When I arrived at after-school care yesterday to retrieve my children, M was in the bathroom. J seemed happy enough to see me and gave me a great hug before biting her lip.
J: Mumble mumble trouble mumble mumble kick M mumble mumble jacket mumble mumble meatball. Sadia: You got in trouble because you kicked M for calling your jacket a meatball?! J: Of course not! Sadia: I thought I must have misunderstood that. J: Look at this bruise! M kicked me! Sadia: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Start at the beginning. What happened? J: I told M yesterday not to call my jacket a meatball. Today she called it a meatball again! So I pretended to kick her. Except I really kicked her by mistake. But I didn’t mean to! And then she kicked me. Sadia: Did you get in trouble? J: Yeah, we had to sit out and not participate. Sadia: J, this is completely unacceptable. J: I didn’t mean to. Sadia: I understand that. The fact is, though, that in just pretending to hurt your sister, you actually hurt your sister. I’ve told you before to use your words. Do not use your body to solve arguments, even if you’re just pretending. What’s going on with you guys? Have you apologized? J: No.
At this point, M returned from the bathroom.
Sadia: Hey Buggy! How’s it going? M: Good! Sadia: I love you. M: Me too. Sadia: Is there something we need to talk about? M: J calls her jacket a fuzzy purple meatball so I called it a fuzzy purple meatball too but she told me not to do that so I called it a meatball because I thought she meant, “Don’t call it a fuzzy purple meatball,” so I called it just a meatball and she kicked me. Sadia: And then? M: I kicked her back. We got in trouble. Sadia: I think you owe each other apologies. J: I’m sorry, M M: I already apologized. J: Yeah. Sadia: This is so unlike you guys. We do not hit, throw or kick in this family. We do not pretend to hit, throw or kick in this family. If you’re feeling frustrated, take a break! Find an adult! Is this because you’re together all day? M: We don’t do this in class. Sadia: I’m glad to hear that, but you need to figure out better ways to solve your problems, right now. Are you in the same group at the Y? J: Yes. Mommy, please don’t change our groups. M: I’m okay with that. There are two 2nd grade groups. J: No! I get scared without my sister! Sadia: Hold on just a second. You’re okay with being apart at night. J: That’s different. I know everyone in our house. Sadia: But M gets scared by herself at night and that didn’t seem to bother you when you moved into the other room.
J: But you were with her. Sadia: Only because she needed me because you decided to sleep elsewhere.
At this point, we had arrived home. The girls ran off to put their schoolbags away while I unloaded my laptop and purse.
Sadia: Girls! Want some water? J: Mom, can M and I work things out privately? Sadia: Sure. Of course.
The children went into their, I mean M’s, room and closed the door. I got busy with laundry. They emerged 30 minutes later.
M: We’ve decided to stay in the same group at the Y and J is going to sleep in our room again. Sadia: Okay. What about the hitting and kicking? J: We can use our words. We worked it out.
I think that the lesson here is that if you’re a really terrible negotiator it forces your children to learn effective conflict resolution skills.
What’s the most ridiculous thing your children have argued about?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.
If there is one topic that comes up in twin-Mom blogs, forums and groups more than any other, it is whether to separate your twins in school. It’s a hot topic and everyone has their own best answer. There are laws on the books in many states allowing the parents to choose, but in reality it comes down to the principal and teachers’ willingness to do what is best for the kids. Parents argue, teachers argue, each side cites studies and anecdotes. Before I was a Mom of twins, i probably wouldn’t have put much thought into it. When my boys were born it seemed so far away, and there were so many other, more pressing matters, like sleep.
Fast-forward to age 3-almost-4 and we’re on the precipice of preschool. But the decision to separate was made for me, without any real choice. Whether I could or would choose to put my boys in separate classes in kindergarten and beyond, I know for certain I would not have chosen to separate them at age three. Starting next month my little boys, my babies, will be starting preschool in two different classes, in two different schools in two different parts of town.
We’ve gone back and forth over the past three years whether to even put them into preschool. Long ago, before their second birthday, I quit my job to stay home full time, and had a pretty decent home preschool thing going on with them. We did fun things, they learned a ton. But by their third birthday, one seemed to be really “getting it” with complex language, learning letters and numbers, explaining complicated concepts. The other deferred to his brother for the answers. We started to see problems with behavior, outbursts that were beyond 3-year-old tantrums. He would be agitated, impatient and inflexible. Early Intervention is available to kids under 3 who show signs of developmental delays, but he and been on track up until his 3rd birthday, so we never had any reason to call. After age 3, those services are provided through the local school district. Between January and May of this year, he went through several screenings at the school district’s preschool program, and they determined his delays sufficient enough to warrant services through the school district. He does not have a diagnosis other than “developmental delay” in the district’s qualifications. He will be starting there four days a week in September (meanwhile we are waiting for an appointment with a developmental specialist as well.)
My other son will be attending a local private preschool, the one we intended for them both to start this year. As luck would have it, some of our closest twin playmates will also be in that class. He will be going only two days a week, one of which overlaps with his brother’s school days. We have been trying to build it up all summer as a great chance to do fun things at school and how amazing it will be to run home and tell your brother. But truly, it kills me to separate them. I know they are very attached to each other. The few times we have split them up to run errands or take them to an appointment, they only worry about the other. One will tell perfect strangers in a store about where his brother is and what he is doing at the time. They speak in plurals “we would like a snack.” and do everything with the other in mind (like swipe two yogurts from the fridge, one for each!) We had a brief separation in swim lessons when one kid moved up to the next level and the other wasn’t quite there. The instructor asked if we preferred to hold the one back until they were both ready, but that didn’t seem fair. The first class they were apart the one who wasn’t quite ready refused to go in the water and cried the entire 30 minutes. He also refused to do the lesson the next three weeks.
