I was flattered recently when one of my most favorite mom friends asked for my advice. She is struggling with one of the main things that many of us are struggling with, how to get our kids to listen without yelling at them.
It’s hard because it’s important.
My mom posted an article on facebook recently about spoiling our kids. The article addressed how much easier it is to give in to our kids – to give them the piece of candy or toy they are yelling for in the grocery store rather than risk the potential meltdown if you say no. Or cleaning their rooms for them rather than fighting the battle that will surely result when requesting their help.
The deal is that all those little battles that we fight everyday as moms, they are important. It’s not about that piece of candy or the dirty socks left in the living room, it’s about building character and responsibility and showing our kids what’s really important in this life. It’s serious work, ya’ll.
When I yell at my kids it’s usually because we are at this type of crossroads. Here is the perfect example. Every day I ask my kids to bring their own book bags and lunch boxes in from the car after school. I ask them to hang their book bags on the hook and put their lunch boxes on the counter. I know that these are very simple tasks that they are capable of doing. Plus, these are their things so they should be taking care of them (and let’s face it, mama is already carrying A LOT of stuff, like a one year old for starters). Fleet has been doing this for 2&1/2 years and Luke has been doing this for 1&1/2 years. This is part of our daily routine. Everyday when we pull into the driveway, I remind them what to do with these things. Everyday, I find their book bags laying on the floor in the living room. Do you know how many times I have to remind them? Anywhere from 4-15 times, every single day. They are off and asking me for snacks and homework help and play time (I think they are trying to distract me, that’s how bad they don’t want to carry that 2 lb book bag to the hook that is 6 feet away). And in all the times that I have fussed at them to do it and gotten more and more frustrated, I could have just put those items up myself and moved on. But you know what, I wouldn’t really being doing anyone any favors, least of all myself. Fleet is a lot better at it than Luke because I’ve been reminding him for longer. For a long time, just getting these items into the house was a struggle but I never have to fuss about this particular piece of the puzzle anymore. So I am seeing progress, but it’s slow folks, very slow.
I fight these battles daily. I do it because it’s important. I try to do it with strength and compassion but as Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery says, I’m a lady doing my best to remain reasonable while spending day in and day out with three completely unreasonable people. I don’t want to excuse bad behavior on my part. I don’t want to give up and just become a “yeller.” I am a work in progress and I can’t give up on myself or my kids, they are too important.
You have to stick to your guns
Believe it or not (haha), sometimes my kids drive me straight to the edge. They push every button I have and I simply cannot take it anymore. I dole out the ultimate threat, “If you hit/pinch/kick/tickle/copycat your brother one more time, you are going down for a nap.” GASP! “Do I have to, I promise I won’t do it anymore.” 3 1/2 minutes later he does it again. And I realize that I have to follow through on that threat. Trying to get them to take a nap is pure torture for me but it’s worse for them. Sometimes it’s the only punishment that seems to reach them. I have to try to get a wrangling, screaming, irrational 5-6 year old to lay down in his bed and stay there. A few weeks ago, as I tried to get Luke back to his bed, he was going bonkers and walking so slowly towards his room while crying huge crocodile tears (yes, he hates naps that much), I told him that if he didn’t pick up the pace, he was going to get a spanking too. (We don’t spank much and I know this is very taboo to talk about but anyway.) He says, “I would rather just have a spanking” . . . that’s right, he’d rather have a spanking than have to take a nap. Which is actually another good point- tailor the punishment to your child. Luke doesn’t care about spankings so it’s pointless to spank him.
Think before you threaten. Never threaten a punishment that you can’t follow through on. I’ve done this many times and it has backfired. For example, I don’t threaten to take away movie night because it would be too crushing and I just wouldn’t be able to follow through with it.
Always try to do what you say you are going to do. My experience in this area is that it only takes a few times of follow through to get a behavior changed. If they know you are serious, and they don’t like the punishment, they will change.
When it comes to more serious behaviors, which for me would mean things like hurting one another (verbally or physically) or being mean or overly defiant toward me or another adult, I don’t give more than 2-3 opportunities for them to change their behavior.
- First, I give a warning, “Do not hit your brother again.”
- Then a warning with a threat attached, “If you hit your brother again, you are going to time out.”
- Then, time out.
- And if the behavior continues after that, it’s probably time for the big guns, that’s right, NAPTIME.
Time out is my “go to” consequence. We started time out when the kids were young so they are good about staying in the time out spot. It was easy to do time out when they had cribs because I would put them in there and they couldn’t get out. Now, they sit in a specific spot in the hallway or sometimes on their beds. If your kids aren’t used to timeout, you might have to take a weekend when your husband is home and lay the hammer down on time out. The best thing about time out is that you can do it almost anywhere if you need to – the park, a friends house, etc.
Positive reinforcement focuses on success. We’ve been known to throw dance parties for some pretty simple reasons. “Potty parties” are my favorite. We’ve never had to use any other reward when potty training other than going bonkers and dancing around like crazy people screaming and clapping. This strategy has worked well for us but I often forget to use it.
Know age appropriate behaviors.
I was complaining to a friend one time that I was having such a hard time getting Fleet to follow directions. He was about 2 at the time. She said, “Well, does he listen about 60% of the time? Because that would be a realistic expectation for a 2 year old.” Yes, he did. It took me from thinking that I had a serious behavior issue at hand to realizing that I had a normal child. It was my expectations that were out of line. This is important. Here is a little chore chart that I think is helpful for at least generating some ideas about age appropriate expectations for our kids.
When we fail . . .
And when you just can’t keep it in and that crazy person inside of you finally burst out . . . it’s okay. Really, it’s okay.
Here is a little quote from Momastery that I thought was pretty awesome. This is what she had to say after yelling at her kids one day.
But guess what? The guilt never came. I realized with surprise that I felt GREAT.
Sure I scared the daylights out of them, but if the daylights were what made them behave like rabid animals, then I’m glad they’re gone. Good riddance, daylights.
I am not sorry that I lost it with my kids yesterday. I’m just proud it doesn’t happen every day. I’m not a superhero, I’m a lady doing my best to remain reasonable while spending day in and day out with three completely unreasonable people.
And I know that it is my job to teach them that grace abounds in this world, but perhaps it is also my job to teach them that if one insists upon being a jerk for extended periods of time, someone else in this world is eventually going to put one in her place. And it likely won’t be by withholding a sticker from one’s behavior chart.
In the real world it might involve someone getting all up in your face, Lovie.
Probably best to learn that lesson from mama first.
RIGHT ON SISTER. Read her full post here.
If you need a little more inspiration, this article is pretty great too. It’s about finding joy in the midst of the chaos. And your kids, they really are okay.
If you are reading this thinking that I must be a terrible parent for yelling at my kids because you never yell at yours . . . please, send me some wisdom!