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What I Learned Over Spring Break

Last week was our spring break. It was the first spring break in about five years that we haven’t had major money problems.

Where we weren’t in danger of losing our house, where the Man from CL&P wasn’t coming to knock on our door on an almost monthly basis, where we weren’t on food stamps, where we didn’t have to return cans and bottles or hold a tag sale in order to pay for groceries.

We aren’t anywhere near rolling around in bags of money. We aren’t in the position to do whatever we want whenever we want. We are nowhere near that. We still have to be frugal and cut the fat wherever we can.

But we aren’t destitute.

Being in a terrible financial black hole for years had put me into the mindset that I couldn’t relax. That I had to spend just about every second of every day working or trying to find ways to make money. And so for the past four of five spring breaks and Christmas vacations and summer vacations, I have basically ignored the kids.

Going away anywhere was clearly not an option. But I had also convinced myself that taking time to do just about anything with them wasn’t possible. Or allowed.

It’s hard to get out of that mindset.

For me, anyway.

So this spring break, I made the conscious decision to be much more available to the kids.

I did this for a number of reasons.

First, Number 7 is five years old.

Five years old!!!

How did that happen so fast?

There are phases of life that have passed us for good.

We are done with diapers and highchairs and strollers and carrying kids. I find myself feeling nostalgic for some of these things that are long gone sometimes.

Although I appreciate where we are now. I am enjoying the kids having more independence. I am enjoying relating to them on a different level.

But damn is it going by fast!!!

I definitely have regrets. And I’ll see an occasional video show up on Facebook from five years ago and it’s scary how quickly I forget. I forget what the kids looked like and what they smelled like and what they sounded like. I know that happens.  But has it happened more for me because I’ve been letting so many opportunities with the kids pass me by?

I spend a lot of time with my kids. I mean, I’m the one who is usually home with them.

But I feel like I’ve been absent for a lot of that time.

I’m in the same place as them, but I’m not really present.

You know, like the stereotypical husband sitting across the table from the wife, reading the newspaper, and not listening to a thing she ways and just uh-huh-ing her without even looking up from the paper or actually listening to a word she says.

So there was that realization.

Then there is the fact that some of the kids are having issues with behavior. They happen to be the kids I spend the least amount of time with.

Maybe it’s just coincidental, but I don’t think so.

I am certain there is a direct correlation between kids behavior and the amount of or quality of interaction between them and their parents.

My kids need my attention. My focused, undivided attention. They don’t necessarily need hours and hours of it.

But they sure as shit need more than they’ve been getting.

So for the first time in years, I made the conscious decision to spend a significant amount of quality time with my kids while they were home last week.

And something ironic happened.

I didn’t get sick of them. I didn’t find myself getting pissed and annoyed and short on patience.

Don’t get me wrong. They did stupid and infuriating stuff. They still tried to annoy the shit out of each other and me. The are kids. That’s what they do sometimes.

But they started doing it less and less.

I spent more quality time with the kids than I have in a long, long time. And instead of me getting to the end of our vacation and feeling exhausted and exasperated and desperate for a break, I felt kind of sad that the break was over. I could have used a couple more days.

What the fuck?

I have never, ever felt that way.

I have spent every vacation for the last couple years desperate for the kids to go back to school so I could have a break.

And the kids (who are usually at least a little bit excited to go back to school and see their friends) were bummed, too.

Number 4 had no desire to go back to school. That’s never happened before.

At least ten times last week, she just looked at me — not in response to going on one of our adventures or in an effort to get something but just out of the blue — and she said, I love you, Mom.

Whoa.

I guess I am having one of Oprah’s proverbial light bulb moments.

I’m not going to stop working, drop everything I want to do, start homeschooling and construct a huge family bed.

But it’s clear that my priorities need to shift. Or at least the way I structure my time does.

Last week the kids and I had one of the best weeks we’ve ever had together. Possibly, the best week we’ve ever had.

I know we did some fun things. But it wasn’t really the fun things that made the break so great.

It was the fact that we did them together.

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If Power Struggles With Your Kids Are Making You Want To Rip Your Hair Out, You Should Totally Read This

If you guys have issues with your kids and power struggles, I have a little story to share with you.

But first, let’s just talk about this for a second.

Power struggles suck.

They are exhausting and infuriating.

What we may not realize, though, is that our kids aren’t creating this problem.

We do it to ourselves!

I know we don’t mean to do it.  And I know many of us don’t even realize when we are doing it.

But over the last few months, I have been realizing how many power struggles I engage in on a daily basis.

They happen multiple times a day.