So in a few weeks, I am going to load up my 3-year-old with a backpack full of school supplies (My Baby! School Supplies?!?!) and put him on a school bus (which I am told is outfitted with car seats for little guys.) while his brother and I wave from the lawn. On alternate days I will wait for the bus and then take the other kid to school in our not-a-school-bus Minivan. (and if you don’t think that is a Big Thing then you don’t know 3-year-old boys.) They will spend 15 hours a week apart. Neither will have his brother there when the class celebrates their birthday. My heart breaks for them. When we talk about school starting, one will invariably say, “But I will miss my brother!” while I fight back tears. It will be great to finally have one-on-one time with each, but I can’t help but feel the other will be missing out. Or maybe we will be missing out while he is having a blast at school. One of the arguments I have read so often about separate classes for twins is that they are different people and need different experiences, but can find each other at recess or lunch and still maintain their bond. I love how close my boys are to each other. I want them to excel and I want what is best, but I also want them to have each other and not feel like we are taking one away from the other.
Will this be great for both of them? Absolutely. Is it going to be the toughest adjustment we’ve faced so far? Undoubtedly. But I hope we can get each the level of help he needs to excel in school, and we will all work together so that maybe, just maybe, I can exercise my right as a parent to chose whether or not they will be together in Kindergarten after all.
Jen is a stay-at-home Mom of 3-year-old twin boys who have already packed their backpacks several times with favorite toys and random treasures, ready to start preschool next week. Their adventures are (intermittently and mostly in photos) blogged at goteamwood.com.
Toddler started preschool on August 1st. Though it wasn’t time yet for me to return to work, I wanted to make sure she got a few days with me nearby just in case. I didn’t know what to expect, especially since she would be napping without me away from home, which was something she’d never done before. Suppose she started to panic and freaked out when it was time to sleep? Suffice it to say that I was anxious.
The only other time she’s been in the care of someone other than her parents or grandparents was briefly about a year ago. Last summer when I was about 5 months pregnant with her siblings, we tried sending her to a daycare/preschool. The thinking then was that I wouldn’t be able to take care of her at home along with infant twins, so she would need to go somewhere else. In case I was to choose to be a permanent SAHM after the twins were born, I wanted to free up my mom to go back to a full time job. We also thought maybe it would be beneficial for her to interact with some other kids. So I decided to try it out for only 3 hours in the mornings. I would get up with her to get her ready, Daddy would drop her off on his way to work at about 7:30am, while I went back to sleep for an hour or two (I was so exhausted all the time), then maybe run some errands before picking her back up at 10:30 to come home and nap at 11.
We only lasted two weeks on this arrangement. The teachers were very loving, everyone spoke Mandarin, all the kids were super well behaved there… but ultimately we still felt our daughter was too young to be without us. My mom agreed, so we brought her back and she’s been home for another year (back with my mom for the 6 weeks of school I taught last year). I didn’t plan for it to be so long, but it turned out that Husband stayed home for 3.5 months after the twins were born (long paternity leave, then a job change) and was a great help. And though twin babies plus Toddler is definitely no joke, with not a whole lot of income or any extra time, I just didn’t get around to figuring out this school thing. But it was great. I got to experience all of Toddler’s age two: I was able to take her to Mommy-and-Me and swim lessons, I got to watch her become her own little person, and I was present to shape a time that I feel is very critical developmentally. I’m so glad that is how things worked out.
But now she’s three, I’m going back to work, and this summer keeping her home was feeling like I was holding her back. She’s ready, has been ready actually for quite a while now, for the more structured environment of school with peers. I was still a little reluctant, because I knew that she would be picking up coughs and runny noses from school, which she would then bring home and give to her baby brother and sister, and of course I would miss her terribly. Even worse, I would no longer have complete control over what she did every minute of every day. But I definitely couldn’t give all three kids to an aging grandmother, much as I wanted to. And mostly, she was ready.
So, I researched and visited many preschools. In fact, I visited her preschool no less than 5 times, at various times of day, and spoke with all of the caregivers. I took her along with me most of those times, so she became pretty familiar with the teachers and layout of the school. Actually, the last couple of times she was reluctant to leave, because she wanted to stay and play.
My biggest concern was the napping. I thought maybe I would ease her into being able to sleep there without me by sending her only half day for a week, staying with her for the first few mornings, and then transition her to full day. I figured since she’s so independent, once she was comfortable and trusted her teachers she would shoo me away. I had a couple of weeks before school started, and I didn’t think it would take that long. But the director of the preschool cautioned me against that plan, and all the teachers advised me against it as well. Apparently kids are much more adaptable than adults, and it is better to just let them figure it out on their own. I didn’t want to unnecessarily prolong her adjustment, so I agreed to full day from the start.
I was careful not to let my anxiety show of course. To her I always discussed the whole school thing with lots of excitement, making a big deal about how she’s such a big girl, and that all her friends from Mommy-and-Me are also going to start going to big kids’ schools. I told her that sleeping at school will be so fun, and she’ll have a little cot just like camping. And she would get to run around, and there would be snacks, and she would make new friends, and when she was tired from playing Mama would come and pick her up. I wasn’t so sure about all of this myself, but I guess I was a pretty good actress because she didn’t show any sign of apprehension.
