I get asked quite often, “How did you know to do that?”, in response to my parenting. At first I was caught off guard. It’s always in a genuine, kind way, someone looking for the latest YouTube or parenting book, hosts of tips or tricks for how to best raise your child. It’s not because I’m all powerful at being a mom or because my children are so well behaved (insert laughing crying emoji here). We know by now that there’s no right way and that there are sometimes more bad days than good.
My 4 year old son, Levi, isn’t always the easiest. Now, for starters he is 4 and I totally appreciate that fact. But he is also (well, both of my children really) stubborn and high needs. That’s not to say that he can’t entertain himself, dress himself, or go to the bathroom himself. He just requires a different type of parenting that demands the ability to always be two steps ahead of him so that we can avert behavior rather than stop it after it’s begun.
When he was around eighteen months, I started to realize the benefit of anticipation. Not in an anxiety inducing way but rather an “I’m ready for anything attitude”. I armed myself with lists of songs he loved, go-to snacks and activities he preferred. I found it much easier to play his favorite song while getting him into his car seat than to try and buckle him in while he threw a tantrum. I never told him of scheduled play dates or events ahead of time, since we all know plans change and friends get sick and having to break the news to a toddler is sure to invite a melt down.
As a mom, I am consistently trying to celebrate his bold personality rather than fear the fights which may ensue from it. I know he thrives off of his sense of control so I started allowing him to have more of it. It definitely gets harder as he gets older though. Whereas having two options used to thrill him, he often now gives me a third option (that never existed) and I’m having to find ways to tweak my strategies. It took us a while but we finally found ways of earning rewards that work for both of us. Regular charts and stickers simply did not interest him. By much trial and error, I was able to establish excitement at working towards special toys he wanted to play with or dance parties with his favorite beats. We realized that time-outs work better when we explain that this isn’t a punishment but rather a chance to take a few deep breaths and talk things through.
Levi recently broke his leg and is in a walking boot. Other than running or jumping, the doctor said that he could return to his daily schedule at preschool. Rather than tell him all of the things that he couldn’t do or had to be careful of, I concentrated on teaching him fun things to do instead of jumping. I spoke with his teachers and shared that they should allow him to play on the balance bike (his number one priority at school) with his friends. His teachers seemed mortified at the idea but I told them to trust me. I knew that if Levi was told that he “couldn’t” do something he earned and loved (that wasn’t going to cause any further complications anyway), he would shut down. He would see his walking boot as the enemy instead of a tool to help him get around. It scared me a bit to send him into the wild with an injury, but I knew in my heart that he would listen to his body. And he did!
At pick-up that day, his teachers ran over to me with excitement! “Mama…how did you know?! How do you know him so well? Levi had gone on the bike for a few minutes and then said that his foot hurt and he got off by himself and went to play with his friends.”
I smiled. “He taught me,” I said. He and his sister taught me everything I know about being a mom.
I had thought that my role as a parent was to ensure that my kids listened to me but when I started to listens to my kids, really listen, my role finally flourished.