Toddler Thursday: Biting

When the twins were about 15 or 16 months old, I started noticing what looked like bite marks on Baby Boy’s hands. It was an anomaly, as no one had observed him biting himself or being bitten. For a bit I actually thought they were self-inflicted in a temper tantrum, or maybe it was an experiment to leave marks on himself. It wasn’t until I saw a mark at the wrong angle to be self-inflicted that I began to suspect Baby Girl of biting her brother.

Strangely, it wasn’t for another while before we actually caught them in the act. And then Baby Girl began to get these markings too. They were really good about doing it quickly when no one was watching though.

But by now, 5 or 6 months later, we’ve had the chance to see them at it many times. They’re still pretty stealthy about it, but we now know what to watch for: a certain prolonged guttural screech, usually coming from both parties in a fight over something, and then a quick lean-over by one, a pause of silence while the pain registers, and finally the extended agonizing cry of the other.

The problem is when they play in close proximity. And of course that’s how they almost always play. If they are confined in the same room for a while, that’s when the conflicts arise. They get cranky and will start fighting over toys and space. Big Sis actually got caught up in it for the first time this past weekend. We can’t really be sure what happened, but according to her she was trying to play with her brother when sister came and bit her, hard enough to leave a bruise. We think Baby Girl was trying to play with brother. There wasn’t much warning, and they did all this while both myself and their dad were in the same room!

Now I really don’t think my kids are malicious. I’ve watched them bite and get bitten and then go back to playing alongside each other like nothing happened. In fact, after Baby Girl noticed her sister crying after being bitten, she went to comfort her by rubbing her arm and giving her a hug and kiss. (Big Sis was just as loving, forgiving immediately and defending her little sister from our scoldings.) They just get caught in the moment and that is their only form of communication when screaming doesn’t work.

However, the bites are getting more vicious, and they’re no longer on the hands but on the upper arms. And now they’ve bitten someone other than themselves.

Should I be concerned? Is this something that they will grow out of? Is this a twin thing? I certainly wouldn’t want them to be that kid in preschool, the one who bites. We’re at a loss as to what to do, but they seem to be getting over the bites very easily. It doesn’t even faze them that their arms are all bruised up for days, but we are really just baffled at and bothered by this behavior.

Any MoM’s out there who can help us out?

lunchldyd is mom to 21mo biting b/g twins, and their 4yo sister who never bit.

Siblings Without Rivalry – A Book Review

A mother of twins reviews Siblings Without Rivalry

Siblings Without Rivalry is by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. If you missed my review of How to Talk… you can check it out here to get a sense of the prevailing philosophy behind these books. In a nutshell, Faber and Mazlish promote empathetic communication between parents and children and collaborative solutions to conflict.

While Siblings Without Rivalry is NOT a book centered upon the unique challenges of raising multiples, its sibling-centric focus does make it very applicable to most parents of twins. The authors wrote it as a follow-up to How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk because they felt they had not had sufficient space to fully explore sibling conflict in the first book.

The most important prevailing theme throughout Siblings Without Rivalry is that parents should acknowledge and respect children’s feelings, particularly toward their siblings, without minimizing or sugar-coating them.  If a child says, “I hate Owen! He always ruins my stuff,” then rather than saying, “Be nice to your brother,” a parent might say, “You really seem angry at your brother! You wish he’d take better care of your things.” Allowing both children to express anger and validating their feelings can help them to work through the conflict on their own, increasing both their autonomy and their sense of belonging within their family.

Other Interesting Takeaways:

  1. Wherever possible, parents should stay out of conflicts between children, and instead provide them with tools to work through their disagreement together. The general formula prescribed for intervening when necessary is:
    •  Acknowledge each side’s anger: “John, you want to watch Curious George, but Kristen wants to watch Elmo, is that right?”
    • Appreciate both sides of the conflict, and express faith in their ability to come to a fair solution: “Wow, that’s tough. There’s only one television, and both of you want to use it. But I know you can come up with a solution that works for both of you.”
    • Walk away.

    I admit that I find this approach a little hard to fathom. My children are two, and while they can express (loudly) what they want, they don’t grasp the idea of compromise. Or patience. But I really like the idea of giving kids the tools to work out problems on their own without requiring Mom or Dad to resolve them. (Note that the book DOES provide a different approach for handling violent conflicts. A parent would never be advised to walk away from a fight that could cause real harm to either child.)

