She’s just looking for attention

 I’ve finally reached a point with Ellie Jo where she’s not cute 100% of the time. Somehow, for nearly 4 years, I was able to work with anything she did. 6 eggs cracked all over herself and the counter? I’m cool. Let’s take a bath! Puking every hour for 24 hours? Awww, poor baby. Let’s cuddle and help you feel better. Towel that smells like it was used to clean up pee on top of our dinner pancakes? Wow, that’s super gross you crazy kid! Guess it won’t make us sick, though.

But now, at almost 4, she does things that get under my skin. She laughs while sitting on Rainier. She jumps in Rainier’s bed while he’s napping. She hides in the bathroom and smashes lipstick all over. She colors in library books. And she has pee accidents at every inconvenient moment.

Often, I look at her behavior and think, “Oh look, she’s just doing this to get attention! She should have to spend some time alone just so she knows this is unacceptable.”

But then I stop. She’s just doing this to get attention? How about reframing that: She NEEDS attention. How can I address her needs? She’s messing with the baby, she’s messing with my things, she’s doing inconvenient things because she wants to connect.

I don’t know if this explains everything, but she and I had almost 3 years of connection. She was my little shadow and everything she did was with me or in some way exploratory. I was either engaging in something that she wanted to do or I tried to find ways to have her help me with whatever I was doing.

Our connection has changed as she has become more independent and Rainier joined our family. Now I am busier and now she spends time doing things on her own. I forget that the independence is small and faltering and fragile. She still needs me to cuddle with her and show her that I care and include her in my day. She doesn’t have the emotional maturity or the tools to say, “Momma, I’m feeling lonely. Would you let me help you for a little while?” Instead, she “acts out.”

I remind myself to be the adult here. *I* can decode the needs and begin to hand her the tools. “Sitting on Rainier is not safe. I need you [I pick her up and set her on the couch] to stay off of the baby. Do you need to talk to me about something?” She usually flails and tells me that she *likes* sitting on the baby. But eventually she calms down and just wants to read or eat a snack. I find that moment is a good reminder for ME to give her more proactive attention. The better we connect, the less she feels the need to squash someone else. Making her spend time by herself (unless she’s really not safe and needs space to cool down) only serves to deepen our disconnect. I have to CHOOSE to put aside my frustration and connect with the meaning behind the actions.

So we have more rough patches now than we ever have. I’m discovering that those patches are teaching me to respect her as an individual. I can’t control her like I did when she was small and these moment remind me again and again of that fact. I’ll really never be able to control her. We are a building a relationship of respect and understanding that I hope will be helpful for her entire life.

Connect, connect, connect. That’s my mantra as we go into the 4th year.

 

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