Demons ... but not really
Questions I believe every parent asks themselves at least once or twice each week (regardless of the age of their children):
Why, oh why, do our kids act the way they do? Do they mean to be completely exasperating? Do they mean to be the rude little creature they appear to be? Do they mean to be horrible to their younger sibling? Do they mean to be grouchy at the cat? Is it that they are trying to push your buttons? Is it that they just don't know how to behave? Don't we give them good examples of proper (human-like) behavior to emulate? Are we not good parents?!
Stop. This is a bottomless spiral that will go nowhere productive. Let's stop and take a look at what is going on.
First, know this: most likely, your child's obnoxious/ornery/vicious/evil behavior is not the result of you, your parenting style, or an action you have recently made. Know this: you are a good parent. If you didn't care, it wouldn't bother you at all that your child is morphing into a little demon. Second, what helps the most in these sorts of situations is asking why. Not in an exasperated/I've-had-enough sort of a way, but rather a heart-felt inquiry into WHY your child is behaving like this. The why is actually very important.
I’m guessing there is something beyond the surface of the meltdown of the moment. I’m guessing there is some event, some frustration, some bug-up-the-butt going on, and your child is not equipped to deal with it. So, instead, they are making their problem YOUR problem, and they are spinning themselves into a tighter and tighter tornado wreaking all sorts of havoc on your peace of mind. And THEIR peace of mind. The worst thing about these situations is that they are 100% preventable. They are not being little demons to push your buttons; they are simply responding to a frustration (internal or otherwise) that they have not yet figured out how to fix. So …. Let’s help them with that, shall we?
??Ask yourself, is there a physical problem? Vision? Headaches? Sinus issues? Cold or flu? Ear infection? Stomach ache? A few months ago, one of my boys was especially grumpy. Like, so much more ornery than normal that there was clearly an issue. I’d ask him what was wrong, and he’d growl at me. I tried different approaches, different ways to bring it up. Finally, we were chatting about something else entirely (I think it might have been while we were grocery shopping, actually), and he casually mentioned that there was a lot of times when he was really thinking about something, and his stomach would start hurting. But not in his stomach; farther up, and it made it hard to get a breath. Well. Naturally, my first thought is that he is having a heart attack at age 11, but with my calm face+voice on, I ask him more questions to get a better picture, and when the next appointment was available took him to the health unit. Turned out my sweetie was giving himself an ulcer worrying himself about various school- and sport-related issues. Now, when he starts to get that burning feeling, we give him some Zantac, and he feels much much better. Plus, I’ve been helping to develop his repertoire and stress-reduction skills, and time management skills so he can prioritize his school-related assignments and get things done without rushing around at the last minute. That burning feeling thankfully doesn’t come very often any longer. Miraculous save? Not so much. Is every situation as easy to identify and resolve? I wish.
??Ask yourself, is there a social problem? Friend issues? Bullying? Peer pressure to do something they are not comfortable with? Feelings of inferiority (‘Everyone else has a phone and I don’t’, ‘I don’t have the coolest/latest (insert article of clothing here) and they are teasing me.’, ‘I am the only the one with lunch from home.’), feelings of jealousy or other negative emotions. Do they have friends they like? Do they like who they are when they are around their friends or does it end up being a bad peer pressure situation? This is an especially poignant question as they get older, and more secure in their family support and developing their view of self in relation to their peers. More and more, kids start prioritizing peer relationships and interactions over time spent at home, and this is good and normal. (Sad and heartbreaking, but normal.) Your kids are developing their social skills, and understanding who they are away from Mom and Dad. This is the perfect opportunity for them to become socially conversant in different situations, and to develop their self confidence and sense of self worth, and to realize these two characteristics are theirs to own, and not reliant on what others do, say or feel. If they are struggling with these social interactions, they will take out their frustrations at home, cannon-balling family time calm. Tantrums are awful when they are in pint-sized bodies; now as your child grows into preteen and teen years, social frustrations and hiccups may result in those same powerful emotion-fueled tantrums in a near-big-person-sized body. Okay, so hopefully they won't be throwing themselves on the ground, beating it with their fists and feet, but they will have a teenaged-sized chip on their shoulder, respond only with snarls and sneers ... being snarky and rude is a good defense against potential rejection. This snarling boy in front of you is not actually trying to be hurtful; he IS hurting. Try and be the bigger person and get to the bottom of his angst.
