My kids were driving me crazy. They didn’t listen, didn’t do as they were told and often felt feral. I felt overwhelmed, outnumbered and spent a lot of time hiding in my room, or locked in the bathroom with junk food and a cell phone. This was not the life I had envisioned when I saw that first positive pregnancy test.
Hey guys and welcome back to the Updraft Podcast. This is the first episode that I have recorded since the Podcast went live and I am completely and totally blown away by the response I have received so far. Thank you to every single one of you that took the time to leave a review, call me to say you loved it, send a DM, a text, or spread the word to the people in your life that you thought would benefit. That first day that it went live my phone blew UP. I literally had to pop melatonin, along with everything I already take to help me sleep, just to fall asleep because my brain was on FIRE with excitement. My heart is so full and I am SO thankful to all of you!
This week I want to talk a bit about strategies for parenting, as I have received a lot of comments from people that they feel like they are drowning just trying to keep up with their kids, never mind anything else, and this is something that I feel to the core.
When I first started on this whole parenting gig it was just Peyton and I. His Dad had a bit of a “moment” when he found out I was pregnant. He stared at my blankly for about 15 minutes and then walked out of the room and that was it, he was gone. He moved across the country to Alberta and didn’t come back until our son was almost two. Clearly we worked it all, we are now happy, married and raising 4 kids – and I’m sure that I will tell you more of the story in another episode, but for now the point is that it was just Peyton and I stick the world for a couple of years. We lived in my Mom’s basement and thankfully I had help from my Mom and my sister, but I was the sole parent making the rules and calling the shots, paying the bills and getting up in the night. All night. Every. Single. Night. Dude was not a chill newborn and hated sleep. He was up every 45 minutes of the first year of his life. He was colicky and cried from 12am – 6am every single night for almost 8 weeks. In anticipation, my crying began around 11.
He was however an awesome toddler. At the time, I had zero frame of reference for what it is like to raise a baby or toddler, so I didn’t realize yet that the fact that he was speaking in full sentences very shortly after his first birthday negated the need for the terrible twos and tantrums. He didn’t have to deal with the frustration of not being able to communicate because he could just tell me what he wanted, and the way his brain developed he was insanely logical, so for the most part if we couldn’t do what he wanted I just had to explain it and then he was cool. Since it was just the two of us, he also had my undivided attention, no need to tantrum or whine to get it. Obviously he still had his moments, and heaven help us if he was hungry because just like his Mama that quickly turns to hangry, but overall he was a super fun and easy toddler to raise – as far as toddlers go. Of course being a brand new Mom I just thought I was killing it. I thought I was an amazing Mom and it would be smooth sailing. I mean obviously being a single Mom, and a self-employed one at that was not easy, but the kid himself, no problem. So naïve.
Just before little man’s 3rd birthday we had our little girl, Elise. By this point Michael and I had worked things out and were living in our first “together” home. We saw his two older boys on some weekends, but for the most part it was just the three of us. Ellie was the opposite of her older brother. She was the unicorn baby. I swore that if they could all be like that I would have had 50. It felt like a cake walk. Not only was she a generally content baby who slept for up to 4 hours at a time at night, instead of the 45 minutes I had experience last time, I had a partner this time. He got up with her if she didn’t need to be fed, he took them to the park for an hour so I could nap, he let me sleep in on weekends and kept the breakfast in bed coming all weekend. Again, I thought we’ve got this. We are going to rock this parenting thing.
Fast forward about 4 months. We are visiting my Mom and Michael calls. He just got a call saying we need to take full custody of his two boys (then 8 and 4), and we need to take them NOW. We had a few days to get everything ready, get them registered at school and then boom – instantly went from having 1 kid to 4 kids in just 4 months.
It was mass chaos. I had no idea how to parent an 8 year old, or what they should be capable of at that point. In this case it was sort of irrelevant as their upbringing to date hadn’t been, we’ll say, conventional. They needed to learn how to follow a routine, follow rules, lots of basic life skills. I remember poor Nathan’s confusion after his first day of school when he realized he had to go again. And again. This was not something they were used to.
Thankfully those two boys, my stepsons, Nathan and Anthony are the sweetest boys, with big hearts and just want to please. We didn’t have to deal with any of the drama or backlash that so often comes from kids who are adjusting to a newly blended home. They immediately took to me and dubbed me “white Mom” while calling their biological Mom “Brown Mom”. Adorable.