The first day, I waited until 9:30 to drop her off because I still felt a true full day was a little too harsh. She was excited in the car on the way there, chattering about this and that. We had her blanket and a sheet for her cot, a cup with her name on it, and a change of clothing in a bag. It was pretty bulky, but she carried it out of the car on her shoulder like a big girl. Then she ran ahead of me toward the gate of the school. I followed behind, but before we even got there she turned around and sternly said to me, “Bye Mama! I don’t want you come in.”
Wha??? I really thought she must have meant something else at first, but indeed she wanted me to leave. I told her I had to walk her in so I could sign in and say hi to her teacher, which she then let me do. Upon entering she immediately ran to pick a cubby for herself, placed her bag in it, and then she was off to play. I was barely able to get her back for a hug and kiss before I left. I drove all the way home shaking my head in disbelief, and I still can’t believe that happened.
Since then all mornings are Huggy-huggy-kissy-kissy-loveyou-bye! There were a few days when she was confused why she was going to school every day instead of twice a week like Mommy-and-Me, and a couple of mornings she asked to go with DiDi MeiMei to Grandma’s, kind of teary-eyed. But really she’s done incredibly well. My own transition back to work is still ongoing, but hers has surpassed all my hopes. No behavioral incidents, eating great, fully independent in the potty, and happy all day long. At 4pm I pick her up every day, and she gives me the wildest greetings, yelling Mommy! and taking a running leap to jump into my arms. We recount what Mandarin lesson she’s learned that day on the drive home.
Despite all my earlier trepidation, this was the right move for us.
This was a discussion I had with my 7-year-old daughter, J, while grocery shopping.
J: I have butterflies in my stomach. Me: Hunger butterflies or nervous butterflies? J:mumble mumble Me: Excuse me? J: Nervous. Me: What are you nervous about, sweetie? J: I never had a teacher I knew before. I’m worried that I’ll forget how to behave.
Some context: M and J are starting 2nd grade today. Their homeroom teacher is M’s best friend’s mother. Over the last several months, she and her husband have become close friends of mine and made my girls feel like family. My daughters have spent several full days this summer at their house and even slept over. On one occasion, their new teacher, Mrs. H, picked them up from summer camp when I had an appointment, even though her own daughter was spending the night at her dad’s and wasn’t home.
Me: What do you think might happen? J: Well, I’m used to being the… the example of… well-behaved. Actually, perfectly behaved! Me: So how would it be different with Mrs. H? J: It’s just different because I know her. Me: My advice would be to listen first, then act. J: Act? What do you mean, “act”? Like put on a monkey show or something? Me: No, I mean to do something. Listen to the instructions first, then follow them. Mrs. H isn’t worried about it, is she? J: No. Me: Well, if she’s not worried, there’s probably no reason for you to be too concerned. J: I guess. Me: Why don’t you give me an example of a situation you’re concerned about, and we’ll figure out how to handle it? J: Mom, I’m a role model. Me: I know you are. Just make good choices, and it’ll be okay. J: I guess.
You may recall that I wrote about how the most well-behaved kids may act out with the people they feel safe with. J’s concerns seem to underline that point. Mrs. H is safe harbour and practically a member of our family. To have to behave with her as a teacher has J flustered. J knows that she’s been pushing the boundaries with Mrs. H in a way that she would never do in the classroom.
We have made some efforts to maintain boundaries over the summer. My daughters call their new teacher Mrs. H, even as they refer to her husband by his first name. Mrs. H’s daughter won’t be in her home room, but due to the nature of the dual language program all 3 kids are in, she’ll be teaching her daughter for part of the day. Obviously, she’s well aware of the issues that may arise. At Meet the Teacher night last week, Mrs. H found a quiet moment with my daughters and another close friend of her daughter’s to let them know not to be surprised if she was stricter at school than she was at home. Obviously, if J hadn’t been thinking about the issue before, she was then.
The bigger thing that struck me about my conversation with J was how certain she is of her role in the classroom. She’s the kid who is perfectly behaved, the best reader and the most enthusiastic learner. Talk to M, and she’ll tell you that she’s the math whiz, fastest runner and best listener. My daughters are in 2nd grade and they already know where they fit in the classroom pecking order. Like me, they are the disgustingly obedient nerds.
What about those kids who, for whatever reason, have internalized other, less positive labels? Mrs. H asked for a particularly challenging student to be placed in her class so that she can try to break through to find the source of his acting out. It’s the rare teacher that does that. It honestly never occurred to me that these things would already be set going into 2nd grade.
Even while it saddens me somewhat to see my daughters pigeonholing themselves already, I remember that this is exactly the sort of social skill my kids will need in their adult lives. This sort of thing is why I was happy to see my kids “held back” with their age peers instead of pushing on ahead in a grade with kids a year older. When their father insisted that our children attend public schools, it was so that they would have a broader view of the types of people in our community and better appreciate the resources they have, including their talents, to give back to others.
How do you feel about kids labeling themselves as academics, jocks, or other things in elementary school? How would you feel about your child having a friend for a teacher?
How often do you look at your kids and say, “What are you thinking?” If yours are anything like mine, it’s probably about every 30 seconds.