?? Ask yourself, is there an academic problem? Classes too hard? Classes too easy? When kids' knowledge needs are not met, their curiosities not whetted, their comprehension not complete, they will not enjoy the classroom experience. Considering that your kids will spend the majority of their waking hours in the classroom, it is vital that their experiences are positive. Sure, they can while away the hours, and learn little to nothing, but that is a waste of time. Instead, they should be doing their best to wring every bit of education they can out of each and every day. School should be fun, and not just because that is where they get to spend time with their friends. School should be fun because they are learning, growing and developing every weekday. No, they don't have to have an a-ha moment every single day, but they should be noticeably gaining knowledge and abilities. If your child is struggling to keep up, or well advanced beyond where the rest of his peers are, their classroom needs are not being met. They are not engaged with any sort of learning; there is no forward progression. If the school can't meet their needs, either find outside learning opportunities, or if necessary, find a tutor. Help them get back to being challenged and engaged.
?? Ask yourself, is my child over-scheduled? They have school, homework, probably multiple sport practices and games, music lessons, language tutoring, chess lessons, other after school activities ... nevermind sleeping, eating and the travel time to get to and from all of these activities. Does your child have time to just be a child? Does he have time to be bored so he can develop his own fun and hone his creativity skills? Over-scheduled kids are stressed, tired, and often crabby because they just don't have time to be.
?? Ask yourself, is my child getting enough sleep? Are they eating well enough? Are they experiencing growing pains? One of my boys is literally one of the slowest eaters on the planet. He eats so slowly that we have had 'training sessions' at home where we turn on a timer and help him to prioritize what to eat on his plate so he can get enough food in his belly to make it through the day. The days when he doesn't manage to stop chatting with his buddies long enough to get enough calories in is always apparent in his attitude (most especially towards his brothers) when he gets home from school. Aside from sending pre-chewed food, I'm not sure what else we can try, but we keep at it. Little boys are especially busy during their long day; it is not feasible to get enough calories in him at breakfast so ... he needs to learn this self-care skill. Food is a must. Sleeping? Especially when they are growing (and when aren't these kids growing?!), sleep is so crucial. And, much to every parent's frustration, it is the LAST thing children want to settle down for. Growing pains are very very real, friends, especially when the long bones of the legs are growing. And, because often this growth happens at night when the body is supposed to be recovering from yesterday and building for tomorrow, sleep is very much impacted. Sleepy kids are grumpy kids, especially because they might feel ‘too cool’ for naps, but are so sleep deprived their brains aren’t functioning properly.
?? Ask yourself, am I spending enough time my child? Is this new (horrible, unacceptable) behavior because your child wants your attention? Am I spending too much time at work or working (even at home)? Am I spending too much time with devices? Listen, this is your chance to spend time with your child. As I tell a certain over-worker in our family, when he is old and infirmed, is the job going to be there for him? Is the job going to tuck him in at night? Is the phone going to care if he has his dentures in? No. Tune in to the real people. They actually care and WANT to spend time with you.
?? Ask yourself, is it something bigger, more enduring? While the situations I am mentioning here all seem big and huge as you are in the middle of them, they are acute situations with fairly easy remedies. Other situations - behavioral or mental health disorders, or sensory disorders, for example - might require evaluation and perhaps pharmaceuticals to remedy. I am not trying to downplay the impact of these disorders; they do, however, typically require attention and involvement of medical professionals.
Know this: there ARE solutions. Your child is not actually possessed by a demon.