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It’s Not About Consequences, It’s About Finding Solutions

A couple weeks ago I got an email from Number 6’s teacher.

It wasn’t one of those I just wanted to tell you this story about how awesome your kid is emails.

It was one of those Your kid is being a pain in the ass and I’m starting to lose my shit emails.

Ugh.

Number 6 has been giving me a run for my money at home as well.

He’s been defiant and intentionally bothering people and just doing a whole lot of button pushing in general. So I wasn’t surprised when I got the teacher’s email.

I love Number 6’s teacher. I’ll call her Miss X. She’s young and enthusiastic and not jaded (yet). Number 6 went from hating school last year to genuinely enjoying it this year, and that’s all because of her.

So Miss X sent me an exasperated email looking for support from my end. I had explained to her in September how Number 6 felt about school last year, and how he was a different kid with respect to school this year.

She didn’t want to have to do something (like take away privileges) that would cause him to dread school again. But she was gonna have to do something.

I assured her I could relate to her frustrations and I would do everything I could to change the situation.

But I also had to make sure she knew something.

It’s no secret that I don’t think punishments (or rewards) work in the long run.

They can definitely help to stop a frustrating behavior immediately. But they don’t help your kid to develop any internal locus of control.

And I 100% see this especially with Number 6. You can threaten him with taking stuff away, and he’ll look right at you and say, GO AHEAD.

So I let the teacher know that instead of trying to punish Number 6 into submission, I thought a couple other approaches might be more successful. I thought finding a solution to the problem rather than dangling a carrot in front of him (or completely removing it) would be much more effective in both the short and long term.

Miss X was willing to try anything (another reason I love her) and she was thankful for my feedback regarding how Number 6 responds to punishment.

So what did we do?

First, I tried to pinpoint the reason for the behavior. I thought quite a bit about it. And I contacted my Positive Discipline mentor for her input.

It wasn’t that Number 6 was just being a jerk. It wasn’t that he was spoiled or overtired or that I was a doormat and let him get away with too much and now he was a monster.

Number 6 was looking for attention. Constantly.

And he was looking for attention because he wasn’t getting a whole lot of it at home. From me.

So his teacher could have taken away special iPad time at school. She could have kept him in for recess. I could have told him that if I got another email from his teacher that he’d be banned from technology for a day or a week or a month or forever.

But that wouldn’t have gotten to the root of the problem which was that Number 6 was looking for attention.

Keeping that in mind, when Number 6 came home from school, I talked to him.

I didn’t threaten him. I didn’t yell at him. I didn’t belittle or shame him.

I simply asked him what was going on at school.

He told me he was being silly and talking when he shouldn’t be.  Mostly when he was on the carpet and when he was reading with his reading partner (who also happened to be his best buddy).

We talked about how his behavior might be affecting not only his teacher, but everyone else in the class.

And then I asked Number 6 what he thought might help him to be more in control of himself at school.

His first response was, “I don’t know.”

So I offered some suggestions without just telling him what to do. “Do you think moving away from your buddy when you sit on the carpet might help?”

“Yes,” he said.

“What else do you think might help?” I asked him.

“Have a different reading partner?” he said.

“That might be a big help,” I told him.

We agreed that he would talk to his teacher about this the next day.

Then we talked about what times and places are okay for him to talk and be silly with his buddy.

“At lunch time?” he said.  “And at recess?”

So we had come up with two solutions.

Then I thought about something a therapist told me a long time ago. At the time we were trying to come up with strategies for stopping stupid/unhealthy/self-sabotaging thoughts in my head.  She told me to literally envision a stop sign every time my brain went that direction.

And then I thought about the Kissing Hand and how drawing a heart on the palm of Number 6’s hand helped him in the beginning of the school year.

I asked him if he’d like me to put a stop sign on his palm.  Every time he felt himself getting silly, he could look at it as a reminder.

He liked that idea. So the next morning, I drew a stop sign on his hand before he got on the bus.

So now we had come up with some self-regulating strategies. And we had done it without any threatening, without any meltdowns, and without any power struggles.

But there was still that other issue. The issue of the attention.

My mentor had asked me if I’d be able to schedule in some special time with Number 6.

