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If Mistakes Are Opportunities, I Guess That Makes Me An Opportunist

You know when you lose your shit on your kids and then you are instantly filled with remorse and regret and wish you could rewind and just start all over again?

I had one of those moments the other morning.

I didn’t really lose my shit.

But I was hard on Number 3. Too hard.

And I said something regrettable. Something I think can be particularly damaging, because I’ve been on the receiving ends of these words, and they stung. A lot.

They stung so much I haven’t ever forgotten them.

Number 3 has set a goal for himself this swim season to qualify for a big meet in Virginia in August. He’s been working really hard. And he had a somewhat disappointing season in the winter because he got really sick before championships and missed two weeks of swimming which is kind of a big deal as far as training goes.

I want so badly for him to qualify for this meet because he deserves it and because a lot of focus and attention has gone to Number 4 in the past six months as far as her swimming success goes, and I think he feels kind of overlooked and underestimated.

So when I woke him up the other morning and he refused to get out of bed, I freaked out a little bit.

Well, internally I completely freaked out.

Externally, I was more composed. But I was still freaking out.

I reminded Number 3 of his goals. I reminded him of what happened last season. I told him this was not the time to skip a swim practice.

He told me he just couldn’t get out of bed. He was in tears.

Internally, silently, I was saying, If he misses this practice, he won’t make  Zones,and he will be devastated. The whole season rides on this practice. (All ridiculous thoughts, by the way)

Externally, and out loud, I said, I’m disappointed in you.

Ouch.

Clearly he was already exhausted and struggling. Telling him he was a disappointment didn’t exactly help.

There was no kindness or understanding in my voice. Only judgment and shame.

Understandably, he stayed in bed.

Ugh. The disappointed-in-you thing is the worst.

It’s one of the things I vowed I wouldn’t say to my kids.

It’s not the first parenting vow I’ve broken.

After I took some time to reflect on this, I realized what I was actually feeling.

I wasn’t disappointed in Number 3.

I was concerned. And worried. And panicked.

Number 3 stayed home, and I left for practice with Number 4 about fifteen minutes later.

That was all the time I needed to think about what I had said and realize what I was really feeling and what I had done.

I had made a mistake.

Making mistakes sucks. It doesn’t feel good.

I stopped silently beating myself up after a couple minutes.

Because while this was a mistake, it was also an opportunity.

One of the things that pushes my buttons the most is when my kids take zero responsibility for messing up.

It drives me crazy.

But one of the things we often forget is that this refusal (or inability) to take responsibility for mess ups is a learned behavior.

Our kids are often afraid to acknowledge their mistakes because when they make them, we lose all our compassion and understanding. And we lose it.

We often yell, belittle, humiliate, and shame our kids when they make mistakes.

Who would willingly walk into that fire?

I know I wouldn’t.

Plus, we very often fail to acknowledge our own fuck ups.

As a result our kids rarely have examples of healthy and responsible behaviors when it comes to mistakes.

We can’t really blame them for not wanting to own up to them!

So after a couple minutes of silent reflection in the car, I said to Number 4, “I feel bad about how I handled Number 3 not coming to practice.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Well, I said some things to him I wish I hadn’t said,” I told her.

We talked a little more about it. And I felt a little bit better. I had at least given Number 4 an example of how to acknowledge a mistake.

When I got home, I went right up to Number 3’s room.

I apologized for handling the situation the way I had.

I used every ounce of restraint to not add a “but…” after that.

Not “I’m sorry, but I was worried” or “I’m sorry but I just want you to do well.”

No buts at all.

I told him he’d been working so hard, and I know he’s really trying and pushing  himself, that I blew things way out of proportion and forgot what was important, and in the future, I’d trust that he was listening to his body and making the healthiest decision for himself.

And then I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.

He smiled.

And all of a sudden, the mistake had gone from a bad thing, to a pretty good thing!