Despite how sweet and willing they were, my brain did not know how to compute having 4 kids, one of them being breastfed infant, while balancing a house, and working. There’s no maternity leave when you are self-employed so I went back to work when she was just a month old. We very quickly spun into chaos. My consistency dropped off. I didn’t know how to balance disciplining my own kids with disciplining two kids that weren’t technically mine, but I was very much responsible for. How do you keep that fair. What are the expectations? Are they the same for everyone or do these two older boys get more grace because they haven’t had this type of structure before. But then how do you reconcile that to a 3 year old who doesn’t understand why they get away with things and he doesn’t? I flip flopped around just trying my best to make it through each day and all consistency evaporated. I tried to be patient and calm all day, and then would eventually lose it. Screaming and then retreating, hating myself for losing my cool. It was awful. This continued on for a couple of years while we figured things out. We did the very best we could, and despite me being a hot mess, my kids thankfully seem to have very happy memories of this time in our lives.
After that little breakdown I mentioned in Episode 3, and getting medicated to get the edge off I finally had enough clarity to remember what I am good at. Being resourceful. Research. Getting creative. I remember my Mom telling me as a teen that I would make a wonderful horse trainer someday as I was so good at looking at the individual in front of me and figuring out how to get the most out of them. That stuck with me and one day it popped into my head, making me realize that this was even better applied to the 4 little kids in front of me.
I signed up for a parenting course. I read articles. I talked to people and got their best tips. I read books. Then I discovered Peyton reading those books. I laughed at how cute he was, and walked off figuring he would get bored – what 5 year old could possibly find “The Whole Brain Child” a book about neuroscience and parenting, to be interesting? 30 minutes later I walked back in and he was still reading. “Why are you still reading that buddy? Isn’t it boring?” His answer will give you an idea of what I was up against with just one of these unique children. He said “It’s boring Mom, but I need to understand your tactics so I can stay ahead.” I don’t remember what I actually said to him but I do remember the mix of hilarity and horror ran through my veins. Like, who says that?!
Anyway, through the course, the research, the book and life I did pick up some REALLY helpful tips to pass along. Our life is still chaos but I don’t know how it could be any other way with 4 special kids, and 2 parents building businesses while simultaneously trying to raise them. Here are my favourite 3.
- My all-time favourite is the When/Then. It’s so
simple and so effective and it goes like this: When you are dressed, then you
can have breakfast. When you have cleaned your room, then you can come play. You
encourage them to complete their responsibilities by enticing them with the
activity they are looking forward to. This means you don’t need to nag, you
don’t need to get into a power struggle or a fight, you just let them take
control. I literally don’t have to do anything in the morning to get them ready
for school other than occasionally help my daughter with a button or zipper and
do her hair. This is a game changer guys. I used to spend the mornings, and I
HATE mornings, chasing them around, “get dressed, hurry up and eat, don’t
forget your lunch, where’s your homework?!” and now it is ALL on them. I did
have to break my own rule to make this one super effective. I had never allowed
screen time in the mornings, but I broke that rule and turned it into “Once you
are washed, dressed, bag packed, and have eaten breakfast then you are allowed
to use whatever time is left to play on screens” The catch is, and they know
this, that if they forget a single step in that process, they lose their
screens for the next day. Not just the morning, but the whole day if it is a
screen day. They have literally missed a step once or twice each – even the
ones with ADHD who genuinely struggle with focus and memory. By adding the
“then” of having screen time it makes them care, and pay attention.
This also works with refusal to do things,
or tantrums. They don’t want to clean their room? No problem, WHEN your room is
clean THEN you may join us for dinner, or whatever else it is. Having a kicking
and screaming fit? No problem, put them in their room and tell them “WHEN you
are done having your fit, THEN Mommy would love to give you a big hug and we
can snuggle it out”.
One of the biggest keys with using this strategy for tantrums or refusals is to walk away. If you stand there and watch them it will a) feel like a challenge and b) give them to option to argue or negotiate. Just walk away and let them do their thing. 9 times out of 10 this works beautifully in our house, and as I said it has taken so much off of our plate because the kids have their routines in place for getting ready in the mornings and we have one for bed time too – so there’s less for me to think about and way less nagging and yelling to get things done.
- Make 10 – 15 minutes of time for each child at LEAST once a day. This sounds like such a silly thing and honestly when I first heard it I figured there was no possible way to pull this off with 4 kids and the chaos that was our lives. We didn’t have time. I’m telling you though. Make time. This one sounds like the least effective. It makes the least sense to us when we hear it and loads of parents skip over it. Trust me though, it is HUGE. So much of the bad behavior is really just them crying out for attention. Their needs aren’t being met so they cause problems all day, trying to get their needs met in all the wrong ways. Kids don’t know how to recognize or articulate this, but when you start giving them consistent, regularly scheduled one on one they will naturally be better behaved and will seek to please you by doing what they are told. It also helps us as parents to reconnect with our littles and stay in touch with their lives, which builds the relationship and communication so that they feel more comfortable talking to us about their lives and problems as they grow.
