Thursday, May 14, 2009

Keeping an Even Keel

As we walked in the door from swim team practice this afternoon,  5 year-old Christopher went straight to the bathroom, hung up his bathing suit, and hopped into the bathtub, just as I had asked him to. He was very helpful in the tub, washing himself off with soap and even helping to get the shampoo out of his little sister's hair. After bath time, Christopher dried himself off and went into his bedroom, and without even asking he put on his pajamas and cleaned up the toys that had been strewn across his room. Ready for dinner, Christopher walked into the kitchen and sat down at his seat, patiently waiting for me to finish getting Maria dried off and dressed before I set dinner on the table. Everything went perfectly smoothly, and we ate a pleasant meal together.

Well okay, that's not exactly what happened...In fact, it's not at all how things happened :) It took some prodding to get Christopher to come to the bath, get himself dressed after bath time, and clean up his toys. He was starving and by the time I got to the kitchen he had snagged a granola bar from the pantry. Some nights this routine takes longer than others, and sometimes I am more capable of remaining calm and organized through it all than others!

On our better days, these are some techniques that help to keep things peaceful and orderly:

1) Counting to 5: When I've asked Christopher to do something and he has not done it the first time, I give him a "Count of 5" to do what I've asked him, otherwise he gets a consequence. For example, if I've asked Christopher to come to the bath and he's playing with legos in his room, I say "I'm going to count to 5 and I expect you to come to the bath...1, 2, 3, 4, 5". If he does not come by 5, I take away one of his bedtime stories, then count to 5 again, take away another story, dessert, etc. You get the idea. The count of 5 gives Christopher enough time to respond, and it gives me 5 seconds to cool off when I'm frustrated!

2) Resisting the urge to raise my voice (aka scream): Nothing good comes out of screaming, really. The only time that I think it's the most effective tool is when one of my children is putting themselves or someone else in danger, like when they're about to walk into the street without looking. Otherwise, it just gives everyone a headache!

3) Having a plan set in place: The nights when I plan ahead (dinner is mostly ready, rooms have already been cleaned, etc.), everyone is less frazzled. When the kids know what to expect, they are more likely to behave well.

What are your survival strategies for keeping an even keel?


sophie said...

My first response was coffee...Every...morning.

When things get rough and everyone is on edge I've been trying lately to stop and find something silly to giggle about with the kids. It lightens everyone up and gives us all a chance for a fresh start.

Julia A said...

Things do get easier as they get older, especially once they can read a checklist!

Our strategy:
1. Remember to give specific praise when they've done it right! I just finished reading Carol Dweck's Mindset, which has reinforced the need to do this. (She's the one who did all the research behind that New York Magazine article on good vs. bad praise, We moms tend to spend way to much of our in-the-moment character teaching negatively, rather than positively.

2. I try to keep whatever corrections I give the kids to five words or less. This is amazingly helpful for keeping my temper. I can repeat, "Shower. Shower. Shower..." dozens of times with a cool head, while even the beginnings of a lecture get me rolling on a rant. Besides, the pithy seems to penetrate young minds better than the prolix.

3. As they get older, I 'remove the scaffolding' by ceasing the specific reminders and replacing them with prods that force the child to remember for himself what he has to do. E.g., instead of saying, "Shower. Shower.", the refrain is "What should you be doing next?" Instead of "Do you have your backpack?" it's "Stop at the door and see if you have everything."

4. Pray to the Holy Spirit constantly. I do think this is the hidden compensation for moms for lack of alone-time for quiet prayer: developing the habit of turning to God hundreds of times a day for guidance, help with patience, and comfort.

Mary Jean said...

I also did the 5-count. To this day, if I look at my 22 year old daughter and say, "That's 1" she knows she needs to straighten up! I also spent lots of time praying to St. Monica. Everyone always asked, "Why St. Monica?" Well, if she could pray her son around she should be able to help me with my child!!!

Mary Alice said...

