One morning I woke up to the sound of crying outside my bedroom door. It was my seven year old. He was on his way to the bathroom when his legs ‘stopped working’ and he collapsed on my dusty treadmill having a little cry. He is a super sensitive little boy and occasionally dramatic (mommy! my legs won’t work!) and the past few months he’s had lots of tummy aches, been clingy at school drop off and really not coping when friends or family leave the house. It breaks my heart and we’ve tried all sorts of things trying to figure out what is going on.
Was it something at school? Was he not getting enough mental stimulation? Was he not getting enough time with us? We have three kids; we’re outnumbered and it’s something we’re really conscious about but we spend a lot of time with him. It had me stumped. I picked him up and put him in our bed and started asking gentle questions about how he was feeling.
As he talked, the penny dropped. I had read a book recently, Out of Control by Dr Shefali Tsabary, and she talks about dysfunctional behaviour always being a sign that the child has lost touch with who they are (p158) and that as parents we do a lot ‘because it’s good for them’ or ‘because they need it’ or ‘because we love them’ but it doesn’t matter our motivation, if the child doesn’t feel loved, if we’re not connecting and the child is instead feeling the weight of our expectations then we need to revisit what we are doing. In other words, just because we spend a lot of time with our children doesn’t mean that is also their perception. We’d been speaking the wrong love language.
We spend a lot of time with him. He’s always loved having a house full of family and friends hanging out. I remember his second New Year ’s Eve. He went around the house pulling all the grown-ups into the lounge to dance. He wanted everyone together in the moment and he’s always been like that. When you’re constantly thinking about making lunches, the laundry or what you’re cooking for dinner it’s easy to forget to be in the moment with your children. We are conscious of trying to ensure our children’s demands for learning and interests are met but that all chews up time which means we don’t often just sit down and connect.
My husband and I spent a lot of time with him but I wondered if maybe it was the wrong kind of time. I decided it was time to consult an expert. I got Chapman & Campbell’s book The 5 Love Languages of Children off the shelf and started to browse through the pages. The five love languages are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service. As I read I realised we’d focused too much on acts of service when what he really needed was lots and lots of quality time connecting like hearing stories.
So I’m off to call the family, he’s been desperate to play Subatomic (an atom building board game; can’t wait) and we’ve just not made the time so I think this Sunday will be pizza and atom building! Wish me luck! I think I’m on to something.