The Roles are Reversing

I’m not sure I thought I would (anytime soon) profess that Brogan was my easy child. But over the last couple of weeks, Brogan has begun to show maturity. He is controlling his emotions more and we can actually reason with him. There are less tantrums, there is less stress, less screaming and more enjoyable time together. I’m feeling a tiny sense of relief that the path I thought he was on 6 months ago may not be his destiny.  Now, I’m not professing that he is an angel – not at all. But relative to his 3-year-old self and relative to his 2-year-old brother, he is now much, much more manageable. He is still Brogan, so he’s 90 miles an hour most times or “relentless” as my father-in-law says. But I can deal with high-energy and high-maintenance. A while back, my sister-in-law drew the perfect analogy for him. We were talking about one of the good things about his strong personality is that he’ll definitely be a leader. And then in jest she said, “We’re not sure yet if we’re dealing with a Lincoln or a Hitler, but he’ll be a leader!” Well, thank the Lord, but the Hitler route does not appear to be where we’re heading. Let’s hope this trend continues.

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Now Beckett. The little guy has picked up some of Brogan’s habits and has been flexing his independence lately. He’s been running off, being defiant, and flat out acting like a wild animal. He’s been throwing major temper tantrums… and gave me quite a doozy this weekend with my mother-in-law while we were in Kroger. He didn’t want in the cart; he didn’t want in the little car attached to the cart. He didn’t want to be held, or walk. So he threw himself on the floor and threw an absolute fit. I tried the tactic of walking away and paying him no attention. But he just screamed louder. So I picked him up and carried his kicking and screaming butt outside where he sat in timeout until he calmed down. I was very thankful I was not solo during this outing. And while none of this is abnormal for a 2-year-old, this is my sweet Beckett we’re talking about. That mild-mannered child who took it easy on mom while she did her best to wrangle his older brother. That sweet child, I fear, is moving to the dark side. I’m hoping we learned some lessons with Brogan that have left us better equipped to handle a disobedient toddler, and perhaps this phase gets nipped pretty quickly. We can only hope.

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I’m beginning to realize that age has a lot to do with the behavior issues. I think a child’s personality can either amplify or lessen the standard age-appropriate willfulness/tantrums/talking back/disobedience/etc. But regardless, some of this stuff is inevitable. Let’s just hope Beckett only gets a case of the terrible twos… and not the terrifying threes like ole Bob had. And let’s hope that four is a year of continuing maturity for Brogan and that things can be “easy” for a little while. At least until it gets really crazy come December.

And speaking of Bob, this phase has not gone away. He continues to refer to himself by that name… he continues to write his name as that name. We’re not making a big deal about it (for fear that oppressing it will make it worse), but I still call him Brogan (to which he corrects me occasionally). I’m concerned that when he goes into Pre-K in a few weeks, it will be “Bob” that he wants to write on all his papers. Not sure what to do here… except chuckle, I suppose, because this kid sure likes to keep things interesting.

And speaking of keeping it interesting, Brogan has been wooing the ladies again. In particular, a 4-year-old girl this past weekend. The little girl had come over to Blake’s parents’ house with her grandparents and had been swimming and playing with Brogan for a couple hours. When it was time for her to leave, Brogan was a little sad and deflated, because obviously, he wasn’t ready for her to go. So as she begins to walk away, he says confidently, and I quote, “there’s only one thing left to do…” and with that the proceeded to walk over to her, give her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Proud of himself, he walked away with a grin. The little girl said, “Yuk.” Her grandmother said, “That’s my girl.” And they left. I was sitting there with my sister-in-law when the whole thing went down, and we were pretty much dumbfounded by what we heard. Like, seriously?!? Where does he get this from!  It seemed fresh from a soap opera script, but the little guy doesn’t watch soaps. So maybe some kids are just born with all the right things to say and a natural charm. But after every episode like this, I get more and more worried about his teenage years. Oh what am I in store for…

Oh the joys, oh the joys. I say that half sarcastic and half for real. Parenting really is a joy. Especially when you can loosen up and appreciate your kids for who they really are – the good, the bad and the ugly. I think sometimes kids just need to be accepted and loved and somehow all that bad stuff that we’re worried will keep them from being productive members of society one day will just go away.  My kids aren’t perfect and I’m not the perfect parent, but I really am enjoying this ride they’ve got me on. Oh the joys!

