One of the recurring reminder that Oliver gets from us is not to watch so close to the TV. We have tried many different approaches – rewards and threats – and nothing sticks. He would often explain that he’s just really forgetful. And so we go into this serious conversation of how it is his responsibility to maintain integrity. And what those two words mean and why they are very important values that we’d like him to always keep in mind. Needless to say, he’s only six so this has become some type of routine. We’ll catch him close to the TV, we’ll have the conversation, he’ll be sorry, he’ll be on his toes for a few days and then, we’re back at it again.
Earlier last week, it happened again. I walked into the room and he was sitting close to the TV. I gave him the look of disappointment (because as a parent, it can be very exhausting to have to repeat yourself over and over and over and over and over again). He said “sorryyyyyy” and instantly moved to the bed but began jumping backwards. I watched him and realized how his little head was cutting it close the wooden headboard. I asked him to stop and told him how he could hurt himself with what he’s doing. It almost looked like he was ignoring me. He kept doing it. So I raised my voice and told him to stop. He stopped. We sat on the bed and I asked him why he ignored me. I told him that he should have known better than to do that because he could have hurt himself.
That is when he shared that sometimes when we scold him, it makes him mad. He said that he feels mad because he knows he has done something bad. So… he wants to “punish” himself and then he thinks about hurting himself. He said he was jumping on the bed backwards, close to the headboard because he was thinking of hurting himself.
My heart sank.
But as a parent, I have realized and learned that on conversations like this, I have to think quickly and respond just as carefully. I have to set my feelings aside even though ten million things were running through my head and were wanting to come out of my mouth. How? What? Why? I held myself together, kept my emotions in check and carried on the conversation.
Me: “Can you tell me an example of how you hurt yourself?”
Oliver: “One day, when I hurt Daddy’s eyes, I went to the garage and locked myself in because I felt so bad for hurting Daddy.”
Me: “But it was an accident, right? You didn’t mean to hurt Daddy?”
Oliver: “Yes. But I still feel bad that I hurt him. I never want to hurt my family. And I know Daddy was angry.”
Me: “Was there another time you hurt yourself that you want to tell Mommy about?”
Oliver: “Sometimes, when you guys are mad at me because I was bad, I go to my room and just stay there because I think you don’t want to be around me anymore…”
Me: “Oliver, that’s not true. When Mommy and Daddy get mad at you or scold you, it’s never because we don’t want to be around you or that you are a bad kid. Sometimes, you make the wrong choices so we have to tell you about it. Do you know that if you punish yourself by hurting yourself, you’re really punishing Mommy and Daddy more than yourself?”
Me: “Because we love you so much and we never want you hurt. So if you hurt yourself, we hurt more. So please don’t think about hurting yourself again, okay? Don’t punish yourself. Please?”
I hugged him. I hugged him tightly. I told him again how much we love him and how precious he is to us. And as a six year old’s attention span and innocence go – he went back to watching TV happy as can be.
When I was a kid, I remember one of my worst habit was hurting myself when I got scolded or didn’t get my way. In retrospect, it was times when I felt unloved that I hurt myself. It’s a demon I struggled with growing up. I didn’t have the kind of mother I could confide with for these things. Unfortunate but such was life for me. I learned to cope. Now, that demon is tucked somewhere in a box I wish to never ever see again.
I pray that because Oliver has me for a mom that he’ll never have to fight the same demon. And while part of me can chalk it up to a child’s nonsense talk, I know for a fact where it can go from here. The truth is, I am terrified.
How I wish there was a foolproof manual for parenting. Sadly, there isn’t. And while so many others can (or may) have an opinion of what the right kind of parenting is – there isn’t one. No book, no guide, no blog, no testimonial, no advise, no “expert” can guarantee that how you raise your child guarantees they’ll be good adults living good lives never having to fight any inner demons.