Too Little Structure, Too Much Disrespect

Q: It is the first day of summer vacation. I have 9-year-old and 11-year-old boys, and I work part time from home. My plan for the summer was to brainstorm a summer bucket list with them, then schedule some fun activities to do together. We would do the fun activities after daily chores and learning. I sat them down after breakfast to discuss, and they became rude and disrespectful when they realized that summer was not going to be a free for all.

It began with refusing to set down the nerf guns they were holding while we talked. Then it was interrupting with an argument every time I spoke. When it became clear they were not going to listen, I ended the discussion and walked away. These are some of the comments I heard, mostly directed at me, and some at each other: “Stupid, idiot, blind, she’s a bat, summer is supposed to be fun, unfair, annoying, I’d rather be in school, etc.” Also, one son proceeded to kick a ball repeatedly against the wall, while the other son started crying and having a meltdown.

This is not uncommon behavior, unfortunately. They frequently refuse to do what they are asked and act disrespectful to myself and my husband with nasty words, yelling or aggression. After about 20 minutes, they both apologized on their own, so we tried to discuss again. The same thing happened. I’m not sure what to do next.  

Image courtesy of chrisroll/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: You have a couple of things going on here, so let’s tackle them one at a time. First, your boys are disrespectful because you allow them to talk back to you that way. This has become a bad habit with them, so you will need to do some rehabilitation in order to turn these brats into mannered young men. Since this appears to be a pattern with them, you can address it one of two ways: Kick them out of the garden for at least 30 days until they clean up their act or use Tickets or Chart/Strikes. Just really depends on what suits you best. Both discipline methods are described in detail in Discipline Methods on this website.

As for the summer, I’d simply list things they must do each day before they play video games, read books, surf the Internet, or however they spend their time. Examples include a half hour of outdoor exercise, chores (they should be doing LOTS of chores around the house and yard, such as vacuuming, dishes, cleaning bathrooms, mowing grass, weeding, mulching, etc.–I have a chore book with examples on this site), and an edifying activity approved by you but their choice (such as building a model, working on a scout badge, tinkering, hobbies—no electronics). Then restrict their electronics time (such as only online/playing video games between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day) and let them have free time.

I hope this helps, and remember—your sons didn’t get this way overnight, so it will take some time to yank them back into the land of respect.

That Annoying, Bothersome Child

Starting when I was 12, my parents took in foster kids of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. When I was a young teen, 9-year-old Trudy (not her real name) arrived on our doorstep with a bag of clothes and head lice hidden by a bowl haircut. Freckles danced across her nose giving her an impish look that belied her rather rough personality. In short, Trudy was a brat, an extremely annoying child who did everything—and I do mean everything!—wrong. She hit, she had a whiny voice, she had no social graces, no ability to make friends. It was almost as if she was bound and determined to push everyone away so that no one could get close to her.

Like most foster kids, she came from a background that would break your heart—abused physically, sexually, mentally. Ignored, unloved. And so she forged her own abhorrent personality to cope with the truly horrible hand she had been dealt by life.

Image courtesy of Supertrooper/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But just because she was hard to love didn’t mean she was unloveable, as my parents demonstrated with patience and kindness and discipline and love. Lots and lots of unconditional love. It didn’t matter what Trudy did or didn’t do—my parents loved her. She drove me crazy with her antics, but because of my parents’ example, I loved her too.

I thought about Trudy recently when reading a post on Facebook about a young teenage girl with ADHD (“Milly”) who can be really annoying. The mom posting has a daughter (“Suzy”) who has had some run-ins/incidents with Milly. The mom wasn’t being snarky, and I know she’s probably genuinely concerned about her daughter. I know both parties and do understand both sides of the story.

But still, I wondered…Where is the compassion for Milly? Where is the understanding in the middle of the annoyance? Where is the tolerance for another, even one who does cross the line a time or two in tone or words? Do we just write off these kids and wash our hands because it’s hard? Do we allow our kids to do the same because it’s hard (when there’s no real abuse going on beyond annoyance)?

Loving those love us back, who make it easy by their personalities, isn’t difficult. Most of the time, we don’t even think about it. But loving and accepting those who make it hard, whose personalities repel us at times, that’s when the rubber meets the road.

We have to start by not labeling every annoying kid whose behavior pushes the limits or rubs another kid the wrong way. There’s true bullying and there’s “that kid is hard to be around because of her ineptness with social situations.”

We also need to teach our kids a compassionate response in the face of annoying behavior, and also kind responses. Our kids shouldn’t have to “take” an annoying personality but they should try to handle it in a kind way. Sometimes, that means telling a trusted adult. Sometimes, that means walking away. Sometimes, that means overlooking the other girl’s faults.

