Six weeks into the school year, and our boys have changed. A bit for the better, and two bits for the worse.
First the better. Writing has improved. Interest in math has increased exponentially. They’re trying to read road signs and store signs and zodiac signs. They’re constantly asking interesting questions, such as how many bones are in the human body (212), how many countries are there in the world (196), and what happens after we die (I have no idea.)
Now for the worse. We’ve endured more meltdowns in these six weeks than the number in the previous five or six years combined. It’s been hell getting them to sleep. We’ve been hit, punched, slapped, and kicked. We’ve been told we should move out, shut up, and go away. With an attitude more like a teenager, we’ve heard “whatever” to our face and “jerk” behind our back. They’ve refused to eat at times, and have argued with each other more than play with each other. When the above is not happening, these two boys are the most loving, caring boys you could imagine.
So what’s going on? They’re at the greatest (public) elementary school we can imagine. They have plenty of fun, rewarding extracurricular activities such as Top Chef, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, and jazz dance to name a few. They’re making plenty of friends in the classroom and on the playground. They adore their teachers.
After one particularly brutal evening after a long school day, I cozied up on the sofa with the boys and a book after their dinner and bath, just as we normally did many school nights. But this night it was time to try to get to the bottom of this nightmare. I had my suspicions, so I was ready with my question.
“Guys, you know that I have had to talk to you a lot lately about your behavior. Do you think that sometimes you are very hungry and that’s why you can’t control your emotions?”
“Oh yes, Daddy!” they chimed. “We’ve been hungry!”
“Well, I’m going to make you guys a promise. When you finish school, or gymnastics, or swim workout, or whatever you’re doing that day, I’m going to have a nice healthy snack ready for you on your booster seat – some fruit, something to drink, maybe some yogurt. I love you both so much, and I don’t want you to be so hungry that you act badly toward Daddy and Papa. I don’t want you to be that hungry! What do you think of that idea?”
“Oh Daddy, that sounds so yummy! We are so sorry for acting badly. We just need food. We promise we’ll be better!”
Had I found the solution? Was the answer right in front of me all this time, and I just needed to validate my sons’ feelings and then listen to them and treat them respectfully? I polled other parents/friends, and they too have experienced similar BIG feelings from their kid(s). They, like me, had their doubts about their child’s eating (or lack there of) during the school day, and did observe that their own brood seemed famished, fatigued, and full of emotion. I shared with them the result of my ‘sit-down’ with my boys, and I could see the hope in the parents’ eyes as I did.
I went for groceries and stocked up on fun, nutritional, tasty snacks, fruit, and drinks for my promised packet of post-activity palatables. The boys would hop in the minivan and proceed to consume nearly everything, at which time they would genuinely thank me with all their hearts. I felt good about how this all played out. I really need to listen to my kids better, because they want to be good boys and I want to be a good dad.
It’s been two weeks since “the talk.” My husband has started on his long journey to an advanced MBA degree. Homework has ramped up in intensity, and my sons are losing teeth and gaining height as they hit a growth spurt. Emotions have been running super high, and I’ve never heard so much uncontrollable sobbing in my life! But I have learned from previous mistakes, that’s for sure. This time I took action immediately.
I’m really enjoying the snack I pack for myself everyday!