Five Minutes Can Mean the World to a Kid

This morning, I’m all in my head. Mentally, I’m already at work. I’m thinking about deadlines and clients and deliverables.

Last night, I had grand plans of being at the office by 6:30 am. Yeah, but there’s the time change. So it’s 8:15 am and I am feeling behind. Add to that the fact that we’re a one car family and today is my turn to be on the bike trail to work. A longer commute, even if it’s one I enjoy. But it takes more time.

Ian, my 6-year-old is leaving for the bus stop (on his scooter which he’ll lock up) at the same time I’m pulling my bike out of the garage. He asks, “Mommy, can you please wave to me when I’m on the bus?”

I start to think, I can’t do that. I’m already late. And the bus won’t be along for another 5 to 8 minutes.

Wait.

I’m only late for a timeline I set for myself. Five to eight minutes will mean the world to this kid. This kid who always has a big hug and a kiss for me as he’s boarding the bus. And who waves with such energy and vigor and a smile on his face. How can I miss that? How can I deprive him of that.

Max, his older brother is a great kid. But he’s too cool for any of this cute stuff. Ian won’t want hugs and kisses at the bus stop forever. He won’t want to wave to me like this always.

I say, “Of course, Ian. I love waving to you.”

And after school, when he asks me, “Mom, will you go scootering with me?” … The answer is easy. “Yes, Ian. I’d love to.”

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Parenting Goal: 90% Connecting, 10% Correcting

mom+kidsRecently, I noticed that when I’m with my kids, I do a lot of directing and correcting. I also notice it’s more fun, when we’re just… connecting. Laughing, reading, baking, playing a game, or even just a fun / funny exchange of chit-chat when I’m folding laundry and a kid is running past me for a toy.

Please know that when I’m directing and correcting, it’s not that I’m a jerk about it. My tone of voice is (usually) steady, kind and respectful. It’s just that I’m … sort of relentless.

So, one of my next overarching parenting goals is to turn things around. I do wonder: With a 2-year-old, 6-year-old, 8-year-old, and 10-year old, is this goal possible? I believe it is — though I am, admittedly, an optimist by nature. Luckily, my husband believes so too (some call him a pessimist but he calls himself a realist). Independently of one another we both came up with the idea.

This new goal is the perfect follow-on from my Dec. 15, 2013 post. There, I talked of wanting to be better about giving kids attention when things are going well (instead of waiting until there’s misbehavior, trauma, or strife). I started an observation journal to raise my awareness to the habit changing this would require. The 90% / 10% goal just further supports and develops the “giving attention when things are good” goal.

I’m not trying to be perfect. I just want to enjoy my life and my family. I want to make sure we’re building strong connections that will last a lifetime. We will ALL need them.

The Best Way to Get Kids to Do Something…

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Saturday morning. My turn to get up with the kids. I usually look forward to this time when we can be together in the morning and just enjoy each other’s company. No rushing off to school or work. No timetable at all (except to make sure kids eat breakfast before they pass that “I’m so hungry point” when things can turn ugly.)

But, on this particular Saturday I am so fatigued. My body feels clumsy and slow and my limbs feel like lead.

Everyone around me is moving too fast. Talking too quickly. Needing too much.

  • All the kids want pancakes.
  • Charlie (age 8) wants me to read more “Little House on the Prairie” to her.
  • Tristan (age 2) wants me to sit next to him while he pretends to be a baby kitty cat.
  • Ian (age 6) is asking for something, but I can’t even make it out in the din.
  • Max (age 10) is bouncing around with oodles of energy and it’s riling everyone up.

On top of that, the kitchen is still a mess from the night before. Too tired last night, and I let it go ’til morning (not my usual M.O.). The dishwasher needs emptying and refilling. There’s still some things to clear from the table and it needs wiping. Things on the floor crunch under my feet. All of this makes me irritated and edgy!

Now Charlie is saying in a whiny voice, “Mommy! Just… reeeeeead!”

In my head, I’m thinking, “Just… shaaaadup!”

