We have a friend who posted on Facebook that they made a horrible parenting mistake. They shared it with everyone so we could all learn from it. Seems they were going to go on a family boat ride, but one of their kids was being obnoxious or stubborn or kid-like and so they uttered the very dumb words, “If you don’t pull it together, you are not going on the boat ride”.
Well, of course the kid did not “pull it together” and so one of the parents had to stay home with the kid, thus ruining what was going to be a very nice family outing.
Well, let me tell you what brilliant words came out of MY mouth today.
It was late afternoon. Little boy woke up from his nap in a great mood and we worked on a new puzzle (four cool puzzles in one box with a very spiffy divider system) while his sister was still sleeping. I was all set to get dinner into the kids early so that we could get bundled up to go watch the first mushers come into town in the Iditarod dog race. It’s a 1000 mile race across Alaska and it’s exciting to go cheer in the teams. This year has been an exceptionally fun race because the top pack has been very close and a woman musher was in the lead. My son has been hearing us talk about it and has been keenly aware that we get to go see the dogs. It’s a big deal.
Well, this is what unfolds (there is a happy ending)…
I announce that it’s time to clean up.
Little girl and I start cleaning up. Little boy dumps out the pieces back onto the floor. Hmmm. Little girl and I continue to clean up around our areas and little boy dumps things out again. I then let little boy know the rest is his mess to clean up and I take little girl with me into the kitchen to have fun folding laundry. Little boy is not so pleased with this, but he still doesn’t pick up the puzzle pieces.
So then I say, “Hurry on up. We need to have things cleaned up so we can be dressed and ready to go see the mushers as soon as Daddy gets home.” I didn’t see any increase in speed so I then say…..
Yes, indeed, I said, “If you don’t get things cleaned up, you won’t get to see the musher.”
And as I heard these words come out of my mouth, I wondered what the heck I was going to do with that situation. Neither his father nor I wanted to stay home AND we’d been talking to little boy for a week about this event. It also did nothing to increase his motivation.
Little boy was so stuck in his not cleaning up, that he couldn’t easily turn it around.
The words I SHOULD HAVE USED and would have helped avoid the power battle and the frustration in my own body were:
“Or there will be a consequence”.
The beauty of this is that I don’t have to give the consequence right away. I don’t need to know the answer until later when I’m calmed down. I can even give the consequence tomorrow. The part where we learn is AFTER the fact when we can reflect on things. My boy has been in our family long enough and has the language skills to know that we follow through on what we say, that we expect him to follow directions and that we all chip in around the house and do certain things (such as cleaning up) before other things (such as dinner or going out).
But that is not what I said. So little girl and I hung out in the kitchen and matched socks and shared a snack and little boy continued to do nothing but shuffle puzzle pieces around. He then pinched the dog which did get him an immediate time out, but once that ended, he still wasn’t picking up.
(Luckily, the winds had picked up and the first musher was not going to be due in as early as expected so I gained some time to problem solve. I told him there would be a consequence which doesn’t mean a whole lot yet because we haven’t used this lingo, but I know he’ll quickly put it together once we reflect back on a situation and institute the consequence.)
My husband came home and little boy was in yet another time out because he’d begun pulling other toys off the shelf instead of picking up. My husband and I talked about how to be on his case without giving him attention. It’s hard stuff and the ignoring thing from the kitchen wasn’t really helping the process along. Nor was the repeated time out whenever he stopped picking up and we didn’t really have any good, “When you do this, then this” because time was an issue! We also refuse to get into the dangerous trap of bartering (which believe me, I considered) such as, “If you clean up, then you can have ___”.
And this is the thing – we were in a pretty big power battle that I didn’t really want to lose. It’s these little battles that help prevent the big battles when we’re out in a public place. And yet it wasn’t really some BATTLE of WILLS. It was more like my little boy was stuck and didn’t know how to turn it around and he was exerting some of his own dang sauciness. Threatening him with missing the mushers, only got me a toddlerized version of the infamous teenagers’, “so what”. The repetition of time outs might work eventually, but we were quickly running out of time and he was figuring out ways to get attention by being a bit naughty.
So after another time out (for playing on the ladybug scooter instead of picking up), I asked, “How are you feeling?”
“What is going to help you feel good?”
“Doing the right thing.” (We’ve taken to asking him to do the right thing a lot when he’s not sharing. He always knows what the right thing to do is.)
“What is the right thing to do?”
Smile, quick hug – “Go to it my boy.”
We also removed the part of the puzzle box that allowed you to sort the pieces (it was four puzzles in one box with a divider) because he was a bit enamored with that sorting feature. We gave him the box top to put the pieces in. We started setting up dinner in the kitchen for the rest of us and wouldn’t you know it, within just four or five minutes (possibly less) he was completely done and had cleaned up the entire living room.
What a ridiculous amount of time we spent and what a ridiculous amount of my own emotional energy went this afternoon and early evening!
We finished dinner, quickly wrapped the kids up in all their gear and ran down to the finish line. There were lots of people and cameras and a chilly chilly wind and soon we saw the lights indicating the musher was coming up from the frozen ocean onto the main street.
We hooted and hollered and clapped and the musher and his dogs ran on by. The dogs looked great and had a nice pep to their step and wagging tales. The musher, a young man, looked pretty dang good, but tired. We spent the next two hours outside waiting for the next two teams and hooting and hollering and clapping and holding the kids up over the crowd to see the dogs.
And now they are in bed sound asleep.
We plan to go out in the middle of the night to see another group of people come in. It’s fun, though right now the thought sounds exhausting!
And tomorrow we will spend the day looking at the cool stuff for sale like Husky stuffed animals and local crafts and running down to the finish line to cheer in dog teams. We will also reflect again on today and we will have a consequence. I have no idea what it will be, but what it is (maybe a time out, maybe a cleaning up task, maybe a missed snack treat) isn’t really as important as the follow through and the chance to reflect.
Our boy knew the right things all along. I have no clue why he was so obstreperous, but he was and I hope to do a better job guiding him through it next time.