Saturday, January 23, 2010

When “things” (or lack thereof) aren’t the answer: How do you parent?

Going Green Mama is thankful today that she doesn't have triplets like her friend...

I know I’m not the first parent to go to work in tears over frustrations with a child. This was my week.

After day in and day out of bedtime battles – that have now turned into morningtime battles – I have truthfully had it. Two hours each night of trying to get kids to bed has now morphed to two hours at night plus up to an hour each morning of trying to keep my oldest resting. Through in those middle hours filled with attitudes, tantrums and general “not listening moments,” and I’m a mommy on the edge.

The challenge is how to cope with it. And I’m not just talking about a bath (which is pretty unenjoyable when you have screaming kids) or a glass of wine.

Most parents I know take away the Wii or computer time when things get rough. Well, as my child gets neither, it’s more challenging finding that punishment that works.

I can take away TV, but my 4-year-old is in a phase when she’d rather do something else. (And that doesn’t bother me.)

I could be like a woman I know, who removed all of her daughter’s monkey collection, making her earn back each and every one. But taking away certain toys, even treasured ones, hasn’t been successful. In fact, we have an easel I’m about to sell to the used kids shop because it’s been in the garage as “punishment” (and since has been forgotten) for so long!

And time-outs are a struggle at best, particularly when you’re also chasing around a toddler.

So since I haven’t been feeling so hot as a parent, I’ll let you all critique. How do you parent when “things” – or lack thereof – aren’t the answer?


JAM said...

That kind of parenting stuff is absolutely the hardest. I don't think that taking away toys even works - it just makes the kids mad and not want to do what you want anyway. I've heard people compare it to adults - if at work your boss didn't like what you were doing, would it make you want to change your behavior if he took away your coffee, or your email, or your lunch with friends? I know kids aren't the same as adults, but I think there's a valid point to that. One author that I have found extremely helpful is Adele Faber. She wrote a ton of books, all which would be at your library. The main one is How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk, although she also has lots of others - I've read quite a few and they seem to have the same theme, but it's really good advice. It's all about listening, empathizing, helping your kids to come up with an idea that might work, and helping them implement it. I took notes on this book and refer to it often. I have found that it really works. It's hard to always parent this way (maybe if I started when they were babies it would be ingrained by now!) but once I realize I'm yelling and they're mad and we're all frustrated I try again. They are old enough (11 and 15) to know that I'm using my "parenting techniques" and in fact they mock me for it, and tell me I use a different voice when I'm doing it, but it still works. I would head to your library and get out whatever books by her they have on the shelf (none are brand new so they should be available) and see what you think of what she says. Good luck!

thesimplepoppy said...

I think it really depends on your kid's personality. For the better part of my eldest daughter's life I tried to calmly explain things, help her to understand herself and help me understand what she wanted or thought she needed etc. She ran circles around me and well, walked all over me. She's very articulate and a suave talker - by the time she was 7 she was being downright rude and snarky to me, and that was it for me. A friend recommended Thomas Phelan's 123 Magic - Effective Discipline for ages 2-12. It's not magic, but it is a gentle, no screaming, endless explaining way of dealing with things. He has a variety of ideas for disciplining if you don't want to take things away or do time out. And I don't agree with everything, but it's worked pretty well for us. It sure cut out the endless discussions wherein she ended up getting what she wanted because we were exhausted. But it's not AP, so a lot of people don't like it. Hope things get better, parenting can be so tough sometimes!

Kellie said...

Sounds just like my house so if you find a cure, let me know! ;)

The thing that has worked best for us for our 4 & 5 yr olds is a sticker chart. (The 2 yo is another story!) I made one in Photoshop and added little icons for putting on clothes by yourself, brushing teeth, putting on your own pjs, going to bed (without getting up or misbehaving), staying in your bed all night (ie: not coming to mom and dad's room), being kind to your siblings, listening to mom and dad, and picking up your toys. Once they get a certain number of sticker they're allowed to buy a hot lunch at school. (Blech! But they think it's a really cool "treat" to do.)

Going Crunchy said...

A few helpful tricks with my guys have been doing time on the "naughty" step. For a good long while I had a "Happy Helper" chart where I would add stickers when they accomplished a task or behavior I wanted (such as calm when we are getting ready to go somewhere), and it can just be a trick of finding their currency. Ours is storytime, and if there is unacceptable behavior toward the end of the night I take away book.

Example: We read on average of 5 books a night. More can be added if they are on track, one can be taken away if you clock your brother in the eye with a towel.

I also set limits like "wild child downstairs, calm child upstairs" so that they would get the groove of different situations require different manners.

If we are doing something and their is unacceptable behavior, the activity or action stops after one warning.

A just read an amazing book, "The Way of Boys" by Rao that was fantastic. It gave me some good pointers on how boys are wired, and how to better react and respond. One ex: As a woman I'm looking for eye contact when I'm giving them a talk, directive, etc. For boys this is actually confrontational by the way they are wired. I no longer demand eye contact because they "hear" me better if they aren't responding to other behavioral cues. And for boys, speak in "headlines" instead of the long winded talks I used to give.

I also came a long way in revising what behavior I actually expect and don't. After bath they can be wired. I now just let them jump on the bed for 5 minutes and get their ya-yas out while I tend to laundry or making up the beds. Everybody wins.

Good luck!!!!

Going Crunchy said...

Sorry - one more thought. If you make your time and energy their currency - "things" become much less important. Ex: my boys are ADDICTED to playing board games with Daddy. If they lose 10 minutes of playtime it makes a huge impact. An engaged adult is the best "thing" of all.

