“O kookamonga flakes, o kookamonga flakes, how lovely are your branches!” sang my older son, to the tune of O Christmas Tree. Over and over again. On and off for more than two hours.
Near the end, my hand was twitching. I never, ever wanted to hear those words again. It wasn’t bad behavior – just deeply, deeply annoying.
But the next time he sang it, that feeling started to fade.
Having mothered through a great deal of annoying behavior – and certainly facing much more in the future – I’ve realized parents’ reactions to this behavior proceed through five stages. They’re much like the stages of grief, but hopefully funnier. Whether your kid is a nose-picker, whiner, or a constant singer like mine, knowing these stages might help you work through them a little faster.
This is the obvious one. For some types of marginally annoying behavior, you may never move past this stage. As long as the behavior ends soon enough, everyone will be fine.
After at least 15 minutes of an annoying activity, it somehow become really, really funny. You shouldn’t laugh because you know you’re encouraging it, but you feel like a kid who saw something hysterical at a funeral. You just can’t help yourself. “Kokkamonga flakes?! OMG.” “Burping the alphabet? Classic.”
Sometimes, annoying behaviors start at this stage. Often, something is funny the first time but not the 50th time. If it starts here, it will cycle into annoying soon enough.
At some point, what was funny will abruptly stop being funny. All of the sudden, it will become so irritating that you can’t imagine listening to it for One More Minute. You might start to blink wildly, grind your teeth, or involuntarily shudder. (Or is that just me?) You may start rethinking this whole parenting business altogether. Maybe you can ship them off to your parents for the week? Maybe the year?
Before steam starts coming out of your ears, step out of the room and take a minute. Breathe. Count if you have to.
If the behavior continues and is annoying to the point of true awfulness, figure out a logical consequence that the child will face if they don’t stop it. For example, I was sitting on my older son’s bed the other night as he was supposed to be going to sleep. Instead, he was humming. While this would normally be bad enough, it was clashing with the Mozart in the background. (He listens to classical music to fall asleep.) The mix of the two was giving me an awful headache. I told him that because it was giving me a headache, I’d leave his room if he didn’t stop singing. He stopped.
If the behavior is bad but barely tolerable, wait a few minutes.
After a while, the annoying behavior becomes background noise. It’s like the on-hold music for tech support – it’s just there. It’s back down to tolerable, but only because you’ve built up a resistance to it.
Eventually, even the feeling of annoyance fades. That’s just something your kid does.
Of course, this is often the point right at which the kid stops doing it. That’s especially true if the kid is doing it to get attention. If you take away the attention – voilà, they no longer try to get it that way! There’s actually a whole parenting advice book on nonsense you should ignore as a parent.
Sometimes you can short-circuit this process by ignoring the annoying thing while also giving them positive attention for something else. This can fulfill their emotional need while distracting them from whatever annoying thing they were doing. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work if your kid is doing the annoying thing for their own inexplicable reasons – like my passionate musician. It also doesn’t work when you really can’t give them attention at that moment.
Every kid has their own set of deeply annoying behaviors. So when they happen, think about what phase you’re in, what you can do in response (if anything), and complain at length to your spouse / friend / mom / whomever as necessary. Or alternatively, invest in a good set of noise-canceling earphones.