Parenting: Back to the Drawing Board

August 24, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

We’re hitting the summer doldrums here, those last few weeks before school starts when every parent starts to despair. Children are bored and driving us crazy. We haven’t done any summer reading and their brains have atrophied. Can’t the first day of school come any sooner? I’ve been wallowing in complete hopelessness at the state of my house, the lack of discipline in my kids, and my confidence as a mom. Where did I go wrong? And I why can I not summon the motivation to actually do something about it?

Then, sort of randomly on Facebook, I came across a free webinar about parenting, and I hastily signed up. Now, this doesn’t come easily for me. For some reason, I sort of bristle when I’m getting parenting advice. I birthed these children — shouldn’t I just instinctively KNOW how to raise them? When other moms offer advice, even rational, well-intentioned suggestions leave me feeling inadequate. “That’s a great idea!” I say, while I’m thinking, “I’m such a failure!” Even when I come across ideas that I could really use, I rarely stick with them. I’ve read books about overly sensitive children, about “spirited” children, lapping up every word, then following the suggestions in the book really well…for about a month. We have seen progress over the past few years with eating, bathroom issues, getting along with others at play dates, dealing with transitions — but I can’t help feeling a lot of the improved behavior has come with maturity. This stay-at-home mom thing is essentially my full-time job…and almost eight years in I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m sure the Bobs on Office Space would be questioning my qualifications. I have People Skills, dammit! People Skills!

Enter Positive Parenting Solutions. I was a bit skeptical at first. Why should I pay these people to give me parenting advice that I could probably figure out on my own? Except…clearly I’m floundering. And if Stay-At-Home-Mom is truly my job title, wouldn’t it do me some good to get some on-the-job training? So I signed up. Amy McCready, the woman who runs this outfit, claims she can bring peace to my family with her discipline approach. No time outs, no spanking, no undignified punishments. It’s using human psychology to train our children to be better behaved. I’ve only just begun the sessions, so no telling if it will work. There’s a 30-day money back guarantee I’ve got in my back pocket if need be. But at this point, when I’m screaming at my oldest to do what I tell him or else, and my youngest is running around the house like a free-range chicken (and rapidly approaching terrible two), frankly, I can use all the help I can get.




Let’s play nice

November 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Liam loves his cousin Evie. We determined earlier this year that they are both spirited children, which is why they play so well together. But it’s also why they fight so much, too. Typically, Liam and Evie will go off to his room and play for a few hours, and then I’ll hear him yelling. Oh boy. Then Evie will storm upstairs, declaring that she’s mad at him, and then I’ll hear him wailing downstairs. From what I can gather, their fights usually stem from Liam telling her to play a certain way, she doesn’t want to do it, and then he yells or hits her. She’s mad because he lashed out, and he’s mad because she won’t play the way he wants her to. Usually I’ll get Liam calmed down in his room, give him a “Shaver break”, and then I’ll let Evie poke her head in and see if he wants to play again. By then he’s forgotten why they were fighting, and they can go back to business as usual. Until the next argument.

On Halloween night we let them sleep in the same bed. Now, we knew that Evie wouldn’t last the night. She never does. Either they have a big fight or Evie gets scared and decides to sleep on the couch. But they beg to sleep in the same bed every time they visit, and I keep thinking one of these nights they’ll actually make it. Not this time, though. Apparently Liam wanted Evie to tell a story a certain way, and when she wouldn’t, he gave her a choice. We’ve talked a lot about compromise and giving people choices. His choices were A) Do it the way I want OR B) I’ll punch you in the cheek. Ummm…not really what I was going for. So, of course, she stormed out when he punched her. And he started crying. And I came downstairs to see what all the hubbub was about. I explained to Liam that hitting was an unacceptable choice, and how would he feel if Evie punched him in the cheek? Then Evie came back downstairs and said she was ready to forgive Liam. Of course, Liam refused to apologize (another issue we’re trying to tackle), but she didn’t mind because, as she put it, “Liam can’t punch that hard. He just hit my ear and it didn’t even hurt!” Fair enough, I guess. They lasted about another hour before Evie started crying for her mom and moved to the couch. Then Liam got all upset that Evie left, and I had to lay with him in bed until he calmed down and fell asleep…just about 10PM. These children!

