The lenses through which we see the world are colored by our prior experiences in life. We are able to choose how we see situations and how we respond to them.
Choosing one’s perspective is one of the most powerful and effective parenting skills I have ever learned.
My arms were full of books, my lunchbox, and writing materials. I struggled to get the backdoor open. The dogs darted out the door between my feet. I pushed my way in and dumped my stuff on the dining room table.
“Hi bud, I’m home,” I called into the house.
“Are you ready to go Sky?” I asked my thirteen-year-old son. He stared at me blankly from the walnut brown loveseat.
“You have a doctor’s appointment in fifteen minutes,” I said. “Get your shoes and socks on, please. We need to leave.” I tossed him his shoes. He stood up and then stopped.
“I’m not going unless you take me to Game Stop,” he said. (Game stop is a video game store).
“You don’t have money for Game Stop.”
“Grandma gave you my twenty dollars yesterday.”
“Sorry, you owed me that from a month ago when you used money without asking.”
“You can’t just take my money.”
“I’m not just taking it. We talked about this when you earned it from grandma, and you agreed to give it to me because you took my money without asking. Get your shoes on we need to leave.”
“I’m not going.” He folded his arms across his chest and plopped into the couch.
“You will have to pay the cancelation fee.”
“I’ll only go if you take me to game stop.”
“I’m not taking you to game stop and I am leaving.” I walked out the door. I called for the dogs to come into the house.
The dogs ran into the house when Skyler opened the door to get in the car.
“I’m not answering any questions, and it better not take very long,” Sky said slamming the car door and buckling his seatbelt.
“Okay, but it will take longer if you don’t cooperate.”
In the lobby of the office, he sat curled into a ball on a chair in the corner lips pursed and eyebrows knitted together. He wrapped his arms around his knees glowering at everyone who walked passed.
“Hello, Skyler,” Dr. Davis said. Skyler stalks past to the office.
“Sky we need your height and weight come back in this other room, please,” I said and beckon him with my hand.
“No.” He sits in a chair in the hallway, folds his arms, and crosses his legs. He smiles.
“Has he grown? He seems a lot taller,” Dr. Davis said from in a small room with a scale.
“Yes, he has grown a lot actually,” I said.
“He looks thinner too,” Dr. Davis said. “I’m not sure how this measures height.”
“I can do it,” Skyler says popping out of the chair.
“129 lbs. 5 feet and 4 inches. Wow, you’ve grown two inches,” I said. “One more inch and you will be as tall as me.”
“Then I can pat you on the top of the head,” he said.
“Yes,” I said wrapping my arm around his shoulders.
He answered all of Dr. Davis’ questions, and we were able to leave within fifteen minutes. He didn’t ask about Game Stop the rest of the night. He was happy and compliant.
Skyler frequently demands that other’s met his needs in this manner.
Some parents and most people looking in from the outside of our family would see Skyler’s behavior as disrespectful and manipulative, and it certainly is that but it is also much more. It is a hurt child trying to get what he wants in an immature and hurtful way. I can choose to see him as a disrespectful manipulative child, or I can choose to see him as a child who is hurting and lacking in skills.
I can choose to respond to Skyler’s words, tone, or to the emotions underlying both of these. If I want to change my son’s behavior in the long run, I have to respond to his emotional need first and then address the words he uses and finally his tone.
What did Skyler need? He needed love and attention. He had been home by himself (13 years old) while I was at work, and he needed to know I cared about him. For Skyler, gifts make him feel loved. So, that was what he demanded to fill the void created by being alone.
If I had yelled at Skyler and demanded that he treat me with respect, he would have lashed out at me, and he would have felt rejected and unloved. He would not be willing to listen to me about how to ask for things in a more appropriate way.
By addressing his emotional state first, I free up his mental resources so he will able to hear and respond to what I say about the words he uses. The tone will have to be addressed at another date and time. Baby steps.