Parenting

The parenting countdown: One…Twoooooo…Two and a Half…

We’ve all done it! The thing where you ask your kid to do something and they don’t listen. You repeat it, with a more stern voice and they still don’t listen. So finally, you give a stern, “One… twooooooooo….” And usually, they listen. Like magic, they do whatever it was that you told them to do two tries ago. The funny thing is, most of us don’t actually know what’s going to happen after we get to “three” when we’re counting, which is exactly why the pause gets longer and we draw the numbers out longer to give them more time to move! But why is this counting technique so magical? Why didn’t they listen the first two times?

It took me awhile to figure this mystery out with my first kid. I was getting so tired of asking and nothing happening until I started counting. But without fail, he listened as soon as I started counting. SO frustrating!! Then I stopped to think about what changed from the first time I asked him to do something and when I started counting. I noticed a few things: 1.) I was no longer asking, it was a command. 2.) My voice was stern and I meant business. 3.) He knew this was the end of the road and a consequence (whatever THAT mystery was supposed to be…) was going to happen next. I used this information to try to hone in on a better system.

I changed my delivery of these commands. And let’s face it, they’re commands. We might “ask” them to go pick up their toys, but in reality, there’s no question about it. We want them to pick them up. We don’t care if they don’t want to or if they don’t feel like it! Why do we even ask them to do it? We need to just tell them. That helped a little, however, I think I had already created a bit of a monster. By asking twice (or more) before the counting/possible consequence took place, I had trained him not to comply until then. I had let him know that it was okay to ignore me until he heard counting. Whoopsie! Here I thought I was being patient, but instead I was feeding the problem. So I realized I needed to move that possible consequence up to the first request. And what do you know? It worked! I would say, “I need you to stop and clean up your blocks. 1…” and like magic, he would go pick up the blocks, then come back to whatever he was doing. Totally evidence that it had been a “me” problem and not a “him” problem.

He’s 14 now and I’m happy to say that I don’t have to count every time I need him to do something. Thank GOD! Ha! I actually don’t even have to command him to do everything. I can ask him to do something and he’ll go do it. I just had to retrain him. I continued the command/counting sequence for awhile and then I could start to leave off the counting. He wasn’t even waiting to hear it anymore. He knew when I told him to do something, it needed to happen immediately and there wasn’t a way around it. Gradually, I could make it more of a conversational thing instead of a command and he would still listen because he was in the habit of doing things immediately as I asked. Luckily, his compliance helped train the rest of the kids as they were growing up. They would see him acting immediately and they started doing the same thing. They’re not perfect and we still have our moments, but for the most part, they know they are to comply with what they’re asked to do the first time. All I had to do was retrain myself!

Self-Development

You Are What You Think About

Have you ever noticed that when you get a new car, no matter how unique you think it is, you suddenly see identical ones everywhere? Or maybe you just like a particular kind of car, and then it seems like they’re all over the place. Slugbug, anyone?!? When you look for them, you see them EVERYWHERE! Or at least, my kids do so they can slug each other. Or maybe you buy what you think is a unique color of vehicle…say, green…and then all of a sudden, there are green cars everywhere. It’s the craziest thing! Why does this happen? And why is it something that I would EVER blog about? Well, my friends, because you are what you think about.

I know what you’re thinking. She’s crazy! What does this even mean? Bear with me as I try to explain. It means that whatever you’ve got on your mind, you will start to see and notice everywhere. Let’s move past the car example, because seriously, cars are NOT important in the grand scheme of life. Let’s think about when you’re mad or upset about something at work. Have you ever noticed that when you’re mad about one tiny little thing and you can’t let it go, other little things start to happen that just add fuel to the fire and you end up angrier than ever? Why in heck do all of the irritating things happen back-to-back? Well, there’s a good chance that those other little things might have gone unnoticed if you weren’t focused on being mad. When you think about a green car, you notice green cars. When you think about being mad, you notice a million reasons to be mad!

