My daughter, ER, started middle school this year. As a result I am having a lot of “physician, heal thyself” moments. Having spent the last 9 years of my life working with middle schoolers I have literally written the a book on how to help kids navigate the middle school social scene. Housing a real, live middle schooler under my very roof is at times easier than I imagined and at other times more surprising than I can believe. I would say 90% of the time all is well. But when that meltdown monster rears its ugly head, it’s quite a thing. And believe me, it isn’t always the middle schooler who’s melting down around here.
ER is a hard worker and, much like her mom, a wee bit anal retentive. She likes to be in control and she does not like to be told what to do. I’m not telling you anything she doesn’t already say about herself.
Recently she came home with a gross amount of homework. Sitting behind books and binders at the kitchen table, she began to cry. “I can’t do it all” she bawled and when I suggested she write down a homework schedule, get out a timer, and take breaks to make it more manageable, she fairly shouted at me “I-don’t-want-to-do-that-it’s-just-more-work!” Naturally, I huffed and stomped away like, well, like a twelve year old.
Enter dad and reason #8,445,732 why I love my husband. Sitting at the kitchen table next to her he said, “I’m going to sit next to you and I won’t leave your side until you’re done. What if you had a giant bowl of ice cream in front of you? How would you eat it? One bite at a time. That’s how you’re going to get through this homework.”
It was one of my favorite moments of watching him be her dad.
And it reminds me of one of the most important tips I give parents when a child comes to them with a problem. Empathy first. Problem solving second. What ER needed was a kind word, some steady companionship, and encouragement. Not a schedule and a timer.