Last week I finished sewing a dress for Aria and, excited (it’s the first dress I’ve made for her), held it up for her to see and asked if she wanted to try it on. She immediately pulled a face and said grumpily, “I don’t like red.”
This type of reaction has been common in our house recently. When presented with dinner or something else we’ve made or done or gotten for her, Aria will pout and grumble something about it that she does not like. Or, if she doesn’t know anything about it, as is often the case with a new food, she will simply declare that she doesn’t like it. Often, she actually does like the food/item presented, but is just grumbling for some reason…maybe a way to get extra attention. Too often, unfortunately, we have validated the poor behaviour with attention (usually negative) and it has continued to increase in frequency.
Recently, at a parent meeting at Aria’s school, another mom asked for advice on this type of behaviour, as her own child has been doing the same thing (must be the age). The instructor for Aria’s class related the story of a family she knows and how when the girl in that family would grumble and complain about something, the mama would simply say, “You may now say something kind.” In the beginning the mama had to explain that it is not nice to say mean things to someone that has just spent time making something for you and had to help the girl out with some kind suggestions, but over time this simple rule cut down on the grumbling and the girl got better at coming up with positive things to say.
So, this time, when Aria screwed up her face and pouted at the dress I’d just made for her, I took a breath, thought back to that parent meeting and didn’t get upset or hurt, but simply said, “You may now say something kind.” I wasn’t sure it would work as I’d tried this once before with mixed results, but I explained that it was not nice to say mean things about something someone has just made for her. I was careful not to emphasize that it was me that made it for her (though she knew that was the case) as I think this would’ve created more of a power struggle and the lesson of how to react when anyone does something for you would’ve been lost. She looked at me blankly, so I made a few suggestions and waited; she continued to pout. I told her she could stay where she was until she was ready to say something kind, then turned my attention elsewhere. A couple minutes later, she smiled a genuine smile and said, “I like that it’s a summer dress, Mama.” Then she stood up, walked over to the dress, pulled it gently off the hanger and put it on, letting me help her with the ties. She didn’t take it off until bedtime and even let me take some very cute pics of her.
This experience was a great lesson not only for Aria but for me as well. I get so fed up with her negativity sometimes that I just react, upset and hurt, with negative comments and my own scowl or hurt expressions. Using this simple statement diffused the situation and helped me pull my own emotions out of it, stay calm and concentrate only on helping Aria understand why we don’t treat people that way and learn how to do better. It took the attention off her negative behaviour and therefore made it less attractive to continue. The whole situation ended much more pleasantly than if I’d put her in time out or scolded her for her negative reaction. She now has a bit better understanding of using kind words, I have a bit more patience for these situations, and the whole thing ended in smiles.
Since that day, I’ve repeated this statement several times in varying situations (usually at the dinner table, but elsewhere as well); it is a process, but I’m finding great value in simple statements such as this one. They help me to stay calm and provide a clear message of what is expected to my spirited daughter. A baby step forward in parenting.