I am blessed with a bunch of kids. At any given moment, some are easy and some are giving me a run for my money and making me question everything I thought I knew about parenting. As I keep reading on twitter: "Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories." ~ John Wilmot
I have noticed, though, that every time a child gets into a "difficult" phase, it takes me a little while to realize it. For years and years I was surprised every time it happened again. They would stop tantruming and become more amenable for a while and I apparently had an idea that that was their new way of being. Until it isn't anymore.
One thing about parenting for well over a decade is
that these ebbs and flows aren't as surprising to me as they used to be. I'm beginning to
learn to enjoy the pleasant interludes and mentally roll up my sleeves
and give that extra effort and attention when they are calling out for
Basically, I use the rule of thumb of: am I getting annoyed at this
child on a regular basis or are the two of us getting into more conflict than usual. If yes, that
means we have exited "pleasant phase" and entered "needy phase." (I usually don't catch it for the first week or two of "needy phase" and instead feel a general stress about my life or unconscious dread of interacting with that child until i realize what is going on.) So
the first rule of the game is to make sure I'm giving that child extra
one-on-one attention. More playful parenting, more conversation, more
I also use that time to think more
deeply about this child's overall development. What qualities am I
seeing? What would I like to see develop? Am I pushing too hard? Not enough? Have I screwed up? Is it time to tweak how I'm doing things? What is this child's nature and am I providing the proper soil and environment for this particular nature?
Is it "just a phase?" Will the kid outgrow it? Maybe. Sometimes you don't need to do anything and the time passes and they become more of a mentsch.
But maybe this time of extra intensity, extra stubbornness, extra assertion-of-the-self-in-a-way-that-annoys-me needs that extra love and attention. I think of it as a soothing balm that helps them navigate whatever conflicts they are working through. It's never a bad idea to put some effort into reconnecting emotionally. When I feel irritated, I take that as an indication it's time to put in that effort.