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“I do not think it means what you think it means”

There is a phrase that I hear rather frequently by fellow moms of young children:  “But she loves it so much!”  This phrase seems to be used to justify pretty much anything that the mom allows her child to do, but has at least some idea that it isn’t necessarily good for her child.  For instance, the mom lets her child repeatedly watch a movie or t.v. show that has inappropriate language and behaviors – which the child is modeling and having to be disciplined for.  “But he loves it so much!”  Or a mom lets her child spend multiple hours a day in front of a screen (iPad, video game, t.v.) instead of encouraging the child to have hands-on interactions with the real world.  “But she loves it so much!”  Or the child eats several packages of fruit snacks in the afternoon, then barely touches dinner.  “But he loves it so much, and they are at least made of real fruit!”  I hear it over and over in all kinds of contexts.  And the mom usually has a big smile on her face as she says it, like she’s providing something wonderful by giving the child what he loves so much.  My interpretation of the statement would be, “I choose to not put proper boundaries in place, so, yes, my child gets to do such-and-such.”

The important thing we moms have to keep in mind, though, is that we are the parents, and our children are the children.  As children, they don’t yet have the mental capacity to know what is good for them or how much of something is healthy for them.  That’s our job as parents.  They don’t have the internal self-control, so it is up to us to provide the external self-control.

Think of it in terms of yourself.  I, for one, am pretty much obsessed with chocolate.  My favorite kind of salad is an M&M salad – plain, peanut, and peanut butter mixed together.  I love it so much!!  But…I don’t get to enjoy it very often.  It’s not good for my teeth, my weight, or my general physical health.  I have to set my own boundaries, have the self-control to hold to those boundaries, and make use of accountability from my husband (not to mention the bathroom scale).

We need to be loving enough to our children to provide those types of boundaries for them.  To be clear, I’m not talking about those once-in-awhile special treats, and I’m not talking about when the parent has really thought through the matter and decided this particular thing is okay.  I’m referring to when the mom clearly is feeling somewhat guilty internally, and justifying their decision with those words:  “But she loves it so much!”

Now, I don’t know about you, but understanding what types of boundaries are appropriate and how to set them and stick to them has been very challenging for me.  That’s something that honestly I never really knew much about until a few years ago when I read Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  That book is about setting boundaries in general, with anyone in our lives.  However, the same authors also have one specifically for parents titled Boundaries with Kids.  I really want to read that, but haven’t yet.  It sounds really helpful.  Have you read it?  If so, I would love for you to leave a comment and let me know if/how it was helpful in your own family.

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The Power of Yes

Please allow me to start this post with a caveat.  Our current society is really lacking in our ability to say “no” these days, both to ourselves and to our children.  “No, son, I will not buy you a new toy every time we go to the store.”  “No, self, I cannot afford to buy that particular car.  I need to buy a used one with less features that I have the cash for.”

This post is related to that, but with a twist.

Today, I want to talk about the value of a “yes” when it comes to parenting.  When a child asks for something, but it’s not the right time for it, it is much more effective to say, “Yes, as soon as you…” instead of “No, you haven’t…”

For instance, today at lunch, Drama Queen had finished her sandwich and asked for a plain slice of bread.  As I handed it to her, Mr. BANG suddenly wanted one as well.  As he asked for one, Drama Queen asked for a second, so she could make a filling-less sandwich.  It would have been natural to say, “No, Mr. BANG, you haven’t eaten your sandwich yet.  And no, Drama Queen, you haven’t eaten your first slice yet.”  That would have been natural, but it would have left them with a negative, victim feeling of, “Ugh, Mommy’s going to make me  eat all this before I can eat that.”

Instead, I said in a positive tone, “Yes, Mr. BANG, as soon as you finish your sandwich, you may have a slice of plain bread.  And yes, Drama Queen, you may have a second slice as soon as you finish your first slice.”  It may not seem to make that much of a difference, but it really does in terms of the way the child receives it.  When I give that yes statement, they feel empowered.  They know that they have the ability to receive what they are wanting; the choice is completely up to them.  They know that I’m standing by ready to hand over the desired item as soon as they complete their end of the “bargain.”

