When my oldest daughter was about seven, our family was walking along a beach while on vacation when we spotted the cutest little crab. It was about the size of a small red potato, My daughter very gently picked it up to check it out and nestled it in the palm of her hand. For the first minute or so everything went well, but then the little crab sensed that it was no longer in a familiar environment and latched on to my daughters palm with its claw.
Even though it was a small crab, that pinch was fierce! My daughter yelped at the initial pinch and we all gathered around to help. But the more we tried to pull the crab off her hand the more tightly it held on to her skin and the worse the pain got As we all began to panic a bit, a local to the area came over and - taking my daughter’s hand on hers - gently poured a glass of ocean water over her hand forming a little pool of water in her palm. The moment the crab felt safe in a familiar environment, it released its grip on my daughter’s hand and it scuttled back into the ocean.
That crab had a lot in common with my kids; all kids, really. When my kids are in their element and feeling good they behave well and our days go smoothly and we enjoy each other. But when they feel off kilter for some reason they get, well... crabby.
So I try to always remember that when a child feels rightly-ordered, they act rightly-ordered. Now, of course I can’t make their lives perfectly serene all the time - nor would it be healthy for them if I did - but I can remember to keep certain things in mind so that I’m optimizing my child’s ability to feel right and be their best selves.
Has my child had enough sleep? If they haven’t I”ll ask myself what can I do to create a calmer atmosphere, get some quiet time with them, or even a nap. It’s not the time to run a thousand errands or expect them to learn a new skill or chore.
Has my child eaten protein in the last 3 hours? Children burn fuel quickly and they need small, protein-packed snacks every few hours to feel good. So I try to keep nutritious snacks in my house, car, and purse. If my child starts to get cranky, we have a snack and wait about 15 minutes to see if an attack of the “hangrys” is the cause.
Is my child going into an unfamiliar situation? Visiting a relative my child rarely sees, going to a new activity, dealing with a move, or good ol' fashioned holiday upheaval can really stress kids out. In those situations, I take time to prep my child ahead in advance. We talk about what the situation will be like, how they should behave, what comfort items they might need or which quiet (read: non-electronic) things they can bring to keep them from being board in adult situations. Most importantly, we always talk about how to quietly and respectfully get my attention if they are feeling in need of help.
Am I remembering that my child is unique? Each of my children has a different personality and unique needs. I keep that in mind when assessing which situations they will do well in and which situations might cause them to reactively misbehave so I can help us avoid those pitfalls.
It has amazed me over the years how many tantrums and instances of poor behavior we’ve managed to avoid by keeping these things in mind. Of course when unacceptable behavior does occur despite prior planning, corrections, apologies, and make-ups are required. But again these are always more easily and genuinely achieved when the child is restored to a feeling of right-orderedness, just like the crab in the ocean water.