In an irritated tone I say, “Charlie, there’s a lot to take care of right now before we can read. If you want reading to happen quicker, you could help by emptying the silverware tray of the dishwasher. Or help clear the table.”

Charlie really despises kitchen chores. And in the morning before breakfast she does not handle the thought of even being asked. She starts to get pissy and whiny. “I don’t WANT to do that.” Whether she’s right or not (for not wanting to help out), I know that, left unfed, she’s capable of a big, long, drawn out bout of pain-in-the-assery. We are snipping at each other. Ian and Tristan are fighting and crying. I want to scream.

But I stop.

And I remember part of the Dale Carnegie book I’m reading. It’s something like, “The best way to get someone to do something, is to make them WANT to do it.” Not a fear tactic. But a motivating tactic. Hmmm.

I need to handle one thing at a time and do it quickly. First Charlie. Then Ian and Tristan.

I shift Dale Carnegie’s thinking slightly to, “The best way to get help right now, is to find something that Charlie WANTS to do, that’s also HELPFUL to me.” No battles. Just cooperation. And both of us moving in the same direction to a common goal: Reading together once people have had breakfast.

Charlie loves making pancakes. And she’s good at it. That’s a job that needs doing and it’d help me out. My tone of voice totally changes to go with my new found calm and wisdom. I suggest the idea to her. She hops up, happy. “Sure!” She chit-chats as she sets to work. “I love making pancakes. And I have some special tricks that I use to make them… ”

OK. One person “solved.”

Ian and Tristan are still fighting. Tristan hit Ian with a toy. Ian scratched Tristan. Tristan is crying and saying he needs a bandaid. I describe what I see to bring their awareness to it, without attacking their character (a tactic that I pull straight from Siblings Without Rivalry, one of my favorite parenting books). I say, “I see two hungry kids who are mad at each other. Each one is mad because the other one hurt him… I feel sure that you will find a way to work things out.” I go back to cleaning.

Tristan says, “I want a band-aid!”

Ian says, “I can get you a band-aid!”… Then “Wait! We can BOTH get band-aids!”

Tristan (happily), “Yeah!”

Off they go to get their bandaids. I bust through the clean up. Charlie  is pouring pancake batter on the griddle. I know we have a bank of about 4-minutes worth of stability before people will lose their shit again. But as soon as they are fed, they’ll be ready to cope. And I know we’re gonna make it.

We do!

 

Don’t Try to Reason with an Upset Kid… First, Get Them Reasonable.

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This happened a couple of days ago.

THE SCENE:

The kitchen. Lunch time. (But it’s a little late for lunch and that’s probably part of the problem).

WHAT’S HAPPENING:

I have just arrived home from the gym. Jason (my husband) is sitting next to Tristan (age 2) and they are happily chatting. Behind them, Ian (age 6) is having a total fit. Crying. Screaming. There are chairs knocked over.

Calmly, I take in the scene. Then, in a quiet voice, I ask Jason, “Is there anything in particular you want me to do?” and I nod towards Ian who is now under the table and can’t see. Jason replies calmly that, no, there’s nothing in particular I should do. He explains that Ian asked Jason to bring him a spoon for his mac and cheese. Jason did. But it wasn’t the “right spoon.” Jason told Ian it would be better if he picked out a spoon himself. A tantrum ensued.

Ah… I know this pattern so well. Secretly, I’m relieved that Jason got the brunt of it this time.

WHAT I DO:

I am always so much more level-headed after exercise, so while normally a tantrum can totally stress me out, this time, it  doesn’t. I find myself in a position of calm understanding. I feel compassion for Ian. He is genuinely having a hard time, regardless of whether I think he’s being reasonable or not. He is upset. And not coping. And he’s angry.

Also, he’s hungry. And I know if he just eats food, he’ll be able to cope better.

Like Jason, I too do not want to give energy to his acting out. But, I AM going to try tactics to get him out of the upset in his head.

QUICK SIDEBAR — My sister is a scientologist. Yes, that’s the same religion that Tom Cruise is part of. And yes, I know that people often get all jumpy about it. I’m not a scientologist. When it comes to spirituality and religion, I march to the beat of my own drum and I take what makes sense from the belief systems around me. Not sure what that makes me, but it works for me.

