Today one of my kids walked into my office for speech. I was in the middle of talking with a co-worker when he walked in, and I said a quick hi to him and then finished what I was saying.
He made an animal snorting noise in response.
(He’s 12, and while he can trend towards immature, he has never been a kid for whom making animal noises is common).
I glanced at him, telling him, “Try again, please.”
He snorted again.
In a moment of annoyance (which I really, truly can say happens very infrequently), because I was trying to finish my conversation and wrap up one of a zillion things that were going on, I told him,
“You will have an automatic detention if you do that again.”
I finished what I was saying to my co-worker, she left, and I turned back to him.
“It’s because I am tired,” he said, out of the blue, as an unsolicited explanation for why he snorted.
“If you’re tired, that’s okay, but you can’t make animal noises like that.” I told him.
His face changed, and he said, “I’m tired because my grandfather died.”
My heart stopped.
I had totally messed up. He was trying to tell me something.
Look, am I not the one who preaches that behavior equals communication? Am I not the one who always says, look at what the behavior is trying to tell us? Am I not the one who suggests that we talk to our kids and meet them halfway, to understand what’s going on rather than punish it?
Yeah, he could’ve come in and said “I’m sad” or “Something happened” or “I need to tell you something.” But he didn’t. Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe he snorted because he didn’t know what else to do. Maybe he snorted because he had planned on talking to me but I was talking to my co-worker and it altered his plan. Who knows, and it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that for him, this behavior wasn’t typical. I certainly have kids who make animal noises and they aren’t communicating anything other than trying to be funny. For them, it should be approached in a whole different way.
But when a kid does something that they don’t usually do – when it’s atypical or something seems off, trust your gut.
I am sharing this because I am human. I’m sharing this because sometimes we all get annoyed, or snap. And that’s okay. It just matters that we rectify the situation as soon as possible. Which I did – on his own terms, we talked about it briefly (all he wanted to share was that sometimes he feels happy that his grandpa lived for 80 years and that his dad felt sad and he already talked to his counselor about it and felt [thumbs up] right now and didn’t need to check in more), a peer in the group shared that he had also lost his grandpa years ago, and then we moved on.
He moved on feeling heard, understood, and cared about.
I figured it out – even though it was a minute or two later than I would’ve liked.
That’s what matters.