I think as parents, we are often afraid to acknowledge our mistakes. In doing so, we are afraid our credibility or authority or power is diminished.

But the goal isn’t to control our kids. It’s to guide them in the right direction and provide them with the skills and tools and awareness to be decent, responsible, self-confident, contributing and happy members of society.

And when we don’t model the behavior we hope to develop in our kids, it’s unrealistic to think they will somehow magically learn to do it on their own.

One of the biggest gifts we can give our kids is the gift of knowing it’s okay to be imperfect. That takes so much pressure off of them, and it provides them with the permission to acknowledge a mistake.

Taking ownership of your mistakes really makes you more relatable  and more respected.

And that’s what parenting is about. Developing respectful relationships with your kids. Respect that goes both ways.

The next time you mess up, remember the three R’s of recovery from mistakes:

  1. Recognize the mistake — “I wasn’t listening to you or understanding this morning!”
  2. Reconcile — “I’m sorry. I apologize.” (NO BUTS!)
  3. Resolve — “In the future I’ll trust that you know what’s best for your body.”

You will be doing your kids (and yourself) a big favor.

Making mistakes does not make you a bad parent.

But acknowledging them definitely helps to make you a good one.

 

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The Problem Wasn’t My Son. It Was Me.

Number 3 and I have been going head to head recently.

A lot.

Of all the kids in the house, he’s the one that frustrates me the most right now.

This title of MFK (Most Frustrating Kid) shifts from child to child.

It seems just as one of them settles into a happy and agreeable place, another one fills the button-pushing spot.

Number 3 has held this title for a while. And I’ve pretty much been blaming it all on him.

Even though I know that’s not where the problem is starting. I wish he was the reason. I wish I could justify simply pointing my finger at him.

But I can’t. Because it’s not all on him.

It’s all on me, really.

But it’s so much easier to point the finger in the other direction!

One of the solutions to this problem was made abundantly clear to me last week.

It’s very simple.

I don’t spend enough time with him.

I don’t spend enough time with any of the kids, really.

Obviously the number of kids we have poses a challenge.

Then there is the fact that I coach the swim team every night from 5 – 8 pm.

I’m out the door just as most of them are getting off the bus, and I’m not home until just before bed time. Every single night.

I coach the groups that Number 4, Number 5 and Number 7 swim in, so I do at least spend that time with them.

It’s not exactly quality, one-on-one time, but at least I am interacting with them, and I’m also watching them do what they do. Which kids love. (Although coaching your own kids among a whole team as opposed to being able to watch your child and focus mostly on them isn’t the same thing, but that’s a topic for a whole different blog post).

Since Number 4 swims in the last practice of the night, we drive home together. Just the two of us.

Even though it’s only a five minute drive from the pool to the house, Number 4 and I have a daily opportunity for a one-on-one conversation in the car. We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary, but it’s still our special time. And I know it’s special to her because last night Number 5 stayed late after her practice and came home with us.

And Number 4 was pissed.

“MOM! WHY IS SHE COMING HOME WITH US??? WHY DIDN’T DAD COME AND GET HER???”

But Number 3 gets pretty much no time with me.

He swims in an earlier practice with a different coach at a different pool, and I usually drop him off first before I take everyone else to their practices. So we are rarely in the car alone together where we would have an opportunity to talk about anything.

Then there is the fact that I’m often dropping him off late or one minute before practice starts, so he has to rush into the pool, which he hates. I don’t blame him. I hate being late because of someone else, too.

And when that happens, he is super short-tempered and annoyed, he doesn’t want to talk to me at all, and he leaves the car with a heavy sigh followed by a loud door slam.

When his practice is over, my husband picks him up, and he’s home for about two hours before I get back from practice.

And by that time it’s late, it’s time for everyone to get into bed, and I’m tired and running very low on patience.

All of our weekdays are like that.

The weekends aren’t much better.

About two weeks ago, Number 3 got pretty sick. He got strep and bronchitis and had a stomach bug, and who knows what else.