  2. Resist the urge to compare. I think that as twin parents, we generally know better than to do this, but comparisons can pop up in unexpected places sometimes. (“Look, your sister ate all HER food…” for example, or “Your sister put HER jacket away…”) Rather than comparing one child to another (“Why can’t you put away your toys like your brother does?”) describe the behavior that you see: “I see your blocks on the floor.” Or describe what needs to be done: “Please put your blocks away.” Likewise, be careful of comparing one child favorably to the other. Rather than saying, “You are a better eater than your sister,” describe the behavior that pleases you: “I see that you ate all your carrots!”
  3. Don’t allow your children to be locked into roles or personas. People seem really inclined to do this with twins. People often make references to one of my twins as “the shy one” or “the artistic one”. And when they were small babies, a stranger once asked me which was “the good one.” Never tell your kid, “Why are you always so mean to your brother?” The child walks away thinking, “Yes, I know I’m mean.” A better approach is to set a positive expectation for the child: “I know you can be kind to your brother.”
  4. Rather than treating children equally, strive to treat them uniquely, according to their needs. Instead of focusing on doling out identical servings of food, ask, “Do you want a little bit of _________ or a lot?” Instead of saying, “I love you both the same,” say, “I love you because you’re you! No one could ever take your place.” Give time according to need, as well. “I’m spending a lot of time helping your brother with his project right now. It’s important to him. As soon as I’m finished, I want to hear what’s important to you.” And then tune in and engage with the other child.
    This idea really resonated strongly with me. I remember being aware that one of my children really “needed” me more when they were small babies, while the other was more independent and able to accept help from others. I felt guilty about that at the time, feeling that I had somehow neglected the more independent child or affected our bonding. Now, with the space of time, I’m aware of how my relationships with my children have evolved, and I worry less about how much time I’ve spent with each and more about the quality of the time I’ve spent with each.
  5. Set expectations about boundaries of conflict. If kids hit or use name calling, say something like: “You sound mad, but I expect you to talk to your brother without hitting or calling him names.” And then provide some alternative strategies. “Rather than hitting, draw me a picture of how you feel.” “Rather than hitting your brother, go hit this pillow.” But note that insisting upon good feelings between children can lead to bad feelings or lingering resentment. Allowing bad feelings between children can help them to work through those feelings and have a more positive relationship in the long run.

 Overall Impression

As with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, a few ideas in the book made me think, “Well, that sounds nice, but what do you do when THAT doesn’t work?” In general, though, I found Faber and Mazlish’s philosophies on how to treat and talk to siblings to be intuitive and thought-provoking. I was even able to (tactfully) suggest alternative ways to think about  and talk to my twins to other family members. All in all, I found it to be a very interesting and helpful read, but as with any parenting book, one should approach it willing to apply what makes sense and ignore what doesn’t.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk – A Book Review

6

First published in 1980, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, is a book that I’ve seen referenced over and over in parenting conversations online since before my kids were even born. Now that R and J are two, I’m much more anxious to find and implement consistent parenting strategies that will work well for us and promote a spirit of cooperation, rather than constant discord, in our household. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk largely fits the bill.

Because How to Talk… was first published over thirty years ago, I found many of the philosophies and parenting strategies it suggested to be fairly commonsensical. The book primarily promotes empathy with children, encouraging parents to acknowledge their child’s feelings rather than dismissing or ridiculing them. This seems like a parenting philosophy that is more mainstream now than it might have been in 1980, and it has been reinforced over the years in educational television programming like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street,” etc.

But while much of the book seemed fairly straightforward and self-evident, the authors pointed out a few things that well-meaning parents often do that might undermine their children’s feelings without ever even knowing it. For example:

  1. Parents often try to reassure their children by saying, “You’re alright!” or, “It’s okay!” if a child falls or encounters a minor mishap. While parents are trying to diffuse the situation and cheer up the child, he or she may not feel alright, and parents may seem unsympathetic. Instead, the book suggests acknowledging the child’s feelings and letting them know that it’s alright to feel what they feel. The parent could instead say, “Oh, you fell and scraped your knee. That looks like it hurt!” to a child asking for comfort and reassurance. Expressing sympathy builds trust from the child to the parent. Another pitfall that well-meaning parents sometimes fall into is immediately turning the situation into a teaching moment. While our impulse might be to immediately say, “This is why I told you not to run on the sidewalk,” kids can perceive that you haven’t “heard” their distress.
  2. Parents often try to solve a problem or resolve a conflict on behalf of their child, rather than giving children the tools to do it themselves. This is a problem we face a lot in my house, where my kids are struggling to assert their own autonomy but lack the skill to do everything by themselves. Rather than jumping in to help by saying, “Here, let me open that for you,” the authors suggest showing respect for the effort and tools for success, by saying, “It can be hard to open a jar. Sometimes it helps to tap the lid gently on the counter.”
  3. Parents can provide harmful praise. Instead of evaluating or categorizing your child, the book suggests describing what you see. If a child brings home a good grade on the spelling test, rather than saying, “What a smart boy you are!”, try describing what you see: “You put a lot of work into studying this week, and it really paid off!”