I had thought of that before she even suggested it. The problem is finding a time to squeeze that in.

As soon as everyone gets home from school, I head to the pool to coach swim practice, and I don’t get home until 8:30. So after school is tough.

So are the weekends between soccer and t-ball and travel baseball and swim team.

But there was a time I didn’t think of.

Before school.

Number 6 is the earliest riser of everyone. He is usually up by 6:15.

And I have until about 6:40 before I have to wake up the other kids for school.

So Number 6 and I have been having special time just about every morning for about twenty minutes before anyone else wakes up.

Most mornings we play a game. Last week we played Candy Land. This morning we played Chutes and Ladders.

And this morning, the first thing  Number 6 said to me was, “Mommy, you know what?”

“What?” I asked him.

“I love having time with  you. AND I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!” he said.

Ugh.

So often our kids behavior isn’t a reflection of them.

It’s a reflection of us.

A couple days later, I got an email from Miss X.

Hi Susie,

I just wanted to follow up about Number 6’s behavior. He has been doing a lot better in class, especially on the carpet. Moving him away from his buddy and having him select a new reading partner definitely helped him a lot, and he looks at your stop sign all the time 🙂

YES!!!

He’s doing better at school, and he’s doing better at home.

I know he’s still gonna push buttons. That’s what kids do.

When he does, we’ll go right back to the solution drawing board.

Because we came up with a solution that solved the problem for more than 15 minutes.

And we did it without threatening, without bribing, without shaming or humiliation, and without either of us losing our shit.

And that feels pretty good.

For both of us.

Gymboree Sale On Now!

Could You Go 24 Hours Without Saying No To Your Kids?

Gymboree Sale On Now!

How many times do you think you say NO to your kids every day?

Five times? Twenty times? A hundred times?

I bet if I kept track, it would be in the triple digits. Easily.

Sometimes I say no to them before they can even finish a complete sentence.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

Because Number 6 is giving me a serious run for my money lately.

He’s super defiant, and I find myself embroiled in power struggles with him way more often than I’d like to be.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint the source of the issues I’ve been having with him. I believe there are a few main reasons he’s such a challenge right now.

And one of them isn’t that he’s being a tool.

It’s the way I’m talking to him.

I tried to be very conscious of this yesterday. I paid attention to our interactions.

Mommy, can I ride in the car without a booster seat?

NO.

Mommy, can I have some orange juice?

NO.

Mommy, can I have two granola bars?

NO.

Mommy, can I play on the iPad?

NO.

Mommy, can I stay home instead of going to the Y?

NO.

Mommy, can I have one of those juice boxes?

NO.

Mommy, can I –

NO.

Yikes.

These are just a few of the times I said no to Number 6 yesterday.

Forget about all the rest of my kids.

Between all of them, I very, very easily say no hundreds of times a day.

So when I ask my kids to do something, or, more accurately, when I tell them to do something and they automatically say no, why am I surprised?

I mean, it only takes one time for you to let a shit! or a fuck! slip out for your kids to memorize that word and use it at every embarrassing and inopportune time possible.

So what are we to expect when they hear us saying no hundreds of times a day?

I have become what Positive Discipline would refer to as a no monster.

I am no-ing my kids to death.

And that immediately builds the foundation for a power struggle. And power struggles are exhausting and infuriating.

Obviously we can’t say yes to every single question our kids ask.  We need to set limits and boundaries.

But how can that be done without saying no?

Well, I am going to focus on the following three things:

First, I’m going to do my best to stop with the demands. 

I’m getting better at this.

What do you need to do to be ready to get on the bus? has been MUCH more effective for me than progressing from:

Go get your shoes.

to

I said go get your shoes!

to

Didn’t I just ask you to get your shoes?

to

Why are your shoes still not on?

to

HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO ASK YOU TO GET YOUR SHOES???

Next, I’m going to try really, REALLY hard to ask questions that can’t be answered with yes or no. Those just invite the power struggles.

Instead of Can you help me bring something in from the car?

I’m going to try something more along the lines of What do you want to carry inside? Your swim bag or a bag of groceries?

That gives Number 6 a choice so he has some control and it also gives hime an opportunity to make decisions.

