My almost 2 year old recently started spitting. Literally just spitting. I was washing the dishes and I heard a sputtering sound. I turned around, and the floor in front of him was covered in bubbly liquid.
My immediate thought?…
“WTF?!” And then I sternly said “The floor is not for spitting on.”
He looked at me, and spit again. I scooped him up, which was inconvenient because I was right in the middle of trying to get the dishes done, and tried to explain to him why he could not spit on the floor. He looked at me again, and laughed.
Sometimes our children want our attention at the worst times. Like right in the middle of an important phone conversation with customer service, after we have waited a half hour to get someone to pick up. Or when, after being home with them all day, you have to leave for an appointment and now they need to ask you something?
I am not saying there is a way to stop this. Heck, in fact, maybe these instances serve as a way to help us be more present as a parent. Either way, there are things within our control that we can try, in an effort to make these situations less annoying. Things that when implemented, may even help decrease the times of interruption, regardless of your child’s age.
- Put it into perspective. Can the dishes honestly wait? Is that Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat photo not going to be there later, after they are in bed? Will the world end if you are 10 minutes late?
- Manage your expectations and emotions. I know that I can’t possibly expect my toddler son to be on his best behavior while I complete my adult tasks. This doesn’t mean I allow him to monopolize all of my time. It also means I don’t allow myself to monopolize all of his. It is possible to have a balance. And this is allowed to be a work in progress.
- Commit to paying attention when you are spending time with them. It’s impossible to be in tune with our children 100% of the time. But I encourage you to take an honest look at what you are paying more attention to. Are you in the moment or are you thinking about work? Are you actually playing the game, or secretly Snapchatting a pic, watching the TV above your child’s head, or scrolling Instagram? Just like you notice when someone is staring at their phone when you are trying to have a conversation with them, children know when you are not paying attention. We are constantly role modeling for our children. It’s important to teach them how to communicate respectfully, and paying attention to the person speaking to you is a vital communication skill to learn.
- If the environment is too hectic, move with them to another room to eliminate distractions.
- Get down to their level and look them in the eye, really take in their facial expressions and the way they say their words.
- Engage with them, nod your head.
- Don’t jump in or try to hurry them along. Sometimes small children, and even older kids, need time to get their words out. Rushing them only causes frustration and communicates to them that you don’t have the time. Which can increase the instance of them vying for your attention (think vicious cycle here).
- As parents our time is limited. We are often pulled in multiple directions. Try committing to a special time with them when you can be fully present.
- Take time for yourself. It’s easy to justify that we don’t have time to go to the gym, or out with friends, or whatever it may be that we used to do to take care of ourselves pre-children. There will always be something else to do, or something our children need us for. But I argue that our children NEED us to find time for ourselves. You can’t give what you don’t have. By scheduling time for ourselves (self-care as this is popularly called) we end up increasing our ability to give to others.
- Practice, try again, don’t give up. We rarely get it right the first time. Be forgiving of yourself.
There is no magic wand or silver bullet. Your relationship with your child happens in the moment by moment interactions you have with them. Working on your ability to listen and be present will help strengthen this relationship.
The moral of the story: My son is still spitting. And it still drives me crazy.
But, I am finding, the more I look at his behavior as communication, I see that it happens when he is trying to get my attention, when he’s hungry, when he’s tired, when he wants me to play. The more I nurture our relationship, the less its happening. And bonus, he’s even started spitting into the sink and into the garbage can!
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Are you feeling like the daily struggle is just too much? Are you worried your child may have needs that extend beyond what you are currently able to offer them? Do you live in Central New York? If you are interested in learning more about psychotherapy and play therapy for your child I can be reached at 315-737-3094 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennie Mazza Jones, LCSW, RPT, CCPT has a private practice located in Clinton NY, where she specializes in providing psychotherapy to children and their caregivers utilizing Play Therapy. Jennie helps kids who long to feel accepted, want to do well, and wish they could control their worries, anger, and behaviors, but struggle because they communicate in a way that many adults don’t understand. She also helps parents/caregivers who want to help the important children in their lives reach their truest potential, but are afraid to make the wrong move, fear the worst, or are just unsure of what to do next.