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How to Get Your Kids to Listen: Five Stages of Behavior Management

First off, I’d like to apologize. You may have clicked this link hoping I was going to share some magic secret to getting your kids to stop acting like assholes. Unfortnately, I have no solid advice. This post is purely to share the everyday stages of my attempt at behavior management – and if your kids are anything like mine, hopefully this will make you feel like less of a parenting failure in attempting to raise decent citizens.

  1. Politically Correct Parenting – Everyday, I wake up and give myself the politically correct pareting pep talk. I promise to be patient, calm and understanding. I won’t yell when my kids piss me off. I’ll encourage them with gentle words and reminders when they aren’t listening. I’ll allow them time and space to solve conflicts independently. I’ll channel my inner mother monk and exude zenlike vibes all day, which will in turn lower my kids’ anxiety levels and promote a peaceful and enjoyable day. And when it hits 8:30am and I can no longer utilize this level of calm, patient parenting, I remind myself this is all a load of shit and my kids need to be punished.
  2. Consequences – That’s right. This is what they need. They need to know that there are limits and consequences when they don’t behave. By 9:00am, I’ve given up all hope in having a peaceful day and I’ve decided to just put them all in time out. To a toddler, time out is initially a death sentence. Sitting on the bottom step of the stairs for 30 seconds is apparently equivalent to a life sentence, and they will let you know their feelings about this via blood curdling screams. However after about 14 time out breaks, my toddler realizes that coloring all over the walls with markers while mommy feeds the baby is totally worth the 30 seconds on the bottom step and alas, timeout becomes irrelevant. On to Stage Three.
  3. Negotiation – About half way through the day, I start losing all focus and I just bring myself to their  level. If you can’t beat them, join them. Amirite??? I start acting like a four year old myself, negotiating and arguing with them to the end of time over whether we are going to watch Daniel Tiger or Paw Patrol. Occasionally I cry even louder then they do, hoping this might scare them into behaving. I lock myself into the bathroom, throw a mommy tantrum, chug a cup of coffee, and try to pull myself together to get through the remainder of this god awful day.
  4. Bribery – After engaging in my very own tantrum, I realize that the kids are winning. It’s over. By 4:00pm, I have nothing left except for good old fashioned bribery. Cookies, fruit snacks, whatever it takes for you all to shut the fuck up until Daddy gets home.
  5. Survival of the Fittest – After I’ve bribed the kids with all of the freezie pops and juice boxes, they start to go ape shit due to the sugar overload. At this point of the day, I’m usually attempting to cook dinner, which is totally pointless since they are already full from all the junk food I bribed them with an hour earlier. I can hear them wrestling each other to death in the front yard, but by this time, I don’t care. It’s like fucking Lord of the Flies out there. Their shirtless, shoe-less, carrying Nerf guns and threatening to shoot anyone who comes to close. Good luck, kids. Mommy has officially given up. They’ll figure it out, right?

This is usually the time when my husband pulls into the driveway, and tears of joy fall from my face into the large glass of wine that I’ve been chugging for the last 45 minutes. Still two hours until bedtime, but at least I’ve got back up. As soon as they are quietly in bed, I peek into each of their rooms and remind myself of how cute they are (when they are sleeping) and promise myself that tomorrow, I will be better. I won’t yell when they piss me off. I’ll encourage them with gentle words and reminders when they aren’t listening. I’ll allow them time and space to solve conflicts independently. I’ll channel my inner mother monk and exude zenlike vibes, which will in turn lower my kids’ anxiety levels and promote a peaceful and enjoyable day.

And maybe if I’m really lucky, that will last until lunchtime.

For the Sake of My Sanity

I looked at the clock tonight, counting down the minutes until my husband got home from work. I took the kids upstairs so that I could change out of my spit-up stained clothing into my running gear. I quickly peered out my front window scanning the street for his car. Much to my surprise, I noticed my dog running around the front yard. Panic set in (for the 48th time today) and I ran downstairs to find that in the 14 seconds it took me to change my shirt and shorts, my two year old scooted down the stairs and let himself and the dog into the front yard. Again. I know, I know. Get babyproofing locks for the door handles. And I totally intend to do that, as soon as I find the free time I need to go out purchase them. Thankfully, my husband had pulled in and collected the toddler and the dog. As soon as he came in and changed out of his suit, I slipped out the front door for my run.  

My body hurt, it was hot out, my ankles ached – especially after hours and hours of chasing three children. But a three-mile run is the only thing that can sometimes save what little sanity I have left after such a long day. 

After my first child was born in 2012, I went through what many first mothers experience. Looking back, I’m certain I had postpartum depression and anxiety. I quit my job, I stayed home, I consumed myself with his caretaking. In a very cliché mom way, I lost myself. I forgot what I liked to do. I became miserable and resentful. I ended up in therapy, and slowly I found my way again.  

Having experienced that once, I have been bound and determined with my second and third pregnancies to continue to be “me.” I think it’s important to maintain a sense of self – and equally as important for my kids to know that I am much more than Mom. I’m a human, I have interests, I need five seconds alone to pee sometimes. I like to go to work. I like tattoos. I like to drink four (or more) cocktails on Friday nights. So far, I’ve stayed true to this. But although I’ve been able to continue to be ME and MOM, having a third child has brought on another challenge. It’s not “myself” that I’m at risk losing this time around – but more so my sanity.  

sanity

The first child is hard. You can’t do anything, because you haven’t yet adapted to the multitasking of motherhood. But slowly, you learn to get a few things done when the baby is asleep. When the second arrives, you’re a pro. You put the baby down for a nap, you put a show on for the toddler, and you get as much shit done before you hear Mickey announcing the arrival of the final mouseketool, hence signaling the end of both the show and your toddler’s attention span. Then the third child arrives, and if you manage to get even two out of three kids napping/relaxing at the same time, you sit. You just be. You breathe, you pee, you chug some coffee, and you stand at the front door and threaten to kill anyone who even THINKS about ringing your doorbell while your babies are sleeping.  

After Owen was born, I quickly realized my sanity was at stake.  I decided I needed to get out. I needed time away. I needed to be me. I signed up for weekly personal training sessions, which have been a life saver. Fitness is something that’s always been important to me – so working out has helped me work toward getting back to my pre-baby body AND my pre-baby mind.  

During my sessions, my trainer offers the typical trainer encouragement, saying things like, “Come on, Cait. You can do this. There is no such thing as fatigue.”  

One day, during the last five minutes of my kick ass session, he said, “Come on. Finish it. This is the hardest thing you are going to do today.” 

I laughed, because of course, he was right. Physically, it was the hardest thing I was going to do that day. But mentally, it was the easiest. The most enjoyable. The thought of going home and getting three kids fed, bathed, and in bed would most likely be the most challenging thing I did that day. Like a boss, I finished that workout. And then I went home and somehow survived bedtime routine without losing my shit on anyone. 

I guess my point is this: It’s important to maintain my sanity – for myself and ultimately for my kids. Despite the mom guilt I feel when I leave to go out by myself, I know that time away only makes me a better mom. And when things get really mentally tough, when I’m up for the fourth time at 4:00am feeding a teething and overtired baby, I’ll channel my trainer and chant to myself, “You got this, Cait. There’s no such thing as fatigue. This is the hardest thing you’ll do today.”