One gorgeous spring day, my three kids were in the backyard making mud with the hose, lots and lots of mud. They’d come up with the marvelous, incredible, never before experienced, “How Much Mud Can You Carry in Your Underwear Challenge.” Unbeknownst to me one of them had run into the house to get the bathroom scale. When I peeked out to check on them, there they were weighing themselves, hosing off and weighing again. Three happy, filthy kids doing math problems with a muddy stick (I almost typed, with a “stick in the mud” but that means something completely different!).
I could have been grumpy that the scale was all muddy or that muddy little footprints ran from the back door to the bathroom. But being grumpy wouldn’t clean up the mud and being grumpy would definitely ruin their fun. I simply rejoiced in seeing them in cooperative play and using math to solve a real life question.
I was also happy that when they looked up and saw me watching, they had no concern that they would get in trouble. It wasn’t an uh-oh, we got caught moment. They know I am the kind of mom who is quick to smile and slow to scold. It’s a good way to deal with everyone, young and old.
It is that lesson that sticks with me. It is a lesson I model for, and teach to, the teachers at my school. As adults we chose our reactions to the behaviors of our children. Our reactions help them to define what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not. It is our responsibility to take care and think before we speak, especially before we speak harshly. Especially if our motivation for wanting them to stop doing what they are doing is based on anything other than helping them to have a happy, safe life.
Ask yourself: Is the behavior actually wrong, needing to be curbed? Or is it merely irritating? My kids loved “recreational screaming.” Joyous noise making, usually accompanied by wild, goofy dancing, for the simple pleasure of doing so. Loud and annoying? Yes. Wrong? No. Should their enthusiasm be reigned in? At the Library or while the baby sleeps? Yes. In the family room or the backyard? No. Nobody ever said being a parent would be without chaos and noise!
Ask yourself: Is the behavior actually wrong, needing to be curbed? Or is it merely going to generate a bunch of work for mom or dad? Those huge messes we walk in on, are often the result of incredible creativity. And surely, the motivation in their hearts was not, “Let’s see if we can drive mom crazy.” Remember the spilled paint is, just that, spilled paint. Cleaning up messes, dealing with dis-order, is in a parent’s job description.
Think of all the “I want to do it myself” moments. Oh, good golly Miss Molly, it’s easier to jump in and do it your fast grownup self. It can be irritating and time consuming to let them be the do-er instead of you. But if all the little guy is doing is trying to be competent and independent, doesn’t your job description say you should let them? Does it take more time? Absolutely. Is the solution then, to take over for them or use an unkind voice as you hurry them along? No. The solution is to allow for more time. Grocery store trip without a child = 30 minutes. Same shopping list with a child = 60 minutes (and a handful extra items, LOL). Plan for it and you will find that your aren’t nearly as likely to be irritated.
Be quick to smile and slow to scold, and always remember to smile.
Back to the mud story: Wondering who cleaned up the mud in the hall? We all did it together. It’s important to help kids learn how to take responsibility for their messes. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. We used shaving cream and sponges. The floor got clean, the house smelled great and we all had fun.