I completely changed how I respond when my children act up – and it changed everything
I have been a mother for 12 years.
To say that I have learned a lot is an understatement of epic proportions. Because such is motherhood – the only job where you are given full responsibility of the actual life and death variety on Day One, with no training necessary, no courses, no degree, no manual, no nothing.
So you learn as you go, picking up nuggets of information along the way, and trying and failing and falling and getting back up again.
I have learnt skills I never knew I needed (or indeed were even a thing), such as the ability to make scrambled eggs from scratch with one hand while also bouncing a baby on your hip, and also how to wipe someone's bum while also hanging on to a baby that is actually attached to your boob. Yes, really – it's a thing.
I have learned that children who have been silent for a while are usually up to no good, and that food aversions or, indeed, obsessions, can happen overnight and become the bane of your life for the foreseeable future. I now know that toast cut in triangles clearly tastes way different than the square varity, and I also know now that humans can survive on a lot less sleep than science claims they need.
See? So much wisdom.
One of the most important things I have learned, so far, though, is a relatively recent one. I was chatting to a friend (who also happens to be a Montessori teacher) a while back, where I was telling her about my 4-year-olds tantrums that sometimes could be very hard to reign in once they had started. As in, if he is angry and/or upset enough in the throes of a tantrum, it's like he checked out, and no amount of me pleading or reasoning or being angry back would help. Heck, it even ended up making it worse most times.
Her advice? Always offer him a hug when he is at his absolute worst, his most horrible.
I thought at first that this sounded a little off – I mean; how would he learn that this behaviour was not accepted if I didn't in any way punish it, either by giving him a talking to or being strict with him in the moment?
Hugs are the answer
My friend's (beautiful) reasoning: Because it is often when our kids act their very worst that they need a hug the absolute most.
And because almost always, a hug and a chat about what is going on will get a better response than yelling and punishment.
And it made me think, for sure. Sometimes, I think, when kids act out, it's as much a cry for help as it is for something else. Maybe they struggle to express their big feelings in a more appropriate way, or perhaps there is something else bothering them, stressing them out, or making them frustrated.
In this case, a hug is the perfect way to make them relax with you and open the door to talk things through.
Another reason, and one that really broke my heart because it's probably so true, is that sometimes when kids feel bad about themselves, they feel like they don’t deserve kindness and respect so they don’t behave in a way that encourages people to give them kindness or respect.
And then, when they get frustration and anger in return, their feelings are validated, they feel worse about themselves, and the vicious cycle begins. By offering a hug and reminding them that making a mistake does not make them a bad person you can break that cycle.
So by meeting their anger with hugs and embraces, I am hoping to instil in my children that while I can dislike a behaviour, I still love them, no matter what. At times we can all do with a reminder of this, I think.
For us, I feel like this approach has massively helped reduce the tantrums and conflict – and make them happen so much less frequently. And also, I love feeling like I have this magic method for ending anger outbursts and tantrums in an instant. And also making sure my kids know how much I love them – even when they are at their worst.
And to be honest, the hugs, sometimes, are as much for me as they are for them – to calm us all down. If my children are hurting, or frustrated, or lashing out and I am just at the end of my rope, I don't know how to fix this, sometimes it is me who needs the connection, reassurance and a hug – and it ends up being exactly what we both need.
Because such is the magic of hugs, mama.