When your children are babies, it’s easy to know when they are tired. There are outward signs and rhythms that are easy to tune into. You know they are tired so you put them down for a nap. As your children grow older, it’s easy to lose sight of those signs. Signs of fatigue are often masked by outbursts of frustration, anger or hunger. (In fact, we all often mask one emotion with another, but that’s a blog for another day.) It took me a long time to realize that the outward emotion is often a cover for a really tired kid. Once I realized this, my whole approach changed and we’ve avoided many melt-downs as a result. Unfortunately this week was not one of those times.
Monday’s are hard, especially the Monday after a slumber party. I picked the kids up from school in a bit of a hurry as we needed to get home, get changed and get to softball practice on time. The tears started before we even reached the car. “But I have so much homework…I just can’t go to practice today!” my daughter sobbed as we drove home. I knew that some of this was lingering from lack of sleep over the weekend. I proceeded to explain that she made a commitment to her team and her coaches. We couldn’t possibly call them ten minutes before practice and let them know she wouldn’t be there. She would have plenty of time for homework after practice. The tears continued. I tried to stay calm, this was not the first time we had had this conversation. I continued to try to talk through the situation in an effort to make her feel better. Nothing I said made a difference. After a quick change and snack, we were back in the car riding in silence. When we got there, I helped her unload her stuff and she walked off without saying a word. Fast forward an hour and a half, luckily practice had been ok. We got home, ate dinner and all that homework didn’t take so long after all. Major melt-down number two had been avoided but the distress of the first one lingered in my mind.
On Wednesday morning, I reminded her she had practice that evening. She promised to work on her homework after school so that she wouldn’t have so much to finish at home. I felt good that we had set expectations in the morning and was confident that would make a difference. When I picked them up, she started immediately “I just can’t go to practice. Study hall was cancelled for the assembly and I have a huge math problem that’s going to take forever to finish.” Tears rolled down her face. I knew she was tired, stressed and hungry. I also knew that she just had to vent, so I let her. I reminded her again that we couldn’t cancel at the last minute, but I would sit and help her with her homework if she wanted. After that I said nothing else on the subject. I got her something to eat and helped her gather her stuff. It was against every grain in my body not say more to try to console her and let her know it would be ok. The tears started to slow down. I continued to fight the urge and stayed quiet. Much to my surprise, it worked! She went off to practice without another complaint. She came home her normal silly self after having a great time with her teammates. Her homework even ended up to be simpler than she had anticipated.
As parents we are always ready to go into fix-it mode or teacher mode. For me, those are my defaults, I automatically go there and it’s hard for me not to. But this week I was relieved to realize that sometimes it’s best just to say nothing.
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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.