I won't name names here, because that would be nasty. But back when Kaya was a little cutie and Lana was a teeny baby and I had no idea what was in store for me when I grew up, there was a family at our church full of kids with attitude. These kids were..what's the euphemism again these days...spirited? They were that. And the mother was perpetually running around after them, giving them a row (for you Americans that means yelling at them).
I remember occasionally they'd do something I thought was sweet, like they'd stand up on their chair during the songs and sing at the top of their lungs and clap their hands and I'd turn around to smile, thinking it would be good to encourage them. But as I turned around I'd see their Mum snapping at them and making them sit down and shut up. I guess she perceived the loud singing as mischievous. And the kids fed off the negative attention and went berserk. And I wondered to myself if she had responded with a smile and encouragement, maybe they'd stay on their seats and sing, albeit noisily, instead of running all around the church hall and unplugging the amplifier speakers. Because it seems that reacting to your child as though they are being malicious places a label on the child, and a role that goes along with it which the child will most certainly oblige to fulfill. I told myself I'd never fall into that trap.
Fast forward 5 years or so and here I am with my own "spirited" family. And all too often I find my kids doing something they believe to be innocent and giggling away, and I respond with snapping and yelling and warning and then spend the rest of the day scratching my head and wondering why the kids are so mischievous today. What possibly could have set them off?
So my challenge for this week, which will hopefully help form a lasting habit, is to simply smile at my kids more.
Whenever I make eye contact with them, smile. When they ask me a question, smile while I answer. When I serve up a meal, smile at them. When I catch them taking dirt out of the plant pot without it occurring to them that I might not be entirely pleased with such antics, first smile at them before correcting.
The theory is that by smiling I am firstly calming myself down and reminding myself that it's not as big a deal as I think it is in the moment, and in doing so I am modeling positive behavior and self control and peaceful outlook.
Secondly I am giving the kids the benefit of the doubt by smiling. I'm assuming they are innocent and just need to be reminded of the boundaries. Most often that is the case. And children and adults alike respond much better when they are given the benefit of the doubt. It's the whole catch more flies with honey thing.
Thirdly I am setting up the tone of the dialog that's to follow. If I notice Kaya and Lana have pulled off my freshly made bedsheets to make a tent in the dining room (as a random example) and I approach them waving my arms and pointing fingers and complaining that "I just made this bed and now I'll have to do it all over again!", they are likely to respond in two ways, since they have two very different temperament types. Kaya will start yelling at me in the same tone I used on her. She'll find some (usually valid) accusation to throw right back at me and then she'll storm off and slam the door. Lana will feel dejected and scared and will go to her bed sucking her thumb and twisting her hair until she falls asleep. Neither are very desirable. It won't make it any easier for me to make the bed, and we'll all feel like losers.
If however, I see what they're doing and I make myself smile. They will see that I accept them and will welcome what I have to say. I will be more likely to say something calm like, "I'm glad you are having fun. In future though, I wish you wouldn't use my bedsheets without asking first" and they are likely to say, "ok mum". I might follow it up with, "Could you please help me to make it again as soon as you're finished your game?" And they will probably agree. The smile makes a nice warm starting point, reminds me to be more accepting and gentle, and it helps my children feel more accepted and are more likely to react positively to my suggestions.
It's about stopping the vicious cycle of complaining and moaning and yelling before it even starts.
Plus, smiling is good for you. It exercises the muscles on your face, lightens your mood and makes you feel good. It makes you look prettier too. So join me in smiling at your kids, or your customers or even...(gasp) your husbands this week. :)
I was trying to find a clip from Ally McBeal when John Cage does his smile therapy but I can't find one. Oh well.