I think that lowering expectations can help alot. Don't get me wrong, I am fairly strict with my kids and they help alot for their ages, but that initial picture you painted? I don't think you could even expect an adult to perform that well, especially after a late activity and while waiting for dinner.

For this specific situation, as I know from a 12 year swimming career, you are starving after swim practice. My kids don;t get snacks generally, but if we don't have something in the car right after evening swimming lessons we have meltdowns before we are home. Give the granola bar in advance, and he won't have to sneak it.

Juris Mater said...

Kat, yes!, WHAT a difference it makes to have dinner planned and as fully prepared as possible before the late afternoon arrives. This is one major survival tactic I've cultivated in the last year. There's no comparison between the late afternoons when we arrive home from the park with dinner already chopped, seasoned, and ready to cook... versus the alternative, when I consider feeding the whole family Easy Cheese straight out of the bottle for dinner.

Thanks for the other pointers too!

Kat said...

Sophie, I'm with you on the coffee :) I also like the reminder to keep things light-hearted and to laugh with the children - on my better days, I try to do the same.

Julia, thanks for the reminder to give specific praise for a job well done!

Mary Jean and Julia, I appreciate the reminder to pray throughout the day! Sometimes the shortest prayers are the most effective for me...Lord Jesus, help us, Lord Jesus, help us...

Mary Alice, I agree, I would never expect things to run as smoothly as the initial picture that I painted :) The reason that I wrote that is because when C got out of the bath and went into his room, I actually *thought* I heard him getting dressed and cleaning up. I was all ready with lots of praise when I walked in and saw him undressed, building something with his legos...And I had to laugh to myself :) Someday, someday...

JM, preparing ahead is key...But sometimes, it just doesn't happen, so tell me honestly, is the Easy Cheese a viable option? ;)

Juris Mater said...

I like Easy Cheese for Fridays/Fridays in Lent; SPAM with a spoon when you're not going meatless. Top it off with some Pringles (barf) and fruit-flavored Go-Gurts (so repulsive) for dessert and voila, you've covered all of the food groups.

Right Said Red said...


That is so disgusting. I am still a prego with some nausea issues, and you just pulled a Christopher West with that food description ;-) I'm off the computer and headed to the bathroom.

texas mommy said...

Kat...what about having dinner ready in the slow cooker when you get home? Something simple like bbq chicken and give him some carrot sticks.

Or take a page from Mary Alice's book and cut up cheese, apples and crackers during his quiet time and have them waiting on a plate in the fridge. Totally satisfactory dinner, esp. during the summer in TX.

Don't forget to pack a snack for yourself during his swim time. If I'm starving, I'm MUCH more irritable. Something to tide you over until the kids are down!

Kat said...

Have any of you had a similar experience: I'll have plenty of snacks for the kids at the pool or on the way home, and they're perfectly happy, but...The minute we walk in the door, something happens and everyone is whining and frantic for dinner! I'm sure you can relate :)

Tex, thanks for the reminder that apples and cheese are perfectly acceptable food options for dinner!

MargaretJDMom said...

One way I keep an even keel- going to bed on time and not staying up too late. Tired mom= cranky mom.

Also, I recommend the book "Taking Charge: Caring Discipline That Works at Home and at School"
by JoAnne Nordling. She talks about the way parents end up sabatoging(sp?) themselves.

Mary Alice said...

TM, thanks for the reminder to have a healthy snack for ourselves! I live on coffee and M&M's and then wonder why I am cranky!

JM, the former head of the FDA was just on the radio saying that until we see these fast foods as disgusting instead of just forbidden we will not really change our eating habits. Thanks for helping us on that journey! What about just picking up a slushie and a hot dog from 7-11?

Juris Mater said...

The 7-11 sounds good, but only if they can make it a cheese dog (a squirt of Velveeta injected into the dog). Otherwise we'd be lacking the dairy food group.

Come to think of it, a cheesedog with ketchup on a bun covers all five food groups.