The Parenting Learning Curve

 

When I taught preschool in Thailand, my kiddo would tag along with me in the mornings. He’d join in our daily meeting (thanks to generosity and flexibility of the husband and wife couple who ran the school) before splitting off to his own classroom. This hour-long window where my kiddo was a part of my work life was interesting, to say the least.

In the early days of my teaching career, it often involved me desperately trying to get him to be quiet while another teacher led a prayer, or getting him to sing the worship songs without adding in his own uncouth variations. Sometimes, not seldom, it involved me trying my damnedest to avoid a total meltdown about one thing or another.

Parenting Check: How Did I Get Here?

My kiddo has an extremely hard time when my attention is divided between him and something else, and this was a particularly heightened situation, as I was doubly tense under the imagined scrutiny of my boss and coworkers.

On a particularly harrowing day, I was making my kiddo his usual bowl of oatmeal, cranberries, coconut oil, and protein powder that I made him every morning once we arrived at school. I poured the oatmeal, scooped the powder, and served it up.

When I poured on the hot water, I immediately regretted it.

My little guy exploded into a complete whirlwind of tears and emotion, so irate that I could barely make out what he was trying to say. Eventually, it became clear that he was upset that the mountain of protein powder was decimated by the hot water, and he was insisting, begging, demanding that I put it back.

Put it back?

I was desperate. Parents would soon be arriving to drop off their kids to my classroom, and I had a hunch that I already had a reputation as the teacher with the “problem child”. I found myself kneeling next to my four year old’s bowl of oatmeal at the miniature table, using every ounce of effort I could muster to reassemble the little protein powder mountain I had just destroyed.

In that moment, I felt so many things. I felt angry at myself for stooping to this level, angry at my son for having driven me to it, guilty for being so angry, and totally embarrassed that every person in the building had probably heard his explosive tantrum.

I found myself asking, How did I get here?

Underneath all of that, I felt sadness. Why was it so hard for us to figure this out? Why couldn’t we find a way to get along? What was I doing so horribly wrong?

Finding Our Place, Finding Solutions

This was one of many similar events that served as the impetus for discovering The Rainbow Room, a small nonprofit run out of a Thai mother’s home in the Thonglor district of Bangkok. I attended a Sensory Sensitivity class led by an occupational therapist from California-based CARE (Comprehensive Autism Related Education), and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from the other parents. They, too, were having similar experiences with their children.

The clincher came when I stayed after the talk to speak with the therapist one to one. I relayed the protein powder story, which will probably stay with me for the rest of my life, and her response was game-changing for me.

She said, “It’s so common, and so difficult to navigate without the right tools. Eventually you’re asking yourself, ‘how did I get here?'”

I was speechless. She had read my mind.

A wave of sheer relief came over me, and I knew I was in the right place.

I attended several more lectures, taking studious notes. I stayed afterwards to ask the therapist far too many questions, and started implementing strategies with my little guy immediately.

Things took a serious turn for the better, and I started to be able to anticipate triggering situations and prep accordingly.

My plan of action involved one of the following:

Strategies for Easing Transitions and Avoiding Triggers

Avoid

If I knew it was going to be a trigger, and it was non-essential to go through it, I just let it go. If my friend just called and invited us to go swimming, but my kiddo was already set on going to the science museum with me, I just let it go. If I wanted to get groceries but you-know-who was getting tired, a potentially fatal combination, I just let it go.

I found myself yielding a lot, and realized that a lot of the stuff I had insisted on doing or getting my child to do was not really necessary. This realization freed up tons of energy for my little guy and me to just have fun together, and eliminated tons of battles. For the first time in my life, I was really enjoying being a mom.

Remind, Remind, Remind

I’d let my kiddo know what was going to happen until he was sick of hearing it, making sure I had eye contact and verbal acknowledgement that he was ready for what was about to come. Sometimes I’d have him repeat it back to me.

This sounded like, “I’m about to pour the hot water on the oatmeal, okay? The protein powder is going to melt,” or “We are going to the store after school today. We aren’t going to go straight home like usual, okay?” Once I did this, he was almost always cool with the change or transition. He just needed that extra space to process it and digest it before it happened.

Discuss & Problem Solve

If something came on our radar that was going to be a potential trigger, we talked about it.

I started to discover that a lot of my son’s behaviors came from the sense that things around him are out of control. When events and conflicts came up, talking it through gave him the sense that he wasn’t just blowing in the wind – he could be a participant in collaboratively deciding what would happen.

This is a technique I borrowed from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids WillTalk. This sounded like, “Mommy has to go to the store today. You want to go home. Do youthink we can come up with a solution?” Then we’d plotoutseveral options, often busting out a pen and paper to jot them down. No solution gets poo-pooed, no matter how unrealistic, until a mutually-beneficial choice is made at the end of the exercise.

These might be something like:

1. Kiddo stays home by himself.

2. Kiddo rides in the cart and plays video games.

3. Kiddo shops with mommy, then gets some cow neow and moo ping (sticky rice and BBQ pork).

At the end, we’d go over which ones would work and which ones wouldn’t, and choose the best one together. I could tell that not only was this fun for my little guy, but it helped him to feel heard. It also started to give me the confidence that I could navigate the explosions, and that I wasn’t going to have to walk on eggshells and feel resentful and disempowered.

Cliff’s Notes

According to The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene, this kind of exercise helps to teach children the necessary skills to solve a problem. It’s especially effective for those who have a delay of some kind, either in the realms of executive function, cognitive flexibility, social skills, or language skills.

What’s more, it humanizes the child. It shows them that their parent sees them as a human being, not a sack of potatoes to be shlepped around at the parents’ whim. It gave us the gift of a collaborative relationship rather than the antagonistic tug of war that our life had often been before.

6 thoughts on “The Parenting Learning Curve

  1. Such a fantastic tale— when I was parenting it was called “the strong willed child” and the experts pushed parental rule at all costs.
    This is a beautiful way to honor one another -I absolutely love it.
    Well done. Keep it up-

  2. Lovely writing, as always, Crystal. Thank you for sharing your parenting discoveries. This “less than perfect” mom certainly needs these reminders. 💗

  3. Beautifully said. We each have the power, within reason, to let go of so many things that are not necessarily that important and to free up that time to just be. Our children, over time and with room to practice and grow in their own ways, will learn those skills too. It frequently may look very differently than we initially expect but is no less significant and it allows us to analyze why we have those expectations in the first place. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Letting go of expectations–around everything, not just parenting–has been the biggest gift I’ve ever given myself. Thank you for the support and insight!

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