Because we never know when our influence or the influence of our kids can be the catalyst to change a child’s life. Remember Trudy? The world was stacked against her, but today, she’s the mother of three boys and by all accounts, a success story. Her upbringing and annoying personality didn’t dictate her future, and I know the positive influence of my parents (and perhaps, to a lesser degree, myself) had a lot to do with putting her on the right path.

How to get kids to do random things?

For a video answer of this question, visit https://www.facebook.com/parentcoachnova/.

If you’re a parent, you’ve experienced the frustration of asking your child to do something…and getting the fish eye, blank stare, snark, flat-out refusal, or whine “I don’t wanna.” This is doubly true when your request is random—that is, not related to the child’s regular chores or schedule.

Kids resist more frequently when the task request comes out of the blue, even if they’re doing “nothing,” the default runs from refusal to whining about it. But the fact remains, we all have to do things we didn’t put on our to-do list because things just come up.

How can you get your kids to do random things with less resistance and a more cheerful attitude? Here are a couple of things for moms and dads to keep in mind.

  1. Consider your timing. If your child has just sat down with a book, asking him to get up to help you will probably annoy him (as it would you in a similar situation!). If the task doesn’t need immediate attention, let a little time go by before voicing your directive.
  2. Avoid focusing on one child. If you have more than one kid, chances are, you default to asking one over the other for random tasks because of that particular child’s easier compliance. While you don’t need to adhere strictly to fairness in all things, this is one area you should strive to spread the, er, joy of helping you. To help you keep track of that, consider the two-then-switch rule—you ask two things of one child, then ask two of another.

Now, to help the kids be more compliant, here are three simple suggestions.

  1. Remind them of the clause “Other chores as assigned.” I actually wrote that on my kids’ chore charts and periodically tell them to be ready for “extra” tasks on occasion. Just like employees are generally expected to do things outside their written job descriptions, so should kids be prepared to execute tasks not on their chore descriptions.
  2. Try the ticket system. Have three slips of paper for each child (such as each child has a particular color), then tell the kids that each day, you might ask up to three random things of each child. When you do, you’ll give that child a slip of paper as a tangible marker that you’re “calling in a favor” or something similar. When the slips of paper are gone, so are the random tasks for the day. Some kids respond better to boundaries and this ticket system can help their hearts respond better to your directives.
  3. Use praise judiciously. When a child does complete the task without complaining, don’t always go overboard with your praise. However, if a child hasn’t been compliant in the past, but is in this instance, do tell him that you noticed. Be specific, like: “Thank you for not grumbling when you helped me carry in groceries.”

How do you get your kids to more cheerfully do those ad hock tasks?

A Balancing Act?

Are you off balance with your life? Rather than trying to achieve balance, author Jocelyn Green posits that women should embrace our lopsided lives instead in her latest book, Free to Lean: Making Peace with Your Lopsided Life. Jocelyn recently answered some questions about her book for my blog.

Why shouldn’t we strive to achieve balance in our lives?
Jocelyn: Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to pursue balance. If you’re a believer, your purpose in life is far bigger than that. Jesus said that being His disciple requires us to deny ourselves, to lose our own lives so we can find life in Him (Matthew 16:24–25). As we follow Jesus, with our crosses on our backs, we aren’t balanced—we’re leaning, hard, after our Savior, whatever that may look like in our own particular seasons of life.

During Jesus’ time on earth, He fasted and feasted. He preached, and He went away to a quiet place. He wasn’t looking for balance, but for God’s agenda for Him on any given day.

That’s what we should be striving to achieve: a life ordered according to the priorities God has given us. (And not the priorities He has given someone else.)

How do you personally combat the pressures to squeeze it all in?
Jocelyn: It has taken me years, but I have grown to understand my limits, and the limits of what I should ask of my family in terms of my time and energy spent outside of them. I’ve also learned to discern the difference between good opportunities, and those that are the absolute best use of my resources. When tempted to add one more thing to my plate, I ask myself what my motivations are. If the only reason is guilt, or potential fear that I will disappoint someone by saying no, those are not good enough reasons to accept another responsibility.

What did writing this book teach you?
Jocelyn: I learned so much while writing this book, both from searching the Scriptures and from talking to other women trying to navigate these issues in their own lives. One thing God has been bringing me back around to, again and again, is grace. I am so hard on myself when I make mistakes in this life. Guilt is something I have struggled with for a long time. But there is so much freedom in striving to please God with my choices, and in listening to His voice over all others. I still mess up, but when I do, God is gracious to pull me up again.

