By the time my oldest son was born, I was pretty convinced that I was going to be the best parent ever to walk the face of the earth. I had already worked with children for over a decade and acquired a comprehensive skill set and knowledge base. I was very smug. I really knew what I was doing.
Then along came Adrian. Oh, Adrian. The child who had his first tantrum before he could walk. The child who climbed up on counters and got into cabinets. Who dipped his food in the toilet. Who refused to listen to a word I said. He even managed to escape from the house one time and was returned by UPS. I had poison control on speed dial and the ER staff recognized us on sight. He has easily shaved two decades off my life.
He was my match. I had never in my years of teaching and tutoring and nannying encountered a child like my son. He was absolutely unstoppable. I was so frustrated I actually brought him in for specialized testing. I thought he must have a disorder of some kind. Turned out, he was just him. Still is.
One of our biggest challenges was his artistic flare. He loved to draw. A lot. And everywhere. I mean, everywhere.
I tried everything to get him to draw on parent-approved surfaces. I bought him a child-sized table and stocked it with supplies. He drew on the sofa. I bought him an easel with a chalkboard and endless paper. He drew on the walls. With permanent marker he somehow snatched from a locked drawer. I was losing it.
I finally found a book that changed our relationship. It explained why he was so exasperating and why he wouldn’t listen to me. It also changed my view of him and his needs. It’s called:
What a godsend! The author taught me, chapter by chapter, that my son had every quality I would surely value in him as an adult. He was creative, persistent and independent. Yes! That was all true. She also gave me tools to evaluate my own personality and determine how I might be clashing with my son. What a relief that was! I finally had a better understanding of the both of us. What I had perceived as disordered behavior was really just a personality clash. In fact, we were very much alike but in ways that didn’t mesh too well. Finally, she detailed ways to get through to my son effectively. The most important concept that I use to this day, was to tell my son “what to do” NOT “what not to do.”
Well, this made a lot of sense. Especially for a creative, persistent kid. If you tell him what NOT to do, he will come up with any other number of things to do that you will probably hate as well. So, tell him what TO do instead. Eliminate any ambiguity.
I did my best to change what I was telling him:
“We draw on paper, Adrian.”
“We don’t draw on walls, Adrian. We draw on paper.”
“Paper, Adrian. We draw on paper. Not on the walls.”
The concept of using positive directions is actually based on good science. Studies have shown that our brains can have difficulty processing negative words. In other words, if someone says, “Don’t yell,” the brain only hears, “Yell,” and ignores the word, “Don’t.” Just knowing that our brains are wired to process positive directions more easily made it a simpler transition for me (though it’s still a habit and difficult to break entirely.)
So, I incorporated positive directions everywhere I could.
“Don’t run” = “Please walk”
“Don’t yell” = “Quiet voices, please”
“Don’t hit” = “Be gentle”
“Don’t get up” = “Please sit down”
This is no parlor trick or magic fix. I still had to repeat my directions. Over and over again. But after three and half years of terrorizing my house with unwanted wall décor, he finally stopped. Or so I thought.
One night, instead of reading books in my bed or on the sofa, we cuddled up in his bed. As I laid down next to him, I glanced up and noticed something on his ceiling. I was kind of blown away.
Scrawled across his ceiling, in huge black block letters, was the word:
I turned back to my 4-year-old, proud that he could spell like that, wondering how in the world he got up there, and asked him,
“Adrian, why did you do that?”
“Well, Mommy, you told me not to draw on the walls.”
And that’s my boy.
Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!