It may be something like this:

Me: The bus will be here soon. Go brush your teeth.

*kid doesn’t go brush teeth*

Me: Go brush your teeth!

*kid doesn’t go brush teeth*

Me: GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH.

*kid still doesn’t go brush teeth*

Me: HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO ASK YOU TO GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH!!!!!

*kid still doesn’t go brush teeth*

Now you are fuming, and your kid isn’t moving.

Me: IF YOU DO NOT GO UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH, YOU WILL NOT WATCH TELEVISION FOR ONE WEEK/USE THE IPAD/GO TO YOUR FRIEND’S HOUSE/WHATEVER..

At this point your kid may go brush her teeth. Or it may take a couple more massive threats.

Eventually, chances are they go brush their f*cking teeth.

But you are pissed, it took you five or ten minutes to get the the actual teeth brushing, you have lost your patience and you have already partially emotionally drained yourself and it’s only 8:00 in the morning.

You are glad you won’t have to engage in the teeth brushing games for another twelve hours.

Ugh!

We find ourselves in these situations over and over again.

If it’s not the teeth brushing, it’s getting dressed. Or it’s picking up toys. Or it’s putting away laundry. Or it’s packing up the swim bag. Or it’s…

The list could go on forever.

Ultimately the most frustrating thing is that no matter what you say, no matter how many things you threaten to take away, no matter how loud you yell,

nothing changes.

Our kids never get it.

And then we find ourselves in that definition of insanity.

Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

These power struggles always lead to the same things.

Resistance, rebellion, or approval junkie compliance.

That’s not what we ultimately want, though.

We sure as hell don’t want our kids putting up a fight every time we ask them to do something, but we also don’t want them to only feel good about themselves when we are praising them for following orders.

So how can we do it differently?

I told you I had a story…

I have come a long way in the morning with regard to these power struggles.

They actually aren’t much of a problem any more.

That’s due partially to getting more organized and prepared the night before to cut down on chaos.

And it’s also largely due to the fact that I have started communicating differently with my kids.

But sometimes I forget.

Actually, I still forget a lot.

Luckily, I  had just come back from a Positive Discipline certification course, and everything was fresh in my head yesterday morning when we weren’t quite as organized as normal.

Since I hadn’t been here on Monday and Tuesday, our routine was a little bit messed up. I also got sick, which didn’t help either.

The laundry had piled up a little bit, Number 7 didn’t have her outfit for the next day picked out the night before, and things kind of snowballed from there.

So yesterday morning, things were not running like a well-oiled machine, and that’s when Number 7, who is five-years-old, had one of her moments.

I am now realizing that her “moments” aren’t always her just trying to kill me with girl drama. They almost always make an appearance when I have (unconsciously) engaged in a power struggle with her.

(It’s funny — not haha funny but more like annoying funny — how you don’t realize it when it is happening. I had this a-ha moment regarding Number 7 when I was at the conference on Monday and Tuesday).

So anyway, Number 7 had a freak out over what she was going to wear about five minutes before the bus was going to be here yesterday.

I did not want to lose my shit.

I did not want to hand out any empty threats.

I did not want to say anything I would later regret.

I did not want to engage her in a power struggle.

(And I am fortunate to be in the position where I don’t have to be at work as soon as the kids get on the bus, so that gives me more options when handling these situations than parents who have to be at work at a certain time).

So rather than freak out, I told her I had to get Number 5 and 6 on the bus, and I couldn’t help her find clothes five minutes before the bus was coming.

She got pissed. She started screaming. She told me she wasn’t going to go to school. She told me I was the worst mom ever.

I told her I would be happy to talk to her when she was calm, but that right now, when she was screaming at me, I was going to walk away.

And I walked outside with Number 5 and 6.

Number 7 continued to lose her shit. She followed me out the door in her pajamas. I walked to the driveway with Number 5 and 6. Number 7 stood by the front door screaming.

Until she saw the bus coming.

Then she ran inside because she didn’t want anyone on her bus to see her. (I knew that would get her back inside).

After Number 5 and 6 got on the bus, I walked back inside. Number 7 was sharpening pencils.

“I’m not going to school because you won’t help me pick out my clothes,” she quietly said to me.

I asked her if she would like some help.

She silently nodded her head, yes.

We went to her room, found some acceptable clothes, and she quickly (and happily) got dressed.

After she was dressed, we went down to the kitchen, which is our normal routine.

She sat down on a stool while I brushed her hair and put it into a ponytail.

She was calm and it was a good time to  talk to her.

“What do you think we can do so we don’t end up in this same situation tomorrow?” I asked Number 7.