I found many parts of the book to be helpful, and I’ve been working over the last few weeks to put some of them into action. As the mom of two-year-olds, it can be challenging at times. My kids aren’t quite old enough to understand cooperation and collaboration, and because frustrating moments come about pretty frequently in our house, I don’t always have the wherewithal to think through my initial (often negative) response and replace it with something more constructive. I did find myself asking myself, “Okay, but what happens when THAT doesn’t work?” as I read through the suggestions and examples.

How to Talk… is largely opposed to punishment as an outcome, preferring solutions allow kids to have some input into the outcome. A lot of these solutions are ideas I’ve heard before, like asking children to choose between two outcomes the parent can deal with, or allowing the child to experience the natural consequences of their actions. But the book also suggests some very collaborative problem-solving, involving brainstorming solutions and choosing a combination of solutions that work for everyone. I really like this idea, as it gives kids buy-in into the final outcome, but my two-year-olds don’t really grasp the concept yet.

Overall, I found How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk to be a good read, though perhaps not a complete, bullet-proof parenting strategy. I appreciate the book’s philosophy of treating your children as people to be respected and heard, and I’m continuing to work on implementing some of the ideas I’ve read in my own home.

1-2-3 Magic – A Book Review

2When my girls were younger, between 12 and 24 months or so, I employed the fine art of distraction and redirection, along with consequences-based “discipline” to manage behavior in our house.  It was a full-time job, and I was anxious for “time out” to have meaning.  I would test the time-out waters every few months, and eventually, when the girls were close to three, it seemed to sink in that time-out was a consequence they didn’t want to bear.

Yay!  So…now what???

I emailed a handful of trusted mommy friends, and several people recommended 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, which I promptly bought and began to follow.

123 MagicThe 1-2-3 Magic principles are used for “stop” behaviors, something your child is doing that you want her to stop.  There are two “warnings” given on the counts of one and two, and when three is reached, the child earns a time-out.

For example:

Baby A, spied running through the house: “Baby A, no running.  That’s ONE.”

Within a minute or so, Baby A, spied playing with the blinds: “Baby A, hands off the blinds.  That’s TWO.”

Within a minute or so, Baby A, spied stepping on a toy: “Baby A, we are respectful of toys.  That’s THREE.  Time out.”

In this example, Baby A committed three separate indiscretions within a short period of time.  (There is no determined “window” of time.  It certainly wouldn’t carry over throughout the day, and I feel there is a much shorter window associated with younger children.)  The scenario could have applied to repeated offense, like continuing to play with the blinds after I’d counted once / twice.  And there is an option for such a severe breach of rules, like hitting a sibling, where a parent can go straight to THREE and time-out.

If a child knows she’s breaking a rule, you may simply say, “Baby A, that’s ONE,” with no further explanation.

What I Like

Our girls picked up this system within a couple of days.  It requires discipline and consistency on the part of the parent, but my girls know I mean business when I count.

The system puts the onus on the child for her behavior.  She is “earning” a number with each of her actions.  Rules are rules, and if she breaks a rule, there are consequences.  Yet with the counting system, the child has an opportunity to right her behavior and switch gears before she’s in real trouble.

Most of all, I love that this system helps keep my emotions in check.  One of the most powerful things I’ve read as a parent is this: “…ninety-nine percent of the time that parents scream, hit and spank their children, the parent is simply having a temper tantrum.  The tantrum is a sign that 1) the parent doesn’t know what to do, 2) the parent is so frustrated that he or she can’t see straight…

Whoa.  An adult temper tantrum.  I could fall into this easily if I let myself…but the powerful image of an adult temper tantrum (think about it!) stops me from going there.

The 1-2-3 Magic system advocates that parents remain very calm when they count.  This reinforces that it is the action of the child that is earning counts.  With very few exceptions, the parent does not owe the child an explanation for counting.  The book cites that when a parent gives lots and lots of reasons to a child, the message can become, “You don’t have to behave unless I can give you five or six good reasons why you should.”

What I’ve Changed

The 1-2-3 system worked really well for us from age three to age four-and-a-half.  My girls just turned five, and it remains the framework for how we keep order at our house.  What’s changed for me is the “time-out” portion of the equation.

Around age four-and-a-half, I found our girls to be much more emotional.  There were many more reasons they were acting out…it wasn’t just that they got too excited to see the garbage truck and started playing with the blinds.

While I still use 1-2-3 Magic, with the increased emotion in play, I realized that the time-out wasn’t always addressing the behavior issue, but was oftentimes making it worse.  I turned to “The Five Love Languages of Children” [review to come on Friday].  I’m trying to recognize when­ our girls need more than “standard” discipline.

To sum up 1-2-3 Magic, I’ll quote one last passage:

We want your attitude and message to the children to be something like this: ‘You’re my child and I’m your parent.  I love you, and it’s my job to train and discipline you.  I don’t expect you to be perfect, and when you do do something wrong, this is what I will do.’”

