January 6, 2017
By Ekta R. Garg
Today I learned that if a trick worked for a preschooler, it can work for that same child years later too.
We spent the holidays in South Carolina visiting family as well as some good friends who have three daughters of their own, ages 11, 10, and 7. Ten and Eight have known our friends’ daughters since they were all babies, and because our friends live right down the street from my parents all the girls get the opportunity to play together during our vacations there.
This was especially the case for the two weeks we stayed in South Carolina, and while Ten and Eight thoroughly enjoyed getting to be with their friends for so long it did mean several late nights. At some point sleeping late at night was going to catch up to the kids. When we got into the car on Sunday of this week to drive back to Illinois, we saw the beginnings of fatigue in Eight.
During this week she’s regressed just a touch to her preschooler days of handling stress of any kind: jerking a hand or foot in frustration. This morning something small upset her, and she pounded a fist against the countertop. In the car on the way from her cello lesson, she used the fist again on the seat of the car when a round of 20 Questions didn’t go her way.
A couple of times she’s shot out that hand in the general direction of a person.
I’ve reprimanded her for every single instance but, admittedly, was a little slow on the uptake as to why she’d started acting out. Recovering from a mild version of the flu and dealing with a gigantic mound of laundry can cause the parenting radar to waver. Truthfully, the letdown after coming back from vacation kind of made me want to knock something myself.
This evening after the instance of hitting her seat in the car, I told her she couldn’t play 20 Questions with Ten and me. The fist hit the seat, and she crossed her arms tight across her chest and half turned her body to face the window. She didn’t say anything for a few minutes as Ten and I continued to play. When her initial anger faded, she tried to jump into the game by making guesses and then threw in sarcastic comments like, “Oh, I forgot, I’m not supposed to be playing.”
I ignored most of the comments and continued the dialogue with Ten. Like everyone else, I’d run out of energy for the week. More than anything I wanted to go home and make myself a cup of my favorite tea. I didn’t have to worry about cooking that evening; I had enough leftovers that dinner would be a heat-and-eat affair. In my mind I’d already reached my closet at home to change into comfy pajamas and didn’t want the drama from the car to follow me into the closet.
So I let Eight vent her exasperation without really acknowledging it. We got home, and within a few minutes Eight disappeared. After changing my clothes and heading back toward the stairs, I saw the light on in Eight’s room. I entered and found her at her desk.
“What are you doing?” I asked in a neutral tone.
She glanced at me and then back at her paper. “Drawing.”
“Do you want to come down or keep drawing for a few minutes?”
“Mm…I want to keep drawing for a few minutes.”
The stress that had built in the car was gone. It had vanished. Her face looked more relaxed.
Right then everything slid into place for me. Eight’s repeated complaints about getting up early, despite the fact that she adores school; her request to be freed from after-school activities; the lashing out, which truthfully she’d stopped doing at least last year.
Her instinct to sit and draw.
“Do you remember the Mad Pad you used to have?” I asked, still keeping my tone casual.
She nodded and then frowned a little.
“Maybe it’s a good idea if you start doing that again,” I suggested. “If something is bothering you, take a few minutes to draw. It’ll help you.”
She nodded again and then turned her full attention back to her picture.
I went down to the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil. Then I turned to the fridge to start pulling out the leftovers. I sorted through a few things and went back to the kettle. By the time I had made my tea, Eight came downstairs on her own back to her happy-go-lucky self.
I held out my arms to her, and she skipped into them with a huge grin.
“Do you feel better?” I asked, bringing my forehead almost down to hers.
She smiled and hid her face in my waist.
“See?” I said. “Isn’t it better to use your energy toward something good like drawing instead of getting angry?”
Another nod. We’ve talked about this before, many times, about productive ways to handle her frustration. Somehow, though, I’d let the solutions of those earlier conversations slip away.
When she was in preschool, Eight had a pad of drawing paper on which we wrote the words “Mad Pad.” If she got angry about absolutely anything, she had permission to leave the situation immediately without a word and go draw. Within 10 or 15 minutes, she was usually back to her old self.
There’s no doubt that the number one cure for fatigue is rest. But I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten this extra tool we’d designed within our family to help Eight cope with her feelings. In a way, although it was a little bit of a tough week for her, I’m kind of glad it happened so we could get the reminder.
Sometimes the tricks of the preschool days still come in handy, and that’s why it pays to remember them.