Two and a half years ago, I joined a company and started my own small business. I’m not telling you this to try to sell stuff to you, I promise. That’s not how I operate. But it was the beginning of when I really started to understand this theory that you are what you think about. When I joined the company, I was SO excited. It was like somebody had breathed fresh air into this teacher-by-day, mom-of-four-at-night (more to come on that in the future!). I had something to focus on that was different than children. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE kids! But that had literally become my whole life, 24/7, and I needed something else. Once I joined, I had my mind on the fact that there was a new opportunity for me to stretch myself. And then, guess what…I saw all kinds of opportunities out there for me to step outside of my box and grow! This blog would be a prime example. It would have NEVER happened before joining my company. I also have a Facebook lifestyle group where I share parenting tips, organization ideas, beauty/skin care information, and a whole bunch of us moms can interact and just have a little break from our day-to-day lives and feel like we’re a part of something bigger (https://www.facebook.com/groups/328768520937361/, in case you’d like to join). I would have NEVER done this kind of thing before starting my own business. It opened my eyes to possibilities beyond my career.

So what does this mean for you? It means be careful what you’re focusing on and thinking about, friends. Is it okay to get mad? Of course! But you have to let it go and move on. Don’t harbor the anger or you’ll only find more reasons to be angry. If somebody hurts you, it’s okay to feel sad, disappointed, let down. But then process those emotions and move on. If you don’t, you’ll only be hurt by more people as you’re focusing on the fact that you got hurt. If your husband does something that irritates the crap out of you (it’s bound to happen, right?!?), address it or choose to let it go if it’s trivial. If you don’t, suddenly you’ll have twenty reasons to be annoyed with him. Can’t get past the initial irritation? Try this tip: mentally list five reasons why he’s amazing and what he does right. It will help you let go of that negative! You can use this trick for any aspect of your life when you need to…five reasons why you love your job when you something unfair just happened, five reasons you ARE a good mom even though you totally just had a crappy moment, five reasons your life is probably better off without that friend that betrayed you. Focus on the positives and I promise you’ll only find more positives! As a parent, focus on the good things that your kids do and I guarantee you, you’ll find more reasons than ever to appreciate them and be proud of them. Sometimes you have to force yourself to see the positives, but when you do, you will find it becomes easier and easier to see them right in front of you.

Parenting, Self-Development

“Why do my kids keep ____ (whining, begging, throwing fits…)?” Here’s your answer!

You know those irritating things that your kids do that absolutely drive you crazy? Things like whining, telling you “no”, begging, not picking up when you tell them to, throwing tantrums or fits when they don’t get their way? As a parent, you may find yourself asking “Why do they keep doing this?!?” with total exasperation in your voice. I have the answer for you. Sadly, you’re probably not going to like it, but here it is.

Kids do these things because they work! Or because they’ve worked in the past. For one reason or another, their irritating behavior has gotten them exactly what they want. Let’s face it. As humans, when we try things a few times and they don’t work, we usually stop doing them. If you tend to speed down a certain street to get to work quickly and you don’t get caught, chances are, you’re going to keep doing it. However, if you get a speeding ticket, you’re more likely to slow down. If you get multiple tickets on that stretch of road or there is a police officer sitting on that stretch regularly, you’ll probably stop altogether. You’ll either leave earlier and go the speed limit or, if you’re a rebel, you’ll find a different path. Either way, when it regularly doesn’t work for you, you’ll try something else. Our kids are no different than us.

When your kids throw tantrums, it’s like that adult speeding down the road. If it works, they’re going to keep doing it. Even if it only works sometimes, they might be the rebel that keeps trying it until it consistently doesn’t work. I know that sometimes you’re tired and you don’t want to deal, but you have to. If you ever want that behavior to stop, you HAVE to deal with it. You have to be the police officer, sitting in their car, monitoring and controlling the behavior, making sure it doesn’t get them what they want. If you let your kids get their intended result (new toy, later bedtime, more screen time, candy, etc.), you are basically a police officer, watching the stretch of road, letting that speeding car get by with it. And what message does that send to your kids? That it is okay to throw a fit and sometimes it works, so they should just keep doing it. You can replace the words “tantrum” and “fit” with “whining”, “begging”, or whatever else you’re dealing with at your house. It’s all the same. They do it because it works or it has worked in the past.

