My oldest daughter (5yrs) was pouting because she wasn't getting sung to on HER SISTER'S BIRTHDAY!
At bedtime she said, "Daddy...my tummy hurts and I feel sad because no one is singing special songs to ME today."
I bit my lip so I wouldn't say the first thing that popped into my head:
"Are you KIDDING me!? For goodness' sake...it's HER birthday! I SHOULD give her special treatment and sing her special songs! ...AND...I can't believe that you're ruining the happy mood. You are taking all of the special attention that's SUPPOSED to be on her and hogging it by feeling sorry for yourself!"
Instead, I said something like this:
"Wow Ava. It sounds like you don't have any space in your head for thinking about something very important. It's Bethany's birthday today and we SHOULD sing her special songs. And if you wanted to, you COULD be happy about that. You could be very happy that she gets special songs and special treats. But you're not. You're not happy about it because there's not space in your head for thinking about her. Right now, there's only space for thinking about yourself, and you're not realizing how special and happy this time is for your sister."
I went on with the bedtime routine and kept doing things to make Bethany feel celebrated. Ava kept quiet on her top bunk.
I gave Bethany a goodnight kiss first and wished her a happy birthday. Then I leaned up by Ava and decided that I should have a follow up conversation about her selfishness:
"Ava...it's great to enjoy times when people give you special attention and sing you special songs. It's very okay to want that and to like that. Everyone likes it when people pay attention to them. It's not bad to like that. BUT it can be a little bit not-right when you want all of that too much.
And HOW do you know if you are wanting it too much?
You're wanting it too much if you can't be happy for someone when they get special attention and special treats. When they get special things, if you get really sad, you're wanting special attention and treats too much. You should be happy when you get attention and special treats and you should be happy when someone else gets the special things."
I was thankful that God helped me say what I said in the follow up conversation. I didn't know HOW I was going to wrap up the night with Ava. I just started talking and that's what came out. That's usually how it goes for me. I don't know how to talk something out with my daughters. I just sort of go for it, and God usually gives me the grace I need to teach them.
I was particularly thankful for two things:
1- I was able to affirm something good about what Ava was feeling.
If one of my children knows that I'm unhappy about something they've done, it usually doesn't go so well if all they get from me is correction or, "you should've done this." It goes a lot better if I can start the conversation with some kind of affirmation. For example, if my youngest is playing in her bed after it's time for sleep, I might say, "Bethany, I'm happy that you like to play. Playing is so fun. But playing is for after. There will be lots of times to have fun playing later tomorrow. Right now is a different time. It's time for 1) your head to be on the pillow and for 2) your arms and legs to lay still."
2- I was able to teach about natural desires vs. excessive desires.
My dad taught me about this. I think a lot of people, including me, don't get it. He taught me to not despise as sinful, desires that are natural, normal and good. It's only when the natural desires turn into excessive desires that we have to be careful.
I guess I should add a third thing that I was/am thankful for. I'm thankful that God is willing to help parents. I mostly don't know what to say to my children. I mostly don't know how to best help them. I mostly start conversations without knowing how they're going to end. But I'm realizing that that's okay. God doesn't require me to know how to end it or fix it. I think he just requires me to start. To start saying something. To start addressing an issue. It's his job to carry us on to the finish.