It’s hard not to feel like I’m failing at something when my kid behaves in an unattractive way. It’s hard not to fault myself for his shortcomings. It’s hard, in fact, not to see them as shortcomings. I realize that when I’m able to see things neutrally, it gets easier.
I have a kid with some really challenging behaviors. When he is compromised, he is a different person. When he is tired or hungry or overstimulated or struggling with transition, his ability to cope bottoms out. He is not a laid back kid. He’s intense. He has intense feelings, he listens intensely, he thinks hard all the time, he worries. So when he is at all challenged, whatever tiny bit of coping skill he has developed over his short life all but disappears.
And it’s also hard not to compare. Other kids his age can lose a game, get disappointed, and manage chaos with much less fanfare than he. I worry all the time that he is too coddled or too catered to. Worry that he has not had to experience transition or disappointment or chaos enough. And in the moments when he is challenged (which looks so often like whining and complaining and stubbornness and entitlement and brattiness) my embarrassment at what I view as my failure makes me yell at him or threaten him or show frustration, which usually exacerbates it.
“I’m trying as hard as I can!” he will say emphatically — usually through tears. I struggle to understand why, at 8 years old, he can’t just deal with disappointment without whining and crying and carrying on for as long as he does.
It feels like it’s taking me forever to learn him, but maybe I’m starting to get it. Tonight, when he was unable to “be a good sport” as he got further and further behind in a board game, instead of yelling at him, I rubbed his back and told him I understood it was really hard for him. I tried to remember that acknowledging his struggle wasn’t condoning his behavior and also that trying to have a real conversation about it at 7:45pm after an exhausting week of camp and in the middle of his first friend-sleepover wasn’t going to accomplish anything. I suggested putting the game on hold, watching some tv before bed, and then trying it again in the morning, which is when he is historically the most agreeable and rational.
I think, this time, I handled it like a pro. This time, I didn’t ascribe his behavior to my own or his faults. I didn’t worry so much about teaching him a lesson. This time.
But there’s always tomorrow.