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The Bribery Debate

I bribe my kids. I typically only offer bribes in special circumstances – like when I want them to do something out of the ordinary.  Today, for example, was a no-brainer.  The boys and I were at the park with friends, and I wanted to get a picture of all four of our kids together on a bench. Brogan, who was preoccupied with gathering sticks (he’s a hard worker man), was totally uninterested in my request. I asked him repeatedly to no avail. And then I dug deep into my bag of mommy tricks and said, “Brogan, if you sit down for a picture and smile, I’ll get you ice cream.” Ice cream… the sure-fire way to get my three-year-old to do just about anything.  So of course, it worked. Brogan stopped what he was doing (now not immediately, hell will freeze over before that happens), sat on the bench and cheesed it up for the camera.  The ride home meant a stop by Starbucks for one of their chocolate chip frozen drinks (ice cream in Brogan’s book), and little dude was happy. Beckett also benefited, because there is no way only one kid in the back was getting a treat, unless I have earplugs (which I did not). But I digress.

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And Brogan’s thinking, “I’m getting ice cream, I’m getting ice cream.”

As I was posing my bribe to Brogan, I learned I was in good company with my friend Rachele, who also bribes her kids from time to time. We chuckled about it and she said, “I think it goes against every parenting book out there, but I’m pretty sure the people that write those books don’t have kids.” Amen sister.

So what is the big deal? I’ve often thought about this topic from multiple perspectives, thinking about the effect such negotiations may have on them long term.  I’ve thought about “real life” when you’re a grown up. Does the world give you ice cream when it wants you to do something special?  Wait a second, it does.  Isn’t most adult behavior driven by the prospect of some reward in return?  Close a big deal at work and you just may get a bonus.  Keep your customer’s drinks refilled and you might get a bigger tip.  Clean the house, take out the trash and bathe the kids and your wife may give you… well you get the drift.

You may be thinking that the above scenarios are simply rewards – not bribes. Is there really a difference? Is it not just the order of operations here… seems to me that if the person providing the compensation (ice cream, money, or whatever), propositions the subject with the benefit prior to the desired action, it would be considered a bribe. And if the compensation were simply an implied result of some positive behavior, then that makes it a reward. So let me ask the question again, is there really a difference?

Now I know that in a perfect world we’d like our kids to do exactly what we want them to do just because.  Wouldn’t that be awesome.  Likewise, I suppose our bosses would also like it if we showed up to work, busted our butts and were content earning a meager wage.  But that’s not the real world.  It’s not. We all operate on currency.  Sometimes it’s money or possessions or ice cream, sometimes it’s something more altruistic like helping others.  But I’m here to tell you that no one gets out of bed in the morning to do whatever they do without some sort of incentive.  Call it a bribe, call it a reward, call it whatever you want – it’s the truth.

So do I feel bad when I offer my kids a little prize for doing something extra special for me – nope. Not one bit. Do I hope one day they want to do something nice for me without the promise of a reward – sure. But I don’t think this is an all or nothing proposition.  I think you can offer them ice cream to sit still and take a picture and teach them it’s nice to do kind things for others.  But until my kids get the later, trips home from a photo shoot will likely include a detour at the closest purveyor of cold treats.

Choices

As I was tucking Brogan into bed tonight, we were talking about his day. I was using the whole “bad news sandwich” technique… you know, the one where you start and end with something good, but the middle is where the ugly stuff comes out. Well, as I started in on some of the good decisions he made today… “Buddy, today you made some good choices, like when you picked up toys, when you put away your dirty clothes and…” He cut me off. “Not really,” he said. “Not really?” I asked… “I didn’t really make good choices in the bath, or when I was in your bed, or when I was drinking your milk like a cat.” He told me he was sorry for not listening. I told him he was right, that those weren’t good choices and that I accepted his apology. We hugged really tightly and I savored every second of that calm, sweet moment.

