If someone asked you to identify your child’s most irritating habit, it would take you some time to do so. Not because you have to think really hard to identify it, but because there are so many, that you’d need first to list them, and then put them in order to identify the most irritating habit! 🙂
Maybe he’s forgetful, he’s rude, he leaves the tops off things (tubes, tins etc.), he doesn’t close doors, he ‘lies’ (this is a tough one: it is difficult to define what is the truth and what is a lie), he does things behind your back, he’s careless, he’s untidy, he’s fixated on a particular way of doing something…
Whatever the case, there are only two reasons you are irritated by something your child does or does not do: either you cannot, for the life of you, understand why she does what she does, or you have the same habit!
Let’s say she eats very slowly. Actually, once the food is in her mouth, it has found a temporary home. You spend m-i-n-u-t-e-s reminding and coaxing her to chew and then to swallow, but she resists you with all her might. You’ve tried to understand the peculiar satisfaction she derives from treating her mouth as a holding area for food, but after months (or maybe years!) of effort, you still don’t get it.
At times, you’re tempted to go back to mashed food or smoothies, which you can just pour down her throat – and you’ll both be done with mealtime!
You, on the other hand, have always been brisk and business-like, putting the food into your mouth, chewing to your satisfaction, swallowing, and then following it up with the next mouthful. Your partner, both sets of grandparents, perhaps your other children – everybody eats normally. Just this one drives you insane, trying to create a world record for the morsel of food held longest in the mouth. (And she does this with every morsel!)
What can you do?
How about stepping back? It’s her mouth, her food, her stomach, her hunger – why not give her a chance to do it her way?
I can almost hear you think: “But then she’ll never get any food into her! She’ll starve, she won’t get enough nutrition, she’ll get sick, she won’t grow…”.
Do you really think she’ll starve if she doesn’t eat ‘enough’ (this is your definition of how much is enough for her, not hers!) for a few meals or days? Not one of our children is likely to come even 50% close to starvation (that’s something to be profoundly grateful for 🙂 ), so this fear is completely unjustified.
You’ve tried everything else you could think of; why not try stepping back from the situation? Trust her to know: when she’s hungry, how much to eat and how to eat.
As you lay off reminding, encouraging, cajoling, blackmailing and scolding her, she will realize in a few days that she has to rely on herself to get enough food. And she will eat. Maybe she still won’t chew as fast as you’d like, maybe she’ll continue to keep food in her mouth for too long (in your opinion) but that’s just how she eats. Accept it! And once you accept it as part of who she is, her ‘habit’ will stop irritating you.
But what if you have the same habit?
Your son procrastinates. No matter what you say, the response is: “I’ll just do it; in just a minute”. But you don’t see him get up to do it. Not immediately, not in the next few minutes, not in the next hour, maybe. Sometimes, not over the next few weeks! And you fret and fume about him: you son, the eternal procrastinator.
Hola! Do you procrastinate?
Of course you do! 🙂 And of course you procrastinate differently from him!
You won’t be late getting the kids off to school or yourself to work, you won’t routinely delay mealtime, you won’t delay filing your tax returns (or will you? 😉 )…
But when it comes to taking the clothes to the drycleaners, fixing that loose bolt, getting your paperwork ready for tax time… – you do procrastinate. Whenever you are confronted with things you need to do but don’t want to, you postpone the unpleasantness by doing something else instead. So laundry piles up, dishes pile up, errands pile up, personal goals pile up, social obligations pile up. Your life is under pressure from the things and people you’ve put off for ‘later’.
And you’re irritated that your son procrastinates. He’s learnt from you! “If Dad/Mom is doing it, it can’t be such a bad thing, can it?” he thinks, and happily mirrors your behavior.
He’s busy reading the latest Percy Jackson book, or playing his favorite video game, and you’re asking him to put his lunch dishes away. Firstly, he barely hears you. If he does, he’ll nod and mumble ‘yes’ just to be rid of the distraction you present, and promptly forget he agreed to do anything.
If he has heard and understood, and agrees to put his dishes away, he truly means to do it. Except that continuing the pleasurable activity he’s already engaged in is his first priority, so he’ll do the job just as soon as he’s done with the pleasure. But he keeps prolonging the reading or the playing (wouldn’t you?) and before you know it, it’s evening, and the dirty lunch dishes are still on the table in front of him, probably adding to biodiversity by growing a new species of fungus.
But you don’t care about biodiversity at this moment. You want those dishes in the sink – NOW! Scenes, recriminations, bad feelings on both sides… You know how it goes.
Look at yourself carefully. Whatever habit of your child irritates you the most is something you are guilty of doing.
So fix it at the root. Don’t say anything to him. Fix yourself first. Don’t expect miracles – not with yourself, and definitely not with your child!
But if you keep at it, as you slowly address your problem, he will change too. As he begins to see you dealing with things promptly, he will automatically begin to adopt your new behavior, and you would have successfully fixed your child’s most irritating habit! 🙂
Of course, there’s a whole laundry list of them, so you can just take a deep breath and start fixing the next one – the new Most Irritating Habit! 🙂