About Jocelyn Green
Jocelyn Green inspires faith and courage as the award-winning and bestselling author of 14 fiction and nonfiction books. She loves Mexican food, Broadway musicals, the color red and reading on her patio. Jocelyn lives with her husband Rob and two children in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Visit her at www.jocelyngreen.com.

 

Freedom Goes to a Two Year Old’s Head

Q: My 2-year-old recently transitioned from crib to bed. The freedom seems to be more than he can handle, and he has taken to destroying the bedroom he shares with his 3-year-old brother. Of course we’ve childproofed the room but there are clothes in drawers and some books on the shelf, mainly for the older brother. Typically in the mornings, I would make both boys help me pick up the mess before breakfast, but I’m now focusing on just the one boy since he is the perpetrator/instigator( I can see it on the monitor and we did not have this problem with the older one).

Since I’ve singled him out though for correction and sent the other boy down for breakfast without helping to pick up, the behavior has gotten even worse and he’s more mad. He refuses to clean up at all and the day goes downhill right from the beginning with him. He will only clean up if his brother is helping and I stay in the room with them. Left alone with instructions, he refuses. I do not show any frustration but simply let him know he made the mess and now he needs to pick it up or he will spend the day in his room except meals. He then proceeds to have fits, fiddle around in the room and look for other items to pull apart. We’ve stripped the room to bare bones but this is making things difficult. Should I be doing something else or is there a way to get some quicker action on his part?

Image courtesy of num_skyman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: It’s amazing how different our kids are, isn’t it? Where one is more laid back, another is a spitfire. Where one stays in bed, the other one is a human tornado.

A couple of things to keep in mind with your particular situation. First, a toddler doesn’t have the long-term memory to put two and two together—in this case, that he wrecked his room, therefore he must pick up and stay in his room until it’s done. When you expect a child to do more than a child is capable, that’s when you build frustration—in the child and parent. Of course he doesn’t want to clean up by himself! He hasn’t connected the dots that it’s his mess.

Second, don’t expect quick action from a toddler. They are by their very nature dawdlers. They are learning so much in a short time frame, and everything fascinates and distracts them. This is the beauty and annoyance of twos!

But don’t despair! There is hope to turn things around. You don’t mention when he does this destruction—in the evening going to bed or in the morning when he wakes up. See if you can pinpoint the timing, then you can make your plan. If in the evening, you are likely able to hear him do this (or station yourself outside his door to listen). When you hear drawers opening, you come into the room and stop him in his tracks. Have him immediately pick up the items by the light of the hallway (with you alongside him) and pop him back in bed with minimal talking. If it’s in the morning, gauge when he usually wakes up, wake up a bit earlier, and repeat the halt him in his tracks/pick up routine.

Anytime he needs to pick up, do it alongside him, directing him gently. “You pick up the toy trucks, while I get the trains” type thing. Have him focus on one part of the job, not the entire thing. Clothes all over the floor can be overwhelming for any child, so picking out the shirts, then moving to socks, etc., will help teach him how to manage a larger task and help keep him on task.

Also make sure you have lots of positive touch points throughout the day with him, little interactions that give him your full attention and love. Keeping that close connection will make the discipline times go more smoothly and will help you have a better attitude toward him as well.

3 Ways to Not Be a Drama Mama  

By Cindi McMenamin

Would you classify yourself as a Drama Mama?

I don’t think any of us sets out to be high maintenance or over-emotional when it comes to parenting.

But we can be drama queens when our kids are hit with unexpected circumstances and we’re unprepared to handle them. We can be drama mamas when we come up against other moms with different personalities who carry with them their own set of emotional baggage, learned behaviors, expectations, and an ability to misunderstand, misinterpret, exaggerate, gossip, disappoint, and act selfishly and inconsiderate. Just being around other people can elicit drama in any of us.

I’d like to think I’m never the cause of anyone else’s drama. But in reality, I can play into unnecessary drama at times without even realizing it.

Whether our drama is the petty stuff (like being gossiped about by another mom) or the truly painful stuff (like our child being bullied, left out or diagnosed with a medical condition that presents a challenge to the whole family), how we respond makes all the difference – or all the drama – in the world.

Here are three steps to help you NOT be a drama mama – to save your children from embarrassment and for your own sanity:

  1. Consider the bigger picture. Life–and therefore every circumstance you encounter–is meant to conform you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Once you consider this, you can relax and realize God knows what He’s doing in the circumstances He’s allowing. And you can focus on passing the test, rather than failing it through unnecessary drama.
  2. Capture your thoughts. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, we are instructed to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ because we are in a spiritual war in which the enemy of our souls will do his best to run rampant through our thought life, creating doubt, fear, and confusion.

