The Magic Tactic That Gets My 4-Year-Old To Behave
I'd been doing quite well in the anger management department. I'd miraculously become less reactive when my kids "acted out" by refusing to brush their teeth or sit properly in a chair at the dinner table. I assumed my new found peace was a product of getting more sleep and the children getting older. I also assumed it was permanent. I gratefully bid farewell to my emotional outbursts, which previously left both my kids and me in tears.
But my 4-year-old son recently started a new habit of spitting when he's angry. As in, he spits in my face. The first time it happened, I was struggling to buckle his car seat, and he was angry that I had the gall to insist we arrive at school on time. My face was two inches from his. When he spit, my temperature rose 10 degrees, and I went white-hot with rage.
"Stop it! Do not ever spit at me!" I yelled, sharp and scary. His face crumpled, and both he and my 5-year-old daughter flinched as if my words were physical blows. So much for my peace.
I don't know what it is about spitting, but it has shredded the serenity I'd patched together in my five years of motherhood. Perhaps it's because spitting and I have a bit of history: In first grade, Jimmy Rizza spit on me when I refused to kiss him. My response? I threw up. Right there on the playground in front of the nuns and all the primary kids at Christ the King School. My reaction was instantaneous and uncontrollable. I remember being grossed out, but also trembling with anger that he would lash out at me like that.
Now, my son's primary mode of protest is a deeply triggering act that spins me into a rage like cotton candy swirling on a stick. He's shown no sign of stopping, though I assume, like all other phases, it will eventually pass. I can tell that it's a reflex he lacks the ability to control -- once his eyes flash with anger he purses his lips and the spit flies. It all happens in a nanosecond. (He got his Mommy's temper.) His remorse inevitably follows: "Mommy, I'm trying to stop, but my mouth does it before I can tell it to stop."
I get it. That's how I feel about my own rage. I've yelled in his face every single time he's spit in it. Like him, I show no signs of stopping. We've been at an impasse for weeks now: I don't deserve to be spit at, but he doesn't deserve to be yelled at, forced to pay for the baggage around spitting that I brought into motherhood.
Sick of our cycle that leaves us battered and weepy, I called a meeting with both my children. "We need to talk about the spitting problem. What do you think Mommy should do when Simon spits in her face?"
"We don't want you to yell," both kids said.
"I agree. But spitting in someone's face is disrespectful. What should I do when it happens?"
"Mommy, you should stop whatever you are doing and walk away," my son said. His sister agreed. I said, "Let's try it."
Twenty-four hours later, during a contentious battle involving pajamas and Legos, he spit in my face. I dropped the Batman pants I was holding and walked away.
"Mommy, come back. I'm sorry," my son pleaded, loathe to be left alone in his room.
"I'll be back in a minute. I need to cool down." From down the hall, I could hear my son whimpering for me to come back, which was appreciably better than him whimpering because I used my outside voice in his face.
I was still angry -- my fists were clenched, my breath came out in huffs -- but I had removed myself from the situation and implemented the solution that we arrived at all together.
It was still a hard parenting moment. I really, really wish he'd stop spitting at me. But until he can, I'll walk away and call it victory.
What's a difficult parenting moment you've been dealing with recently? How do you handle it?