Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Mommy, I Want to Talk to You About Your Attitude"

A couple weeks ago, my seven-year-old daughter was trying every trick she could think of to delay going to bed. You must understand that this is unusual for her. Since she was a baby, she has always been a very good sleeper. Once she adjusted to her “big girl bed”, she has really given me very little trouble in that area. In fact, tonight I tucked her into bed and then went to get a quick shower. She was dead to the world by the time I got out.

But that night….What in the world was going on? I’m not really all that concerned with why she was fighting sleep that night. Maybe her nap that day had been especially restful and satisfying, and she simply wasn’t tired. I’m OK with that.

What was especially interesting, though, was how the whole thing ended up. I’d gone to bed and was finishing off the night reading. My daughter slipped into my room and sat cross-legged on my bed. She said very seriously, “Mommy, I want to talk to you about something important."

My first instinct was to take this as yet another ploy to delay bedtime, and firmly direct her back to her bed. For some reason, though, I chose instead to hear her out. I put down my Kindle and gave her my undivided attention.

“OK, what do you want to talk about?” I asked.

"I want to talk to you about your attitude,” she replied.

It was all I could do to suppress an amused grin at little squirt taking her mom to task about an attitude problem. But she was so serious. Something deep inside told me to be careful not to shut her down. So I listened. Although I could have interrupted her with a million and one reasons to justify myself and show her where she was wrong, I chose to truly listen.

What was her complaint? According to my daughter, I raise my voice too often. I yell too much. According to her, I get “all crazy”.  Now, I’m not sure what exactly constitutes getting “all crazy”, especially since it seems that what most parents would classify as simply a firm voice seems to count as “yelling” to her.

If I am totally honest, though, I do admit that I use a raised voice more often than I like. I also admit that the raised voice is rarely effective. Instead, it does more to blow off some of my own stress than it does to shape, teach, and guide my daughter’s actions.

So, how did I handle my seven-year-old’s “attitude check” lecture? I admitted that I probably did raise my voice too much. I admitted that doing this was wrong. Period.

However, little squirt has some behaviors of her own that also need to be dealt with. She has developed a tendency to completely ignore me when I say it is time to do something. Here is how a typical interaction might go. 

“Rachel, it’s time to put away your toys and do your math.” (calm, sweet voice) 

"Just a minute or two.” (preoccupied) 

“OK. I'll give you two more minutes to finish what you are doing, but then you need to clean up.” (still calm)

(Two minutes later.) 

“It really is time to put away your toys and do your math.” (more firm) 

“Wait, Mommy. Just WAIT!”

“Rachel, it is time! Put it away NOW!” (stress level rising) 

“I’m almost done. Just wait!” (still busily playing) 

“NO Rachel, That’s LONG ENOUGH. PUT THEM AWAY AND DO...YOUR ...MATH... NOW.!!!” (Probably a bit over the top here.) 

At this point, she either puts away the toys and slams her math book open, or she runs out of the room in tears.

I suppose that I could make a case that my daughter provoked me into raising my voice. She did disobey. She did basically ignore me…repeatedly. I do indeed need to deal with her attitude and actions. But here’s the thing. I can’t use my seven-years-old’s bad behavior to excuse my own bad behavior.

Yelling at her in frustration may be understandable. I’m sure every parent has done this…probably more than once. I know I have. That doesn’t make it right. It isn’t mature. And it isn’t even effective. Not in the long run.

You’ve probably heard insanity defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I think that is from Albert Einstein. Do I really want to keep dealing with my daughter’s disobedience in a way that has already proven to fail? Do I really want to deal with her disrespect in a disrespectful way? Do I want to perpetuate the insanity? Of course not. I’ll no doubt mess up again from time to time, but I want to take the opportunity to try to develop new, healthier habits.

Obviously, our conversation that night did cover Rachel’s part of the problem as well, but that’s a topic for another post…maybe. In this post, I just wanted to share how God used my little girl to convict me of something in my own life that needs attention. Out of the mouths of babes, you know.

And do you know what else? Maybe this was really why Rachel had such a hard time going to sleep that night. Maybe she was waiting for me to finally shut down my computer. Maybe she was waiting for me to be quietly in bed before she could get my undivided attention and share something that was on her heart.

I’m glad I didn’t order her back to bed. I’m glad I listened. Now comes the hard part…actually DOING what I know to be right.


Well, that is one thing I learned from this little interaction. In my next post, I'll share another, very different take on the same conversation. I hope you’ll join me for that.


  1. She sounds like a very bright girl. I think you might have your hands full there! :)

    1. you took the words right out of my mouth
      First off kudos on creating a home where you daughter feels she can talk to you about everything.
      Second major kudos on your minimal responses not sure I could have done that at all.

      Not to scare you but they say if you add ten years to your child's age the behavior you see now will be mirrored when they're teenagers (and having survived ~ well almost) 3 teens I'd say that holds water with my experience ;)

    2. @Lady Bren, This funny thing is, I was just watching a video yesterday with kids at the children's home where I work. The teenaged daughter in the film was saying some things that sounded eerily similar to things I hear Rachel saying now. I thought, "Oh's starting already." But from what you say, I'll probably get a break from it for a while before it rolls back around again. Whew!

      Oh, and as for minimal responses, if I'm perfectly honest, they are not ALL so minimal. :)


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