I know we can’t ascribe reason to our children’s reactions to the world. I know that their brains aren’t fully formed and they don’t have the experiences yet to lead them to good decision-making. I know all that, but still, I’m human, so I ask, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I mostly ask silently, without hope of response, because I really do try to apply humankind’s growing understanding of child development and psychology to my parenting. My kids are too young to know what they’re thinking much of the time.
What’s nice, though, is that my children, at 7, are old enough to be capable of attempting to answer.
We’ve been having a serious issue with 7 year old disobedience of late. (Okay, it’s not that serious. I don’t need an intervention yet. I’ve only yelled once. But it feels like a backslide to age 3. All the great progress of years 4, 5 and 6 has vanished.) As I told my daughters, M and J, on leaving church this morning, their behaviour there having been way out of bounds, I’m not used to being the mommy of kids who don’t listen. I’m used to being the mommy of role models.
We had a family meeting after lunch. I was honest with my J and M. I told them that I felt like perhaps I hadn’t been a very good mommy recently. I had been trying to help them make good decisions, because that is my main job as their mother after making sure they have their needs fulfilled. (A lot of our decision-making comes down to a discussion of needs vs. wants.) I wasn’t seeing good decisions being made consistently.
J was the first to respond. She told me that she thought that I was a very good mommy. She had tears in her voice when she said that the problem was her listening and M’s. I asked if they wanted help going back to being excellent listeners and role models. They said yes.
I asked them how I could help. They didn’t know. They both thought that the consequences we employ are reasonable.
I dock their allowance varying amounts for different transgressions. They get $3 a week, and I reduce it in $0.25 increments for things like leaving their dirty clothes on the floor, chasing the cats or leaving their shoes on the dining table. (What was she thinking?)
I supplement their allowance for good behaviour. If J puts her clean laundry away without my having to hound her, she gets an extra $0.50. If J leaves her dinner plate on the table and M picks it up for her without taunting J about it, she gets $0.25. There’s no set fee schedule.
I’ve instituted a politeness jar, where we deposit a nickel each whenever we interrupt someone, forget to say “Please,” “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome,” make an inappropriate face, or are intentionally hurtful. I contribute to the jar too, although I haven’t had to put in more than a dime a day so far. I mostly struggle with appending “please” to my commands/requests. We contributed our collection to the local YMCA recently, and our next collection is intended for the food pantry.
Toys that aren’t cleaned up lose their place in the girls’ open access toy collection. They become toys that the children must ask permission to play with. So far, they’ve lost Monopoly, Scrabble, paper dolls and markers.
I wash, dry and fold clothes that are in the laundry basket. I need a 2 day warning if a particular item of clothing is needed and is dirty. If the girls still can’t find what they’re looking for, tough. This meant that J couldn’t fully participate in water play day at summer camp last week. She couldn’t locate a swimsuit. (As it turned out, there were 3 clean ones at the bottom of a very large bin of clean clothes they’d been avoiding dealing with. Natural consequences.)
I suggested that perhaps we start our efforts of behaviour improvement with sleep. It’s very difficult to make good decisions without enough sleep. Especially with school starting in a few weeks, we need to get serious about bedtime. Perhaps a focus on bedtime would be a good step in the right direction.
M and J agreed to try it out. We wrote “Get to bed on time!” in large letters on the mirror in the girls’ bathroom, where we would all see it constantly. We would convene another family meeting after lunch next Sunday and review the effectiveness of our focus on sleep.
The rest of the afternoon went pretty well. J called her grandmother to get her tuna sandwich recipe, insisting that there was no way Grammy’s yummy tuna had mayonnaise in it. “Eww, mommy!” Of course, Grammy’s recipe turned out to the same as mine. We had tuna sandwiches for dinner. With mayonnaise and relish.
Then came bath time. The girls were surprisingly non-combative when I told them to put up their things and get ready for bed. If they could be completely ready for bed by 8:00, we could watch 15 minutes of Star Wars before bed.
Things were going fine in the bathtub until I drained the excessively bubbly water to replace it with some clean water for rinsing. I asked both girls to scoot up the tub because the water would start coming out cold and …
J immediately scooted her body down, her legs taking the full force of the water coming out of the faucet.
I looked at her for a full second in disbelief, then lifted her out the tub, still covered in bubbles. I began to dry her as she began to scream. The bubbles were bad, mommy. They would give her eczema. I wasn’t listening, mommy.
I asked her to blow her nose. She screamed. I told her that, on the count of 3, I would take a nasal syringe to her nose. It was either that or blowing her nose. She chose the latter. She was now calm enough to talk.
Me: “Do you know that you did exactly the opposite of what I asked?” J:Nods Me: What were you thinking? J: You were wrong. The water doesn’t come out hot right away. Me: If you’d have let me finish, you would have heard me saying that the water would come out really cold and then really hot. I didn’t want you to be exposed to either extreme! J: Oh. Me: You have to trust me. When I’m telling you to do something, I need you to obey first and argue second. You do know that you did the opposite of what I asked? J: Yes. I didn’t know you knew it was cold. Me: Because you didn’t listen. Because you didn’t let me finish. J: I guess I scooted down because you told me to scoot up. Me: Seems that way. Can we just talk if we disagree? J: You didn’t listen when there were bubbles on me. Me: That’s a fair statement. However, I did listen to what you were saying. I just didn’t think you were capable of hearing my response while you were screaming. J: Oh.
