We spent some time at the beach yesterday so I got to do my favorite thing...study families. We saw every version of family unit. We saw every version of parenting too. Many children were playing in the sand or in the water very calmly and really having a nice time. Most of their parents were sitting right there with them in the sand. However, I also saw a lot of tantrums, mud slinging, rock throwing, screaming, getting hurt, getting into coolers or food they weren't supposed to and one child was even calling help from the water while standing in water up to his knees. Here's the interesting thing...these kids all spent a lot of their time running back and forth between the parents and the beach. Their moms and dads were not plugged in for whatever reason and they were struggling. Their behavior looked defiant and many of them got punished or spoken to and told to stop. And what kept coming back to be was...reel them back in Mom and Dad, reel them in!
Fishing is an analogy I use a lot when I teach about living with children who struggle - or any child for that matter. I used to fish a lot with my Grandpa. He had a set method and very set expectations of what was going to happen on our trips. He intentionally gathered all of our gear, readied the boat, and we set off for a predestined hot spot. The kind of bait and hot spot were both chosen based on what his buddies had said about where and on what the fish were biting. Grandpa would talk about the big catch we were going to have and that Grandma would have to be frying fish all day cause we were going to catch so many!
So, the next morning we would set out before the sun was up filled with excitement and expectations. Once we reached our destination it wan't long before our lines were in the water. Well, there were times when his buddies were right and the fish were biting like crazy. Everything fell into place just as we had expected, but many times we'd throw our lines in and there was a big, fat nothing. I would try and try again and eventually I'd get bored and throw my line way out of the hot spot. I was sure it did't matter that the big fish were going to be found out there. Well, what I typically found were weeds and stumps and Grandpa would help me get my line unstuck while telling me that the weeds I was hauling in were not going to taste very good fried up.
Here's the secret of being a really good fisherman - it's about keeping it reeled in until you find where they are. If you know where the hot spot was the day before you start there and then if the fish aren't biting right there, you move out one way or another, but only a little at a time. When they weren't biting, it wan't long before Grandpa would say "Well, they're playing with us...let's see where they're hiding." Then, he'd move our boat in one direction (based on looking at the whole picture...shoreline, weather, wind, etc) about 10 feet at a time until we found where they were hiding.
I often teach that same technique in regards to parenting. Parents often ask how long do I use my child's emotional age, how long will he need me to be his regulation, how long will she need me to help her with that, how long till my child get's how to behave appropriately, how long will anxiety play such a big role, how long until she can trust me - you get the gist. The crucial step in finding those answers is that at some point you have to give it a try. Most parents have a feeling that maybe there has been progress and it is time to try....but the key is to not let out too much line. To be very intentional about finding the new hot spot!
So, here's the thing. Our natural instinct is to just go for it. Especially on a holiday weekend, with other people, when we are tired, when we just want to feel normal, when our child is driving us crazy - we just want to throw out the line! Typically, that backfires though and we end up having to get our kids unstuck or deal with hard behaviors.
Being an Intentional Parent is like being a good fisherman - it is about finding the hot spot - keeping it reeled in to be able to really find where the fish are hiding! So, be intentional today and everyday about where you are dropping your line. If it is not in the right spot remember that you can reel it in and start over!