Several years ago, I had reached a breaking point. I was pregnant with my fourth baby. My 2-year-old son was wreaking havoc on my sanity. I remember one morning beginning with him cracking all of the eggs onto the kitchen floor. As I cleaned it up, he dumped the oatmeal from breakfast out of the bowls and danced it into the carpet in the dining room. As I cleaned that mess, he squirted the ketchup out all over the kitchen. While I cleaned that, he went in the laundry room and poured the liquid laundry detergent all over the carpet. As I cleaned up the laundry soap, he pulled all the pots and pans out of the cupboards. I let that one be for a minute, because by now, I really had to use the bathroom. When I came out, he was gone. He had escaped out of the house and run down to the corner and across the street to “Go to Sistey Bakey’s house.” The day had just begun, and continued like this until he was asleep in bed for the night. And this wasn’t just a “bad day.” This was just life with my boy.
I’m telling you this kid was intense. We’re not just talking about being a trouble maker, either. The tantrums. Oh, the tantrums. The energy level. Just the intensity of emotion. This boy learned how to escape from his 5-point harness in his car seat when he was 5 months old. By the time he was the ripe old age of 2, every tooth in his mouth had been chipped at least once from jumping off of or slamming into things. When he started escaping from the house, we put alarms on the doors. When he learned to circumvent those, we installed locks at the very tippy top of the doors, so that he couldn’t reach when he pulled up a chair and stacked it high with objects. (Think Sylvester the cat going after Tweety Bird.) We padlocked our gates to our fenced back yard closed. But no matter, when he was 3, he simply learned to climb over the 6-foot fence. When he was finally potty trained, he wouldn’t wait to walk all the way to the bathroom, he would open the sliding glass door to the patio, hang his little bum out, go #2 right there on the patio, pull up his pants, and close the door behind him, continuing on his merry way.
Several times a week, I would call my poor husband at work, sobbing. The conversations sounded something like this:
“Honey, he’s trying to get me!” *tears*
“No, I promise he’s not.”
“No, you don’t understand! You can’t even imagine it! You should see the look on his face while he’s doing it!” *sniff*
“Do you need me to come home?”
“No, I just don’t understand why he hates me!” *sob*
“Okay, I’ll be praying for you, and tell me if you need me to come home.”
By the time he was 4, I was at my wits’ end. I prayed every night for Heavenly Father to please, please help me with this boy.
The answer finally came in a book called, “Parenting the Ephraim’s Child,” by Jamie Theler and Deborah Talmadge. One trick in particular changed everything. It didn’t change my son, but it changed me. I suddenly learned to love this boy and his intense characteristics. I began to realize that his intensity was a gift from the Lord, which would help him to achieve his earthly mission. I still frequently struggle with his intensity, but when I remember this trick, things come back into focus.
The goal with this trick is to redefine the way we see and think about our child so that we can teach them to use these traits in a positive way. When we have a child we are struggling with, we tend to use negative adjectives to describe them. The more we describe them in a negative way, the more we believe it, and the more other people believe it too. So we want to change those words to positive descriptors. If we can look at the negative as a positive that just needs to be redirected, it suddenly helps us to see ways to direct them to that good. Here’s an example. Maybe I would describe my child as being stubborn, short-fused, and forgetful. That sounds like a child that nobody would want to be around, doesn’t it. But what if I change those words? What if I changed them to a synonym with a more positive light?
Now I have a child who is determined, passionate, and engrossed. That’s the kind of child who will grow up to be a great missionary one day, or the leader of a business. A world-changer.
So here is my suggestion to you. Make a list of the specific adjectives that you use to describe your child. Write down the words you use when you speak to others, and the words you just use in your own head. You know, the ones you’d be completely embarrassed to say out loud. Then get out your thesaurus and look up those words. Find a word with the same meaning that is positive. Now practice, practice, practice using the new words instead. Practice thinking them. Practice saying them to others. Make a goal never to use those negative words again. It will be hard at first, but you can keep referring back to your list, adding to it as needed. Think of those negative words as positives that are just wrapped up in ugly paper. We just have to take the paper off. And when the time comes, throw away your list. You don’t need or want to look at those negative words any more.
The beautiful part of this exercise is that you will learn what kind of intensely wonderful person has been waiting for direction in there. Our children want to be good, and when we can see the good, we can direct them and help them to use those traits in the way the Lord intended for them. When we can redirect our own outlook, we can redirect their behavior because we have a specific goal in mind. A goal that they already possess the tools to achieve, but they just need to fine-tune. Changing the way we describe our children can change everything. It’s not all peaches and cream with my boy now, but it’s so much better. I see so much wonderful goodness in him. My love for him has grown miraculously. He brings me joy. And it’s even better when I can remember this little huge trick.
Here’s a little about our Establish a House guest writer today.
My name is Kate. I am the proud stay-at-home mama of 6 wonderful kids – boy 16, boy 14, boy 11, girl 9, boy 5, girl 1. My hubby, and I have been married for 12 glorious years. Ours is a “blended family,” the oldest two from my first marriage, then two together with Hubby, one adopted, and one born after a tubal reversal. We’ve been done having kiddos 3 times, but now we’re done being done. I love to be a mother! I love to garden, bottle, bake. I love learning new skills and enjoy all things self-reliance and emergency preparedness. I am a dreamer and a dabbler. I love the Gospel! I’m so grateful for my testimony. It’s what grows my family.
Thank you so much Kate for sharing this truly wonderful parenting tip! I have been applying it to my own life and children. It works! It really works.