helpful string of blog comments in a nebulous space called the internet.