Raising Kids: The Death Spiral Days

Anybody who’s been around kids knows about death spiral days. Tell me this comes as news, and I’ll say you haven’t been paying attention. They happen in the best of families.

And who knows how they start? A day begins like any other day. Everything’s normal. Well, normal for a busy family–different people moving at different speeds, the occasional snarky word, sometimes interrupted by laughter. A normal day in the life.

Then, without noticeable warning, brooding clouds arrive. Whether suddenly as in a squall or slowing building as with a gathering storm, they ruin what had been a relatively sunny day.

Nobody’s happy with anybody else, although nobody can explain why. Things are just wrong. And while the fact is that it’s probably nobody’s fault, everybody feels put upon.

Tension grows. Accusatory mutterings start. There they are: The loves of your heart and the joy of your life, ready to go to war. Worse, no warm, fuzzy feelings of love are coursing through you veins, either.

You’re staring into the vortex of the death spiral.

As the parent, it’s your duty to get the thing stopped. Yelling will only make things worse. Time-outs will do no more than postpone the inevitable blow up. Discipline doesn’t change anything.

You have to bring the sun out again.

Here’s what worked for me. Standing in front of my two sullen, unhappy little squirts–their faces set, challenging me to change their attitudes–I put my hands on my hips, set my face to serious mode and asked, “Do you know what I’m going to do with you?”

Eyes wide with wonder and concern, they asked, “What?”

Breaking into a big grin, I loudly sing-songed, “I am going to love you and keep you forever!” I emphasized the last word into a shout of victory. With that, the storm passed. The kids laughed. We all hugged. Then we restarted the day in a better direction.

After that, whenever I spotted a death spiral on the horizon, I’d assume my hands-on-the-hip pose, arrange my face in stern lines and repeat my “What am I going to do with you?” line.

It always stopped the negative slide to misery on the proverbial dime. Giddy with excitement that they already knew the right answer, they’d laugh and chorus out, “You’re going to love us and keep us forever.”

I would agree, my arms out wide. We didn’t have all that many death spiral days, but when they came, we knew what to do.

Kids need to know for absolute certain that nothing they do will make us stop loving them. That’s their safety, the ground from which they can bloom.

From the minute they arrive, tell your children you love them. And prove it by your actions, even when you’re angry enough to spit nickels. Maybe especially then.

And here’s Bette’s helpful hint for happiness: Planting the loved-for-sure seed deep when your kids are young makes life a lot easier as they grow.

Being a parent isn’t a job for sissies. You have to be a grown-up.

You can read more of Bette Dowdell’s thoughts about meeting life head-on at in the articles section. Bette worked in high-tech for years, raised two fabulous children and taught half the English-speaking world about what the Bible says and means. She wrote How to be a Christian Without Being Annoying and will soon release a memoir about growing up in The Salvation Army. While you’re at , get a free subscription to Bette’s original, take-the-hill quotes that arrive by e-mail every Monday morning.

© Copyright 2008 by Bette Dowdell. All rights reserved worldwide.

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