It was a really trying day today. With Blake working weekends, I’ve got the boys solo, and as was the case last weekend, by Sunday night the fuses (on both ends) are pretty short. (I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, I don’t know how stay-at-home moms do it – Saints!) But I tried really hard to keep it together. I did keep it together.  But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some four letter words being said under my breath. Like, a lot of four letter words. See, Brogan’s not used to this new mommy. The one that stays calm, that doesn’t chase him, that’s not yelling at him to behave. So we’re going through a little bit of exploring of the limits. How much can I do and how bad can I be before she snaps… Well little buddy, you tried your darnedest, but you didn’t break me! Here’s his resume from today:

  • While I was bringing my food to the dinner table, he grabbed my milk and proceeded to drink it with his tongue – just like a cat. Meow.
  • I was running the bath water and went to go grab PJs, came into the bathroom to find him in full PJs (the ones we never changed out of today lol) in the water. But I got in the bath, mommy!! 
  • Using my scarves as ropes to pull his toys around. My new scarves, mind you.
  • Decided to play musical instruments while Beckett was sleeping. First the trumpet (until he made the choice to get it taken away), then the train whistle, then the drum sticks. The the tambourine. Grrrr.
  • Knocked over folded clothes on my bed, while I was trying to fold them. Not once. Not twice. But three times he scurried on my bed and trampled my clothes. You can’t catch me, you can’t catch me…. wanna bet?
  • Decided he needed to get the water hose on outside to water the plants. And in the process make a lot of mud. And was wearing his new tennis shoes to tromp through the mud. Then he took them off (good choice), but went back out in socks. :/

Probably a typical day for many “spirited” children. But what gets me is he does this all with a smile, like he’s trying to be charming while he’s being awful. He’s constantly looking for a reaction and I tried hard not to give him one.  But what I haven’t mastered is how to get him to immediately stop something (like any of the items above) without going down the crazy trail with him. I guess it’s choices, but even those can be tricky. When you’re laying out their choices, picking the right options is key, and harder than you may think, especially when you’re about to lose your mind over whatever aggravating thing they are doing to warrant a “decision discussion”. A couple of choice propositions that worked well today..

  • When faced with a mess to clean up: Would you like me to help you clean up the mess, or clean it up on your own?
  • When trying to get into the bath: Would you like take a bath or go to bed? (win/win, really)

Yep, there were only two that went well. I fumbled through the other 58. As I become an expert in this (ha!), I hope to have some more to share.

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One of the sweet moments from today. They both listened and sat still for a picture and actually smiled!  They must have known I was on the edge and needed a little something to keep me going.

Oh, and mommy got the last laugh today. I did the bath 30 minutes early and had them both in bed by 7:37 without them realizing it was early. Suckers!!!

What to do, what to do…

My son. Where do I begin. He is a charming, loving, intelligent, ball of fire… who happens to be manipulative, disobedient and slick. Oh, what a combination! Now I love my son to death, but I’m not one of those parents who thinks they have a perfect child. No, I’m the kind of parent who looks at the other parents who are forming judgements to themselves and agrees with them (audibly)… “yeah, he’s bad.” And I don’t say this because I’ve given up or I think it’s acceptable, I say this because I feel good in my skin when I am authentic. And I truly believe that my kid can be a bad kid sometimes. And other times he is sweet and he listens and he melts my heart. But typically I’m only around to see those moments. So anyways, I set the stage to get to my current dilemma – school.

Shocker, but the kid who does not listen at home also does not listen at school. And the kid who talks back at home also talks back at school. I get fun little notes home from his teacher, like the one last week informing me that when he was being reprimanded, he told his teacher she got on his nerves. Yes, that’s right. A couple of things go through my mind on this one… 1) Well that’s embarrassing (I think parents get desensitized to the things their kids tell them, but when they then do it to someone else, it is a hard pill to swallow) 2) Thinking back… do I say this?!?! 3) A mixed emotion of pride, that he can articulate his feelings so well, and a lot of head shaking because his execution was so inappropriate.

So as I’ve shared in a previous post we’ve been going with the “on the couch all night” method of punishment lately. I’d like to say it works because he absolutely hates it, but on the other hand, it does not curb the behavior at school so I’m just not sure. But nevertheless, in the name of consistency, if Brogan does not get a smiley face on his behavior chart each day, he gets to sit on the couch (with nothing) the whole evening. But here’s the thing. Brogan has learned that the consequence to his misbehavior is the couch. He gets warned daily of the punishment. He gets asked each afternoon how he was at school, and when he responds that he wasn’t a good listener, he says, “I have to sit on the couch all night, right mommy?” So he gets it. But he gets it only so far… because when he’s in the moment and he gets into one of his manic states where he cannot listen to save his life, there’s no stopping him and he just will not behave. So while I know the mommy gene is partly to play here, I ask myself (what I feel is a legitimate concern), is it fair for a kid, who should be outside playing and interacting with the family and getting tons of positive interactions, be punished every night for something that he shouldn’t be doing, but that I don’t think he can help? And he’s also starting to get a negative opinion of school. He started saying that he doesn’t want to go to school. And when I ask him why, he says it’s because he doesn’t like getting bad notes home.

