It was about 5:30 in the morning when my husband and I found ourselves confronting our middle child, Bubba, on the stairs. To say we heard him coming would be an understatement. Bubba greets each day with gusto. We hear his little feet hit the floor, patter across the room, and then forcefully twist his door knob. As he comes down the stair he makes sure to land (hard) on each step, one foot pounding down to stand with the other. So there we all convened, my husband straight from his office, me half in pajamas and half in workout clothes, and Bubs, who is under strict instructions to wait for his clock to “turn green” until he graces us with his presence, but for the littlest extrovert I’ve ever known, that is no easy feat.
I met him on the landing of the stairs, hugged him, and quietly told him it was not time yet. I tried to walk him back upstairs, but he started to fuss. In a house with 2 other sleeping children that felt especially loud. I could feel myself starting to bristle as he firmly planted his feet and refused to go back upstairs. He yanked his arm away and wiggled out of my grasp. My husband and I were both standing over him, and he literally backed himself into a corner. A fussy, delirious, and exhausted corner. It was clear he wasn’t going anywhere.
Then my husband did something brilliant. Maybe it was fatigue from an early morning confrontation or maybe it was more deliberate. I still don’t know, but it was one of the most effective parenting moves I have ever seen. You know what he did? He sat down. Sat down. Right there on the step. And you know who walked into his arms? Bubba. The tension fell away, and I watched them walk hand in hand up the stairs where Bubba would continue to wait for his clock.
Sometimes tackling a tantrum head on isn’t always the right approach. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to do nothing, which can actually change everything. Imagine how threatening and overwhelming it must have felt to our little guy to have us standing over him in the dark. Imagine how safe and reassured he must have felt when he realized there were loving arms ready to hold him as a very important boundary was reinforced. Imagine how differently the story might have ended if we had continued to coax and cajole him up the stairs.
With the best of intentions, we say too much, do too much, and try too hard. Maybe we just need to sit down and let the answer walk right into our arms.
Find the joy,
Jessica McCauley, M.Ed. is a parenting coach/consultant. She draws on her background as a Montessori educator and Child Life Specialist to help families navigate the challenges of the early childhood years. Contact Jessica at http://smallhandsbigsteps.com/contact/ for more information or to schedule a consultation.