At 7:31am Hanna raced around the corner yelling, “Did I make it?” She looked at the clock and her face fell. She looked at me with a bit of hope in her eyes, and proceeded to make her case. “It’s only ONE minute!!”
As I looked at the clock, and wished so much she’d succeeded in getting ready by the 7:30, if only she’d gotten up on time, if only she’d not wasted so much time complaining… she could have made it. Thinking to myself, jeez… it’s only ONE minute! An agreement swished through my head.
Be impeccable with your word.
And she knew, because this isn’t the first we’ve danced this dance, that I meant it. She turned and walked away, looking for her shoes.
You see, we’ve had some rough times recently. There’s been arguing, and yelling, and storming off, and stomping, and crying, and screaming and “I hate yous”… about EVERYTHING it seems. Getting up and around in the morning to get to school on time was one of the biggest issues though (along with homework at the end of the day).
“I hate school. I don’t want to get up. I’m not doing it. You can’t make me.”
Typical morning conversation. Until I realized where I’d gone wrong.
I had been failing to be impeccable with my word.
I would say things, set limits, and then relent, go back on my word. I’d give in. She just didn’t know she could trust what I said. Being a spirited child, she pushed and pushed and pushed (and pushed) to see just how far it could go, just how much I meant what I’d said. Unfortunately, whether I was trying to be nice, or avoid an argument, I was not impeccable with my word, and my backpedaling, and giving in created an almost unbearable situation, not just for me, but for her, and our entire family.
At my wits end (again, because this seems to be a cyclical thing), I went out shopping for a book to help us get back on track. I did not find The Four Agreements, I found Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child. 🙂 I read it, and was so completely inspired by it, I finished it in a day and started implementing immediately.
Things started to turn around quickly. Of course there was testing the first few days. That’s what spirited kids do, they test to see if you mean what you say. But I was standing firm in my position. I had set up seriously specific limits, with super specific natural/logical consequences, and gave her the responsibility for her decisions, and actions. She knew exactly what would happen if she chose not to do what needed to be done.
The more impeccable I was with my word, the smoother things got.
But there were days when she would just push it and push it.
I’d find myself thinking… “Why is she doing this to me?!! Why does she have to do this to me?!” It was then that another of the agreements went through my head.
Don’t take anything personally.
I started looking at situations differently. I began to realize she wasn’t doing this TO me… she was living her life. She was testing boundaries, learning where her limits are. She was doing this in the way that works for her. She was not going after me, or attacking me, she wasn’t going out of her way to annoy me, she was learning in a way that works for her to learn.
When I was able to see things from this perspective it got easier to see this perspective about more things, more of her behaviors. I was able to stop feeling attacked and bullied and see she was doing what she had to do for herself. Which allowed me to start responding to her in a different way. When I wasn’t feeling attacked I had no need to defend myself, my rules, my beliefs. I could simply see the situation for what it was, and be present with loving kindness and a willingness to help her learn.
I still didn’t understand what was going on this week. She was refusing to get up. She wouldn’t take a shower. She’d forgotten her breakfast and her lunch yesterday. Last week she’d gotten up, dressed, ready and eaten breakfast all on time, and most days with a little time to spare. I knew she could do it. What’s going on this week?! I was starting to make up my own reasons when I heard yet another agreement in my head.
Don’t make assumptions.
I shook off the the things I had been making up, and decided instead, to ask her. While we were driving to school I asked what the difference was between this week and last, and why she wasn’t getting up.
Her answer surprised me.
“You told me last week you were going to get me something if I got up all week and you didn’t”.
Well, how interesting. I had actually said I MIGHT get you something, and I hadn’t mentioned that until Thursday night. She’d already done it almost the whole week without any extrinsic motivation. Note to self: quit that.
I did, however, get her something, it just didn’t get here until yesterday.
I mentioned that to her, and she grumbled an acknowledgement, but she thought I was going to buy her that toy she wanted, and in fact, I had thought about buying her that toy. She wasn’t unreasonable to assume that’s what it would be, but again… she was making assumptions.
I told her I was sorry I hadn’t been more clear, and that I was a little bummed she was incurring all this not so fun stuff (going to bed early) just because she didn’t get a toy. I also encouraged her to not assume… and talk to me next time. I figure if we talk about it we can probably solve a lot of these issues together.
Which brings me to the 4th agreement.
Always do your best.
I don’t think I was doing my best when I offered to buy her something for doing what she needed to do. I was just so damn proud of her! It was the first time EVER she’d gotten up, on her own, and done everything she needed to do to get ready and do it on time! I wanted to show her in some way, and buying something, especially a toy I didn’t really want in the house, wasn’t the best way to show it. I realized that in my head after I said it, and I should have explained that to her. I also should have explained what I got her instead.
Every moment is a new one. A new opportunity to do my best, and to help her strive to do her best in the moment as well.
It’s funny. As I was reading Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child I certainly wasn’t thinking about The Four Agreements. I’ve read it multiple times, but the last time was actually quite a while ago. As I was creating the limits and living within them with her though, the agreements have kept coming up. I think Setting Limits for Your Strong Willed Child is actually quite well framed by the Four Agreements, and as we continue to walk this path I believe we will find more and more opportunities to practice keeping our agreements.
You can find the books discussed in this post at Amazon.com. Simply click the links below.