She just shrugged.

“I don’t know,” she said.

I offered her some suggestions.

“Well, you could go to school in your pajamas. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about what clothes you were going to wear,” I told her.

“MOMMY! I CAN’T GO TO SCHOOL IN MY PAJAMAS!!!” she laughed.

I gave her a second.

“Ummmm… we could pick out my clothes for school tomorrow tonight!” she said to me.

“That sounds like a good plan,” I told her.

Then I gave her a hug, she put on her jacket, and I drove her to school.

There was no yelling, there was no shit being lost, and I hadn’t said anything I regretted. Even better, rather than getting into an epic battle, Number 7 and I calmly came up with a solution to the problem.

And that’s what we really want, isn’t it? A solution? So our kids do this stuff independently?

So what happened this morning? Did things go more smoothly?

I was a little worried.

Because last night by the time I got home from practice, it was after 8:30, and Number 6 and 7 were already in bed.

Shit! I hadn’t told my husband about our morning or the agreement Number 7 and I came up with.

But it didn’t matter…

This morning Number 7 woke up and walked downstairs. I was in the kitchen getting breakfast ready.

She sat down at the counter, looked right at me, and said, “Mommy, you don’t have to worry.  Guess what? I picked out all my clothes for school today already, and I know exactly what I’m going to wear!”

I almost started crying.

Why hadn’t I realized this sooner? By changing the way I dealt with the situation, the outcome was completely different.

All these times I’ve been engaging in power struggles with Number 7. We’ve both been getting upset. She’s been exhausted, and I’ve been exhausted. She’s been angry. I’ve been angry.

That’s no way to start a day.

And it’s not the way every day starts. In fact, most run fairly smoothly.

But who ever wants to start a day that way?

I don’t! And I sure has hell don’t want to put my little five-year-old on the bus like that  in the morning either.

Ever!

So I share this story because many of us wrestle with these power struggles so often, and we don’t realize that we are basically banging our heads against a wall.

By engaging in them, we aren’t teaching our kids to do the things we want them to do. We aren’t involving them in the process. We aren’t helping them to take responsibility.

We are just creating more chaos, and less independence and proactivity — the total opposite of what we really want!

If you find yourself in these types of situations often, I encourage you to take a look at your contribution to these struggles.

And then what do you do?

1) Involve your kids in coming up with routines. Ask them what they need to do to be ready for school in the morning/go to practice/get ready for bed.

2) Ask “curiosity questions” rather than barking orders. What do you need to do to be ready for school? What do you need to do next from your routine chart? This helps your child to start thinking for him/herself.

3) Give limited choices. “Do you want to wear your pink pants or your gray pants?” Your child now has some control over decisions that affect her.

4)Use humor when  you can!

5) Give your child  (and yourself) time to calm down before trying to come up with a solution to a problem. Nobody can make rational or logical decisions when they are in freakout mode.

6) Give hugs! Sometimes a freaked out kid (and adult) just wants some comfort!

I can tell you first-hand that these things work. They may not work in every situation for every child, but fortunately there are lots of other strategies you can use in these situations to avoid power struggles and avoid wanting to gouge your own eyeballs out or start drinking before noon every day.

If you are looking for help in specific situation, I STRONGLY recommend this book. It’s full of useful suggestions you can implement immediately for almost any challenging situation or behavior will encounter with your children. I have it, I refer to it often, and I love it.

Stay tuned for more tips, more examples of how this works in real life with my kids, and most importantly, try to stay positive!

XOXO~

Susie

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I’m still alive!

I know I told you all how I’ve been dealing with a round of depression. And I know I haven’t written a post in a couple days. And I know that’s unusual for me.

But I just wanted you all to know (because some people have asked) that I am still here!

I have spent the last few weeks and, in particular, days, trying to get out of this depression, get my shit together, and figure out what the fuck I’m doing with my life.

And now I have a (sort of) plan.

And I’m very excited.

But it’s also 3:29 p.m., and Number 5, 6, and 7 are getting off the bus in ten minutes. And I am really trying to commit to being 100% available to the kids when they get home from school.

So you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Then I’ll fill you in on everything 🙂

(Oh… and until then, could you all do me a favor and click on that banner down there and vote for me? I’m Number 4. Number 4 blows.)

 

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Dear NYAM — How much TV do you let a 4-year-old watch?

A couple weeks ago I got a message from a reader asking me about kids and screen time:

How much, if any, TV/iPad do you let a 4 year old watch? I have a lot of anxiety in my personality and it stresses me out if he watches an hour after school, but I also need that time to get dinner ready and care for our 15 month old. Also, he is a bear when he first comes home as he is sooo tired. Maybe I shouldn’t stress.

