“But I HATE chicken nuggets!”
My 5-year-old daughter screamed these words in McDonald’s and the blood rushed to my face. It felt like everybody was staring at us. At me. The mom with the brat.
“You just asked for nuggets last week because they are your favorite,” I hissed defensively under my breath. I felt trapped. And bewildered. Brittainy had literally done a nugget-180 in a matter of days.
I complained about this incident later to an older mom. Her advice was sage: “See it for what it is. Address how Brittainy expressed her opinion, but don’t squash her decisiveness. It’s a good thing!”
It certainly didn’t feel good in the moment. But my friend was spot on. In the very moment our kids pull a behavior that irritates, infuriates, and frustrates us, we have an opportunity to not only address inappropriate behavior, but also to encourage something that could turn into a strength.
Fast forward with me to last month, 20 years later, as I watched my daughter emerge from a bridal store dressing room, with “THE dress.” She had only tried on a few, but she knew. I wanted to argue: Don’t decide too fast, let’s keep looking. But my 5-year-old has turned into a confident, independent woman who knows what she likes, decides things quickly, and acts on it. Her decisiveness has served her well in her career as a sound engineer.
Looking back, I had my moments of doubt. As a parent, how do you know what to squash and what to encourage? Here are a few thoughts:
Sometimes you need to press pause.
Maybe in the moment isn’t the right time to see good behind that smart aleck reply or eye roll. But a few hours later, or even tomorrow, come back to it. Did you see a sense of independence in your kid, a sense of knowing their own mind? Give yourself the gift of time to gain perspective, then circle back and talk to your kid about it.
When you see something good, say something good.
Sometimes you can use the moment for development. “I like it that you have strong opinions and can see how that’s going to help you in the future. But stomping out of the room didn’t help me see your point. ” Help your kid with concrete examples of how they can turn inappropriate actions into helpful attributes.
Picture what could be.
My 7-year-old granddaughter loves to take charge of our family gatherings by clapping her hands and yelling “Listen up everybody!” We could call it bossy but its more fun to picture her running her own classroom, or even the country, some day. We try to encourage her development by helping her see the best moments to speak up but also the times to let others lead.
Your daughter who always tries to manipulate your no into a yes just might be tomorrow’s lawyer. Your son, who can’t pass math but can master any video game, might one day own his own software company or be the next Bill Gates.
Remember, what you see today isn’t who your kid will be tomorrow. Correct the negative behavior, but give yourself permission to see the best in your kids. Dream big, use your words and timing to help them tap into how God has wired them to be. Think of yourself as the coach that can help them turn their-not-so-good behavior into the strengths that will carry them into life and adulthood.