The next day, lack of sleep made their fights more fierce and frequent. At one point I decided to try a different approach. I grabbed Liam’s hand and marched him upstairs, then I instructed him to tell Evie, “Let’s work this out.” Then I told them to put their thinking caps on and come up with a solution, a compromise, that will help them get through their conflict. And it worked! They went downstairs and started playing again! But then Jill, who was languishing on the couch with a sick Milo all day, overheard their “compromise.” Liam apparently told Evie, “You’ll have to do it my way or I’ll have to punch you. That’s the only compromise I can think of.” I guess she chose his way instead of the punch this time.

I’m not sure how best to handle all of this aggressive behavior. I’ve tried talking with them before hand, explaining to them to play nice and not hit. But in the heat of the moment, all the rules go out the window. My saving grace with Evie is that she’s so much bigger than him that he doesn’t do much damage. But when I caught him shoving her in the trampoline, I immediately told them to get out. I threatened him with a spank if he wouldn’t come out, then followed through when I had to crawl in there and pull him out. It’s not my favorite form of discipline – it seems contradictory to teach him to stop hitting people by hitting him on the behind – but sometimes he needs a shock to snap him out of his screaming fit. Thankfully he doesn’t get physical with his other friends, probably because we only spend an hour or two with them at a time. Something about spending an entire weekend with his cousin brings out the pugilist in him. He’s also so unaccustomed to having someone else to argue with all day because he’s an only child. Evie is practically like an older sister to him, albeit much nicer to him than a sibling would probably be.

Our other point of contention is saying goodbye. Whenever his cousins have to leave I’m faced with huge tantrum about it. He does this on play dates with friends, too, though usually only when they come to our house. I’ve tried giving him warnings, I’ve tried getting him to finish up what he’s doing before they go. He seems particularly upset when his play is interrupted. For this trip I decided we’d do something special – we settled on pie at The Village Inn. I told him after Evie and Milo left, we’d go and get his special treat. I talked it up all morning. As they were playing, I gave him a 15-minute warning, and reminded him what I expected from him. No crying, give Evie a hug and thank her for coming. We went over it several times. He agreed that was what he was going to do. Then he had a one-minute warning, and he started to break down. I reminded him what was at stake – PIE, Liam! Pie! I even told him we could change it to something else – a trip to the World Treasures Museum, or maybe we could bake cookies. I told them they could jump 10 more times in the trampoline. Evie happily counted to ten while she jumped, but Liam started wailing in the corner. As soon as Evie left the trampoline, he was in the throes of a full on fit. True to my word, I said no pie, no trips, no special activity today. Jill and the kids left, and I was so angry that James had to come down and calm the boy. Ten minutes later he was contentedly playing in his room, and he’s been on his best behavior ever since. 

I queried my Facebook friends to see if they had any suggestions for making goodbyes go more smoothly. Hopefully I’ll have some ideas to try moving forward. Likely this is part of his larger issue with his emotions, and it’s something he’ll outgrow over time. Let’s hope he’s not still doing this at age 10!

A Shaver Invasion

August 2, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Liam is such a quiet, unobtrusive little kid, it really does feel like an invasion when his cousins come to visit. But these beings from another universe are the friendly kind, so we don’t mind.

The night before they arrived Liam was still getting over a nasty cold and our air conditioning crapped out. I braced for the worst, but Liam seemed to rally once Evie ran downstairs to play, and the air conditioning was fixed by Monday afternoon, just hours after they arrived. Let the playing commence! Poor Milo always seems like the odd man out. The older kids kept running and hiding from him, exclaiming that he was a monster. Milo would stand outside the shut door yelling, “Me no monster!” Thankfully he’s a pretty easygoing kid, and while at times he ran to mama to “make Evie stop it,” he mostly played on his own contentedly. At one point Evie got bored playing with Liam, which Liam of course blew up about. But I redirected him to play with Milo, and soon they were happily building marble tracks. Evie joined in the fun when she was ready.

