Summer is here! Each new day stretches lazily in front of you and even the trees seem to take a collective sigh of relief. Time appears to slow down, is it possible there are more minutes in a summer day?
But as these lazy summer days stretch out in front of us, we’re often interrupted by incessant chatter, screams of “not fair”, shouts of domestic injustice and the summer rally cry of “I’m bored” as it echoes throughout neighborhoods everywhere. Ah the joy and cruelty of summer break, a time we look forward to and dread all at once. Most of us have been in the summer mode for at least a couple of weeks, enjoying those idyllic, relaxing days, but like so many things, there is an underlying current lurking. Commonly described as “getting on your nerves” or “pushing your buttons”, your little bundles of joy that bring you so much happiness, can also take your frustration level from 0-100 with an “innocent” smirk. (“Whaaaaatttt? I didn’t even SAY any Thing!” Sound familiar?)
Knowing the initial novelty of summer was wearing off, I expected parents were starting to feel a little worn down. Early Friday morning, around 6:30 am PST, I posted this question on Facebook “What is something your kids do to push your buttons?” and within minutes parents were commenting with their answers. You know you’re onto something when people stop their morning routine to comment. This was definitely a hot topic on the minds of many of my fellow parent’s minds.
The most popular “button pusher” was kids who argued, challenged, debated or tried to negotiate at every turn. We’ve all been there and it’s enough to bring a parent to their breaking point having “because I said so” on the tip of your tongue at all times. All parents have experienced this one and it’s especially hard because we have no one to blame for this one but ourselves! We encourage our kids from birth to be curious, to ask questions and challenge the world around them. We believe as parents this will make their lives full and interesting and will lead them to a successful life…..but then they start turning it around on us. Challenging us! Questioning us! Correcting us! This was not how it was supposed to work! We console ourselves by imagining their future as a lawyer or how they’ll be able to negotiate a huge salary one day, but that does nothing when you are in the thick of the moment when all you want is for them to do what you asked or just go to bed. What drives their need to be right and argue? Is it that they want their voice to be heard? Maybe they are trying to “prove” they are knowledgeable and show their maturity? Maybe they are testing the waters with you in a safe environment to see how far they can push a boundary? Or maybe they are just being kids with little self-regulation and a lot of growing up to do?
The second most popular answer for button pushing was around doing (or not doing) chores. Laundry, trash, dishes or just picking up after themselves is rarely done in the time or the manner parents expect it should be done. Let’s face it, at this point in our lives we know how we like things done and can multi-task three or four chores at once. At the same time, we appreciate how hard we have worked to buy the things we have, and we want them to be taken care of. So, with all that being said, asking a child to pick up their toys, put away clothes or wash the dishes should not be a big deal, right? After all, if we ask our spouse to fix something, they stop what they are doing and fix it right away, right? Or if they ask us to get something at the grocery store, we remember every time, right? Here’s the thing, when you ask anyone to do something for you, especially if it is something they don’t want to do, they are going to meet you with resistance. You do the same thing! The difference is you bite the bullet and get it done or you do it because you know it’s the nice thing to do. Your kids don’t have that level of rational thinking, they react emotionally, that’s how their brain is wired. So, what’s a parent to do? If it is important the child completes the task then you must be prepared to ask them, without emotion, multiple times to do it. We know kids are easily distracted. It’s not that they don’t respect you or are trying to make you mad, they just don’t want to do it (you probably don’t want to do it either, which is why you are asking them to do it). Don’t count how many times you’ve asked them to do it, this only leads to your own frustration. Don’t let your anger bubble with every request. Stay calm. Ask them to do it, then ask them again. If you must, watch them until the task is done, then be happy it’s done and move on with your day.
One button pushing response was when her kids are “being kids lol” it pushed her buttons. Isn’t this the crux of it all? We remember and forget this all at once. We assume they should act older because they know so much more than they did before. We’ve been through this before, how come they can’t take what they know and act differently? Because they are kids. Because they are human. How many times do you do something when you know better? For example, you know you should leave 5-10 minutes earlier to get there on time, but you can’t manage to get out of the house earlier. You know better, but you don’t do it. Connecting the knowing and the doing is hard, no matter what age you are.
What is the antidote for button pushing? That’s a difficult question and one with many answers. A good place to start is by trying to stay calm and patient in the moment. Our kids are not intentionally trying to make us angry, they are just reacting in the only immature way they know how to right now. I also believe that no matter how old they are, they are looking for your love and validation. Their actions may be saying something different, but deep down they want to know that you see them, you hear them and that they matter. And deep down you know that beyond the dirty dishes, arguments, negotiations, lies and laundry, your love for them will never change.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.