Finally, I’m giving myself this challenge. I’m going to try not to say no for a whole day.

Yep. For a whole day.

I will find a way to either give him choices, or to say yes.

Before you lose your shit about the saying yes thing, hold on.

First, as far as the choices go, instead of saying “Get ready to go to practice” I’m going to try:

“It’s time to get ready to leave. What do you want to do first? Pack your swim bag or eat your snack?”

When it’s time to get out of the car, (one of the things that drives me f&%$ing insane because he takes like five million years to get out) rather than barking, “Hurry up and get out of the car!!!!”

I’m going to try, “How many seconds do you think it’s going to take you to get from the car to the front door?”

We’ll see if we can make it fun instead of turning it into a battle.

Now back to that saying yes thing. I don’t mean I’m just going to give up and let the kids do whatever the hell they want.

When I tell Number 6 it’s time to get ready for bed and he says,  “NO! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO BED!”

I’m going to try “Yes, I can understand you want to stay up, but it’s time for bed! Now what do you want to do first? Brush your teeth or put your pajamas on?”

That’s a whole lot different than saying, “GO UPSTAIRS AND GO TO BED.”

If your kids are giving you a hard time in the defiance department, take a look at how you are talking to them.

How many times do you say no to them every day? It might be more than you think!  You might be unknowingly inviting the responses and behavior.

If you find you are in the same boat as me, maybe you can take the just say no to saying no challenge with me.

Think you can make it through a whole day without saying no?

I don’t know if I can, but for my sake and Number 6’s sake, I’m sure gonna try.

 

 

Gymboree Sale On Now!

 

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6 Strategies To Help Your Kids Stop Fighting (And Tattling) That Work!

If your kids are anything like mine, they can really get on each other’s nerves.

Big time.

In fact, sometimes it feels as though my children’s main objective in life is to piss each other off as much as possible.

It’s really fucking annoying.

And tiring.

Why do they do it? Why do they bicker and argue and poke and prod and nudge until the other kid can’t take it any more and explodes?

It could be for a number of reasons.

It could be because your kids are trying to get revenge on each other.

We had a revenge situation here last night.

While I was at swim practice, Number 3 and Number 6 got into a fight while they were playing ping pong.

But as soon as I walked in the door at 8:30, Number 3 immediately ran into the mudroom before I even had a chance to close the door behind me.

“MOM! Where is my book?” he yelled.

I hadn’t been home for the last four hours, so I had no idea what the heck he was talking about.

My husband was putting Number 6 and 7 into bed.

I went upstairs and looked all over Number 3’s room and the book was nowhere, although he insisted that he had been reading it earlier. He also told me he had straightened his bed out earlier, and it was now a total mess.

And then he briefed me on the ping pong fight.

I sensed foul play.

When Number 6 gets pissed, he hides things. It’s his go-to revenge move.

Last week when he was giving me a hard time at breakfast, I took his Cheerios away. He immediately retaliated by grabbing the whole box and running into another room.

“I HID THE CHEERIOS AND NOW NOBODY CAN HAVE THEM!” he yelled at me.

I got sidetracked by something after that and forgot about the Cheerios, and I found them a couple days ago hidden on a shelf in the playroom.

So anyway, knowing that Number 3 and 6 had gotten into a fight earlier, I had a feeling Number 6 may have retaliated with a little game of hide and seek with Number 3’s book.

I didn’t want to interrupt my husband who was getting Number 6 and 7 into bed because once you veer off the routine, you never know what’s going to happen, but Number 3 needed his book for school the next day.

I tiptoed into Number 6 and 7’s room.

Number 7 was already out cold.

I asked Number 6 if he had any idea where Number 3’s book was.

He pretended to look confused.

And then he said, “Oh yeah… I think I remember seeing it… ummm…. in the corner of Number 5’s closet.

Right. Because that’s a typical place to be hanging out or to store books.

Sure enough, I went into Number 5’s closet, and there was Number 3’s book, hidden under some shoes.

Anyway, the point of the story is that kids sometimes fight to get back at each other.

Sometimes it’s more of a symbolic thing — they may be fighting for their “spot” in the family — this may be the case more so with our family since we have lots of kids.