I bought this book seeking a game plan, and that’s what it has helped me to develop and implement at our house.

Have you read 1-2-3 Magic?  Have you incorporated elements from it at your house?

MandyE is mom to five-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

Collection of Parenting Book Reviews from a Parenting Book Lover

I was so excited when Sadia thought we should do a week of parenting book reviews here on HDYDI. I love reading books, and especially good parenting books. I will be reading all the reviews my fellow authors will be sharing in the hopes of finding my next parenting book to pick up!

What's Up FagansOn my blog I have written several parenting book reviews, and I’d though I’d share a little blurb about each one (with a link to the full review on What’s up Fagans?) instead of reposting each one separately. Also, my personal affiliate links are used in this post.

Pregnancy and Birth Books

In one post I reviewed the six different pregnancy and birth books listed above, giving them all letter grades (for your convenience). I was researching and reading about natural childbirth at the time as I was preparing for the birth of my singleton. I desperately wanted to have a VBAC, and since I hadn’t actually experienced labor with my twins, I wanted to learn what to expect and how to handle it.

Beating Bed Rest

Our very own Angela gave me a copy of her Beating Bed Rest book which, had I ever been on bed rest, would have been a godsend! I am grateful for her honest perspective on something, that frankly, isn’t talked about at nearly the depth it should be in pregnancy books!

Christian/Religious Parenting Books

The Christian Parenting Handbook

I reviewed this book on my blog as part of the book’s launch week, and also shared about it on HDYDI that week as well. But, I do think it is one of my favorite parenting books. Despite being Christian-based, the principles apply to all sound-minded parents, no matter what religion. And the book isn’t judgmental, but very encouraging, helping you do more than just behavior modification. It’s helping you do heart modification. And that is what great parenting should really be about!

Together: Growing Appetites for God

I haven’t written a review of this book, though I’ve always meant to. This book is about how one mother decides that she is going to get her kids into the word of God by reading aloud, straight from the Bible (and not a Children’s version), cover to cover. She sets realistic expectations for it, leaving room for sick days, weekends, and vacations, and plots a course of finishing the Bible in… seven years. Yes, she calculated that it would take that long. Thankfully, it took only three (I think?). I loved her honest recounts of how it went, and how her family grew through the experience. I have tried numerous times to do this with my family, but usually only last a week or two, so I find this book inspiring!

Standing for Something

While not quite a “parenting book,” this book is all about 10 neglected virtues in our society and how we can reestablish them in our society and in our homes. I read this book when my kids were not even a year, but it’s a great book that gives us hope of great things yet to come, even in a world that too often seem amoral.

Other Parenting Books

Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age 5

This is a great book that I think all parents should read! Some parents drive themselves batty over the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under two have NO screen time, at all. This book, written by a mom, is well researched, but easy to read and understand. It helps dispel some myths and shared light on bigger issues than focused TV watching.

Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her House of Entitlement

This is a great parenting book, especially if you have fallen into the rut of believing that it is just easier to do everything yourself, instead of waiting for your child to do whatever chore. Each month this mom conquered a new entitlement and kept building from it. She repeated over and over again how she wished she would’ve started it much sooner, when her kids were younger, as the oldest one was the most resistant to some of her changes. In my review, I reflect on how I was raised (which things I was “entitled to” and which things I definitely wasn’t) and what I love about this book!

Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting

This book is definitely different from most parenting books. The author takes a very reflective role instead of an authoritarian role, sharing and reminiscing about her son growing up. They often go walking in nature, learning about various life, but also strengthening their relationship. It’s a beautiful little read.

1-2-3 Magic:Effective Discipline for Young Kids

This book will be given a proper book review for HDYDI later today, but I wanted to share my review on this parenting book. Since reading this and many other books, I am on the fence sometimes about time-outs. I use them, but I really use them sparingly now (my twins are almost four). But, the thing I still think about from this book is the “Little Adult Syndrome!” I cannot tell you how many times I need to remind myself that they are kids, they cannot reason like me. Helps me keep things in perspective and not get so upset with my kids.

Have you read any of these books?

ldskatelyn is a stay at home mom of almost 4yo fraternal g/g twins and an almost 1yo baby boy. She loves reading books, especially parenting books! She writes all about her family and her simple life in Indianapolis over at What’s up Fagans?

