We were in a hurry… OK, I was in a hurry because I slept late and was not feeling it this morning. I dragged out of bed and didn’t feel like dealing with the kids yet, so I took a shower – a long one. When I peeked at the clock from underneath my towel as I dried my hair, I noticed I had fallen even further behind. Half-dressed, I stormed into to kid #1’s room, flipped on the light and said, “get up, get up–WE are late and you need to hurry!” As she rubbed her eyes not knowing what happened, I threw open the door to kid #2’s room, turned on the light and shouted orders like a scene from some Navy Seals training documentary. Fifteen minutes later of getting my stuff together and 45 seconds of microwaving something that even Aunt Jemima would not recognize as a waffle, I checked on the kids again. Continue reading
As we all settled into our seats at the dining room table, we looked out the windows to see the nasty and dark Florida evening storm clouds that had popped up from nowhere. When we were all looking outside, we noticed a car driving by and then a dog leaping out the window.
Did you see that? Did they just throw that dog out?
The lessons your parents taught you when you were young were meant to shape your behavior as you grew. Although they might not have intended these lessons to be advice for how to best parent your own kids, I think we should revisit those things your parents told you and listen now as parents and not children.
1. “If you dont have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” Continue reading
There are times when kids say things that seem like they are meant to hurt…and sometimes it does:
“I wish I were never born!”
“You don’t love me.”
“You love her more than you love me.”
“I wish I had another mother”
There are some things kids say every day that are easy to ignore. But, there are other times when they go for the gusto. They really cut deep with their words and all of a sudden we loose our grasp on reality and react. Your ears get red, your throat swells, or tears start to well up. It is amazing some of the things a 4 year old can say, but it happens.
It is important to think about this when there is no emotion involved, no thought about whether or not your child actually feels that way, and no inner thoughts telling you your kid might be right. It is important to have a plan and an understanding of why they say these things so you don’t end up teaching them to use these words more.
So, if you are in a fresh state of mind, let’s get a few things clear about why they say these things and what you need to do when it happens.
They don’t know these words hurt. They don’t know why. This is not the way they feel.
Understand that first. Repeat it to yourself in times of distress or when you are questioning yourself.
Are you sharpening the tool or making it dull?
It might be a sign that your kid’s “attention cup” is running low. It might be the case they are telling you, “but, I really, really want that Transformer and you don’t seem to care how much I want it.” Either way, you do not need to attend to it when it happens.
If you attend to these statements, you will likely teach your child how powerful these words or statements are. Be very careful.
For example, if you have ignored simple attempts at getting your attention, but then your daughter gets upset and says, “you NEVER play with me” and then you go and play, guess what just happened? Yep…you have taught them a very effective and efficient way to get access to you, NOT in a way you want them to.
It is about timing. If your kid is more able to get your attention after using these words than before they said these words, you are going to be in trouble.
There is a time for everything
And the time to reassure them about your love, affection and care is not when they say these things. It can be once they calm down or once they are reasonable (as reasonable as a 5 year old can be). You can even say something like, “I am glad you are calm now, did you want to read books with me or color in the den with me?”
Of course, and most importantly, if you maintain consistent attention, affection and reinforcement to your kid, you can better be prepared to ignore these statements and move on.
Try to anticipate these things as they are likely to happen again and understand you dont want to be in the place again to have to ignore these comments. They are powerful. They hurt. Make sure you do as much as you can to not have to hear these words again.
I have often thought parenting is like climbing a mountain: ups and downs, tricky turns, sometimes going down a little to go up and sometimes slowly navigating slippery passages. All of these trying times, however, come with incredible feelings of accomplishment at every “peak.” After listening to a recent interview with a famous author and mountain climber, I’m even more convinced.
Climbing mountains and “Zooming in” on the problem
Jim Collins, the coauthor of the book Great by Choice, is a mountain climber. He talks about times when you get a not-so-great grip during a climb and things start looking bleak. He says climbers (ahem, ahem: parents) tend to “zoom in” on the problem, trying to find a way to get a better grasp; clinching and gripping even tighter to that bad hold. With each slight move of a finger or shift of weight in an effort to make that grip better, the problem gets worse and worse. Ultimately, if the climber can’t break out, he falls.
Undivided focus is given towards the weakening hold: the problem
Zooming in on the problem puts undue attention on the problem, rather than the solution. Teeth are mashed, knuckles are popping, and fingertips loose pressure. Bad goes to worse.
However, if the climber could simply zoom out instead of zoom in, he or she would notice the better foothold or another better grip position. Moving in any of these other directions immediately alleviates all the problems being encountered. However, if completely zoomed in on the problem, the solutions are not visible.
Are there times in your role as a parent you focus too much on the problem rather than the possible solutions or bigger picture?
I see this sometimes in a wide variety of situations where the parent gets so deep into trying to “follow through” or “make sure the child doesn’t get away with it,” that the parent is almost ensuring the behavior will escalate and cause a much bigger problem than it was in the beginning. I have heard parents say, “if he does not clean his room after I ask two or three times, I’ll go in there and MAKE him do it.” What does that mean? You are going to force it and create a bigger mess than the room ever was? ZOOM OUT, for crying out loud!
I have seen parents get so frustrated with making sure their kid does what they say, that they end up having WWIII when, if they would have gone about things differently, there would not be a problem in the first place. Adding punisher after punisher until something finally hits so hard the child submits. Physically engaging at the point of total frustration. Both parent and child typically leave this situation embarrassed and emotionally drained. I get it…it happens to all of us.