So how do you fix it? You make sure it DOESN’T work. And you will probably have to do this more than once, especially if you’ve had weak moments in the past where they’ve found success with their behavior. In a calm time, where they’re not ____________ (let’s just say tantruming, for ease of discussion), you need to lay down the rules. This is how you do it:

  • First you need to describe the behavior and be transparent about what is behind that behavior. I suggest saying something like this: I’ve noticed when you want something really bad, you throw a fit. You yell, scream, tell me “no”, cross your arms and turn away from me. It looks like this (model so there is NO question about what you’re referring to). I understand that when you do this, you’re trying to get me to change my mind, but I want you to know that it will no longer work. When you throw a fit, I will make sure you do NOT get what you want, no matter how big of a fit you throw.
  • Next, you need to model what will happen when this behavior happens (and it WILL, so make sure you’re willing to follow through on this!). It helps to have some sort of visual cue, since those don’t initiate backtalk. It could be putting your hands over your ears signaling you won’t listen, turning around and walking away, clapping your hands twice, etc. As you coach them through this, I suggest something like this: I’ve decided that you need a signal that reminds you of this new rule that fits won’t get you what you want. When you start to throw a fit, I will say, “Fits don’t work anymore” and I will turn and walk away from you. It will look like this (model how you will do this calmly…even if your blood is boiling inside). If we are in public, I will say it and then take you to the car so you can throw your fit in there. When you are done, we can talk about what happened, but you will NOT ever get what you want because you threw a fit.
  • Finally, explain why this behavior won’t work any more. It’s okay to tell them you’re tired of it, but honestly the reason you want it to stop is because you love them. When I talk to my kids (or my students!) about these things, I usually say something like this: I love you too much to let you act like this. You are such a good kid and I want everyone to see that. Kids that throw fits and get whatever they want usually don’t make good friends and are hard to play with. I want you to be happy and have friends to play with. I think that is more important than giving you _____________ (more screen time, a new toy, etc.).

And after you’ve done all of this during a calm time where the behavior isn’t happening (this is SUPER important to do), you wait. You wait for the behavior to come. I promise it will, unless you have a child that is like the adult that sees a police officer once on that stretch of road and never speeds again. We know how rare those individuals are, but they are out there! I’m guessing if your child happens to be one of those, however, you aren’t searching for answers on how to make a behavior stop! Once your child exhibits this behavior, you HAVE to do exactly what you said you were going to do. You probably won’t see an exact change the first time it happens. However, if you continue to do this every single time the behavior happens, it’s like giving a person a speeding ticket every single time they speed on a certain stretch of road. They will get tired of not getting their intended result. Consistency is key, and it’s really up to you to make it happen. If your kid keeps doing it, more than likely it’s because it works. The change has to start with you as a parent before you’ll see the change in your kids.

Parenting

It’s okay to tell your kids “no”

When I was little, I don’t remember hearing the word “yes” very often. In fact, I was careful what I even asked for because I felt like if I saved my asking for the things that I REALLY cared about, there might be a chance. I went to the grocery store with my mom. We bought groceries. No toys. No candy. No treats. If I asked for a toy or something that I saw on TV, I was told that I should put it on my birthday or Christmas list. It was extremely rare that we splurged any other time. Were we poor and unable to afford the extras? No! If my parents had wanted to splurge, they could have. But we just didn’t. Honestly, looking back on it, it made the times that they did say “yes” seem so much more exciting and I appreciated it so much more.

So then why, as parents nowadays, do we feel bad saying “no” to our kids? I don’t think it’s just me, based on my experiences with kids in the classroom. I think it’s our culture now to give our kids as much of what they want as we can. Of course, we have limits and when we absolutely can’t, we say “no”. But I would venture to say that our kids hear “yes” more than they hear “no” these days. It’s creating a group of kids that are very entitled. Did we mean to do this? Absolutely not! We’re trying to be good parents. But buying them something each time we go to the store isn’t treating them. Sooner or later, it won’t be enough. THAT will be expected and they will want something additional as a “treat”. Think about when you plan a vacation or a getaway…is it enough? When we were little, one night in a hotel was an exciting adventure and we cherished every moment. It was awesome! Now, I feel like kids get to go places and do things all the time and it’s still not enough. They come back, ready for the next big thing and as parents, we’re scrambling to one-up ourselves. It’s exhausting!