What I Learned from Parenting My First Child

Having already parented one child 2.5 years older than my b/g 13.5mo twins, I feel I’m at an advantage knowing somewhat about what to expect with the twins. I’m sure I have much more to learn on this parenting journey, but here are some lessons I’ve learned so far:

During Times of Sickness

Parenting 1st child(1)Never over-coddle a child when he is sick. Even the youngest of children have absurdly brilliant minds and will expect the same exact treatment permanently after recovery. So resist the urge to feel sorry for your poor sniffly baby and snuggle with her in a rocking chair all night because she’s congested… unless doing the exact same thing every night forever sounds good to you. I’ve spent too many nights “re-training” my firstborn to sleep to ever want to experience that again. Now, I give just the right amount of cuddles during daytime only, and consider minor stuffy noses something babies need to learn to deal with on their own.

At Bathtime

Be liberal about pouring water over babies in the bath. Even deliberately splash a little into their eyes. At such a young age, babies have absolutely no fear of the water. In fact, my twins LOVE getting their baths. The water in their faces does not faze them one bit. They kick and splash it into their own faces, while cackling and having a great time. But never, NEVER, allow babies to come into contact with adult soap/shampoo. We had traumatizing moment while traveling in Asia without a baby tub when my eldest had just turned two. In the shower with me, she got a hold of a bar of soap, and before I could get her to wash it off her hands, she wiped her eyes. If you don’t want future swim lessons to break down into hysterical tears, constant requests of face wiping during bathtimes, intense fear of the showerhead spray, beware of over protecting babies’ faces from water in the tub and be extra careful about using only tearless soap/shampoo.

Reading to Kids

Works! Firstborn was a calm baby, so reading a cloth book as part of her bedtime routine started very early on. She’s always loved stories with Mommy, and I believe this is the reason she is such a verbal kid, excels in school, and learned to recognize all her letters and write her name before most other kids. She is also fully bilingual, can seamlessly transition between English and Mandarin, and even translates for those in the family who are monolingual. Her love of stories has also improved her focus, attention span, and ability to analogize. The twins have not yet given up their chewing on whatever they get their hands on, and the two of them makes it logistically difficult to read to both at once, but just as soon as they’re ready, we will be reading together too. These days, a trip to the library occurs regularly, and I hope that the twins will be a part of this routine soon as well. (Just as soon as they stop eating their books.)

On Having Toys

Having the first child it was easy to always put her first and think of her every waking moment. Having two more puts things more into perspective. I used to pick up a little something for her everywhere I went. Grocery shopping? Oh, here’s a little treat for her too. At the dollar store? Buy her a little toy. Little by little added up to quite a lot, and we accumulated an entire playroomful of this and that. We honestly have so many that the kids are not even playing with them. Too many. We now do not buy any toys. Since the twins were born, the only toys they have gotten have not been from me. Actually, on birthdays and Christmas, I try to steer family and friends away from a massive number of toys. We have plenty of toys from our first child to last through our other two children, and then some.

Fostering Independence

This is a parenting philosophy I’ve always embraced because it worked so well when my mom used it to raise me and my brother. And it’s paid off with my firstborn too. At 3.5 now, she openly starts conversations with random strangers, needs no supervision when using the bathroom/washing hands, can dress and undress herself as well as put on/take off shoes. I believe myself to have a controlling personality, so sometimes letting her figure things out on her own takes some willpower. But I do also believe that it’s ok for kids to fall, get dirty, get frustrated, and work out how to share on their own. With twins, they are not only learning from every decision I make with them, but I see them also watching and studying my interactions with the other twin. I think they will learn to rely on themselves even faster than my first, just based on the nature of the fact that Mommy cannot be in two places at once. I’ve already started to notice that they help themselves more to the things that they want: taking from each other, grabbing assertively for food, etc.

Can’t wait to see how my own parenting will evolve as these kids grow older. It’s been a real blast this last year to experience the differences and similarities between all three children.

Helping Kids Deal with Emotions

My 7-year-olds have had a lot to deal with of late. It’s no secret that J finds it easier to express her emotions constructively than her sister. J certainly does her share of acting out, but she has a prodigal ability to identify the source of her feelings and concerns and verbalize metaphors that help her keep then manageable. M is a more typical child. She gets overwhelmed by her emotions and lashes out, not quite understanding why she’s behaving that way.

Helping Kids Deal with Emotions

Recently, after her last explosion the night before, M had a question for her sister on the drive to school.

“With your angers, J, how do you throw them out?”
J had the expected response. “What?”
“I think what M is asking,” I attempted to translate, “is how you get yourself to stop being angry or behaving inappropriately when you’re feeling angry. Is that right, M?
“That’s what I said.”

That’s debatable.

“Oh!” J exclaimed. “I take a break until I feel calm.”
“What if you can’t take a break?” M wanted to know.
“I explain nicely that I need a break and will talk about it later. And I read a book or snuggle with Blankie and Blanket.”
“But what if you CAN’T?” M was started to need a break of her own.
“For example,” I tried to clarify, “like right now, when we’re all in the car together?”
“I take my deep breaths. I ask for help.”
“Okay…” M was unconvinced.

