Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Asking hard questions

Really? No one? I feel a bit as though I'm standing in front of a classroom saying, "Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?" (And thus successfully dating myself at the same time.) I've been thinking about the question I posted yesterday for a while and here is what I've come up with.

Sometimes figuring out what is at the root of negative behavior in our children (and ourselves) is like playing detective. It's the whole 'cock-a-doodle-thing'. The presenting issue is very usually not the real problem. It also involves asking some hard questions that may be uncomfortable to answer. In a scenario with a sibling chronically not getting along with another, here are some questions I would examine. (And, even though in this story, the problem involves three boys, there is usually one ring-leader which the others are following. I would focus my attention on the instigator, because if his behavior can be changed, the others will most likely follow along.)

The first hard question I need to ask is if I am modelling the behavior myself and it my child just following me? It is quite possible that I am saying one thing, yet my actions and attitudes... impatience, annoyance, irritability, anger.. towards a child may be exactly the opposite. I see some of my worst traits being mimicked by my children far too often. But sometimes, even seeing ourselves in the mirror of our children isn't enough to give us a wake-up call. We need to be vigilant that our words and our actions and our attitudes all match each other. We need to be humble enough to acknowledge when we have blown it and have set a bad example.

The next hard question is whether or not my child has a behavior flaw that I have been turning a blind eye to? If I see one of my children constantly being irritated or picking-on a sibling, do I see that behavior only with that brother or sister, or is this something that happens with others as well? No one wants their child to be a bully and it is easy to look to the other way so as to not have to deal with it. In this case, I would look carefully at my child's other relationships to determine if this is a particular problem across the board or with this one particular sibling.

But let's say you've asked the two really hard questions and haven't found a problem, what then? Now it's time to examine your relationship with the child whose behavior troubles you. Bringing a new child, particularly an older one, into a family is extremely stressful, even if the transition is going smoothly. It is tiring. It completely changes the family dynamics. Life doesn't feel 'normal'. And life will never again feel as it did before the new child arrived. This is a lot to manage. It's difficult enough for the parents, who as adults, had some inkling (I hope) about the magnitude of change the family was going to experience, but for the children in the family it can be even harder.

And this is what I think we tend to forget. We tend to forget that not only have we turned our lives and the life of the new child upside-down, but we have also turned our other children's lives upside-down as well. They can experience a whole host of feelings... anger that life isn't like it was, fear that this new family is never going to feel right, embarrassment over what their friends will think about their new brother or sister (and this is particularly true if the new child has any physical or emotional special needs), fatigue, jealousy over how much time his or her parents are spending with the new child, as well as excitement and happiness. It's all mixed together in one great big huge roiling cocktail of emotion. Think about how well you function when your emotions are all stirred up. It's often difficult to manage life, much less be pleasant and patient and understanding. And we're adults who (supposedly) have a better grip on our emotions than our children do. A child can be completely overpowered by them and often negative behaviors are the result.

Now this is not to give a pass to poor behavior; even in the midst of big emotions we are still called to not be unkind. It does give us some insight and understanding, though, as to what is going on inside of our children. Often our children just need us in the midst of all the chaos that comes with a new child. (And this is true whether the new child is a biological sibling coming home from the hospital or an older child joining family though adoption.) Our children need us to spend time with them, assure them we still love them, give them permission to voice their feelings, even (especially) the negative ones in a safe environment, give them hope that things will feel normal again. We need to be honest that sometimes this is difficult for us, too, and that what everyone is feeling is not wrong, but a normal outcome of a major change. We also need to help our children name what they are feeling, because often they don't even know themselves. It just feels bad and they don't know why.

The last question is to ask whether I have really prayed about this particular situation? Have I prayed about it with my children? Very often, I either forget that I should pray or think I can handle something and that I don't need to or both. Very often. I still like to think I have everything under control. (Ha!) Very often God has to remind me that I don't. Did I mention this happens very often? More and more in my crazy life I find myself just handing things to God. It's pretty much, "I have no idea what to do about this or even how to begin. This is Yours. You take care of it. I'll do the best I can, but You'll have to handle the rest." And then (and this is key) give myself permission to let it go. Do you have any idea how freeing this is? That whole letting go-thing? (Letting go does not mean that I ignore the problem, just that I can trust God to handle the problem in his own ways and times.)  Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have let something go, but it is a wonderful thing to think, "My Father's going to take care of this, I don't have to." It leaves a whole lot of room for joy. And joy in a parent is a healthy thing for the whole family. I don't think I need to spell out why.


Amy said...

Great answer to a complicated question!

Leslie said...

I had a kid adopted from a hard place gravitate to the youngest child in the house. Although he was several years older than she was he loved to play with her at her level. His therapist thought it was not unexpected. He was emotionally much less mature than other kids his age. Really he was closer to her age in his emotional maturity level than the other kids.

I'd just be sure to watch that he isn't being the negative role model for the youngers.

As to how to get the older kids to have more patience..... wish I had the answer!

To China and Back said...

Thanks for the feedback and thoughtful ideas.

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