I have to wonder, too, if some of this “yes” business is what’s leading to obesity in kids. I have no research or data on it, but know that it is an ever-growing problem. This brings me to my point of this whole article. The lunch box analogy. As a teacher, I see kids bringing lunches to school filled with the stuff that would have been considered a treat in the past. Their whole lunch box is filled with treats with very little nutritional value. These items are not considered treats anymore…it’s considered their lunch! And THEN they have candy or something even better for their “treat”. It’s the perfect metaphor for what’s happening with kids. One treat was expected, then it became the norm and another treat was added to try to make them happy and surprised. It just kept happening until the stuff that was good for them didn’t fit in the lunch box anymore and it was pushed aside. Instead of caring about their needs, we gave in to their wants.

Hearing “no” is good for our kids! They learn limits, boundaries, moderation, anticipation, self-regulation…all of the things that entitled children don’t seem to have. Imagine if that parent packed their child’s lunchbox to contain all fruits and veggies and a plain old meat and cheese sandwich. (I’ve seen this happen!) The kid opens it up and there’s pouting, shock, bewilderment and usually a refusal to eat anything that’s in there. They go home, complain and whine to their parents how hungry they were, and those treats begin showing up again in lunch boxes. Parents say they don’t have a choice because if they don’t send the treats, their kids will go hungry! Now stop and think about it…will the kids actually starve? No. Will they actually become hungry enough to eat the things that are good for them? Eventually, they probably will. But the kids are in charge. They’re entitled to whatever they want and they know how to make it happen. We’re so busy trying to be good parents, we aren’t realizing what is happening!

Like I said before, it’s really not about the lunch, so even if you send healthy, nutritious, organic lunches with your child (way to go!), I’m still talking to you! I’m referring to the metaphor for what we as teachers have to do in schools. We have to give them what is good for them (hard work, learning, responsibility, self-control, rules…). They don’t like it. They want all of the fun things, but we can’t just give them all of the fun things! They act up, throw fits, go home and then complain to their parents. Sometimes it goes further and it comes back to us as teachers. You guys, it’s HARD to take away the stuff they like and replace it with what they need, especially when that’s all they’ve known in their little worlds. We love them though, and it’s our job to help them adjust to this new normal. For them however, it’s hard to come to school when it’s full of the stuff they don’t have to have or do elsewhere. It seems like year after year, I have concerned parents telling me that after the first month or so, their child is not wanting to come to school and they can’t figure out why. There’s not a specific reason, there’s nothing happening to cause this, there’s really no explanation. Usually, it’s because the novelty of school has worn off and it’s a lot of work that they don’t want to do. If this has been you as a parent, it’s okay! Don’t panic! I saw it happening with my own kids, too. It opened my eyes when I really sat down to analyze what was going on. It’s not too late to make changes to fix this. I can tell you that my kids are going to be hearing “no” a lot more than they hear “yes” this summer before we head back to school. And when I say, “no”, there won’t be a discussion about why I’m saying it. That is really only a tactic to try to persuade me to change my mind. “No” means “no”. I’ve learned a lot in my 14 years of parenting and this is one little gem! Ha!! When it comes down to it, I’m not doing this to be mean, but to break the cycle of entitlement. I love them too much to let them turn out that way. You CAN say “no” and still be a good parent. Actually, you NEED to say “no” in order to be a good parent and it’s never too late to turn things around!

organization, Parenting

When Schedules Collide

With four growing kids, you can imagine how ridiculous our schedules can get. I struggled to try to find a way to keep everyone connected. We used Google Calendar, and I still do. But somehow we ran into some hiccups where my husband wasn’t seeing things on my calendar, a few things mysteriously disappeared…basically just chaos happened. We needed something better!

A friend of mine is a Mary & Martha Consultant. I hadn’t heard of the company until I became friends with her, but their products are awesome! As a super thoughtful gesture, she gifted me a weekly calendar notepad, similar to the one in the picture that I found on Zazzle. It has been a game-changer. I’m positive she had no idea how big of a help that was. Or maybe she actually saw that I was a hot mess and was gently trying to help. Who knows!!Either way, I will forever be buying these things because they have majorly changed things at our house!