And tonight, in the car ride home from the sitter’s, fearing another bad report, I asked, “Brogan, how was school?” Brogan responded, “I don’t want to talk about that.” And that would be because he didn’t listen (again), was playing in the bathroom (again) and this all resulted in a frowny face assessment.

What to do, what to do, what to do??? Any veteran moms out there have suggestions?

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And ironically, he appears so well-behaved in his school picture. Go figure. 

Crime and Punishment: The Age-old Parenting Dilemma

We’re facing the age-old parenting dilemma – how do you effectively punish your children? How do you strike that balance between teaching them boundaries, respect and the difference between right and wrong, but at the same time, not make your home a no-fun zone where you are the dictator?  Theoretically, we know what we’re supposed to do.  You’ve got to be firm and consistent.  Be loving and nurturing.  We’ve been taught to count bad behavior – we’ve read 123 Magic – we’ve actually got the book and the DVD.  But philosophical guidance does you no good when you are toe-to-toe with a three-year-old, and you are unwilling to let him win.  It is the execution of these principles in the real world that is the hardest.

So the trend in our home is Brogan is pretty consistently disobedient.  He is in trouble just about every night for one or more (or all) of the following:  talking back, not listening, playing with his food, not getting ready for bath, splashing the bathwater, pushing his brother, taking his brother’s toys, crying, whining, screaming, not picking up his toys, not wanting to go to bed, and the list goes on.  Typical three-year-old antics.  So what do we do about it?  We’ve tried counting to three leading to a time-out.  The problem with this is that you can’t always do a time-out.  If we’re in the car, it’s not feasible.  If we’ve just gotten in the bath (and it’s just me and him and Beckett), it’s not feasible.  If we just sat down for dinner, it’s not feasible (we’ve tried sending him to time-out during dinner, and this is a sure fire way to ensure he will not eat his dinner).  So what are the other options?  Taking things away! Brilliant!  So we do this – we take his guitars, the stuffed animals on his bed, his tractor Youtube videos, doing fun things (park, pool) etc., etc.  This bothers him more than time-out, so we feel like we’re making progress, except… the behavior doesn’t change.  Ever.  We keep going through the same routine, and he keeps misbehaving.  He knows he’s doing it.  He shows remorse.  But it’s almost like he’s unable to stop the behavior pattern.  And so here is my dilemma – are we setting him up for failure when we know he can’t behave?  Is it wrong to say, “if you’re a good boy and pick up your toys, we can go to the pool” if, based on past behavior, I’m pretty certain he can’t complete the task at hand?  Obviously there are those things that are never acceptable (hitting, for example), but are there some things that we need to let go of?  Or do we ride him hard until one day (he may be 16), it just clicks and he listens?  One of my biggest fears as a parent is contributing to the “wossification of America” by raising an entitled child who has been babied, has had excuses made for him and sheltered from natural consequences all his life.  But I also don’t want to make all fun experiences contingent on him, at three, being obedient.  How do you remain consistent without punishing for every indiscretion?

I know there is no right answer.  It’s a shame you can’t just reason with them.  Sit them down and say, “Hey, here’s the deal. If you do what I say and don’t throw a fit, don’t whine and don’t hit, you won’t have to go straight to bed. You can keep your stuffed animals and we’ll even go to the pool tomorrow!” and their response be “Thank you mommy for explaining it! That makes perfect sense! Of course I’ll be good!” Oh, if it were only that easy.  But it’s not.  So as parents, without a rulebook, or a handbook, or an instruction manual, we must figure out what in the heck will work for our kids – hoping that we find this magic potion before they’re grown and we’ve screwed them up.  And the unfortunate fact is that we may never get it right.  In the end, they are unique individuals with personalities; each with a different set of circumstances and needs.  I guess all we can do is try our best to solve the riddle, to break the code, to guess the winning numbers.  So I’m hopeful, yet realistic, about the prospect of getting this right.  But I’m hoping the odds are in my favor.

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