“Swish! Swish! Swish!”
It was evening and I was in the kitchen cleaning up the dishes. Sally was playing with one of her daddy’s belts, whipping it around, listening to the noise it made.
“Ouch!” I yelped as the belt caught my leg. “Sally, that hurt!” I got down on Sally’s level to talk to her. “Listen honey, when you whip that belt around and hit someone, it hurts. You need to be careful.”
Sally nodded, but two minutes later she was at it again, whipping the belt through the air dangerously close to Bobby, who was sitting in his high chair across the kitchen from the sink. Once again I got down on her level.
“Sally, what’s the problem? I asked you to stop whipping that around! I’m afraid you’re going to hurt someone!”
“But I like to!” Sally explained. She liked the swishing sound the belt made. And she was right – it was a pretty cool sound!
“I know! It’s fun isn’t it! I understand why you like doing it,” I affirmed. “But if you do it in here you might hurt someone.” This wasn’t enough, I knew. I had already told her this once, and still she had done it again. “You know what, Sally? I understand why you want to whip that belt around, and that it’s hard for you to hold that belt and not do it. Would you like me to hold the belt for you? I can keep it safe, and that way you won’t be tempted to whip it around like that.”
Sally looked at me, then looked at the belt, then looked at me. “Okay!” she said with a smile, handing me the belt.
“Wait a minute,” I said, having another thought. “How about you go outside and whip the grass?”
“Oh!” Sally’s face broke into a sudden smile, and she took the belt from my hand and was off. It was dusk, so she returned a moment later for a flashlight. I continued cleaning the kitchen as she swished the belt around outside.
One of the things I work hardest at as a parent is understanding my children and their needs. When Sally is “acting up,” I try to understand why and address that, rather than simply punishing her behavior. When she speaks up to explain something or make her desires heard, I see that as communication, not “back talk.” And most of all, I make sure to let her know that I understand. I understand that she doesn’t want to leave the library yet. I understand that she wants to stay up later and not go to bed. I understand that dumping the flour all over the counter is fun. I get it. I really do. And somehow, knowing that I understand and am willing to listen to her and hear her out makes Sally just that much more willing to cooperate and try to understand my perspective in turn. Because it’s not about me versus her. It’s about me plus her. And there’s something beautiful about that.