On Sunday afternoons or evenings, my husband and I write everything from our calendars (digital calendars, school calendars, activity calendars…everything) on one of these pages. We ask the kids if there’s anything they need to put on there like due dates for projects, spelling tests, activities we didn’t know about, or anything else. Not only do we make sure everything is laid out in one place, it’s a good reminder for us as to what the week actually holds. It’s easy to look at my calendar on my phone and think I’ve got it all. But to actually have to carry it over and write it down? It cements it in my brain and makes it harder to forget. Not impossible, but harder!

When it’s all on the counter in one place, not only can we make a plan to divide and conquer if needed, but the kids see what the week holds. It is SO easy for them to see which nights are jam-packed and which nights are free. We are all on the same page and there’s no surprises. It has made all of our lives so much more streamlined! It’s such an easy thing. I’ve seen notepads like this in the past. I’m pretty sure I’ve even bought them. But I don’t think I fully understood the need for them until there were six of us going in different directions at once. Now? Now I get it!

The most brilliant part of all of this is that we’ve started using the back of the sheet as a grocery list. Whenever somebody uses the last of something, they’re SUPPOSED to write it on the list. My husband and I are good at this but the kids aren’t quite trained…yet. It’s still been super helpful though! We usually place a grocery order on Saturday nights (we are QUITE the interesting couple, I tell you!), so it’s right there in front of us, ready to be entered.

Now, we still forget things here and there, but it’s been such a practical thing that we put in place that has made a huge difference! If you’re starting to feel like a chauffeur that has no idea where they’re going, give it a try. Go back to the basics of a pencil and paper. There’s something about it that just works for us!

Parenting

Choose Your Battles

One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever gotten came from my oldest son’s 2-year well-child visit. Our pediatrician at the time very wisely told us that soon we would start having some battles with our son as he began to strive for independence. Her exact words were, “You have to choose your battles. Don’t fight them all. But the ones you choose, you HAVE to win.” This has stuck with me through all of my years of being a parent.

It sounds simple enough, and really the idea of it IS very simple. In reality though, what it means is that you have to pre-think every situation through. When they ask for something or for permission to do something, you have to think it through completely before you give your answer. If you say “no” to playing outside before dinner, are you prepared to stand your ground? Is it important enough for you to go to battle for? If the answer is yes, then carry on. If the answer is no, then don’t say that “no” in the first place.

In that case, you aren’t actually committed to that no. It really doesn’t matter to you, it’s just more convenient if they play inside. But if they start to beg and whine, you don’t care enough to fight the battle. You will most likely give in and then reinforce the fact that fits, whining and begging will get you to change your mind. But the funny thing is, they didn’t! You just never made your mind up in the first place!

I’ve had my fair share of weak moments where I’ve given in or changed my mind, and I can tell you that it makes the next battle even harder. Don’t do it! Save your energy and patience for the battles you care enough to fight for. I’m not saying you should let your kids do whatever they want. I’m not crazy!! I still have stipulations before I say “yes” to things! Whatever reason would tempt you to say “no” in the first place becomes part of the stipulation for getting the “yes”. You want to play outside? Sure, but when I say it’s time to come in for dinner, no complaining and you pick everything up immediately. If they don’t follow those stipulations, there’s a consequence. I’m not letting them walk all over me, but they’re seeing that there’s some give-and-take, even in the yes moments.

Parenting is HARD. There are no perfect days, perfect answers, or perfect situations, no matter how hard you try. As you navigate through though, think your answers through before you give them. Be thoughtful and intentional in your parenting and mean what you say. Your kids will hear “no” less often, but it will mean more and become non-negotiable.

Parenting

We Are Blessed, But We Are Exhausted

If you are a parent, I’m sure you know the struggle that I’m talking about. You love your kids beyond measure. They amaze you, you adore them, you can’t live without them…but they exhaust you. Hopefully I’m not the worst parent in the world for feeling this way. I don’t think I am, but forgive me if I’m way off-base. With four kids, it’s ALWAYS time to feed somebody, the laundry is never-ending, we are late for everything because getting all six of us out the door quickly is impossible, and in general, there’s just a million things to do each day to keep up with six lives. We are blessed, but we are exhausted!!

