It was late and I was ready for sleep. As I do every night, I went up to my son’s (age 16) room to say “good night” to him. Normally, he stops what he’s doing, chats a little with me, and then hugs me. I look forward to this – it’s nice and it’s sweet.
Last night, though, his gaming was more intense. He couldn’t really pull out of the moment to stop and do our usual routine. He was a bit abrupt and there was no real affection. Now, there are many ways I could have responded to this, such as: 1) Get angry and tell him how rude he was; 2) Get really angry and threaten to take, or actually take, away his computer to teach him a lesson about manners and respect; and 3) Sulk and be passive-aggressive about it (“Gee, all I wanted was to say good night. I guess you’re just too busy to give your own mother a hug. I wish I was as important to you as that stupid game obviously is…”).
Instead, I chose #4: I calmly and gently said, “Well, good night”. Then I left. No drama from me, no scolding, no anger, no hurt feelings.
Why is this important? Because I was trying to treat him the way I would want to be treated if I was intensely involved in something and was being interrupted by someone. Even sweet interruptions can be difficult to shift towards for many, if not most, people. It doesn’t make it easier if the interrupting person then gets mad because you didn’t pull out of your activity fast enough. Think about all of the times you’ve been deep into doing something – how fast can you shift your brain when something or someone suddenly pops up? Expecting our kids to be able to shift on the spot, and with perfect grace, is unrealistic and is a great way to bring more conflict into your relationship rather than more peace.
So, the next time you feel impatient or hurt because your child isn’t immediately responding to you as you wished, take a moment, take a breath, and don’t take it personally. The more you model this for your kids, the more likely they will do the same for you when they interrupt what you’re doing. Every time we choose to respond kindly, even when we’re not receiving the kindest response, we are showing our kids a better way to communicate – which is much more powerful than telling them how to communicate, or punishing them when they don’t live up to your expectation. Be kind, be patient, be sweet, be understanding – they really are paying attention to these things.