So that’s what she was thinking. Great. I still don’t know how to deal with it. There’s no magic bullet here. Maybe I can work with the understanding that the girls’ disobedience is part of them realizing that the adults around them are fallible. It’s their way of questioning the status quo. It’s their way of getting closer to being independent adults.
Yeah, I know. Just wait until they’re teenagers.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012 and is usually better able to keep her love of puns out of her writing. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.
I’ve said before that parenting gets both easier and harder as our children get older.
Things get physically easier. Just think how much time you get back when your children become capable of wiping their own behinds!
My 7-year-olds can shampoo their own hair and M is starting to want to dry herself after her bath! If they hate the meal I’ve prepared, they can fix themselves something to eat. I can even stay in bed when they’re awake because they’re fully capable of pouring a bowl of cereal. I spent 4 hours (4 hours!!!) in a rehearsal this afternoon, focused on music while my girls sat quietly-ish on the other side of the room, reading, playing on their tablets, drawing and making new friends.
Things get emotionally harder. We have to teach our kids to be okay without us there to protect them. We have to help our children learn to tackle peer pressure, perhaps even bullying. We have to advocate for them at school with their teachers and administrators. Our kids learn about injustice and hate and we must teach them to live and fight for acceptance and love. Today, J said to me, “You and Sissy have perfect eyes and I have little lines.” She’s only 7. Age 7 appears to be when girls, at least, begin to criticize their own appearance, and my heart hurts. J happens to currently have eczema under her bottom eyelids.
The constant thread through parenting, the one that doesn’t let up until many years from where I am in my parenting journey, is the quest for self-control.
A Bit of Context
M and J were given Samsung Galaxy tablets for Christmas when they were 5 years old. They’re the only grandkids on the paternal side. My ex-in-laws are actually very good about respecting our rules and expectations for the kids, but they channel all their grandparental spoiling powers into over-the-top gifts.
We don’t really watch TV at our house. We’ll watch a movie together every month or two; I’d actually been living in our new house for about 3 months when I unpacked the TV remote and realized we hadn’t noticed that it was missing. Screen time is, instead, time spent on the girls’ Galaxies or my iPad.
We have a loose policy of no screen time during the week, although I will occasionally allow J and M to use their Galaxies for research or as Spanish-English dictionaries in support of homework. On weekends, I may give them an hour or two to play games, watch movies on Netflix, or research various topics. The most recent Google search was “Is magic real?” which led them to a Youtube video of a stage performance by a magician that they thought was, “Awesome!”
Before they can have Galaxy time, I usually require that the M and J have dressed for the day, brushed their teeth and hair and eaten breakfast. I’ll also ask them to pick up around their room, help me with chores, and take care of any other responsibilities that are relevant. They are not allowed to download anything new without my permission and they need to be in a room where I am within earshot. Any inappropriate behaviour results in the immediate loss of screen privileges.
What Happened Yesterday
J and M requested Galaxy time yesterday morning after we got home from the gym. They had taken care of the basics already. I reminded them that I would be going to choir practice in the afternoon and asked if they would rather save their screen time for then, and they both elected to cash it in in the morning at home instead. I agreed.
J went over to the charger and grabbed the tablet off it. M screamed at her. “Why did you do that? Get your own Galaxy!”
J tried to explain that she’d failed to read the name on the tablet and had thought it was hers, but M was too shrill to hear her. She snatched her tablet away from J and stomped off. I considered intervening, but J seemed to have things under control.
While I was taking my post-workout shower, M came into the bathroom to ask what J’s name was in some game they both play. I told her I didn’t know. As I was drying myself off, I heard her growl something at her sister. I quickly dressed and asked M into her room for a private conversation.
Me: M, I’ve observed you talking rudely to your sister twice today, both times over your Galaxy. What’s going on? M: I asked J what her name was! And she didn’t know! And I asked her was it XXX. And she said no! And then I asked you and you didn’t know. And then J said it was XXX. I asked her that. It was so frustrating! Me: I understand that you were frustrated, but your tone of voice was completely inappropriate. You also got upset when she mistakenly picked up your Galaxy this morning, and weren’t very gracious about accepting her apology. She just made a mistake and thought it was hers. M: I didn’t know that. Me: You didn’t know that because you didn’t listen to J’s explanation.
At this point, M began to cry.
M: This is not fair! J’s getting more Galaxy time than me. Me: I understand that you feel that this time is unfair, but we have to have this conversation because of choices you made. I need you to speak more politely. It would also help if you listened to me and sis the way you would like us to listen to you. M: This is not fair! Me: I agree. It’s not fair that J is getting Galaxy time right now and you’re not. You can go back to your Galaxy after we’ve discussed what’s causing you to be rude to your sister. Is something bothering you? M: I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. She sobbed and fell into my arms. Me: Oh, sweetie. I can help you try to figure it out. It’s a big step for you to acknowledge that something is wrong. That’s the first step. M: Gritting her teeth. This. Is. Not. Fair. Getting louder. I. WANT. MY. GALAXY. TIME! Me: When you calm down, you can have Galaxy time. Screen time is a privilege and tantrum-throwing is how to lose privileges.
At this point, M went into a full 3-year-old style fit. She threw herself out of my arms onto the ground, arched her back, drummed her heels and screamed, “Not fair! Not fair!” I knew full well she wouldn’t hear anything I said, but I still told her what was going to happen so I knew I’d done my part.
Me: You can stay in your room without your Galaxy. I’m going to go to the living room with Sissy and rest my ears. If you can get control of your body while it’s still screen time, you can get it back. M:LEAVE ME ALONE.