J said she remembered times that she’d cried because she couldn’t get away from a difficult conversation at school and times she’d burst out in anger. I was proud of M for recognizing that she needed to work on managing her emotional reactions, and proud of her for recognizing that J was a good role model.

M had a rough day. A kid at after school care had yelled in her face because she said she liked the YMCA. She’d had a stomach ache most of the day. I was certain that her stomach ailment had a emotional cause.

That night, while I gave the girls their bedtime snuggles, I told M that she and I had something in common.

“M, I think that you and I let our feelings about one thing affect everything. For example, if an ant bites me, I’m really angry at the ant, but I feel mad at everything and everyone around me. Does that make sense?”
“I guess,” M said.
“J’s different. She’s really good at knowing that she’s just mad at the ant.”
“I don’t get mad at everything except sometimes,” J added helpfully.
“Exactly,” I told her. “M, can I tell you what works for me?”
“Yes.”
“I find it really helpful to talk to people I trust about what I’m feeling,” I tried to explain talk therapy and friendship in elementary school terms. “They help me figure out why I’m feeling what I’m feeling and then I can put my different feelings where they belong. After a lot of years of doing that, I was able to talk to myself inside my own head and figure it out.”
“I can’t do that,” M said, panic in her voice.
“You can’t talk to people?”
Her, “No!” was filled with frustration.
“You need to talk to people?”
“Yes! I can’t do it by myself. If I don’t talk to people I erupt like a volcano.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t have to do it alone,” I assured her. “Never, not until you decide you’re ready. When you’re 18 or 19, you may decide you don’t need someone else to help with your feelings, but I’m here for as long as you need me.”

We chatted about the things that were on her mind, the happy and sad, the easy and the challenging. We agreed to have a pre-sleep chat nightly to help her sort through her feelings for as long as she needed. I’ve noticed that when I ask the girls to tell me about the best and worst things that happened during the day, they can come up with one or the other, but rarely both. If my daughter tells me the best thing of the day, she’s had a good day. If she has something that’s “worst”, we’re in for a rough evening.

How do you conduct emotional education in your family?

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.

I Almost Missed My Child’s Call for Help

I predicted that M would explode into emotion at some point after her therapist’s death. When it actually happened after she heard about her Dad’s impending second divorce, I nearly missed the opportunity to talk to her about how she was feeling.

help

My 7-year-olds share a room and each has her own lofted bed. Still, they sleep in the same bed most nights. Last night, after prayers, when they should have been settling in to sleep, they were still bickering.

“M kicked me!” J informed me.
“Only ’cause J punched me first.”
“There is no hitting or kicking in the family,” I reminded them.
“Sorry,” J apologized, almost convincingly.
“She punched me first!” countered M.
I stood firm. “You owe her an apology.”
“But…”
“No ‘but’. No hitting”
“But it was because…,” M kept trying to defend herself.
“No because. No hitting. No excuses.”
“But Mom!”
“No ‘but’,” I  insisted. “No excuses. We do not hit in this family for any reason. Use words or get help.”
“I hate this family!” M yelled.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I told her. “I love you.”
She’d escalated to a full-throated scream by this point. She turned on her sister. “Get. Out. Of. My. Bed.”
“But I’m already settled,” J tried to argue.
“GET OUT!”
I tried to restore peace. “J, go ahead and go to your own bed. I can sleep with you.”
M was horrified. “Who’s going to sleep with me?”
“No one. You asked J to leave.”
“That’s not fair!” M took the default child position. “I want you to snuggle with me!”
“J may have been inappropriate at the start, but you’re the one making poor choices right now,” I explained. “This is a consequence.”
“I don’t feel loved,” M cried. “I don’t feel part of this family. I want to find another family.”
“Good luck finding a family that allows hitting and kicking and is still loving and safe,” I retorted. “I have these rules because I love you.”

I kissed both children good night and sat down on the couch to clear out the spam comments on this site before I tackled the Neverending Laundry Story. M’s words were echoing in my ears.

I don’t feel part of this family.
Family…
Family…

Realization hit all at once. She was upset about family. She was upset about Daddy’s divorce and confused about her standing with her stepmother and stepsisters. Her anger wasn’t directed at her sister, or even me, at all. We were the safe people in her life; she could act out with us. The family she didn’t feel part of was the bigger family, outside the safety of Mommy and Sissy.

I know that this is how M processes big emotions, with a massive explosion that makes way for her readiness to process things. Even knowing this, I almost missed it in the rush to bedtime, in my focus on M’s lack of self-discipline, in my quest for just treatment of my daughters.

I quite literally ran across the living room, down the hall, and into the girls’ room. They were both still awake.

“What?” J asked.
“I have to talk to M,” I told her. “I just realized something. Go to sleep, J Bear.”
I climbed into M’s bed and lowered my voice to speak to her.
“I’m so sorry, M. You’re upset about Daddy and Melissa’s divorce. Am I right?”
She nodded.

