Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When behavior is communication

Yesterday was one of Those Days, the kind that are forgettable because, well, who wants to remember them?

I awoke overwhelmingly irritated about something from the night before, offered my day to God (because I do that kind of thing, even when, as it turns out, I might as well have offered up my nail clippings), prayed for patience, snarled my way to the kitchen in a state of high hormonal bad humor, and realized that the day was going to be a challenge. My younger children are pros at assuming that when Mom's in a bad mood, it's because she doesn't like them. So I decided to forewarn them that my grumpiness was not their fault.

No one wanted to eat what I made for breakfast. It took the kids three years to get dressed. We started our schoolwork, and Little Guy was totally and uncharacteristically uncooperative. How is it that kids instinctually know the worst possible day to act up? Why couldn't Little Guy stay on track for half a subtraction problem? Where did he get this sudden delusion that he had the right to decide what he would and wouldn't do?

After a couple of hours of frustration and increasingly bad behavior from Little Guy, the lightbulb went on in my brain. And man did I feel stupod... er, stupid.

"Are you worried about something?" I asked my six year old.

"No, I'm anxious," he replied.

"Do you know what you're anxious about?"


I took a guess. "Are you anxious about what Mommy said about being in a bad mood?" (Though my mood had long since passed, bumped out by the more urgent need to manage Little Guy's outrageous behavior.)

"I think so."

"Do you remember that I told you this morning that if I was cranky it wasn't because of you?"

"Yes," he said, and then blurted, "But I don't know why you're upset!"

Oy. Oy-oy-oy-oy. I'd tried to sidestep having him worry that he was to blame for my irritability, and walked him straight into the anxiety of wondering what (besides him) could possibly cause Mom to be upset!

There's a saying that behavior is communication. Around here it's definitely true. If I were perfect, I'd always remember to look for the underlying cause of bad behavior instead of assuming it's just willfulness. But I'm not perfect, and the world isn't perfect, and some days we just have to sigh and toss our failures into the Bad Day pile and be done with it.

I snuggled Little Guy for a while, and read aloud to him. It didn't make a whole lot of difference -- his anxiety was too high by then to dissipate easily -- but it helped me wrap my brain around what I needed to do differently for the rest of the day. "Tomorrow will be better," I told my son.

And here we are at tomorrow, and lo and behold, it is a better day.

1 comment:

  1. 'momma said there would be days like this...'

    man i get this.