“Do you feed your kids crack?” The Sunday school teacher asked. “Oh… no, they are pretty energetic though aren’t they” I laughed. I entered the room to gather my three boys while one of them was sliding head first down the plastic slide, the second was leaning off the edge of the fort as though it was a ship at sea, and the third was chasing a girl around the room. I quickly gathered my clan rushed them off to the car and buckled them in their seats. My main thought on that day was, “my boys require a lot of structure.” We headed home and I chalked it up to another day in the life of a high-energy family.
A few weeks later I started to think about the question that this teacher posed to me. Like many things the more I thought about it the more frustrated I became. Don’t get me wrong I am the first to admit that my boys are active. They love to run, jump, wrestle, and get dirty. I am also the first to state however that I have great children and this is where the frustration came in. I started to wonder what this teacher thinks of my boys. My guess based on her question is that she views them as out-of-control, untamed, crazy, or scary.
I know that ultimately it does not matter what this person thinks about my children. I believe strongly however, that the way we experience children is the way they experience themselves. So, if this teacher experiences my children as crazy, out-of-control, or scary then that may be the way that they feel in her presence. I begin to wonder if she is overwhelmed by their energy. I sense that maybe she does not know how to contain them or is unsure of how to discipline them. If I were honest with myself I would admit that at times I feel these things. I feel overwhelmed, out-of-control, and scared of someone getting hurt.
Unfortunately when I feel these ways I tend to rely on my more primal parenting skills. Sometimes this includes yelling, sometimes annoyed tones of voice, other times checking out. Of course these skills do not work very well and actually communicate even more firmly to my children that I cannot handle them. I wonder what it feels like to my children when I am out of control? How do they feel when I am yelling, using my annoyed voice, or checked out?
At times I can see the answers on my sons face. The feeling seems to be either hurt or humiliation, whatever it is I know it when I see it. In my best moments I slow down, apologize, and acknowledge my mistake. In my worse moments I move on without giving it a second thought feeling justified in my frustration.
My sons truly do require a lot of structure. I find that things go better when I provide simple activities to help provide this structure. It might be playdoh, drawing, coloring, a task, or a walk. No matter what it is when I take action and help to structure the time they respond well. The best part is that in most cases when I start the activity and engage with them for a short time I can leave the activity and they will remain engaged beyond the time of my involvement. The hard part is staying calm, remembering that they need the structure and providing it before I become overwhelmed and out of control.
One thing that I have learned to do when things get tense at my house is to ask myself, “What do they need from me right now?” Many times the answer is structure and when I provide it things seem to calm down, and so do I.