To take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ means capturing or binding them with the truth of God’s Word. Instead of entertaining a loose thought like “I can’t get through this situation” capture that thought with the truth of God’s Word: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Or instead of entertaining the thought “I’m alone in this,” capture that thought with the truth that Christ has said He’ll never leave you nor desert you (Hebrews 13:5). The more we know of God’s Word, the better we will be able to tame our reckless, wild thoughts.

  1. Correct Your Thinking. When you begin to feel overwhelmed by life and start to freak out, ask yourself: “What is true about this situation?” Instead of focusing on the “what ifs” or your feelings or fears, focus on the facts. As yourself: “What am I believing about God that isn’t true?” or “What am I fearing as opposed to what is really going on?” When our feelings lead us down a dark tunnel of despair, we need to switch on the facts of what we know about God–and the situation–to direct us back out.

When we know Who God is and what He is capable of, our worries, fears, and freak-outs can be stilled.

About Cindi McMenamin
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. For more on balancing your emotions and being the best woman, wife, and mom you can be, see her new book, Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You, now available at her website, www.StrengthForTheSoul.com, or anywhere you buy books.

 

 

Separation Anxiety

Q: I need any advice on how to approach separation problems for my 3- (almost 4) year-old son. My husband and I teach his Sunday School class every other week, but the weeks with other teachers, we have trouble dropping him off. He has asked me almost every morning for the past year if we’re going to church that day. The second question is if we’re teaching his class. Today, we were not teaching and he became upset, tried to run away at the door, and when forced to go in, tried to hit another friend. We took him out and calmed him down before trying again. He had gotten to a point where he would go in fairly willingly, but it’s gotten much worse lately. I don’t know what has changed or what to do about it.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: It sounds like you’re playing Parent Detective in trying to discover why your preschooler suddenly doesn’t want to be without you in some social situations. But because he’s three, he probably has no idea why he doesn’t want to be alone in a classroom without mom or dad there. What is clear is that he’s not ready to be on his own at this time.

Sometimes, when kids are growing into a new stage developmentally, they regress a bit socially, and that sounds like what’s happening with your son. And because he’s becoming more physical in demonstrating his anxiety, you’ll need to simply stop trying to make him do this.

Each week you’re not teaching, tell him that he has a choice—he can go into his classroom by himself or he can sit quietly with you in your classroom. When he says stay with you, remind him that he must be quiet (and make sure you’ve brought a coloring book or something to occupy him during your class) and take him in with you.

What you shouldn’t do is try to convince him there’s nothing to be afraid of or to force him at age 3 to go to class by himself. And don’t discuss this other than to ask him once what he wants to do each time. The more you talk about a problem at this age, the bigger it looms in the child’s mind and a molehill morphs into a mountain.

He will likely outgrow this and start to want more independence, but until he does, you’re better off not forcing the issue.

Those Fighting Girls

Q: My two girls, ages 2 and 3, constantly fight when together (expect for one to three minutes at the beginning of play). My 3 year old is aggressive to her younger sister in the forms of hitting, scratching, bossing/bully, and making her do her work. The 2 year old has no trust with her sister, and if the 3 year old comes close, the 2 year old will automatically defend herself by hitting, scratching, screaming and biting. I also have a 6-month-old baby and I can’t watch these girls every second, nor should I have to watch them every second.

I feel very paralyzed to accomplish minor tasks around the house because these two can’t be trusted. I try to ignore some of the fighting, but they harm each other pretty good if I don’t intervene after a minute. What are ways to minimize the sibling rivalry and build trust between the two?

Image courtesy of stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: Believe it or not, they will stop constantly fighting, but that day isn’t going to come soon! My two oldest are similarly close in age and girls as well, so I well remember the battles between them at 2 and 3! So, what’s a mother to do?

Separation is your friend. As much as possible, direct the girls to play in different areas of the house or room with different toys. When you hear the first yelp, intervene to separate the two of them. Don’t pick sides, but remove the toy and redirect. Repeat. This will take some time because the girls have gotten into a bad habit of fighting.

Then in quieter times, work with them on how to play together. Perhaps when the baby naps in the morning, spend 10 or 15 minutes playing alongside the girls, directing them gently but firmly on how to play together. Show them by doing, and they’ll catch on about sharing, etc. This isn’t something kids learn on their own!

Also help the girls do nice things for each other, like bringing toys they like or having the older sister “read” a book to the younger one. This type of interaction—again, directed by you—will help build more positive interactions with each other. My book, Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, has a lot of other suggestions on building positive sibling relationships and conflict resolution. You can order a copy through my webstore.