When I’m frantically trying to brainstorm a blog topic, I usually think about the conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks. Sometimes there’s a theme. As I reflected on my conversations with parents in passing and while sitting on bleachers, I realized a lot of us are ultra-frustrated with our kids right now. Maybe it’s the prolonged cabin fever we’ve got going on here in the Midwest. (When will we ever have two days of sunshine in a row?!!) Whatever the cause, our kids seem to be on our…very…last…nerve.
The bickering, the fighting, the teasing. The million little things that quickly add up and make us want to pull out our hair. We can’t control their actions – we can only control our own reactions. And sometimes those are less than stellar. How are we supposed to change our reactions to make the situation better for everyone?
When we get to this point of ultra-frustration, I know we need a new system or fresh approach. This time, I decided to try an exercise I had heard about from another mom. I’ve been meaning to try it for a few years and in March I finally did! Yay for better-late-than-never me!
The point of the exercise is to create one helpful goal for your child. Grab a beverage of choice and a pen and paper…
- Write down all of the behaviors that are making you nuts. If you have a spouse or partner, have them do the same, but no peeking at each other’s papers.
- Read off your lists to each other.
It might look like this:
- never asks to be excused from the table
- hits little brother
- “forgets” to make his bed.
(And if you’re like me, the list goes on a bit further.)
3. Decide which behavior is ticking you off the most. Which is taking you from Mary Poppins to Scream Queen on the regular? Together, how would you rank them? Which behavior is the top priority? (I’d say the hitting.)
4. Hold on to whichever behavior you chose and tuck the other ones away for a later date. You and I both know they aren’t going anywhere.
Wait! I can’t pick just one behavior! I have a list of 20!
Yes, we all want them to stop hitting, chew with their mouth closed, and do their homework without whining. And the truth is we want it all to happen right NOW. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. (Seriously, it’s not.)
For us, focusing on one behavior makes life less overwhelming. We don’t harp on the table manners and we avert our eyes from the unmade bed. If we are trying to reduce the frustration level in this parenting gig, we can’t allow every behavior to be equally annoying or problematic. Our focus and our energy go to helping that one behavior.
5. Find a way to make a positive statement about the behavior.
“We will help little Jack to express his frustration in a non-violent way.”
6. Now, think about ways to help him. What skills does need to learn? How are you going to teach him to respond differently? How are you going to acknowledge positive steps? How are you going to address it if he hits again? This step takes some time, but you’re setting up yourself and your kid for success.
There’s a ton of info on the internet and in books on how to address problem behaviors. Take a little time to read up on what you’re trying to do. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Someone has probably already thought of some great tips. If you need some help figuring out a reward system, Pinterest is a heaping pile of parenting advice from sticker charts to token economies.
In the hustle of everyday parenting, it’s easy to slide off the same page as your spouse. This step ensures you’re both on the same page in how you’re going to approach the behavior. It’s parenting with intention. And you’re going to be talking about your kids anyway (i.e. recounting the meltdown at the grocery store.), so you might as well make the time productive.
7. You’ve got your behavior goal and your plan for addressing it. This is where I add a little prayer from this book or this book. Because I need all the help I can get. If that’s not your thing, consider adding an inspiring quote about parenting or a note on why it’s important to you to address the behavior. Or a photo of Gandhi. You do you.
8. Now hang that piece of paper somewhere you’re going to see it every day, so you can stay on target. I picked our bathroom mirror. Each kid has his own piece of paper taped to the edge of the mirror. I don’t care if they happen to read the goals. They’ll know that we’re trying to help them.
We checked in at the end of the month to see where we were. We decided to keep working on the same goals for April. When we’re struggling, it always helps me to have a game plan or some intention. This parenting stuff is hard, people. And, believe it or not, the arguments and struggles in your house are remarkably similar to the ones happening in every other house with children. So, if you’re at your wit’s end, maybe give this a shot. And yes, it’s looking like we’ll keep the same goals for May!
The challenges you face with your kids – you’re not alone! It’s so easy to forget that. To think you’re the ONLY parent who has to ask 3 (okay, 300) times for your kids to clean up their toys. Or whose child insists on waving the automatic toothbrush around while making a critical point on Pokemon game play, again coating every bathroom surface in a fine spray of sticky white goo. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! So thanks, Julie, for the constructive tips on how to effectively deal with some of these challenges, and for the inspiration to keep trying!