Casey said...

I think it really depends on your kid. Each kid likes and dislikes their own set of things and behaviors. At our house, when we have bedtime issues, we try to incorporate some physical activity earlier in the day. I take them to the gym and let them run, run, run for a hour or go to a play area and let them play while I eat or read. Sometimes taking care of that also takes care of the morning stuff. If it doesn't, we don't mess with trying to keep the awake kid resting. My kids share a room, and we live in an apartment, so a loud, yelling argumentative preschooler doesn't work at our place.

As far as the behaviors, we have a different philosophy than most people. I know many people will tell you to try some version of a timeout. We don't do that. Generally, I think when my kids are acting "that way" (you know what way that is), it's probably because they need me more. When my 4 year old has a really tough time with behavior, I try and make sure he's getting lots of physical activity and lots of time with me doing whatever it is he needs to do. We spend a lot of time playing trains together. I hate trains, but a couple hours a week of trains and I do SO much less work with discipline. I tend to think of behaviors as a symptom and not the problem. Maybe if you could spend some time with your 4 year old even asking what he/she is feeling or needs, you might find out it's something under the surface. ??? Like I said, each kid is different, so maybe this won't work at all for your 4 year old, but it's worth a try and definitely won't hurt anyone.

Carol said...

standing in the corner, doing pushups and the most horrible, writing 10 reasons to not do whatever it is.

Green Me Alison said...

A lot of awesome advice has been given. My guy is only 2.5, so we are still figuring out what works for us , which I swear seems to change every two weeks!

Anyhow, I think this quote, which I found on a preschool website really hits home for me: "When we adults think of children there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life; childhood is life. A child isn't getting ready to live; a child is living." from Notes on an Unhurried Journey by John A. Taylor

I think a lot of discipline centers around allowing mom and dad to live like we want to and making kids conform, so they can live like us as adult. That quote has really made me pause and consider what it is like to teach our kids to live for today and not just so that they can be grown ups!

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Umm...I yell a lot.

Okay, I meant that to be flip, but actually it's almost become a parenting technique, for better or worse. The conversation that happens about 6 times a day in our house:

Me: "Didn't I just ask you three times, in a nice voice, to get dressed?"
Him: "Yes."
Me: "And what usually happens if I have to ask a fourth time?"
Him: "You yell." (complete with pout)
Me: "Do you like it when I yell?"
Him: "No."
Me: "I'm going downstairs to get (whatever--sometimes I just make something up to give him space) and when I come back if you're not dressed, what do you think is going to happen?"
Him: "The yelling will start."

Oddly, this works fairly well. We only actually get to the yelling part maybe one time in 5 or 6 now.

We also get good mileage out of the "consequence" thing, which is like taking things away but more linear and puts more on the child, I think. Our problem is stalling over dinner and bedtime rituals. If it's 7:05 and they are still taking molecule-sized nibbles of their carrots, we say, "You do know that your bedtime is 7:30, right? And if you're still eating at 7:25, there won't be time for any stories, will there?" It sort of puts the onus on the rule we've set and not a punishment we're deciding on, if that makes sense.

It's hard--we don't want to take away the things that we all value as a family, like story time or snuggle-on-the-couch time or whatever, but those also seem to be the only things with any teeth, you know?

Thanks for the good advice from all--I'm taking some of this home myself!

(p.s. love Alison's quote!!)

flowers said...


We try to really look at parenting as a cooperative relationship. I'm not trying to get my kids to go to sleep unless they are tired. If they are tired they are happy to snuggle in bed, read books, get their back rubbed and fall asleep.

For example, I just read books and laid in bed with my 5 year old for 45 minutes. He was still wide awake and asked to go downstairs. I'm not going to spend my whole night trying to get him to go sleep if he's not ready. So now we're downstairs and he's playing legos, Dad's playing the guitar and I'm catching up on blogs. It doesn't really bother me when they go to bed (although I did have to get used to loosing the "me" time I had when tey were little).

Also, I try to really not to set up parent/child relationships as a win and loose. Rather we are trying to work together to have everyone's needs met. I can't (and don't) always do what my child wants but we try to find the third option. Something I am happy with and they are too.

For example, my kid wants to eat a gazillion cookies. I'm not comfortable with that, but saying no is setting up a struggle of the wills that is causing disruption in the family. I go online and find a healthy cookie recipe that still tastes like a treat and let them eat as many as they want. It's the win-win.

It's not always easy, but it does employ creativity on all sides and teaches children to compromise and cooperate which are important life skills.

Robbie said...

Thank you all for the ideas! I appreciate all of your insights - and I know it's not something that's going away any time soon!

The Nurturing Pirate said...

Oh, you poor thing. I can SO identify with your situation! We've found that ages 4 and 5 to be the most difficult so far. Our oldest is 5, so I can't even tell you if it gets better at 6! :-)

I posted about something that we've been trying for a while. We have a Privilege Board, which I came up with after a totally frustrating night, where my daughter and I both lost it. Here's the link: It's been working pretty well, but I feel we need to focus more on the "positive reinforcement" aspect.

My kids also don't have a lot of "things," so the privileges they (well, just my 5 year old, the two year old is too young - and too sensitive) lose include: playing with friends (the biggie), going to bed early (which is a win-win for me, and makes sense: you're behaving poorly, you must need more sleep!), take a nap on the weekend, or no TV (which is the least painful one for her).

Also, I agree with thesimplepoppy: less (talk) is more - on your end. I don't find that kids need a lot of explanation when it comes to behavior. A simple cause & effect explanation should suffice. Good luck!


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