We talked and talked and talked. She told me about her confusion, her sadness, her anger. She told me that she was disappointed in her daddy. She told me she was embarrassed to tell her friends that she had two divorces. She told me that she didn’t think they gave their marriage enough time. She wondered why her stepmother hadn’t realized what Daddy’s being a soldier would mean before they got married. She wondered if her stepsisters would still love her. She wished her relatives weren’t all so far away. She wished people she loved who weren’t her relatives weren’t all so far away.

Maybe if people were allowed to marry 3 wives, she pondered, there wouldn’t need to be divorce. That way, Daddy could be married to me and Melissa and another person and would never have to be divorced. That way, she could still have a mom and stepmom and never have to know the word “divorce.”

She has more insight than she realizes.

Our discussion on her feelings of divorce slipped seamlessly into the other subject that’s been bothering her.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “This is all too much sadness for a little 7-year-old to deal with.”
“I’m not little!” she told me, offended.
“Giant 7-year-old?”
“No, Mommy! I’m a normal 7-year-old girl, despite my looks.” (What? Your 7-year-old doesn’t use the word “despite” in regular conversation? Mine does.)
“What do you mean, ‘despite your looks’?” I asked, knowing full well what she meant.
My kissy nose.”
“Are people still making rude comments?”
“Yes, but Mrs. H is reading Wonder to our class. It’s only for 5th graders and 4th graders and 3rd graders but Mrs. C [the principal] said Mrs. H could read it to our class.”
“I’ve heard great things about it.”
“It’s so good! The character has a funny face like me…”

We talked more. Auggie, M thought, would understand her if only her weren’t fictional. I suggested that perhaps the author understood her, but M wasn’t interested in pursuing that train of thought. Auggie had a big sister who beat people up when they teased him, “kind of like J! Daddy told me she beat someone up at Chick-Fil-A for laughing at me.” (They were 2 years old. A big kid pushed M off the slide in the playscape and J let him have it with all of her 18 lbs.)

“I’m not exactly like him, though,” M mused.
“No?”
“He wishes he looked ordinary. I don’t want a different nose. I just want people not to tease me.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Some people scream when they see the character,” M told me.
“No one would do that to you.” I was relieved to have something positive to offer.
“But they scream with laughter.”
“That’s terrible. What should they do instead?”
“That should ask me! And I’ll tell them I was born this way! That’s all. That’s it. I’ll tell them it’s my kissy nose.”

M is adorable.

I almost missed M’s call for help in the midst of the daily grind.

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.

Toddler Thursday: Anatomy of a Tantrum

When my twin daughters were 3, I tried to capture in words the horror and glory of toddler tantrums at our house. I’ve reworked that post for How Do You Do It? for this week’s Toddler Thursday.

Anatomy of a Tantrum: What a tantrum really looks like and how to handle it

Full-Body Tantrum (J)

J’s tantrums started when she lost her temper, felt frustrated, or felt that she had been treated unjustly. They could happen anywhere: at home, in the car, at daycare, at the grocery store, at the theatre.

She usually started by sitting hard on the floor or lying on the floor. Early on, she’d throw herself backwards, but learned the hard way that our tile was too hard for that. She refused to get up or move. Her response to my physical attempts to set her upright was to arch her back and twist away.

Next, she started to whine, louder and louder, repeating whatever her complaint was. For a few months, she started prefaced all this by growling. She’d swat with her hand at whatever she could reach: me, the floor, the wall, her sister, her teacher. If she happened to have something in her hand, she’d throw it.

If I hadn’t talked her down by the time we’d reached the swatting stage, J would start to scream. The child was loud. Very, very loud. Finally, tears would pour down her face, she’d accept a hug, and beg for her blankie. She’d sniffle into her blankie and ultimately apologize.

Verbal Tantrum (M)

M’s tantrums usually stemmed from feeling misunderstood. Often, if I said no, she thought it was because I didn’t understand what she was asking for, and then things got ugly. I found it effective to avoid tantrums with M by stating my negative responses like so: “I understand that you want [some completely ridiculous thing] and I am telling you no.”

M tended to start crying first, then escalated to screaming if I couldn’t understand what she was saying through her tears, or thought I couldn’t. She stomped her foot on the ground. She wasn’t as likely to lie (collapse) on the floor as her sister, but she did resort to name-calling, “Mommyhead” being a favourite. She didn’t hit, but she did push at me if I tried to hug her. If I caught it early, distracting her with a snuggle and book worked well. After the snuggle we could discuss her unacceptable behaviour and its source.

M was much less likely to stay in time out during a tantrum than her sister, and it took her much longer (think hours rather than minutes) to calm down once she was fully engaged.