In our house this is called “special time” for the boys and “girl time” for Elise. They got to name their time, and they get to pick the activity as well. This is huge as it gives them a hit of power, which also helps to reduce power struggles throughout the day. They need an opportunity to feel in control. Actually they need lots of opportunities which is why so many parents find it effective to add in a million choices a day such as “do you want the red cup or the blue cup with dinner” “Do you want the bear book or the cat book tonight”
In our house the only way I could figure
out a way to add in this one on one was right before bed. I start with the
youngest and we get completely ready for bed, minus the bedtime story and song
and then once that is complete she gets to pick her activity. Because we do
this right before bed, she has a list of things she can choose from (that she
helped make) to make sure we don’t end up playing a game that is going to leave
her awake for hours. While she is doing her time, the other boys are getting
ready for bed. They are motivated by the when/then with the one on one time to
entice them, and so they go quickly because they don’t want to miss a moment of
Three key points with this one on one time are to label it – have them give it a name and then say “its time for girl time” or whatever you call it. This helps them recognize how you are filling their need for attention. Another key point is to schedule it so that they know when it is coming. You need to treat it like any other appointment and keep it so that they know they can count on this. You need to make sure that if you do HAVE to change it that you tell the child, apologize and then reschedule with them just as you would with any other appointment. The final key is to set a timer – I found the one on my phone works great, others prefer a visual timer so they can see it counting down. This signals the end – so YOU don’t have to be the “bad guy” who decides on the end. My daughter will often melt down when the timer goes, she is devastated that our time is over. That’s ok… it just shows me how needed this time is.
Consistency is huge – they look forward to this, and when you don’t have time to play while you are making dinner, or trying to get the housework done they will start to remember that it is ok – they have their special time at the end of the night to look forward to. I say this, and yet I will admit that I suck at consistency. We have periods where it is just TOO busy and I can’t seem to make the time. Then the Mom guilt kicks in and their attention seeking behaviors ramp up. So don’t be like me, be consistent, and I will keep trying too!!
- Number 3 is the If/Then. This is the only way consequences are done in our house. Or I should say, we try to make this the only way consequences are done. I definitely lose my temper occasionally or they do something that clearly requires a consequence but I totally didn’t see it coming and have time to prepare it in advance. But I try and the other two strategies have really cut down on the need for consequences, but it doesn’t eliminate it entirely. For us the keys are to allow natural consequences whenever possible – “You forgot your swimsuit? Oh that sucks, I guess you will have to sit out today” No need to yell or make them feel worse, in fact natural consequences are awesome because they allow you to comfort your kid through the process instead of being the bad guy, and will teach them not to do it again. And, to make sure that any consequence doled out by us is known ahead of time and is related. So, for example if I have a child who won’t sit still at the dinner table I will let them know prior “IF you get up from your seat, THEN I will assume you are done and your dinner will be gone.” It’s related – if they get up from the dinner table they lose their dinner, AND I let them know ahead of time what would happen. If they get up from the table because they forgot then they will quickly realize it was their mistake and the consequence makes logical sense so it doesn’t seem like they have some mean and angry parent telling them what to do. They may not like it but they are less likely to misplace their anger and more likely to see the connection to their own actions. This example is one we used in our home because dinner was chaos and I never actually got to eat warm food, and I promise they only make this mistake once or twice and then its done.
If you are interested in learning more I highly recommend the course Positive Parenting Solutions by Amy McCready. I’m not an affiliate and they don’t sponsor this podcast (although maybe they should!) but I did love the course and learned so much from it – and I think you would too!
Hopefully these little strategies will help you clean up some of the chaos in your house too, and let you get back to enjoying your kids instead of being overwhelmed by their presence. As I said, we are definitely not perfect, and we still have to remind ourselves of what we know to be more effective instead of slipping into old habits, but the more we use these three tricks the easier life becomes. Thanks for listening, see you next week!
This episode is sponsored by Audible. Audible is offering the Updraft listeners a free audiobook and month long trial. Go to audibletrial.com/updraft to sign up and get your free trial and audiobook of your choice! I just finished listening to Rachel Hollis’ Girl Wash Your Face, which I loved, and can’t wait to pick another out of my library. I love that Audible has given me back my love of stories and information in a way that fits into my life. I don’t have time to sit still and read most days, but I can definitely flip on an audio book in the car, or while I make dinner.
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