After about a week of being on antibiotics and pretty much staying in bed, he wasn’t contagious anymore and he was definitely feeling better, but he was still coughing. A LOT. Too much to send him to school.

The doctor had recommended that all the kids get outside as often as possible to get some fresh air, and we had some unseasonably warm weather last week.

65 degrees in Connecticut in February!

So I told Number 3 we were going for a walk.

There is a newly paved trail through the woods along a river in town, and we hadn’t ever been there. I told Number 3 we were going to check it out. We got in the car and headed over to the trail.

Number 3 was not impressed with me. I didn’t know where I was going, and he didn’t understand exactly what this whole trail-thing was. Venturing into anything unknown causes major anxiety in him.

“MOM! THIS IS STUPID!”

“MOM! WHERE THE HECK ARE WE GOING?”

“MOM!  PEOPLE ARE GOING TO WONDER WHY I’M NOT IN SCHOOL.”

“MOM!!!…”

Once I realized where the entrance was, he reluctantly followed me.

“Mom! This place is actually kind of cool,” he told me after approximately 30 seconds of walking.

We walked and walked.

We talked about anything and everything.

We walked from one end of the trail to the other.

And then, as we were heading  back to the car, Number 3 asked, “Mom, can we do this again?”

The next day was also beautiful out, and the cough was still pretty bad, so we went for another walk. I suggested that maybe the whole family could go for a walk on the weekend and Number 3 yelled, NO, MOM!

I asked him if he wanted it to be our special place.

“Kind of, ” he said to me.

That was the light bulb moment for me. That’s when it clicked that I haven’t been giving Number 3 what he really wants. And needs. This kind of attention. Not for doing something infuriating  or negative. But genuine quality time. Special attention. Just me and him.

The following day Number 3 went back to school.

He also decided he wanted to try to go to swim practice when he got home.

Rather than do the after school scramble with everyone, I left the younger three in Number 4’s care for ten minutes so we could leave early and he wouldn’t have to rush. That would give the younger kids a few extra minutes to get their swim stuff ready, and I’d come back home and get everyone after I dropped Number 3 off.

He was thankful to be leaving early and not to be rushing, and in the car he was talkative and relaxed — the complete opposite of how he’d acted in the last couple months.

When I pulled up to the front door of the pool and came to a stop, Number 3 wasn’t sighing heavily or rolling his eyes. He was calm. And he was happy.

And as he opened the door and got out of the car, I looked back at him from the driver’s seat and told him to have a good practice.

Number 3 looked at me and he smiled.

“Thanks,” he said.

And then, for the first time in, well…

Honestly for the first time in as long as I can remember,

Number 3 looked at me, and he smiled again, and then he said, “I love you, Mom.”

And with that, he gently closed the door, turned around and walked into the pool.

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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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Let nature take its course.

Someone asked me about natural consequences yesterday. About natural consequences and what do you do when maybe they don’t work.

I have some thoughts and ideas for that. But I’m saving them for another time because I think natural consequences are unbelievably useful and effective in helping our kids (and ourselves!) learn valuable lessons about accountability and responsibility.

But natural consequences are underutilized because we as parents so often have a hard time letting our kids be uncomfortable or deal with disappointment.

So first I think it’s important to make sure everyone understands what natural consequences are.

Natural consequences are things that happen naturally, without our involvement.

Like if you stand out in the rain, you are going to get wet.

When you pull an all-nighter, you are going to be tired the next day.

When you leave a load of laundry in the washer for like three days, the natural consequence is it smells like shit and you need to rewash it. (We’ve definitely all done that one).

It can be hard for us as parents to let our kids experience natural consequences without piggybacking.

Piggybacking is feeling the need to make sure you lecture, yell at, humiliate or do whatever else it is we feel the need to do to our kids after they mess up.

How many times have our kids done something wrong, and we’ve made sure we rubbed it in nice and good afterward?