We are extremely lucky to have help from family in town. Ten years ago, we actually chose to move back to our hometown that doesn’t even have a Target (after you’ve lived with Targets close-by, this is a tragedy!) so that we would be able to raise our kids with family close to them. It’s not an accident that we have help. As a side-note: It bothers me when people tell me we’re lucky to have help because they don’t have anybody. I know all circumstances are different, so it may not be a choice for everyone, but it wasn’t luck for us. It was a decision we made, with some sacrifices on our part that made this possible. Family was most important to us…over jobs, income, location, etc. Still, yes, we are so fortunate to be close to family. My kids don’t even know how lucky they are to have grandpas and grandmas in their everyday life. They don’t know any different.

With family in town that are willing to take four kids for multiple days, my husband and I are able to take weekend getaways every so often, and every other year, we take an extended trip for a week or so. It has been amazing for our relationship and marriage. It leaves us craving that next getaway, planning and dreaming about it together. This year for Valentine’s Day, my husband surprised me with a spring break quick getaway to Magnolia Market in Waco, TX. We were to leave on Wednesday and return Saturday night. He made arrangements for the kids to go to Grandpa and Grandma’s and cheap flights made it a perfect, quick getaway.

Wednesday came and in our great state of Nebraska, a blizzard occurred on the western part of the state, while the eastern part (where we are) saw warmer temperatures and rain. It doesn’t seem like that would be a problem, but that meant TONS of snow melted quickly and the rain added to the moisture. The ground was still frozen, so the water had nowhere to go. We had ice jams on the rivers and flood warnings everywhere. It’s not uncommon for this to happen, so we really didn’t think much of it. Usually there’s some flooding along the river and that’s the end of it. We worked hard to get out of town to the airport 90 miles away. It was worth the struggle to find a way out of town because we NEEDED time away! We assumed that by Saturday when we returned, things would be back to normal. We flew to Texas and visited Magnolia Market (I’ll blog about that in the near future!) the next day. There was not much on the news about the flooding (no mention of it at all, actually), so I didn’t worry much. We were carefree and enjoying time away from the kids. When I checked social media that afternoon, my mama heart dropped. It became very clear that this wasn’t flood warnings that would go away soon. People were being evacuated from our very own county, just a couple of miles from my parents’ house. Some were being rescued by helicopter as water levels were rising fast. A farmer lost his life trying to rescue somebody when the bridge washed out from under his tractor. My kids were there! I knew my parents would do everything they could to keep them safe, but all of the what-ifs were rolling through my head. I spent that evening fighting back tears as I searched for updates and information. I spent the night having terrible nightmares of my kids in a flood, then crying each time I woke up. I knew that we needed to try to get home immediately. We couldn’t get to the kids, as all ways in and out of town were under water, but I needed to be in the same state as them at least. We spent a small fortune that next morning buying last-minute direct flights home, changing car rental reservations and hotel reservations. I had looked forward to time away from my kids for a month, yet in that instant, I wanted nothing more to have them in my arms. Isn’t parenthood strange?

As we struggle through the days and sometimes feel like we’ll go crazy if bedtime doesn’t get here immediately, there is literally nothing that you wouldn’t do for the health, safety and happiness of your kids. We cut our time in Waco from three days down to one day. We spent the next two days flying and then driving 300 miles to get to the kids (220 miles more than normal), and spent triple what we planned to spend on that trip, just to make sure we could get to them. Walking in the door, it took my breath away to see my youngest run to me and yell, “MOMMY!!” and she flung her little arms around me. There’s nowhere else I would have rather been. All the sacrifices were worth it. We made it. They made it. My prayers had been answered.

Then, about an hour later, as we got home and I became a referee again, I began longing for our quiet hotel room in Texas. The room where I didn’t need to feed anybody, break up fights, remind them to pick up toys, etc. This balance of being blessed with healthy rambunctious children and yet wanting some time to yourself is so weird. How can you want two things that are complete opposites? I wouldn’t be happy without one or the other, yet you can’t have them both at the same time. The quiet reminds me to miss my kids and the noise reminds me that I miss time away. Is this normal? Is something wrong with me? I don’t know. But for now, I’m choosing to be thankful for every second I have, whether it’s appreciating them from afar or managing them from up close. Parenthood is a blessing, but man is it exhausting!