Jill and I are both reading a book that is helping tremendously, Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. Evie and Liam both fall under the “spirited” category, though the traits they exhibit are from different ends of the spectrum. While Evie is highly energetic, extroverted, creative, and sporadic with her eating and sleeping schedule, Liam is sensitive to his environment, fearful of change, and a firm introvert. They are both incredibly persistent and stubborn, which makes being their parent particularly challenging. But the book offers concrete examples and advice for how to turn a standoff into a success. I’m learning to “find the yes” when Liam digs his heels in, and I’m trying to get him to help me solve the problems that usually end with tears and spankings. Evie responds wonderfully to the challenge of solving a problem, and Liam is warming up to the idea. It’s not perfect, but I’m feeling a little less at my wit’s end and ready for school to start now.

Armed with all of this parenting information, we brought all three kids to Liam’s tumbling class at the Y Tuesday morning. Murphy’s Law in full effect, the regular teacher wasn’t there, and the substitute was wholly unprepared for us to play while she ran the class. I had run it by the regular teacher a couple of weeks before, and she had planned to test the kids and offer a “free play” day for all the siblings. Instead, the substitute asked that we stick to one small area of the gym. Thankfully there were other siblings there, and while they didn’t have free reign of the equipment, Evie soon made a friend to jump around with. Frankly, I was more concerned with how Liam would respond to a substitute. The last time that happened, we had to leave early because he was so out of sorts about it. This time around was much better – maybe because it was a different substitute who seemed to work better with kids this age, and maybe because his cousins were taking the heat off the attention I usually focus on him during class. At any rate, Liam did great adapting to a different class routine, and I’m holding out hope this will bode well for Kindergarten.

Liam did so well that a lunch at BJ’s was in order. It was definitely a more trying experience with three kids instead of one, and our waiter was clearly new at the job, which added to the stress. But I had plenty of cars, card games, and video games to keep Evie and Liam occupied. Milo was a little more of a challenge, but he perked up once the Pazookie arrived.

Having survived the outing, we got even more ambitious on Wednesday, setting off for Exploration Place for a couple of hours. The kids had a blast, and despite the crowds, Liam did very well. He had only one outburst while waiting behind Evie at the harvester simulator. I thought it was more fair to let Evie go first because she’d never been there, and I used it as a teachable moment for Liam. He writhed on the floor, pouted and screamed, whined and threatened. I kept talking to him, tried using humor to lighten his mood, tried explaining the fairness of the situation, but to no avail. Finally it was his turn and the tears suddenly dried up. Jill spent most of the time separately with Milo, and after chasing him through the gift shop while he tried to pick up and buy everything within reach, we were ready to head home for some much needed wine and Chicken Tikka Masala dinner.

Reading this book, I’m trying to anticipate the moments when Liam does the most acting up. One of them is when people have to leave, and I knew when Evie and Milo had to return home, I was in for one of Liam’s monster tantrums. I tried to head it off by warning him when they were leaving. First a 30-minute warning, then a 10, then a five. All the while he was perfectly okay with the concept. Yes, they’re leaving. We’ll see them again soon. But then when it was time for them to go, he unleashed the fury. He punched Evie in the arm when she said she had to go. She wasn’t going to stand for that, so she just left. I’m really proud of her for not hitting him back. We brought her back in after a few minutes and talked to Liam about it. I think the big issue had to do with interrupting their play. He was prepared for her to leave, but they were right in the middle of a game, which made him upset.

Today, at the Farmer’s Market, I finally had a parental “win”. I was trying to come up with a solution for waiting in line, which almost always triggers a tantrum. I remembered when I was a kid I used to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with other kids in line. So I taught him the game, and we put it to use waiting in line for the balloon animal man this morning. And it worked! No whining, no crying, no complaining that he was TOO TIRED to WAIT in this STUPID line. I praised him afterward for being so good and patient in the line. Tomorrow we’re off to see the new Planes movie. Perhaps we can employ this technique in the concession stand line.

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