Other times they mistakenly believe that it’s the only way to solve problems.

Whatever the reason, it’s fucking annoying.

And what I didn’t realize until recently is that I am often (unknowingly) contributing to the problem the way I’ve typically been handling it.

First, I am way easier on the younger kids than I am on the older kids.

This makes the problem worse because now you are helping to create a situation where the kids are competing to be the “right” one, or you are creating a bully/victim situation. You might be inadvertently encouraging fighting rather than doing something to stop it.

So if you, like me, are finding yourself frustrated by kids who are fighting, and if you have kids constantly coming to you to tell on their siblings, I have some suggestions that may work better for you in the long run.

Because they are working better for me. And while the fighting and arguing in the moment is super draining, what is more frustrating and exhausting is having it happen over and over again.

So what can you do?

  • When your kids start fighting, give them two options: Either find a way to cooperate, or go fight outside. If you decide to fight, I don’t want to hear it.
  • Silently leave the room. This one has been really effective for me, because as soon as the kids  know I’m not paying attention to them, they lose most of their reason for fighting!
  • Say to them, I am confident you two can work this out. Whoah! My kids did not like this at first. But when they realized I wasn’t going to intervene, the tattling started happening much less frequently!
  • If you do need to intervene (like if the kids start beating the crap out of each other), treat both kids involved equally. Because while you may think you know who “started it”, unless you were right there, you never really know. And the kid who is poking, poking, poking, poking until the other kid snaps is really just as much a part of the problem as the kid who starts swinging first. Start with the younger kid so you are not favoring. And say something like You need to go to your room until you are ready to stop fighting. Repeat this with the other kid. You aren’t punishing them or putting them in a time out. You are helping them get to a calmer place.
  • Put the kids in the same room and tell them they can come out when they have a solution.
  • Take away the thing the kids are fighting over and tell them they can have it back when they come up with a solution to share it or play nicely without arguing. (I helped my kids with this at first and gave them suggestions: Do you need some suggestions? Would it help if you set a timer and took turns?  Now when they are fighting over something and they come to me and I say I am confident you can find a way to work this out, they often look at each other and say, Do you want to set the timer? They are learning!)
  • Obviously if your kids are about to seriously injure each other, then you’ll have to intervene!

These strategies will not only take you out of the equation, they will also help your kids learn problem solving and cooling off skills they are going to need (as those of us who are married can attest) throughout the rest of their lives!

 

Find lots of other effective solutions to common parenting problems in this book:

 

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Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

If you know anything about an iceberg, then you know the part that you see above the water is just a small fraction of it.

The majority of the iceberg is underwater.

Hence the saying, the tip of the iceberg.

This is especially true with your kids.

If they are demonstrating a certain behavior that is frustrating the living shit out of you, the behavior is just the tip of the iceberg.

The cause of the behavior, and the reason why they are demonstrating this behavior is the big part of the iceberg.

So you can punish your kid for the behavior.

You can send your kid to time out and ground him and take away the phone and then take away everything.

When the punishment doesn’t stop the behavior, you can come up with something even harsher. And harsher. And harsher.

Or you can bribe your kid. You can use toys and candy and special outings and money to get your kid to stop. Or to start. Whatever it is you are hoping they will stop or start doing.

These things may work in the short run. It may stop the behavior immediately.

But inevitably, the behavior returns. Sometimes worse than before.

Like a virus.

It’s now a superbehavior, and it pushes you way over the damn edge. It pushes every single one of your buttons.

When I attended the Positive Discipline training last month, Jane Nelson, the founder of Positive Discipline, showed us this picture of an iceberg.

At the very root of any behavior is a child’s desire to belong and feel significant.

When they don’t feel like they belong, when they don’t feel significant, they start to believe certain things about themselves.

The develop mistaken beliefs.

So they start exhibiting all those challenging behaviors that push us over the edge.

When your kids talk back, when they are defiant, when they give up, when they retaliate, when break shit, when they beat the crap out of their siblings, when they do all the things that drive us batshit crazy over and over and over and over again, even though it seems like it, they are not doing all that stuff to be assholes.

They are doing it because they have a mistaken goal.