Terrible Twos or Terrible Threes?

Age two wasn’t so bad with my daughters. The threes, on the other hand, were quite horrific at times, although the rewards have been as great. As I’ve mentioned before, age three was, hands down, my least favourite age. My friend April has a theory about why the “terrible” stage increasingly waits until age three. It comes down to parenting styles. Her explanation is that our parents’ generation was less permissive to us at an early age, and less tuned into kids’ pre- and non-verbal communication. By age two, we were ready to explode because we felt misunderstood. Our generation of parents’ responsiveness to infants and toddlers causes our kids to put off acting out until later, when they really begin to realize how powerless they are.

Parental Survival

How did I handle these tantrums without another parent present to back me up, my now ex-husband so often deployed overseas? Obviously, I often didn’t.

I tried to use the same techniques I’ve taught the kids. I did (and do) a lot of deep breathing. I sometimes removed myself from the situation after I’d made sure the culprit is in a safe place. Sometimes, a glass of water and small piece of chocolate helped. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I sat in my room for 2-3 minutes until I felt ready to tackle it again.

My daughters and I often talk about the need to take a break when we start to feel overwhelmed, in order to avoid a tantrum, and all three of us practice this. M reads a book or draws, often putting completely hilarious signs on her door announcing her need for privacy. Jessica snuggles her blankie, and I lie down quietly on my bed, wash dishes or fold laundry, or take a shower.

M and J’s preschool teacher used similar techniques in the classroom. When a child started to “throw a fit”, they were removed from the situation and asked to sit away from the group until they had calmed down. Once they were calm, the teacher discussed whatever the conflict was with them, and made sure that the child understands why their behaviour was unacceptable.

In truly horrendous cases, the director or assistant director would be called in to remove the child from the classroom and had a serious discussion with them. Most tantrums were not reported to the parents, but a pattern of an unusual number of tantrums from any one child resulted in an informal conversation with the parent or a note home if the parents’ schedule and the teacher’s don’t coincide.

What do tantrums look like at your house? How do you handle them? How do you avoid them?

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.

“You’re a Bad Mommy”

Can you think of anything worse coming out of your child’s mouth than the words, “You’re a bad mommy?”

Okay, if I worked on it, I could probably imagine worse, mostly things that would land my kid in jail or the grave, but “bad mommy” is pretty bad.

Last night, we got home from Girl Scouts around 8:00 pm. It had been a long day for all of us, a demanding day at work and painful commute for me and a full day of school and afterschool care for the girls. It had been an especially rough week for me personally. There was no downtime for any of us. In fact, I booked it down the school hallway at 6:30 pm from the afterschool care location to our Girl Scout meeting to let the other moms into our meeting space. I didn’t run, though. Running in the halls is against school rules. I’m just so grateful that the YMCA program and Girl Scouts are in the same building.

Once we got home, M and J had to finish their homework, even though I’d reminded them to finish up on Wednesday since Thursday was a Girl Scouts night and homework was due Friday. I didn’t master the art of procrastination until college! So precocious, these angels of mine.

They finished their homework around 8:15. I checked it and signed it and asked them to pack it away. Once the schoolbags were in their respective cubbies, I asked M to brush her hair and J to brush her teeth. While they did so, I figured I could scoop out the cat litter. I live a glamourous life, don’t I?

I walked past the living room to dispose of the litter and found M reading on the couch, hair and teeth unbrushed.

I raised my voice. I admit it. “M! I told you to brush you hair! Now!”

She jumped to attention and ran off sniffling. I crumpled into the couch and rubbed my suddenly sore temples.

J sat down on the couch next to me.

“You’re a bad mommy,” she said. “You yell. Yelling doesn’t teach us anything.”

I was hurt.

“Am I always a bad mommy?” I asked.
“Yes. You yell,” J said.
“All the time? Did I yell yesterday? Or the day before?”
“No,” she admitted.
“Do I do other bad mommy things?”
“No.”
“I shouldn’t have yelled,” I confessed. “That was wrong of me. It wasn’t a good mommy thing to do and I’m sorry. I’m going to apologize to M too. But I hope that you can recognize that this was a mistake. I really do try to be a good mommy.”
“You are a good mommy,” J said, sounding unconvinced, “but you shouldn’t yell.”
“I’m sorry.”

I got over my hurt feelings. The fact that my raising my voice once counts as being a bad mommy in J’s book probably means I usually do a decent job of holding my temper and modulating my voice. The fact that J expects my responses to her poor behaviour or her sister’s to contain a lesson probably means I usually effectively convey larger lessons when I’m disciplining my daughters. The fact that J feels like she can criticize my parenting and help me do better means that I’m on the way to achieving my goal of raising confident, productively critical kids.

So J, go ahead and let me know when I’m being a bad mommy. I can take it.

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.