Sometimes kids with grief issues can have a hard time enjoying the good moments in family life. This afternoon we settled in to work on a Christmas craft, a pinecone elf project that I saw here. Most of the kids got into the project and enjoyed it. But one was struggling.
After beginning the project halfheartedly, the child asked if it was OK to make elves with frowning faces. Hm, how to answer? Yes, I could sanction the creation of a cranky elf. But then I’d hate looking at the thing, and the child’s negativity would be manifested in a durable way. Nope. I didn’t think that’d do anyone any good.
I could lecture the kid, and insist that the elf be a smiling one. Except I lecture enough in a day, and this was supposed to be fun. Nobody in the room needed me coming down on the kid like a ton of bricks, as tempting as that was. No, I had to find a way to make my response fun, while still encouraging the child towards a project that reflected cheer.
“Oh!” I said, jumping to my feet and pulling up the child too. “I think that you must not have gotten enough hugs today!! When people don’t get enough hugs, they have a hard time with joy, and of course this project should be joyful. Come here and let’s hug until you’re strong enough to make a happy craft!”
Grinning ruefully, the child gave me a noodle-armed hug.
“Oh, no!” I said. “We’re going to need to hug until your arms are strong enough for a good hug. We’d better practice kissing too while we’re at it.”
I smooched the child’s cheeks, alternating sides til the child began smiling in spite of efforts to be stone-faced, and actually gave me a decent hug. “OK, now you kiss me!” I said, offering a cheek. Kisses were given, still with a rueful grin.
“Now, are you strong enough to make a happy craft, or do we need more hugs and kisses?”
The child hurriedly assured me that enough strength now existed to create a smiling elf, escaped my hug, settled back at the table, and proceeded to work on a happy face.
During the next hour, a few more hugs were needed to refresh the child’s ability to craft happily. Yeah, I was basically threatening the child with hugs each time cooperation and good attitudes began to slip away. In an ideal world, my child would actually seek out my hugs, would be comfortable with happy family time.
But that is not the current reality for this child. And here’s the thing: each time I engaged the child in this way, every person in the room ended up smiling. Even the child. We ended each interaction more connected, with the child truly more able to participate in the activity. I felt better. The kid felt better. And no one else in the room was subjected to an unhappy showdown.
I don’t always handle it this well. When dealing with a child who is consciously or unconsciously trying to sabotage family fun, we’ve had plenty of showdowns. But when I remember to play the humor card, while still sticking to my guns, I tend to be much more successful in redirecting the child, and also safeguard the joy of everyone else in the room.