Saturday, January 14, 2012

Communicating with My Three Year Old

Some of the things L says and especially how she says them, really grate on me.  It's not her fault though- she is communicating the only way a three year old knows how.  I need to work on my issues (again!) so I'm not so irritated with her.  She's so sweet, and when I snap at her it breaks her little heart.

When she says, "MOM, I'm WAITING for you to play with me," I feel irritated, because I perceive that she is accusing me of being too slow or intentionally putting her off, and I need her to know that I do want to spend time with her.  

When she says "You FORGOT....." I feel irritated, because I perceive that she is accusing me of forgetting something that I am actually working towards and I need her to understand that I am in the process of getting to her request.

When she asks me the same thing five times in rapid succession, I feel irritated because I perceive that she is accusing me of not listening or not paying attention and I need her to know that I do want to respond, but I need a moment to think.

Writing that made a few things clear to me:

-My subconscious, underlying perceptions of the intentions and unspoken implications of a three year old need a serious reality check.

-She is probably feeling frustrated and sad, because she perceives that I am forgetting her, ignoring her, or not listening to her.

Unfortunately, that is sometimes true.  She is the quiet middle child, and it's far too easy to pass over her when things are hectic or when I am lost in my own thoughts.  

Everything I need her to know- that I want to spend time with her, that I am getting to her request, that I want to respond, but need a moment to think- she needs to know too!

So I need to work on better communication with her:

When she is waiting for me to do something, I need to tell her specifically when I will be able to do it and then follow through.  If anything changes during that time, I need to tell her clearly.  "I will play Monopoly with you.  First I'm going to clean off the table, then I'm going to get the dog her food, then we will play."  And when that changes, "Oh, I just realized the baby needs a diaper change.  I'm still going to play with you, but first I need to change the baby's diaper."

When she asks me something, I need to answer her right away.  If I need a minute to think, I need to say so. 

Someone out there is thinking, "What about her behavior!  You're just going to let your child be rude and snotty and not do anything about it?!"

Well, I can tell you that what I have been resorting to has been both ineffective and damaging. 

This morning when she said "MOM, I'm WAITING for you to play with me," complete with the raised eyebrows and hands on her hips, I said, "Stop being rude!  You can say 'Mom, I'm frustrated that you aren't playing with me yet' or...." and I didn't finish my sentence, because it was lame. 

I don't think there is anything wrong with giving a kid a script of a more polite, more effective or more thoughtful way of expressing themselves.  But it has to be in the context of partnering with them to be the effective communicators they want to be.  I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth, that all I was doing was being rude and critical myself.  I could see on her face that as soon as I snapped at her about being rude, she was hurt and embarrassed and she shut down.

To some people, it would look like "it worked."  Her attitude disappeared immediately and she looked contrite.  If I would have finished my script, she would have repeated it after me, and it would have looked like I had succeeded in correcting the behavior. 

Correcting the behavior is not my goal, however.  I want to know WHY she is acting that way.  The truth is that you cannot change someone else, only yourself, so I'm starting with me.  What I can do for her is figure out some things about her personality, and help her to grow into them in a healthy way.

I think that her Love Language is Acts of Service, which means that she best receives expressions of love when people do things for her.  It might also be Words of Affirmation, which would mean that she feels especially loved when people say kind, uplifting and positive things to her and she is especially sensitive to critical or negative words.

I think her Energy Type is either a Type 2 or a Type 4, which are both introverted energies.  If she is a Type 2, she is especially sensitive and has a strong desire to please.  So when she gets frustrated, she might be trying to mimic the bold or blunt expression that myself or her Type 3 sister would use or just trying out the power of her words as a typical three year old developmental stage.  Because of her sensitivity and need to keep the peace, she immediately recoils at any hint of rebuke.  If she is a Type 4, she has the tendency to be bold and direct, and she immediately sees the flaws and imperfections in a situation and has a strong desire to perfect them.  Because she is only three, she doesn't know how to express these direct thoughts in a tactful way.   

These are things I'll be watching and helping her grow into as she gets older.   


The scripts "When_____I feel_____because I need______" are based on the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.  The author does not include the part about perception in the script, but he does talk about the difference between feelings and perceptions.   I add it into my self-talk to help myself differentiate between the two, and between my perceptions and the more objective reality in the situation. 

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