I use this “yes” approach in pretty much any situation, always with an upbeat tone of voice.  “Yes, I would love to play trains with you after clean up your water color painting.”  “Yes, you may buy that toy with your chore money.”  (When she’s asking me to buy her a toy.)  “Yes, we can read that book after you put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket.”  “Yes, you may have a piece of candy after you eat everything on your plate.”  “Yes, you can go play outside as soon as you’ve cleaned your room.”  “Yes, you may have the toy back as soon as you apologize to your sister.”

At this point I don’t remember if I got this idea through my Montessori education or if I just realized it made a big difference in my child’s response.  I started it very early with Drama Queen, I think before Mr. BANG was even born.  (They’re 20 months apart.)

Having had many, many experiences with children since my babysitting high school days, I’ve seen many a child throw a fit over being told, “No.”  Of course, there are times when a clear “no” is necessarily.  If the child is reaching toward a hot stove, or about to encounter some danger, that is a time for a firm “No.”  There have certainly been times when I’ve given one of my children a firm “no” and s/he has cried or even thrown a fit, and that’s okay.  I’ve hugged them and in their terms, explained the “no” and why it was important.  However, I want my “no” to be reserved for those important situations, so the children know to respect it.  Sitting here right now, I can’t think of a time when I said, “Yes, as soon as…” and it resulted in tears.

As much as possible, I say “yes”.  It keeps the mood light and lets them feel confident that the ball is in their court.

P.S.  It works on myself, too:  “Yes, self, you can have that slice of decadent chocolate cake smothered in hot fudge when you have the appropriate number of Weight Watchers Points left over at the end of the week.”  Ah, now that’s motivation!

THAT Kind of Mom

Nearly a decade ago, years before I reached Mommy status, I taught in a Montessori school and worked in the after-care program at the same school.  It was always fascinating to see how different children reacted when their parents arrived to pick them up.  In a Montessori environment, children are given the opportunity to develop self-control, independence, and responsibility, and they really do amazingly well building those skills.  At least while they are at school.

I’ll never forget one day when the mother of a six-year-old girl arrived to pick her up in the afternoon.  This sweet girl was a joy to work with.  She was always on top of things, very self-directed, and great at helping other children and modeling appropriate behavior to the younger ones.  When her mom came to pick her up, though, she literally threw herself down on the ground and threw a horrible, whining, kicking temper tantrum.   I was stunned at this girl who had suddenly become a completely different child the moment she realized her mom was in the room.  The mom looked at me, rolled her eyes, explained away her daughter’s behavior.

Ever since, I’ve used that story as an example of how children know the expectations of the differing people in their lives; they know what they can get away with in each situation.   My impression was that the mom didn’t set clear and firm boundaries with this young girl, as we did at school.

Well, it looks as though I might have unknowingly become that mom.  When our cruise was over, The Brain and I headed to my parents’ house to pick up Drama Queen and Mr. BANG.  They were napping when we arrived, so we got their things packed up and waited in the living room with my mom.  When Drama Queen walked in and saw The Brain and I, instead of running over into our arms with her huge “I’m the happiest person on Earth!” smile filling her face, she immediately started whining and throwing a fit about wanting to watch t.v.  Again, I was quite surprised by this reaction.  Mom tried to reassure me that she had only acted that way one day while we were gone, but to me, this seemed very much like that little six-year-old girl in the Montessori school.

Granted, we didn’t allow the fit to continue, as that mom had.  And I know that children naturally push limits with their moms more than anyone else.  I know that she was still sleepy from her nap.  And I know she had gotten spoiled by the grandparents letting her watch t.v. each day after nap.  BUT, The Brain and I still took advantage of the situation to reflect back on how we’ve been doing lately on consistently and immediately responding to inappropriate behavior – particularly not following directions right away and this whole whining/temper tantrum thing.  We absolutely didn’t allow it when she was younger, but as she’s gotten older and more responsible, we’ve gotten lax in our responses.  (sigh)  Why does this whole “being consistent” thing have to be SO important and yet SO hard?!

So, who has tips for me?  What do you do about whining and throwing temper tantrums?