With about seven minutes remaining before we needed to be out the door to catch the school bus, my first-grade son melted down because his socks were too tight. I’m not the dad who can remember which clothes fit, nor am I the dad who proactively vets his kid’s clothes when they jump sizes, and I had brought down the pair that was too tight.
After he tried them on and I could see a meltdown was brewing, I put the pressure on–you could say forced–him to get upstairs and get the replacement “feel good” socks himself. The meltdown grew worse, until I was the one forced to go upstairs and physically help him get socks on his feet just to make the bus on time.
Right back at me. I try to force and end up being the one submitting.
There is a small book, more of a large brochure than book, that I picked up at the library by Marshall Rosenber called Raising Children Compassionately that reinforced what I’ve found to be true in fatherhood. Any forcing of a child to do something causes resistance.
Deep down isn’t this true for you, too? The author says it’s true whether the person is two or 92. Who likes to be forced to do something?
Which of the following quotes empowers the receiver to decide for themselves: “Get upstairs and get yourself a different pair of socks.” Or, “These are the socks I brought down to try to help you get dressed. You can either wear these to school or choose a different pair from your dresser upstairs.”
It’s pretty obvious to me when I write this out, but in the heat of the moment, when the pressures and realities of being a dad play out, it’s not as obvious. I want to get things done. My way or the highway. And when things get blown out of perportion, say a completely whiny fit over tight socks, I think it’s irrational and then end up thinking irrationally. (Is this akin to fighting fire with fire?)
One question Raising Children Compassionately that I’m working to lodge in my controlling dad-mind is, “What do we want the childn’s reason to be for acting as we would like them to act?”
Afterall, I know how I want him to act. I know what I want the child to do differently. And in this case of the socks, I’d like him to simply say, “Ah, Dad. These are the socks that are too tight and uncomfortable. Any chance you could run up there and get another pair?” Or better yet, run up there and exchange the socks himself.
But he’s in first grade. And it can be frustrating having socks that are too tight. Empathy. Try to get some. There was obviously some pain in the meltdown, whether it be from the socks or the pressure of getting out the door on time. Rosenberg says bringing empathy and presence to our children (or any human being for that matter) when they are pain will meet their needs for connection. Not a bad option for next time things are tight.