So this is what happened yesterday. I wad reading history with my two older children. My youngest was there. He’s been feeling a bit slighted lately, I think. Most of my homeschool lessons are geared towards the older two, age 6 and 8. He is 4. While reading, my daughter tripped on his favorite toy, a LEGO model of the Titanic. She got a cut from it, on her toe. As it drew blood, she screamed bloody murder. Her older brother went to get her a band aid. In the meantime, she screamed at her younger brother, “YOUR TITANIC DID THIS. I WISH I NEVER SHOWED YOU THE MOVIE TITANIC. I WISH YOU NEVER HAD A TITANIC.”
A few minutes later, her younger brother was in total tears. He took his Titanic and started disassembling it. He threw one piece after another off of it. And I can’t even begin to tell you how much he loves his Titanic and telling the story, over and over, about how it sunk. Watching such a young boy, who is otherwise incredibly charismatic and just loves to be with mommy, show such intense shame pulls at your heartstrings like no other.
I wasn’t feeling terribly well yesterday. I was reading and they had a building toy out to build a “teleporter” so I was even a bit trapped in my chair to move. I am thankful my eight year old is so willing to help. My daughter, almost 6 ½, has these EPISODES lately. She gets upset, tries to fix it, it doesn’t go well, she slams doors, etc. It was almost exactly like this with my son, except at a slightly older age and he was more physically aggressive than socially antagonistic like my daughter is. I’ve validated her, chased after her, and talked to her so much that at this point we mostly just ride out each episode. She snaps back far quicker now than she previously did.
But this time she really hurt her younger brother. I couldn’t just ride it out. I decided to do a play. This is largely because the night before, their dad did a play with them about getting to the potty promptly and it had them in such stitches, laughing so hard, that it was a huge success and re-inspired me to use this method. I told my eight year old that I was going to yell at him in the play but it’s just a play and I appreciate him playing along. He got it. So, his favorite thing is reading history. So I pretended to trip on a history book, fell, screamed bloody murder (and I did), and got in his face, “YOUR HISTORY BOOK DID THIS. YOU DID IT. I WISH YOU NEVER READ HISTORY IN YOUR LIFE.” My kids died laughing, including the four year old.
I asked them, “If I am hurt, does it give me a right to hurt others?” They said no. Then I somewhat corrected myself. I said, “Well, guys if SOMEONE hurts you, I want you to fight back.” I again exaggerated this. I got into a fighting position like I was going to punch someone. “I want you to bring your arm back real far and PUNCH THEM IN THE EYE. And run and scream and get out.” They thought this was hilarious. But then I asked, “But if we trip on a book, does it give us a right to hurt others?” They all agreed: no.
Without singling her out, lecturing her, or punishing her, I imparted a lesson to my daughter. And one less about how to exactly behave but deeper: how to regulate emotions. Knowing how to respond when you “stub your toe” is a huge life lesson. But there was still my four year old.
He was still upset. He wouldn’t let anyone near his Titanic to fix it. I had tried coming to him, but he kept hiding. This turned into a game and he was at least laughing. But I went down and told his dad, in private, what happened. His dad literally teared up, instantly. This is how much this boy loves the Titanic and how his behavior was such a sign of deep distress.
His dad went up and fixed the Titanic. Now, he is still playing with it. But, one way or another, this was a clue to me. He needs WAY more of me. His behavior is a clue to me that he has needs that I am not meeting. This is, in one way, what Misbehavior is Growth is about.