Small Changes in Parenting Tactics

It often doesn’t take a very large parenting shift to make a big difference in a family dynamic. Some recent examples:

In mid-February Link was feeling neglected and unloved at home. He saw all the things we were doing for other kids, but wasn’t recognizing things we did for him. This was in part because we weren’t doing those things in ways that made him feel loved. Howard, Link, and I sat down and had a conversation where we cleared the air on this. Afterward both Howard and I made an extra effort to give Link hugs, to tell him out loud that we love him, to listen when he talked. It was half a dozen small adjustments, but Link no longer doubts that we love him.

Patch sometimes has meltdowns when faced with homework, particularly if the quantity or difficulty is unexpected in some way. These meltdowns have been garnering him lots of attention, which he craves, even though some of the attention is negative. When the homework stress hit, he would take actions to amp-up the meltdown and stress rather than attempting to take power and manage it. To address this I made sure he was getting positive attention and love elsewhere, mostly during a sacrosanct bedtime when I snuggle and listen. Then I stopped responding to his meltdowns. I’d tell him calmly that I was happy to help if he requested it with words rather than distressed noises. I also tried to place a reward on the far side of homework, such as a piece of chocolate. Then I told him he has the power to reach for the reward. As long as he was trying, I would be happy to help. When he gave up then I’d find something else to do until he was ready to try. The process was not fun, but it gave power and responsibility to Patch. Eventually he took both and finished the work. The next homework time was drama free.

Gleek has trouble with transitions. When I need her to stop what she is doing to do something else, like go to bed, she will ignore me, say “just a sec,” or request to do one more thing first. After the additional time or one more thing, she will repeat the request. Each request seems tiny, reasonable. But it is very common to discover that she has reasonable requested her way into an extra hour. If I get in her face and insist, then she reacts as if I am the being unfair, why on earth did I get so mad? She was totally doing what I asked. Except she did not actually move to close the book or quit the game until after I got in her face. To combat this I’m going to have to be really strict for awhile. Step on was to explain to her in a conversation that this is a problem and why it is a problem. Then I picked two small areas: quitting a computer game and closing a book. When I say it is time to be done, she has one minute to comply. If she does not, then she loses that book or computer game for about half a day. I don’t like being the parent who insists my kids must do what I say Or Else, but Gleek has been taking advantage of me. She knows it and I know it. We had a whole conversation during which she admitted as much. Day one of this new plan went well. There are battles coming, I’m certain. I’m not looking forward to them. However this is a small shift we can make which will decrease my daily frustration with her. Decreasing draws on my emotional reserves is pretty important because I’ve been tapped out lately.

Bedtime for the youngest two kids has a predictable routine. First comes snack. This is when the kids are supposed to make sure that they have a last bit of food so that they don’t feel hungry in bed. Then they read in bed. Then it is lights out. Many times I have lectured that they must do all their eating at snack time, because it is very frustrating when I get to lights out and have a kid tell me “I’m hungry.” Lately Patch has been the one doing this. He’ll assure me that he is full. Twice. Then he’ll read in bed for thirty minutes only to realize, ten minutes after lights out, that he really is hungry and he’d only skipped through snack because he wanted to read his book. Some of it is a play for additional attention. Patch doesn’t outright ask for permission to get out of bed and eat, he throws sadness at me: sad eyes, big sighs, etc. He knows I have trouble sending kids to bed hungry. I finally figured out how to turn the responsibility for this over to Patch. If he needs to get up after lights out to go eat, he can choose that, but he’ll owe me an extra chore. Having kids out of bed after bedtime impacts my ability to do other things with the evening, so if he needs to get out of bed, he needs to do something to increase my ability to do other things. That extra chore will happen before school the next day and will thus cut into his free time during that hour. Instead of me being the hero that lets Patch eat, or the villain who makes him stay in bed, I become a bystander while Patch makes his own decision.

Small changes such as these seem so unimportant, particularly when faced with large crises, but I’ve found that solutions applied to small problem spots have large ripple effects. Often it is the same emotional dynamic and need that is driving the larger, more problematic behaviors. Without intending to tackle the big issues, I end up generalizing the new strategies and the kids begin generalizing their adjustments. Sometimes a small shift is all it takes to renovate an entire system.