I picked up the tablet and took it with me as I left the room. M ran out of the room and screamed.
M: DON’T THROW MY GALAXY IN THE TRASH.
She repeated herself I don’t know how many times, while J and I ignored her. She retreated into her room. After about 5 minutes, I felt calm enough myself to dare enter the Cave of the Out-of-Control 7-Year-Old.
M: STAY OUT OF MY ROOM. YOU’RE NOT WELCOME HERE. Me: Okey-doke. I love you. See you when you’re calm.
About 15 minutes later, I went into the girls’ room for a hairbrush. M had shoved her toy box against the door in an attempt to keep it shut, but I walked in anyway.
M: I told you to stay out!
I ignored her, grabbed the hairbrush, and left the room. It was another 30 minutes before she ventured out, sniffing.
M: Did you throw my Galaxy away? Me: Of course I didn’t. I just brought it out of your room because you need to be calm to have that privilege. M: I’m ready to calm down. Me: Okay. Can I help you do that? M: I need snuggles. Can I snuggle?
I held her for a while and then pointed out where her tablet was. There was only about 10 minutes of screen time left, and both girls meekly put their tablets away when I asked.
Me: M, you are within your rights to feel frustration, but the way your approached your sister was not okay. You were venting anger instead of solving a problem. And your tantrum? Completely unacceptable. M: Everyone throws fits sometimes. Me: I disagree. M: Yuh-huh.
I didn’t have an immediate reaction to that, so I let it go and picked the discussion back up in the evening.
Me: I’ve been thinking about what you said about everyone throwing fits. I think everyone feels frustration and anger, but there are lots of better ways of expressing it and dealing with it. J: Like reading a book or taking a cozy bath with good smells. She meant essential oils. Me: Well, those are ways to calm down, but that doesn’t actually give you chance to fix the problem that’s causing anger. I think those are great ideas, but often you need to go back and deal with the problem. Do you understand? Another great way to get frustration in your body out so your brain can think well is to exercise. Run around the backyard or do some jumping jacks! M: J shouldn’t have taken my Galaxy. Me: How about you ask her what she was thinking? M: What were you thinking, J? J: I forgot to check the name. I’m sorry. I thought it was mine. M: I’m so embarrassed. She began to cry again. Me: I’m sorry, sweetie. I know that doesn’t feel good. Please use today as a lesson that you need to use the Golden Rule instead of assuming that people are hurting you on purpose. M: My less time of Galaxy was fair, Mommy. I behaved terribly. Me: I bet that was really hard to admit. I’m proud of you for recognizing what you did wrong. Next time, talk to your sister and come to me for help, okay? We’ll figure out our problems together.
What Happens Next
M obviously learned her lesson, but will that learning stick? Will J think twice the next time she feels like giving into rage? I have no idea, but I continue to hope that these discussions will trigger something in my girls to cause them to take ownership of working on self-control.
You know where I learned my self-control? It came from a deep desire to model for my children how I want them to behave. Perhaps the self-control I want for them will be out of reach until they have a reason as good as mine to learn it.
I hope I don’t just scare those of you with younger kids, but this is pretty par for the course for age 7 so far. I have no idea whether my approach will bear fruit, but I can’t really come up with any other ideas.
Is teaching self-control part of your parenting strategy? What techniques have worked for you?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.
Earlier this week, a summer camp counselor, Ms H, let me know that she’d had to ask my 7-year-old daughters repeatedly to put away the yarn they were crafting with. There had had been an incident related to yarn in which a child had suffered a minor injury, so everyone was required to forfeit the activity. My kids hadn’t been involved in the injury incident, but this was the first time the counselor had seen disobedience from either one of them. She thought I might want to know about it so I could have a discussion with J and M to get to the bottom of what was causing their uncharacteristic discipline slip-up.
At first, M and J protested their innocence. Mr. K had told them they were allowed to bead, so they didn’t understand what they’d done wrong. I asked them both to walk me through the events of the afternoon, but all I got was a muddled mishmash of contradictory statements. I had been able to tell that Ms H had really tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, so I wasn’t too quick to dismiss her concerns.
I told the girls that instead of playing with the kitten after dinner, they would write letters to Ms H explaining their side of the story. If they had been wronged, this would be their opportunity to set the record straight. If they were in the wrong, I figured, identifying the sequence of events might help them realize it and would form the base of an apology.
M began to wail. This consequence was just. too. hard. Couldn’t she go to timeout instead? She could forfeit her week’s allowance. It wasn’t faaaaaaair. There’s little point trying to be heard when she’s in that state, and I was driving. When she stopped to breathe, I told her that my decision was final. She would write a letter.
J didn’t bother trying to wriggle out of her punishment. Fortunately for me, my kids rarely act out with me at the same time. I don’t know whether seeing the silliness of Sissy’s whining is a wakeup call or whether they want to fill the roles of the “difficult and cooperative twins.” Either way, it does simplify my life.
J began to list out what had happened, planning out her letter. By the time we pulled into the garage, I’d heard the whole story.
J decided that M would enjoy the activity and called her over.
M learned to finger knit.
M messed up her knitting and Caroline helped her rescue it.
A little boy got hurt.
Ms H asked them to put their yarn away. They tried to finish up some stitches.
Ms H asked them again to put their yarn away. They started to think about doing it.
Ms H asked them to put the yarn up. This time, they did.
