Parenting is hard. You have to parent when you are tired, sick, or busy. Your role and their needs don’t stop just because you have a migraine or got home from a 12-hour shift. In reading a parenting book, “The Joy of Parenting,” (Coyne & Murrell, 2009) and identifying situations in my own life, I am reminded that when I’m not at my best, neither are my children. When I’m tired, sick or busy, I’m depriving them of the much needed “mommy time” or the affectionate language that I want to use and value. I’m snappy and reactive. Right now, I see it with my almost 2-year-old, Micha. The days that she is really grumpy are typically following a period of little mommy interaction. This could be because it is 7:00pm and I haven’t seen her all day or it is the end of a busy week.
My mom always called it “the love tank.” And while that isn’t a scientific term, she was kinda onto something. Research shows that challenging behavior improves when you freely, and frequently deliver a reinforcer that was maintaining the problem behavior (Richman, Barnard-Brak, Grubb, Bosch, & Abby, 2015). You are reducing the motivation for challenging behavior because the kids recently had access to the reinforcer. Just like you aren’t craving a bowl of chocolate pudding 5 min after eating a bowl of chocolate pudding, giving your children that extra quality time “fills their love tank” and reduces the motivation to seek it inappropriately.
So, while the littles may not be on their best behavior, sometimes being reactive isn’t going to get you the desired effect for which you are looking. In my experience, this tends to create a new record for timeouts. You may be able to get more rest/peace when you have satiated the need for your attention. Therefore, when I’m acting like the parent that I value (i.e., loving, positive, and attentive), my kids respond positively in return. This proactive approach isn’t the solution for every instance of challenging behavior; but, it is always good to be mindful if you are “filling the love tank” and setting the occasion for harmony.