A lot of parenting advice teaches how to "fix" problem behaviors. These lessons assume our children are being stubborn for stubborn's sake. Or that they are trying out behaviors to see how their parents will respond. Often there are underlying reasons for the behaviors, though. Our job is to get to the root of the problem and help kids reconcile their lives and choices with our expectations. Sometimes, that means changing our expectations. Others, it means helping kids overcome some sticking point in themselves.
What does this look like in real life? Real talk--MESSY! Confusing. Frustrating. I won't sugar coat it. Figuring out WHY my kids were acting in certain ways was not (is not) simple. Addressing the reason behind the behavior is worth it. That's why I dig and watch.
Will has never been a greater solids eater. Even when he was nursing, he was particular about when, how, why, and where. I shouldn't have been surprised when he was choosy about solid foods too. I just shared a memory on Facebook this morning that reflected a portion of our experience and frustration with his eating. He would eat precisely what he loved and nothing more. Then meltdown due to low blood sugar because he didn't eat enough to sustain his large body. He would refuse to eat anything placed in front of him if it wasn't exactly what he deemed appropriate at the moment. If I thought apple slices and almond were a good choice, he balked. Yesterday, he might have eaten that without fail, but not today! Right at any given moment, he would eat apples, but I couldn't count on it. He couldn't talk until he was four, so it was a guessing game every mealtime.
At the surface, it looks like we just have another opinionated toddler, but it was deeper than that. Will has always had very specific needs regarding food. Even at 11, he eats the same things at the same times every day. When we aren't home, and he has little control, he is capable of flexibility now. As a toddler, he couldn't communicate his schedule, but it was there in his head. He knew what he needed, but couldn't tell me or help himself. His routines are still important to him. They give him a sense of control in a chaotic world.
Right now, Will is struggling in general life. He has a harder time with compromise and flexibility right now. I have asked him several times what he's struggling with under all that. He can't yet tell me. In the past, it has been entirely unrelated to how it is presenting. When I talked about advocacy, I mentioned that Will's struggle with his instructor came to light when he was having trouble with his siblings and avoiding practice times. I had been addressing the sibling difficulty alone, and not digging to figure out more until it had been a whole weeks since Will had practiced. He was finally able to tell me what the underlying cause of his sibling squabbles were about. His brain had been focused on the practice and lessons issues, and unable to give brain space to compromising with anyone.
I have yet to get to the root this time, and he has been struggling for over a week. I thought that he was having trouble because it was his dish week, but that is over. Last week was strange and constantly in flux and he thinks that might be contributing, but that there might be more. I keep asking him about different things that are going on, but he is still unable to discuss what is causing his trouble. He needs to know every single of every day. He needs plans that aren't happening for months and don't involve him. His patience is short and his flexibility shot. I help him recognize when he is being unreasonable and coach him through his feelings and responses, but I still don't know, and cannot help, the cause of his trouble.
Until I can suss out the full cause, Will will continue to struggle and hurt. I will continue to talk with him and try to find the reason. I will continue to help him talk to his siblings, and help his siblings understand him.
Similarly to doctors doing tests to figure out what is causing the symptoms of a disease, we search for thorns that are causing pain in our kids. Once we find all the thorns, we can remove them freeing their brains to grow and stretch. The method I adopted for questioning my kids about what's bugging them is from Dr. Ross Green's book, "The Explosive Child". He clearly lays out how to ask kids different kinds of questions. Then, how to arrive at a solution that works for both parent and child.
If you need help figuring out what's causing your child's struggles, let me know. I am happy to help!