I have a difficult three-year old. He’s been difficult since around 18 months. And I don’t mean like won’t eat his peas difficult. I mean screaming, biting, hitting, kicking, tantrums that blow your hair back like one of those speaker commercials difficult. I have been glared at by old ladies and spoken to at the library. I have had days that were so bad, that by the evening my ears were ringing. I am fond of saying if he had been kid number one, he would have been an only child.
In looking for some help to move him through this phase, I did an online quiz at parenting site. He came back categorized as “Spirited” (which I can only assume is shorthand for “Possessed by an Evil One.” Perhaps I should have been suspicious when his score was 666).
So, I moved on looking for some helpful advice somewhere. I talked to some parents with grown-up children asking if any of them had had a child that was more difficult than the others. I got “Oh, no, all my kids were great, really no problem at all.” (Screw off!) and “Just bite him back, that’ll stop him.” (Very helpful) and then one woman cheerfully owned up to her second child being particularly difficult (I love you Vicky). Her description sounded very much like my child. She said that someone had told her that she had to find something she liked about him, but at that point she couldn’t think of very much. So, she used to say to him every day—and this still cracks me up every time I think about it—
I like your hair.
To this day, she says her grown up son (by the way, he turned out okay, he’s married and has a good job – thank God there’s hope) takes extra pride in his great hair. I think there’s lots more she like about him these days, but I can sure understand where she was.
So, I tried it. The first time, my Difficult One stopped what he was doing, touched his hair almost like he thought I said there was something crawling in his hair, smiled and then giggled. We’ve kept doing it adding in his eyes and his belly button and his smile. And now, he reciprocates by liking my hair too. If nothing else it cracks me up so much that I stop taking his difficult-ness so seriously. And he now takes it as his due (in a good way). I tell him “I like your hair.” He touches his hair and solemnly says “yep” Like that’s just who he is, the toddler with the great hair.
Someone told me something similar that she learned from a homeschooling guru (thank you Kate). The author in teaching her son, in desperation at a math paper that was almost illegible, picked out one number and said “I like your four.” And that paved the way for some great learning that day as the child then tried to make his numbers as good as that one she liked.
I remember working with a new music director who I didn’t know all that well. At our first rehearsal together, after nervously singing through my song, which I only knew in a half-baked way, he stopped and said “I love your voice.” Well, I would have done almost anything for him after that.
So, here’s the life lesson: acknowledge the smallest millimeter that your child (your employee, your student, your co-worker, a fellow human being) has come towards you (or in some good direction) because as human beings we are just more inclined to go in the direction of praise, reward and love. It’s a simple lesson really. I wonder why it’s so hard to learn?
And I have a great title should I ever deign to write a parenting book “I Like Your Hair. Parenting on the Edge.”