“Mommy! Can you brush my teeth?!” she yelled from the upstairs bathroom.
“Brush them yourself, Rebecca.”
“I don’t want to.”
I can hear muttering and then the beginnings of teeth being brushed.
(3 minutes later)
“Mommy! Can you put my socks on?” she yelled again from upstairs.
“No, honey. I have to get dressed. Please put them on yourself.”
“You never help with anything!” she screamed before the breakdown and sobbing begins.
A very common and very legitimate complaint I hear from parents is that kids, who are completely capable of doing things, continuously ask for help doing simple tasks. It drives parents crazy. I mean one day the kids are crying because they just want to “do it MYSELF!” and the next they are completely helpless.
There’s really a simple explanation and I’ll explain it as I tell you about my week.
I’ve had a crazy busy week. It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve had to fit much more than I would liked into too small of a time period. I’ve been staying up until after midnight and waking up before the kids. Matt had been traveling and I was feeling overwhelmed. My to-do list was endless.
Friday was supposed to be the busiest day of the week. Matt woke early to go to Virginia for a meeting and in the evening we had to leave for the scholarship auction that I’ve helped our school organize. I was supposed to spend my morning working out with a great group of women and then head to school to transport all the auction items to our location. At night, the girls had a sitter, who thankfully is one of their favorite people in the world.
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And this is where Rebecca had had enough. Or, to be more precise, she hadn’t had enough. Her bucket needed to be filled.
Our morning was full of tears. And I don’t mean cute, little tears or even crocodile tears. I’m talking huge, big, fat, she-can’t-breathe tears that make me wonder if she’s still conscious. I declined when she asked me to brush her teeth for her. I asked her to put on her own socks. I think the only solid attention I gave to her this particular morning was when I was putting her hair in pigtails.
And that was the problem. In asking me to do all these simple tasks for her, she was looking for a way to force me to connect with her. Her brain is still developing so she’s not able to convey this request in words, but not many adults can either. She was asking for attention in the only way she knew how: she was asking for help with everything.
She needed me. She needed me to pause and give her some time. For the record, I think I tend to do this too. When I need more from Matt, I find myself asking him to do things for me that I can surely do myself. “Can you kill this spider?” “Can you unclog the toilet?”
It would have been easy to ignore her pleas for attention and tell her to “suck it up” and “get moving” but that wouldn’t have helped. The tears would have continued and she would have still been looking for ways to connect with me, except then she may have started looking for inappropriate ways to get my attention. What she needed was ME.
So what did I do?
I felt the blood pumping through my veins and the anxiety balled up in my chest. But here was my littlest girl hysterically crying. I took a deep breath and instead of taking her right to school, I took her with me to run some of my errands. We stopped by my workout group to say hello, we dropped something off at our church, we went to the grocery store, and then headed home to unload the groceries. During this whole time, I put my attention on her. By the time I dropped her off at school, she had missed less than 2 hours of preschool. In the big scheme of things, two hours is nothing. Know what is something? She was happy when I dropped her off. To be honest, she didn’t even look at me when I left the room.
Her bucket was full.
Sometimes we think the quickest response is the best. It certainly can be the easiest – for US, but not our kids. In reality, if we can take an extra 5 minutes, or in my case, 2 hours, the problem is simply solved.
Listening to our kids is not just listening to the words they say. It’s also listening to their actions. Every need and misbehavior is a form of communication. Sometimes? Sometimes, it’s just not about the socks.
What is your child saying to you?
Click to read how to connect with your kids individually
Click to read 5 ways to get your kids to create a stronger bond
Lisa Witherspoon says
Great advice! I struggle with this with my 7 year old. She is a "snuggler" and, it seems, needs more attention at this age than either of my older ones did. Since she is "the baby" I have, admittedly, not fostered her independence quite as fervently either. This is a great reminder.
Sarah Honey says
What a great reminder to slow down and listen to what are kids really need. We love that book too!
Stephanie Sprenger says
Oh, mama, I can relate. And I needed to read this today. Thanks for the reminder, and for the wisdom.
Diane Wade says
Loved this post and shared! "She was looking for a way to force me to connect with her." Powerful!
Tarana Khan says
This is such an eye-opener, really, so thank you for sharing this. Now that I think about it, it makes sense why kids can be so uncooperative on the most busy days.
Kristi Campbell says
Such a great great reminder. Just today, I got totally annoyed with my son for asking me to put on his socks and shoes but at the time – I was on my computer. Even though we'd just spent 4 hours at a local fair/festival, I was on my computer and he's five. Thank you!
Chris Carter says
OH good for YOU mama!!! I have totally done this very same thing!! Oh, how I just love that you were able to switch gears (despite your intense day ahead) and tend to your precious girl. LOVE this so much, Kristina. It's those moments we can either become truly invested in our kid's hearts or we can appease our own anxiety or stress or priorities with all we have going on. It's SO hard… but you chose the best yes.
This is great advice! It can be so easy for us to want to take the shortest route. But filling buckets is so important! Love that phrase!
Karen Patten says
Thank you so much for this!!! I would have done exactly the same thing! I always fear that I'm being judged as a pushover parent… But I would have done exactly the same thing 🙂 99 times out of 100, my son was thrilled to be dropped off at preschool. On the couple of days that he wailed that he didn't want to go, I changed my plans and spent the morning with him. It was clear that he was trying to tell me something!
Sinea Pies says
Kristin, you NAILED it here! I was an administrator in a school in various capacities for many years. I cannot tell you how many parents fell in love with me when I told them — secretly — it is OK to take a mental-health day off from school with their child. Sometimes kids needs cannot wait. You saw that with your little girl.
My son needed it. We did it more than once. Whole days! Now, not everyone can make that work but your solution was grand! A few hours of quality time can last a long long time. ♥ I am stumbling this post. Come by my party today to share it?
Sinea ♥ from Ducks n a Row