Zooming out in these situations means stepping back and asking questions about why he is not cleaning his room and how you can make it more likely next time. It is about asking why she always dilly-dallies around in the morning instead of being ready on time and how you might could motivate her to move quicker and more independently in the future. It is about why YOU react so strongly in some situations and how YOU can better prepare for (or avoid) them in the future.
Put up notes around the house, put something on the fridge. Whatever it is you need to do to remind yourself to ZOOM OUT in times of distress or difficulty. Enlist your spouse to tell you to “zoom out” when things are getting tough. Look for other options. Don’t fall off the cliff because you wanted to make that one grip hold. Make it to the top because you found better solutions once you got into trouble.
I grew up playing golf and was lucky enough to receive all kinds of wisdom from coaches and professionals around the Southeast. Some lessons were more helpful than others and some stuck with me because I think they were more about life than the game I was playing.
But, one such lesson is so important to this thing we call “parenting” that I need to share it here. Unfortunately, I cannot credit who told me because I simply cannot remember:
It is not how good your good shots are, but how bad your bad shots are, that really matters.
What he meant is you can have a pretty decent day going and overall doing the right things. But, when you mess up, do what you can to recover quickly and not make a complete mess in one situation.
Think about that. Apply now to parenting:
It is not how good you are when you are good (although it is nice), it is how bad you are when you are bad that can really turn the day into a mess.
Some families are excellent when they are excellent. They praise wonderfully. They interact beautifully with their kids when things are good. But, that is not the problem.
The problem is when it is bad…it gets really bad.
Arguing, engaging in nasty back-and-forth and engaging physically. The way in which questions are asked is much different: on the good days the requests are made in a way that suggest helpfulness and teamwork, whereas the bad days the requests become demands that are “snippy” and almost with an air of “I know you are not going to do this.”
Behaviors that are easily overlooked or joked about on “the good days” are treated as major punishable events.
Look, I get it. I have long days when coming home to a tantrumming two-year-old and a fiery four-year-old makes me want to close the bedroom door behind me and escape. It happens. It is normal. It is not all carnivals and cookies at our house…trust me.
During those tough times, my initial reaction to a tantrum or a whiny “but mommy said I can watch a movie” can be different than the feeling I have when the same things are said to me after I have just had an easy day on the boat.
BUT…I have to realize that it is “how bad my bad shots are.” If I react poorly in the tough times, the result (my kids’ longer term behavior) will not be good.
This is one of those times I have to recognize and choose not to engage. If not, behaviorally, I will have to make up for my “bad shots.”
There is a lot to be said for understanding where you are emotionally and physically. We will all make mistakes. We will all have times when we are not going to make good parenting decisions because some baggage we carry into the interaction. We will all have bad shots.
Your job is to make sure you have enough good shots, but also limit how bad your bad shots are.
When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we got all the usual comments about the difference between parenting one kid vs. two. I even heard some ridiculous statement about, “you’re really never a parent until your second child.” CRAP. Be quiet.
I’m pretty sure I was a parent when I was changing diapers, cleaning up puke, sticking thermometers in places they really should not go, and doing 4:00 am feedings before leaving for work at 5:00. Don’t even ask my wife…I’m pretty sure she immediately felt like a parent the moment that child crowned…just saying.
With all this said, there are some things that are only experienced when you do have more than one child. Every family with multiple kids I work with experiences the same problems, and we have even experienced it in our own home.
It is the situation when one of the children completely sucks the energy out of the day. Tantrums, demanding, and “NO!” is the answer for everything EXCEPT when you ask, “are you trying to ruin my day?” – you already knew the answer to that.
It can consume you.
But, what you might not realize is that it is also likely consuming your other child too.
The hard part is not going down with the ship. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the tug-of-war with the kid who is clearly not in control and continue with the back and forth, but it is imperative that you don’t. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost.
Here is what to do when it happens(you’ll feel it as you increasingly react and respond to simple little things and utter that gutteral grunt, “uuuuhhhhhh” for something that is usually easily overlooked):
Concentrate your efforts and energy on the other kid: the one doing what you want (or at least doing whatever she is doing quietly).
When I talk about this to parents, I will say, “control what you can control” or “go with the one who is the most likely to follow you.” Its not giving up on the other kid, it is simply redirecting your attention towards the child who deserves the attention.
Make cookies, play a game, take a walk…do something a little out of the ordinary or something the child really likes. You can even be blatant with it,
“since your sister is having some trouble this morning, I figure you and I can do make those cookies you wanted to make last week. You have been so nice and calm this morning, I think you deserve it. Whaddaya think?”
(Do not say this loudly as to try to affect the child who is behaving poorly…thats ridiculous, mean-spirited and will be ineffective).That is not what this is about. This is about focusing your energy and attention in the right direction.
The reality is you will be exhausted at the end of the day one way or the other.
If you do it right, your energy will be positively spent and you will be exhausted happy rather than exhausted mad.
Hopefully, the kid who is on your last nerve will come around and see what fun is being had by all and shape into place. If he does, welcome him in: this is the time when you can either get the ball rolling in the right direction or re-engage the behavior death spiral that started all of this. “
“I’m glad you could join us. Are you O.K.? Are you gonna be cool hanging out with us and being calm?”
If he doesn’t…no big deal. More cookies for you.