Later in the afternoon, they asked Mr. K if they could make beaded jewelry. Mr. K said yes.
M and J took the beads out.
Ms H asked who had given then permission to take the beads out. They told her it was Mr. K.
I told J that it sounded to me that she’d had a listening problem. She agreed. I told her that, since she understood what had happened, she needn’t write it all out. An apology letter, including a description of what she’d done wrong, what she should have done instead, and an “I’m sorry,” would suffice. M would need to write everything out, since she still needed to get a grip on the whole thing.
M sniffled and confessed that she had, in fact, been wrong and owed Ms H an apology.
J elected to write out the whole step by step list, while M limited herself to short version of the apology for her letter. J’s letter ended up being a two-page treatise, and the poor girl had a cramped hand by the time she was done. M went a little overboard on the artistic embellishments on the first few lines of text, but then decided that plain old print would work fine.
It’s been a challenge to find logical consequences to use to discipline my daughters since The Time of the Timeout. This one seemed to work pretty well. Ms H was surprised and grateful to receive the letters, and told me she’d taken them home to show her fiancé. His reaction has been, “I didn’t think kids these days did that any more!”
Maybe my discipline techniques are old-fashioned. Regardless, they work for me.
How do you get to the bottom of the things your kids tell you about their day? How do you tackle discipline issues that come up when you children are in someone else’s care?
After over 6 years of effective use, I am retiring timeout as a discipline tool. At age 7, it’s more humiliating for my oh-so-grownup children than it’s worth, and it’s hardly effective. Thanks to my daughters’ relatively mature ability to understand causes and effect and long term consequences, I have many more nuanced discipline approaches at my disposal. I need punishments and rewards to fit the crime rather than the one size fits all gem that was timeout. My 7-year-olds are old enough to understand delayed consequences, something a much younger child just isn’t capable of.
I suspect that every reader of How Do You Do It? is familiar with how to use timeout to discipline young children, but I’ll spell it out just in case. Timeout is, essentially, using a brief withdrawal of parental or child-giver attention as a consequence of undesired behaviour. Most parents I know have a specific location designated for timeout, and the child has to remain there for the duration of the punishment, essentially ignored by everyone. Some parents have their child sit on the bottom step of a staircase or have a timeout seat. I went for the convenience of a washcloth placed on the floor next to a wall. It was portable, and my daughters knew that they were expected to sit on the washcloth. Best of all, on the rare occasion that they both needed to go to timeout, I could just put washcloths next to opposite walls, and I instantly had 2 timeout locations that lacked the distraction of Sissy.
Hit your twin? Mommy won’t hit back; that would just teach that violence is acceptable in the home. Instead, for a few minutes (1 minute per year of age, starting around age 1), Mommy won’t make eye contact with the child or speak to him. That’s the real punishment. Children crave and need attention. It’s pretty counterintuitive to ignore them when they’re kicking, screaming and being all around obnoxious. It takes a thick skin to do that in public, knowing that you’re being judged by people who don’t know what children are really like. The long term payoff of rewarding good constructive behaviour with attention and withdrawing it for bad is worth it, though.
It’s ideal, of course, if the child stays in the timeout location of her own accord. That idea didn’t stick until my kids were convinced, around age 2, that no amount of screaming or running out of timeout was going to get me to back down and give them my attention.
I recently had the opportunity to care for my then-2-year-old nephew. I was only there for a week and timeouts had not been a consistent part of his life. It didn’t take long for him to get it, though. The first three days, I’d sit him in his timeout seat and wait for him to start to climb out of it. Silently, and without eye contact, I’d lift him up and sit him back in the chair. Over his 120 seconds of punishment, I’ve had to reseat him up to 35 times. From day 4, on, though, he got it. He stopped trying to fight it. At the end of his 2 minutes, I’d pick him up, kiss him, tell him I love him, and remind him of the behaviour that had earned him a timeout and ask him to do the opposite in the future.
The popular book 1-2-3 Magic offers an effective and simple methodology that hinges on timeout. I didn’t read the book until I needed to help a friend struggling with managing her young kids. Consistency didn’t come naturally to her, and the book gave her encouragement when she needed it. My then-husband and I didn’t get much from the book, primarily because we were unknowingly already practicing its teachings: Use timeout consistently.
Some parents vary the length of time spent in timeout in accordance with the gravity of the offense. A second or third offense may also get a longer punishment. We didn’t take that approach. The beauty of timeout is that it’s super-flexible, which helps explain its ubiquity.
The other day, I found myself in the odd position of needing to distil my parenting approach into a bulleted list. It came down to this: be consistent, reward good choices, and maintain a focus on the adults your children will become. For me, timeout was a big part of consistency and the other side of rewarding good behaviour. I hope that the core understanding that actions have consequences has set my kids up for success throughout their lives. It’s certainly been working well for them so far.
Do you use timeout as a discipline approach? What variations work for you? How do you handle your kids’ escape plots?
Last week, my daughters’ school held its book fair, so we stopped by the library on the way home to shop. While we were browsing, the school librarian approached me. She gestured at my daughters and asked, “Are you responsible for these young ladies? They are just so sweet. They have the best manners I’ve ever seen.”
I smiled and nodded and thanked her. We finished up shopping, stopped on the way home for a small birthday cake, and ate dinner.
While J went to the bathroom, M and I set the table for dessert. J walked up to the dining table and started pushing at M, claiming that M was in her chair. I asked J to choose another chair, and the surround sound whining got underway. I tried to reason with the children through the drone of their complaining voices, but no one was listening to anyone.