I started out, like most parents, telling myself (and everyone else) that my kids wouldn’t watch very much TV, if any.

Then I had kids, and of course, all that went out the window.

Then, also like most parents, I only allowed the first kid to watch  Sesame Street and other shows you’d only find on PBS.

By the time we got to Number 7 she’s watching all the garbage that the ten and eleven year old like to watch. The stuff that would have made me twitch were the older kids to watch it when they were in kindergarten.

About two years ago, when the kids had Turn Off the TV Week at school, we did it. We actually turned off all the screens for the entire week.

At that point, I was feeling like the screen time was a little out of control.

The kids would be sitting on the couch, in front of the television, and half them were also on another device while watching TV.

I found it to be a little disturbing.

And what happened for me then was that I had been counting on all this technology and TV to act as a babysitter for my kids so I could get some stuff done, and it wasn’t even holding their attention anymore, and there were shows and video games and movies happening simultaneously but nobody was even paying attention to it and the kids weren’t really behaving or cooperating.

When we made the decision to turn off the TV for a week, I thought we might all kill each other.

But something interesting happened.

My kids’ behavior changed.  Kind of drastically.

Once the screens were turned off, there was less fighting.

There wasn’t fighting over what shows to watch, who got to hold the remote, whose turn it was on the iPad, and who killed each other in Minecraft.

All of that was gone.

And sure, the kids still fought and bugged the crap out of each other on purpose, but for the most part, they all started cooperating much better.

They also became much more creative and proactive.

They started playing board games and “school” and with their Lego sets and Play-doh and Lincoln Logs and they started coloring and drawing more.

I know it sounds very Duggar Family of Pioneer Woman, but it’s true.

The less screen time they had, the more they did stuff together.

And the less time I was spending listening to them fight over whose turn it was on the iPad and breaking up fights over video games.

So when that Turn Off the TV week was over almost two years ago in April of 2015, we decided screen time and TV were off limits on school days.

And we have stuck to that.

Monday through Friday, the kids do not use any technology unless it’s required for school.

There was a little whining at first. But now it doesn’t even cross their minds.

We are so busy during the week that it’s not really even an issue.

So that is what we do here.

I know this doesn’t really answer your question.

My situation is different than yours.

My youngest is now five, so the kids can (in theory) occupy themselves most of the time.

I don’t have any kids trying to play in the toilet or take the knives out of the dishwasher or leap to their death from the top of the stairs.

But with a four-year-old and a fifteen month old, you are in survival mode.

So my answer to you would be you gotta do what you gotta do to make it through the day.

If that means an hour of iPad time or TV for your son to unwind and let you get some shit done when everyone first gets home, then do it.

DO IT!

An hour of screen time is okay with pediatricians and child psychologists, anyway.

The one suggestion I do have is that if you can find some time to do something one-on-one with your four-year-old when you get home, it might help you out with him occupying himself for a while without electronics.

And I only mention that because you said the screen time stresses you out.

Mondays are Number 7’s short day at kindergarten.

She gets home almost two hours before anyone else.

Sometimes she can be a little clingy when she first gets home.

I have found that if I do something quiet with her for about fifteen minutes, that buys me a bunch of time.

Today we played three rounds of Uno when she got home. Sometimes we read a book or two.

Every once in a while, I will break the no iPad rule for her, and let her use it for a half hour or so. We don’t tell anyone else — it’s our little secret.

But since the technology time is nonexistent during the week, when she does use it, it’s a really big treat, and I am able to get a good  thirty minutes of productivity in.

So to answer your  question, when Number 7 was four, she didn’t watch TV or use any electronics at all during the week.

But my situation is not the same as yours.

And I had to make some changes with what we were doing with regard to TV and  screen time based on what was happening under my roof.

What happens under your roof is a whole different ball game.

So you need to go with your gut and not worry about what a doctor says or what your friends do or what I do if what you are doing is working for you.

And you need to look at your kids’ behavior.

If they are well adjusted and socially competent and polite and they don’t have a level 10 meltdown when you tell them it’s time to put the iPad away, then I don’t think you need to worry about anything at all.

In my experience, screen time with limits is beneficial for everyone.

If it starts to cause more problems than it alleviates, then it may be time to reevaluate.

Until then, take a deep breath, do your best to spend a few minutes of one-on-one time with your four-year-old every day, and then,

RELAX.

If you’re anything like me,  you grew up watching at least an hour of television every day, and we turned out just fine.

 

 

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