If you had listened to me in the first place, that never would have happened.

How many times have I told you to put your homework in your folder so you don’t forget it???

What is wrong with you? What the hell were you thinking? What did you think was going to happen when you did that? Did you even think at all???

For some reason, we feel the need to make our kids feel extra bad when they fuck up.

And I’m not really even talking about major fuck ups.

I’m talking about things like spilling milk or forgetting homework.

Most of the time we get so angry is because rather than let our kids deal with the natural consequences, like getting a zero on a homework assignment or letting them sit through a band practice with no instrument, we rescue them, bring in the homework or the saxophone, are inconvenienced, get annoyed and angry, and that’s where the piggybacking comes in.

And while we think we are really  driving the point home and helping the kids get it, what we are doing is blaming and shaming them and making them feel super defensive and causing them to tune out and not helping them come up with a solution to the problem.

And that’s what we really want.

We think we want to make sure the kids feel extra bad, but we really just want a solution to the problem so that they are responsible and so that we don’t want to strangle them.

Have you ever done something regrettable? You know, as a grown up?

Have you ever left a light on in your car and the battery died or waited just a little bit too long and run out of gas? Have you forgotten a class party or missed a deadline to sign your kid up for something?

And then have you told your spouse or your mom or your grandmother about it and they started in with the Why did you do that? or Why didn’t you do this? Or Back in my day, when you were little…. (that one really gets me).

How does that make you feel? Does it make you more motivated to do better the next time? Does it make you really stop and reflect on what you could do differently the next time so that doesn’t happen again?

I know for me, that shit pisses me off. And all it makes me want to do is shut down. Or tell whoever is piggybacking me to shut the hell up.

It definitely doesn’t motivate me to be reflective, that’s for damn sure.

 

So here is my challenge to you.

Have a conversation with your kids about natural consequences. And not a lecture — a conversation.

Ask them  questions. Allow them to be an active participant in the conversation.

You can start with a really simple question and then move onto things the things that are actual problems.

What happens when you stand out in the rain without an umbrella?

What could happen to your bike if you left it in the driveway right behind the car?

What might happen if you don’t put your dirty clothes in the hamper and you want to wear a certain outfit next week?

And then let them answer.

And then let them know that from now on, you will no longer be rescuing them in these situations.

When they forget their homework, you will not bring it to them.

When they forget their water bottle at practice, you will not go back home and get it or run to the store and buy some water.

When they want to wear something to school the next day but they have left the shirt in a crumpled up ball under their bed for the last week and it’s dirty, you will not be doing a last minute load of laundry.

The key is telling this to them firmly, but with kindness. With dignity. With respect.

And then, when they fuck up, first, remember how you feel when you are in that same situation and how you would feel if someone went off on you and repeatedly told you how dumb/stupid/thoughtless/careless/whatever you were..

Show empathy and understanding for what they are feeling.

Instead of, “If you had put your lunch box in your backpack like I told you to, you wouldn’t have been hungry!” try “I bet it sucked not having lunch and being hungry at school!”

And leave it at that!

You can always add in a “I’m confident you can figure out a solution for this problem, and I love you.”

If they ask you for help in coming up with a solution, of course you can help to guide them to possible solutions.

And chances are very high that your child will learn much more about remembering her lunch and accountability and responsibility when you allow her to experience that natural consequence!

Of course, there are some natural consequences that you cannot let your kids experience. You’re not going to let your daughter run around the house with scissors, fall, impale himself and then say, “Wow, I bet stabbing yourself in the leg with those scissors really hurt!”

Clearly when safety is an issue, you need to do something else.

But more often than not, our kids’ safety isn’t what’s stopping us from letting them deal with natural consequences.

So give it a go.

Talk to your kids about this new plan.

Be firm, but kind.

And then, let nature take its course!

(And yes! This is Positive Discipline, too 🙂 )

 

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