What Are They Thinking?

Posted on
Categories Behavior, Development, Discipline, Frustration, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, Overnight, Parenting, Perspective, School-Age, Single Parenting, Sleep, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

What are they thinkingHow 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.

  1. 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?)
  2. 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.
  3. Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale
    Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

    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.

  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Photo Credit: reb
Photo Credit: reb

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.

Share this...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on RedditDigg thisShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

School-Age Consequences

Posted on
Categories Behavior, Discipline, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, Other people, School-AgeTags , , , 3 Comments

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.

  1. She had observed her friend Caroline finger knitting. (Yes, this is the same Caroline from yesterday.)
  2. She asked Caroline to teach her.
  3. Caroline taught her.
  4. J decided that M would enjoy the activity and called her over.
  5. M learned to finger knit.
  6. M messed up her knitting and Caroline helped her rescue it.
  7. A little boy got hurt.
  8. Ms H asked them to put their yarn away. They tried to finish up some stitches.
  9. Ms H asked them again to put their yarn away. They started to think about doing it.
  10. Ms H asked them to put the yarn up. This time, they did.
  11. Later in the afternoon, they asked Mr. K if they could make beaded jewelry. Mr. K said yes.
  12. M and J took the beads out.
  13. 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?

Share this...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on RedditDigg thisShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone