I was focused on changing my four-year-old son’s behavior.
He needed to stop terrorizing his two-year-old brother. I was desperate for it.
Stiff-arming, luring him to use the “spicy” toothpaste, taking away his toys, tripping him … it was relentless. And this wasn’t just in moments of frustration or anger. This was anytime the wind blew.
I am a parent educator. I guide other parents on what to do in these exact situations and yet, here I was feeling like a failure, wondering what I was missing, and letting my fear take hold of me. (Will my kids grow up to hate each other? Will my son be a bully? Am I a crappy mom?)
It felt like every few minutes my husband and I were redirecting our son, and it was driving us close to insanity. To be at such odds with someone you love so intensely is … well … heartbreaking.
Despite doing all of the things, I felt like I was chasing the tail of misbehavior more than I was actually leading and guiding.
My son’s behavior needed to change … or did it?
I wrote a long text to my parenting mentor - aka another mama and parenting coach who had been doing both much longer than I - explaining to her my son’s behavior and my overwhelm.
I thought about sending it.
I almost sent it.
But I didn’t send it.
Instead, I took a deep breath. And I coached myself. What would I tell my clients right now?
“Your power lies in your own thoughts, feelings, words, actions.”
My power wasn’t in changing my son’s behavior. It was in changing mine.
I realized our home needed an energy make-over, and my husband and I were in charge of setting that thermostat.
Here are the 3 Things I Did To Transform My Son’s Behavior
1. Identified triggers.
I started by canceling the goal that my child be nice to his brother. I know, I know … it’s a good goal but it is a goal that focuses on how my son shows up to the world, and although I influence it, I don’t control that. I set a new goal that focused on the actions I could take in these moments, and that process started with noticing and naming my own triggers. The awareness of this helped me de-escalate myself when my child was escalating, which means I had the capacity to see the situation clearly and effectively manage it (instead of reacting to it).
2. Evaluated rituals.
Somewhere along the way, we became super lax in our morning and evening connection rituals. It was time to bring them back.
- Together, the four of us spent five minutes each morning pulling a PeaceMakers card, reading the mantra aloud, and talking about the power of the PeaceMakers Pal on our card.
- Each night, as part of our bedtime ritual, we spent five minutes with our SnuggleBuddies and feelings posters to share moments in the day where we felt a yellow (happy, silly, brave), red (mad, frustrated, determined), blue (sad, tired, lonely), and green (calm, grateful, loving) emotion.
Every day, our boys could count on these two things happening. And that consistency felt safe.
3. Created tangible moments.
I feel like I am a mom who plays, and plays, and plays. And at the same time, I know two things to be true: 1) Children are bottomless connection pits, always craving more of us, and 2) They are concrete learners who like to engage their senses. It was then that I knew I wanted to create tangible connection time, something that my kiddo could touch, feel, see, measure, and know that he was getting his attention bucket filled daily.
So, we created little charts that we stuck on our fridge.
- We named it after him (Dax’s Special Time). His brother got one too.
- We scheduled it, so to speak. Every day, he picked one thing that he wanted to do that was just for him. Some days he wanted to cook together, wrestle, play Superheros, color, do a science experiment, or play in the mud. Whatever he chose, he set a timer for 10 minutes, and we did it - no distractions, no stepping away, just 100% mom and dad-focused time. When the timer was up, we could choose to move on or we could choose to continue. The point is, he knew that he got that 10 minutes of special Dax time each day.
- And after we completed the activity, he placed a round, colored sticker on his chart for that day of the week, and we labeled the date and activity we did. After one week of charting, he said, “Mom, look at all of this time we spend together!” And he hugged me. Even though we would have likely spent that time together anyways, having a visual and concrete aid for my son was what he needed to help his brain really register this connection.
Within three days of using these tools, I noticed a difference in my four-year-old’s demeanor. Within one week, there was a total shift. It didn’t mean that big emotions and meltdowns didn’t happen. Those are natural and healthy processes of brain development. Those, I know how to be with.
I realized that my son was communicating a need for connection. And, it turns out, so was I.
In changing my behavior, I changed my son’s.