Elias is three-and-a-half. I love this age. Elias is wide-eyed. He’s curious. He’s hilarious. He’s kind to his baby sister. He’s full of wonder. He’s patient. He respects others. Seriously, he is a really good kid…
…98% of the time.
And then roughly 2% of the time, he’s acts like a socially misfit little demon who I’m convinced could grow up to become a menace to society and household pets.
Again, he’s 98% angelic.
And 2% percent Lex Luther.
And I’m not sure why, but whenever “Lex” comes out to play (<-to throw Kryptonite on just about anything in a three-room radius), I always worry that Jessica and I are the only parents in the world raising an angel with a sliver of Lex.
I know that’s not true, of course. Still, in the moment, it does often feel that way.
And too, it’s sometimes really hard to know how to handle your child’s Lex moments. But you learn a few things as you go, one of those lessons being that what you learned during your child’s last temper tantrum may not apply or be relevant to his/her next temper tantrum.
Still, sometimes the lessons do apply. And oddly most of those lessons are more about my behavior than the behavior of my kid. So here are few things that Jessica and I try to remember as we raise Elias…
1) We are the adults. How we handle hard situations speak far louder than the timeouts we use to correct our son’s behavior. It’s crazy how easy it is to forget that sometimes, that our behavior is far more important than the conniption that our child is throwing.
2) Praise Elias’s good behavior. My goal every day is to make sure I never take for granted all that Elias does right. It’s so easy to do, especially when your child is going through a tough stage, weeks where he/she is testing new territory, creating new boundaries, using new (and louder) words. It’s easy to sometimes hyper-focus so much on the unkind behavior that you fail to recognize all that your child does right. Jessica and my goal is to celebrate Elias’s good to a much greater degree than we worry, sweat, become frustrated by his less-than-perfect moments… and I’ll be honest, there are times when one of us becomes too frustrated to do that, which requires us intervene on the other’s behalf (and on behalf of Elias).
3) Teach, don’t simply correct. Elias is learning how to live, learning what is right and wrong behavior. While correcting bad behavior is important, teaching good behavior is more important. When Elias hits me, I always say, “Hands are not for hitting, Elias. Mommy and Daddy don’t hit you, and we expect you not to hit Mommy and Daddy. And you are in timeout because you hit me…” But I don’t stop there. I always say, “What are hands for?” He usually tells me, but if he doesn’t, I remind him that “hands are for high-fives and picking up crayons and throwing balls, etc. etc. etc.”
4) Sometimes I need the timeout. Sometimes, in order to help Elias behave with manners and kindness and respect, I need to put myself in timeout. I need to walk away for a few moments and breathe. Or pray. Or go into a soundproof room and scream. Jessica and I have learned the hard way that, when we aren’t in the mood or the state of mind to behave properly, then all that we’re doing is giving Elias mixed messages. That’s it’s not okay to throw a fit unless you’re throwing a fit at somebody else’s fit… and in the end, those situations create an environment of exasperation and frustration for Elias. And nobody learns anything when all of us are frustrated/exasperated.
5) Sometimes the best way to handle Elias’s “Lex Luther” is to calmly ignore his “Lex Luther”. Rather than acknowledging Elias’s bad behavior, I will ignore it by engaging his good behavior. When he’s screeching/squealing about not getting his way, sometimes I’ll ignore the squeals by saying, “Elias, you wanna go ride your bike or do chalk outside?” Often his face will immediately brighten up and he’ll say, “Sure!” Other times he’ll squeal “No!” And sometimes, usually when he’s being especially unreasonable, I’ll say emphatically, “Elias, Daddy wants to talk to you, but I can’t talk to you when you’re acting like this… if you want to talk, you need to calm down and treat Daddy kindly… when you’re ready to do that, you let me know.” And then I walk away. I think it’s important for Elias to understand that I’m always willing/ready to talk to him, but that yelling/squealing/physically reacting to me is not the proper way to communicate with one another.
6) Above all, we want Elias to know that his Mommy and Daddy love him more than he will ever understand, that we not only love him when he’s being “angelic” but that we love him when he’s acting like a miniature lunatic. I never want to create an environment where Elias feels the need to “earn” my love. I want him to be/feel/exist confidently in the knowledge that our love doesn’t stop, that it just is. I want him to trust his Mommy and Daddy. I don’t want him to fear us or feel like he has to manipulate/lie in order to feel secure. So in addition to telling him and showing him multiple times a day how much I love him, after he’s calmed down from one of his crazy moments, I always say, “Elias, Daddy loves you. That never changes, okay? Never. I will always love you.” While I’m sure that his three-year-old brain doesn’t always comprehend what I say to him, I know that it comprehends a good portion of what I say–because often, when I don’t expect it, he’ll walk up to me out of the blue and tell me that he loves me in the exact same way I tell him. And there are few experiences in life that compare to how good that feels.
On the rare occasion, sometimes everything I hope to do and be nose dives. Sometimes he’s just in a foul mood. Sometimes my first response is the wrong response and it just goes downhill. Sometimes I can reason with my three-year-old. Sometimes he’s just exhausted and doesn’t want to be reasoned with. And maybe that’s why kids are equipped with this extraordinary ability to live in grace, to live completely in grace, to end an evening acting like complete terrors only to wake up the next morning with such an expectation that grace exists and that they don’t need to do one thing to experience it. Most days, after a night with Lex, Elias wakes up with grins and giggles, anticipating nothing but complete acceptance from his Mommy and me. And he’s right, no matter how hard the last evening was, nothing makes you engage grace like your three-year-old angelic boy darting out of his room as fast as his little feet can carry him in order to find you, hug you, love you…
Like little faces of God, our kids jump into our arms holding brand new mercies, ready to engage another day with hope, with a belief that TODAY will be the best day ever…
And roughly 98% of the time, it is.