Their goal is attention, revenge, power, or assumed inadequacy — the desire to give up and be left alone.

And our kids have these goals not because they want to drive us insane, but because underneath the water, where most of the iceberg is, they feel like they only matter when they are getting all your attention, no matter how they get it. Or they only feel like they belong when they have control. Or they don’t feel loved so they lash out and hurt people and destroy things. Or they feel like they’ll never get it right and they’ll never belong, so they just stop trying altogether.

I know we want the behavior to be about the kids just being douchey.

But it’s not.

It’s about how we are reacting to situations and behaviors.

What? It’s us? No f*cking way! My kid knows better. It’s not me! It’s my damn kid being a tool!

No. It’s not.

Our kids are never going to be perfect. Kids test things and push buttons.

But if we can react to situations and behaviors in a different way, we can start dealing with the part of the iceberg that’s below the surface of the water, rather than just constantly addressing the small percentage that we can see above the water.

There is a lot to address with each of these mistaken beliefs.

So for starters, I’ll start with the belief behind the power struggle behavior.

This behavior can make us feel challenged, threatened, defeated and determined. Determined to break our kid until he or she gets it.

And so we most often react by doing one of four things.

1) We fight back. This just intensifies the power struggle.

2) We give in. This make us doormats and our kids now know they can take advantage of us if they are persistent enough.

3) We say to ourselves,  I’ll make you. More power struggles ensue.

4) We engage in getting to be right wars. Again, the power struggle gets more intense.

We may dominate in the short run. But the behavior will return.

And what we are doing in essence is rather than catching an arsonist, we are repeatedly putting out fires.

We aren’t looking for what is causing the fires.

We’re just dealing with them once they occur.

So what can we do differently?

Well, we can respond in a different way.

And we can think about the message our kids are really trying to give us.

Although it may feel this way, when your kids defy you, they aren’t necessarily saying Go fuck yourself.

There is a really good chance they are trying to say to you,  Let me help and Give me choices.

So rather than fighting back or giving in or not stopping until our kids get it and we make them, we can do something else that will not only help to put out the fires, but to also change our kids’ mistaken beliefs about what they need to do in order to feel a sense of belonging and importance.

So the next time you find yourself heading into a power struggle, consider trying some of these strategies instead:

  •  Put yourself in a time out. Take yourself out of the conflict. Give yourself time to calm down.
  • Acknowledge that you can’t make your kid do something, and instead, ask for help. I can’t make you unload the dishwasher, but I would really appreciate your help.
  • Be kind AND firm.
  • Validate feelings. I know you want to eat ice cream, AND we are not having dessert tonight.
  • Show understanding. I can totally understand not wanting to put your clothes away, AND it needs to be done before you watch television. 
  • Make agreements in advance. I know you don’t want to fold your laundry, AND what was our agreement?
  • Redirect!   You don’t want to take a bath AND let’s do it together. Want to race to the bathroom?
  • Allow them to make a choice and then decide what you will do and follow through. I know you want to keep playing Minecraft on the iPad AND you’ve had your five minute warning and time is up.  You can turn it off now, or it will be put in my closet until next weekend when you can try again.
  • Offer a limited choice. Do you want to brush your teeth before you put your pajamas on, or after? You decide.
  • Let routines (rather than you) be the boss. If you have a routine chart, this is when you ask them, What is the next thing on your routine chart you need to do when you get home from school?
  • Get help from your child. Ask him/her what would be reasonable in this situation? What are reasonable limits? How much time do you think you will need to get ready for bed? What do you think is reasonable? What time should we start the routine so you can be in bed by 8:00? When your child is involved in determining how much time he/she needs, he will feel like he is a part of the process.

These are just some of the things you can try to get to the root of the problem, rather than repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) dealing with just the tip of the iceberg.

If you are looking for more help, I highly recommend these Positive Discipline tool cards.

I use them all the time when I find myself about to lose it.

You can even use these with your kids when you are heading into a potential power struggle or blow out.

Let’s get the tool cards and see if we can find a card that will give us some ideas so we can come up with a solution together!

 

I’m telling you, it works!

If you are sick of putting out fires, there is a better way!

A better way for you, and a better way for your kids, and a better way for your whole family.

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