I stood up and lifted M out of her chair.
“No one will sit. We will eat my cake standing,” I told the girls.
“I hate you!” my sweet J told me, her chin jutting out. “You’re a horrible meany mommy.”
“You’re not fair,” the oh-so-well-mannered M added. “You don’t love me.”
I put the cake away, untasted. I tried to tell the girls exactly why no one would be eating any cake, but I doubt they heard me over their screams and drumming feet. I tried to tell them that they needed to get ready for bed, but they couldn’t hear that either.
Fortunately, at age 7, my children can be trusted, even in a ridiculous tantrum state, not to to anything particularly dangerous. I retired to bed myself, leaving them to scream. I knew that I was close to yelling myself, and that would serve no purpose except to validate the girls’ own behaviour as acceptable.
At 9:00 pm, the volume in the girls’ room had fallen, so I put away their toys, kissed them goodnight, and turned out the lights. My head hurt. The next morning, I took some favourite toys away for a day as a consequence of the girls’ poor choices. They were genuinely sorry, apologized wholeheartedly, and gracefully accepted the loss of their toys.
I was thankful, once again, for the parenting wisdom of LauraC. Years ago, she pointed out to me that kids will often act out with their parents, even while exhibiting exemplary behaviour with others. Especially after spending long hours away from their parents at daycare or school, kids are able to let loose with their parents. They know that our love for them is unconditional. They can take us for granted. I’ve seen this with friends’ kids too; after a weekend of good behaviour as a house guest, I’ve seen 4- and 6-year-olds turn into whiny messes at the sight of their mom, even before leaving our house.
Much as J and M’s bickering and overreaction frustrates me, they feel safe with me. This safety permits them let out the emotions they’ve held pent up all day while being well-mannered and sweet. That idea gives me the boost to hold in my own emotions after a long day at work. It’s my job to let the girlies know that they’re safe with me. I won’t accept bad behaviour, but I will always accept my daughters.
Is there some word of wisdom that carries you through the challenging times?
Sadia is raising her 7 year-old identical twin daughters, M and J, in the Austin, TX area. She is divorced and works in higher ed information technology. She is originally from the UK and Bangladesh, but has lived in the US since college.
My in-laws took Toddler to her Mommy and Me class for the first time a couple weeks ago. Originally I planned on taking her with twins in tow two mornings a week because I really enjoy being there with her. But there were two problems with that: 1. I was sleep training babies and taking them out for two hours every other day was not conducive to creating a schedule. 2. When I did take them, I was constantly hovering around their stroller to make sure no unwanted intruders tried to sneak a peek or worse yet, poke my attempting-to-sleep children… so I’d miss a lot of the class anyway. Good thing is, Toddler is very independent and can function in class without me. But still, I’ve made friends with some of the other mommies there, and hearing about the class second hand is just not the same.
So it was with some reservation that I decided to let the grandparents take her. Toddler has never been with my in-laws in any setting other than their home without me. I thought I thoroughly prepared her, and myself, by starting over a week in advance, reminding her of what she can do by herself in class, where to eat her after-class snack, and that she would come home after snack for her nap, like we’ve always done. I had also given the same instructions in a detailed email to the in-laws. I even recruited some mommy friends to keep an eye out and help if necessary. I thought we were ready.
The hand-off went without a hitch on the morning of their first class. I went out to help put Toddler in the newly installed carseat on their car. She’s pretty good about clipping herself in, but I wanted to make sure they would know exactly how to do it too. After a couple last minute reminders and a few “love you”s, off they went.
The coming home did not go nearly as well. From what I could piece together, Toddler did not want to leave after snacks, and I guess she started t0 get whiny. She asked to go play at their house instead of coming home to sleep. I’m sure this is due to a combination of her being tired (I was in the process of moving her nap to match the babies’) and testing the grandparents. To get her in the car, Grandpa told her they needed to pick something up from mommy first, and then they would take her back to their house. So of course when they did get back, Toddler refused to get out of the car. I guess they hadn’t anticipated the one-track mind of a toddler and figured she’d forget. While they stood around chuckling at her brilliance, I got to be physically attacked by my daughter while I wrangled her out of the carseat to bring her inside. Needless to say, not ideal.
I spent the next couple of days ironing out the kinks. More reminders to Toddler, a couple of serious conversations with Husband and the in-laws. Everyone is on the same page now. Naps are not negotiable, and we do not lie to our children. I allowed the grandparents to continue to take her.
Here is the interesting thing that began to evolve: Toddler took on a new personality! Without me around, my “spies” have reported that she is much more outgoing (and she was already outgoing before) and seemed to enjoy the class more. She started dancing and singing along with all the songs, running like a hooligan with some of the other kids, and exhibiting rowdy behavior. We often see this more gregarious side of her at home, but she’s usually more reserved when I take her out. Strange…
I’m still not sure how to feel about this. Like maybe sad that she feels she can’t let loose when I’m there, or maybe relieved that she likes going to class with Grandma (although she does still says she prefers to go with me), or scared because it might mean my in-laws have no control over her behavior?
I do know one thing though: My little girl is growing up, and I will have to come to terms with the fact that I will no longer watch over every aspect of her life. I’m terrified and so proud of her at the same time. Maybe this is all for the best.
lunchldyd is mom to a 3yo daughter and her 5mo brother and sister. Letting go is super hard for her.