I’ve studied some of the learnings/teachings of scientology and a lot of them make sense. They make a lot of common sense actually. Scientology is basically a toolkit for dealing with life, people, loss, upset, goals, problems, etc. In fact, it’s the most practical “religion” I’ve ever come across.

One “tool” is called the “Location Assist.” All it means is that you can help (or assist) someone who’s  upset by helping them to notice their physical surroundings (their location). When a person is upset, their attention is in their head. They are mentally immersed in the thing (or things) that’s bothering them. Their way of interacting with the world around them is not entirely rational. What I mean is, they are not thinking before acting or even really aware of whether their actions are good ones. Instead, they are doing or saying things that stem right from those strong emotions. 

Ian is clearly not in his best rational mind right now. I see that.

An ineffective tactic is to try to reason with a child when they are like this. It NEVER works. It often exacerbates the strong feelings they are feeling or creates big, new ones.

Instead, a better tactic is to help get them back to a rational state of being. And hands down, the best way to do this is to get them paying attention to their PHYSICAL surroundings.

You can do a Location Assist with someone who is crying uncontrollably. Or with someone who’s just “down.” Or it’s even interesting to do with someone who’s not upset, where it often leads to some cool “aha!” moment for the person getting the assist.

In the location assist, you tell the person: Look at that <insert blank – window, chair, doorknob, crumb, it can be anything>. The person verbally acknowledges that they’ve looked at it. They can just say, “OK” or “yup”. Or even grunt. And you say, “thank you” to acknowledge you heard them. Then you direct their attention to something else. It usually only takes 5 or 6 “items” before the person is in a much better mental space. Sometimes it takes more. Sometimes less. You can even run a location assist on yourself. I’ve done this. It works.

Back to Ian…  I know if I ask Ian to look at something, he’ll know what I’m doing and just get madder. So instead, I guide the conversation so that he will look at things while I talk.

I calmly chatted with Tristan and Jason. But I don’t exclude Ian. I just talk normally and with even-keeled emotion. A sort of “kind neutrality.”

I tell a story of when Ian was a baby. (Kids often like to hear stories of themselves. I notice they always tune right in). He does. But he’s pretending not to.

I talk about how Ian would sometimes put things in his mouth that weren’t food. But, the moment he got to taste real, solid food, he never wanted any non-food in his mouth again! Ian the baby would think, “Why would I bother with that?”

Ian used to love Kix cereal! (I hold up the box). Ian is looking at it now. I take out a few kix and hold them in my hand and say, “These little guys right here! Ian loved these!” Ian is looking. I wonder if he’s going to ask to eat some now. I don’t offer them because he’s coming down from his upset and it’s too soon to offer him food. Could send us back to square one.

Instead, I try to engage him in something else (not food related… yet).

It’s a snow day. So I say, “Oh! Ian. I wanted to ask you which friend you’d like to invite over for a playdate today since it’s a snow day.” I suggested maybe Daniel or Henry? He said, “I will only do a playdate if it’s with Leo.” … in a pouty, I’m-still-angry voice.

I calmly say, “OK, no prob. Would you like me to call him now?” (Yes. came the reply).

I call and get Leo’s mom. He wants to do a play date! … When? … After Ian eats his lunch.

I say to Ian, “Good news! Leo wants to come over to play. He can come over as soon as you’re done with lunch.”

Ian says in a nice voice, “Mommy? Will you make me new mac and cheese because mine is cold.”

I see that Jason had just made a fresh batch. I say, “Here’s some mac n’ cheese that is freshly made.” I serve him a bowl.

(But it’s the wrong color).

Ian: (big loud wail and then…) I wanted white mac and cheese and that’s orange!

Me: (in a quiet voice, kind, but not babying)… “Oh…” I pause for a convincing effect. “Hmmm…”, I say. I look like I’m really thinking. And I AM really thinking. I continue, “We have the white mac ‘n cheese in this bowl. And the orange mac ‘n cheese in this bowl. I don’t have any more right now.” Ian wails again, but it’s not very convincing. I ignore the wailing, but not in a mean way. I just calmly go about my business.

