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Assessing Young Children’s Behavior

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One of the best things about being a mom who’s past her prime is that everyone has done it first. (One of the worst things is also that everyone has done it first, but that’s another story.)

One advantage of my age is that I really enjoy listening to other moms and dads discuss how they parent using this or that method, what works for them and what doesn’t. I especially love hearing about what doesn’t, because these stories are usually hilarious and something to which I can relate.  I also appreciate the honesty.

Whatever method being used for the parenting issue du jour, there is one thing no one ever seems to talk about: assessing young children’s behavior.

How is my kid doing?

This question is pretty much the heart of parenting. It’s something most thoughtful parents do everyday, but is rarely something talked about until there is an issue. Which seems odd until you calculate the number of hours you spend worrying and realize: Worrying is just the neurotic version of assessment.

Yeah, But How Do You Really Know?

How do you track your kid’s development and identify issues? How can you identify a problem or issue? Do you compare your kid to a sibling or other kids his or her age? (Natural, but likely inaccurate and besides, it feels a little weird.) Listen to other parents? (Choose your parenting mentors carefully!) Use reference material to make a determination? (Yay, Internet!) Do you talk to a professional? ($$$) Or just go with your gut? (Is she just tired, or really having trouble managing her emotions in public / a picky eater / being stubborn / having issues with reading?) And the answer is: There is no single answer. (C’mon, you knew that already!) But it’s really true that you’ve got to go with whatever parenting research combination works for you and your kid. That said, I’ve found taking the time to listen to your gut will rarely steer you wrong.

Acceptance Is The First Step

All of that said, it is our job as parents to see the issues and not deny them. Your kid is not an angel, prince or princess. It seems many of us are given rose-colored blinders at the birth of our kids. How many parents do you know who make excuses for their kid’s bad behavior? I certainly have; it’s nearly a reflex. In my experience, the trick is to control that reflex, stay conscious, make the effort to remove the blinders and be honest with yourself – about your kid and also about how you model for your kid. My kids, for example, turn obnoxious when I’m overwhelmed, distracted or angry – and because I get angry when overwhelmed (something I’m working on), it creates a perfect storm situation. Not good. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure it out, you know – because of the rose-colored blinders. It turns out that hey – the girls really weren’t “tired!” And yes, as a matter of fact, it really WAS my fault.

Knowledge Is Power

But in my situation, knowing that it’s a pattern, I’ve been able to break it. It has also enabled me to stop similar situations from happening with other people who care for my kids – which has been hugely empowering. What a relief to be able to say with conviction, “Actually, no. That behavior is directly related to your personal stress,” and remove my kid from that situation to huge, provable success. Boo-yah!

Not every issue is so easily rectified. But if listening has taught me anything, it’s that there are as many solutions as there are kids and issues. The challenge is figuring out the problem (if there is one) – but you can’t do that if you won’t first accept that your widdle woogums has one.

What about you? Can you relate? Got any stories you want to share? I’d love to hear ‘em.

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