I had told the kids earlier that day that as a special treat they get to eat an ornament shaped chocolate candy after a good lunch (with protein and veggies). Charlie Grace (age 8) walks in the kitchen and asks if it’s time yet. I say, “Did you eat lunch?” She replies that yes, she had mac ‘n cheese.

I say, “That’s good. That’s a carb though. So what would you like for protein and veggies?”

I’m calm. But I exude an air of “this is how we do it” and so no one fights me on it. Ian begrudgingly starts to eat his mac n’ cheese. I pretend not to see, so he doesn’t have to feel “wrong” or like “the parents won and got him to eat.” Then Ian asks if he can have some apples and peanut butter for his protein and some carrots for his veggie. I say sure and I get them.

Smooth sailing after that.

Make a “No” to Your Kids More Effective, By Saying it Less

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This morning, this whole interaction just happened without me really thinking about how to direct it.

THE SCENE:

Breakfast time. The table is still a mess. The counter too. Dishwasher still needs to be emptied. Floor crumbly and sticky. Yep. Breakfast time.

THE CONVERSATION:

Tristan (age 2): Mommy? Can I do a painting project right now?

Me: That sounds like a great idea for after we get the kitchen cleaned up.

Tristan (happily): OK!

REFLECTING ON THIS:

After this transpired, I remembered that I had read about alternatives to saying “no” to kids. Tristan asked, “Can I paint now?”. The answer was “no”… There was no room to set it up. And for me, introducing one more mess in the middle of messy mess is not my favorite. But instead of saying, “no” I offered an answer that made us both happy and didn’t cause a temper tantrum.

It made me realize, there’s lots of good alternatives to a “no”. And it doesn’t have to mean being a doormat for your kids. And it doesn’t mean feeling like a big negative meany-pants all the time either.

A Good Time to let my 6-Year-Old Be in Charge

photoHere’s my December 30th entry in my “Giving Good Attention to Kids” Observation Journal (referenced in my Dec 15th, 2013 post).

THE SCENE:

At Memere’s house. (Memere is my husband’s grandmother).

WHAT WAS HAPPENING:

Ian asked me if I’d help him build his new lego set.

WHAT I DID:

I said, “Sure!” And we sat down together to do it. It was interesting because it didn’t take long to realize that he had a way it wanted to go, and I had a way I wanted it to go. Where to put the lego pieces, where to put the instruction book, who finds the pieces, who builds the next step, etc.

I kept checking myself though… to defer to his way. Totally the right thing to do for this exercise. It was absolutely a place where he should be in charge and in control.

The eye-opening thing for me is how much and how often I wanted to control things. Even little things that just don’t matter. Sheesh!

Christmas Cookies – Letting Kids Work Out the Work Flow

20131226-105654.jpgHere’s my December 24th entry in my “Giving Good Attention to Kids” Observation Journal (referenced in my Dec 15th, 2013 post).

THE SCENE:

Making Christmas cookies.

WHAT WAS HAPPENING:

I invited Charlie and Ian to help me sprinkle powdered sugar on the Lintzer tart cookies I made to take to Christmas Eve tonight. Today is my birthday, so I said that I would like to sprinkle sugar on the first batch. Then Charlie and Ian can help. Charlie does the next batch. As the cookies are running out, it’s getting contentious in terms of who sprinkle which ones and how much.

WHAT I DID:

I start to intervene in their not-quite-argument. But neither one is listening to me. Thank goodness, I take that moment to step back from the situation and realize I can just shut my mouth and let them work it out. They do!

Charlie will finish sprinkling her second batch. Then Ian will do the last batch. They will save two tops and two bottoms for Tristan to sprinkle. I am assembling the tops and bottoms (spreading raspberry jam in between) to make the finished tarts. Charlie is directing Ian as to where to put the cookies so they are ready for me. She’s just directing the whole operation but in this very polite, respectful way. She sees how it should be orchestrated. Ian is happily being directed, probably because it makes logical sense. They are a big help and we have fun.