What Are They Thinking?

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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.

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Children Lie

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Categories Discipline, Financial Literacy, Guilt, Mommy Issues, Older Children, Parenting, Special Needs, Talking to Kids, Theme WeekTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 6 Comments

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to blog about this incident. It’s embarrassing to one of my daughters, but not atypical for children their age. Seven-year-olds lie and even steal. It’s developmentally appropriate, but not socially or morally acceptable. Maybe our story will help another parent know that she’s not alone in tackling these issues. Here’s what happened.

For their 7th birthday, I got each of my daughters a gift card to a local bookstore. I like to use gift cards to teach my girls financial decision-making. The finite balance on the gift card teaches them that paying with plastic should be treated as responsibly as paying with cash. When they run out, they’re out. It encourages budgeting and exercises their basic arithmetic while they’re shopping. They have to factor in sales tax. Whenever possible, I try to set up situations where my daughters spend their gift cards over multiple shopping trips. I figure it helps them understand the idea of debit and the longterm record-keeping required to track their gift card balance is a good exercise.

The gift cards I gave J and M were identical. Although I suggested that we simply write their names on each one, the girls elected to distinguish them differently. One of them decided that she would remove the hangtag from her card while the other left hers intact.

Nearly two months after our initial shopping venture, the girls asked to go to the bookstore this weekend. I asked them to grab their gift cards and buckle up in the car. I gathered up my things while they packed up theirs. The one who’d left her hangtag on let us know that she’d found her gift card, but removed the tag so that the card would fit in the wallet. The other child was upset, feeling that Sissy had gone back on an agreement. It didn’t help that she couldn’t find her gift card.

I happened to know where the second gift card was. Someone had just left her card lying on the floor of the living room last time we went to the bookstore. Despite two reminders, it was never put away, so I picked it up and set it aside.

I retrieved the gift card and discovered that it was the one with the hangtag still attached. My daughter had claimed her sister’s gift card and concocted a lie to cover it up. I showed her the gift card and she instantly knew she was caught. Sister didn’t even realize what she was witnessing. I explained it to her, and she was understandably appalled. Her sister had essentially stolen from her and then lied to cover it up.

The offending party volunteered that the appropriate consequence for her actions was my permanently confiscating her gift card. I didn’t want to do that, but I did tell her that she would not be spending her card on this trip. Sister not only forgave her, but bought the offender a book with her own card.

The next day, I took a moment alone to talk to my daughter about why she’d made the series of choices she had. She didn’t want to talk about it because she felt bad. I reminded her that she had made some pretty bad choices, and one of the consequences of those choices was feeling guilty. She was going to have to talk about it and she was going to have to feel bad. Once she finally agreed to discuss the whole situation, she explained to me that she knew that she’d done wrong by not putting her gift card away. All the wrong actions that followed were to cover up that mistake.

I told her clearly that lying and stealing were far worse than the original offense, and those were the choices I was truly disappointed in. Dishonesty and theft would not be tolerated. Mistakes happen and can be fixed, but lying was unacceptable.

I live what I preach. I admit my mistakes to my children. The only lie I’m guilty of is eating chocolate at work so that my girls don’t know the quantity of sugar I consume. I’m working on fixing that one. I even struggle with the mythology of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Those feel like lies, even if our entire community is complicit.

This is another one of those ways in which parenting gets harder. You leave behind the sleepless nights and the diapers and potty training, only to have to help your children navigate morality and peer pressure.

What would you have done in my shoes? How do you tackle lapses in honesty?

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Shelter in the Storm

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Categories Older Children, Safety, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

I feel incredibly petty having used the word “terrified” to describe myself a couple of days ago in light of the recent tragedy in Boston. To be honest, I haven’t reached the point of feeling frightened. Mostly, I’m horrified. My reactions today have been a lot like those I had in the first hours of September 11, 2001. Disbelief. Anger. Horror. Sadness. Helplessness. Of course, there’s an enormous difference in scale between today’s horrific attack and the unthinkable and reality-changing events in New York and at the Pentagon a dozen years ago. Another difference, on a personal front, is that I now look at the world through the eyes of a mother.

My daughters are more aware than a lot of their peers of current events. Being the daughters of a soldier who has served three tours in combat, they are keenly aware that war happens and evil exists. The poem that M wrote at school two weeks ago shows that she’s not exactly sheltered.

Soldiers are heroes,
On hard times go to war.
Loving all people.
Dying sometimes
In wars,
Ending their lives.
Right to fight for the good.
Sacrificing themselves.

“Bad guys” are more real to military kids than to a lot of their friends. While we keep the worst of what Daddy has been through from J and M, they know that he goes to war and that it’s dangerous. Still, there are some dangers they’re not old enough to cope with at 6 years old, not in the way that the news media cover them. Today’s bombings are among them.

I usually listen to public radio in the car. Before I got out of the car to pick my children up this afternoon, I switched over to a Laurie Berkner CD. I did the same thing in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting. I believe that it’s important to teach my children to be citizens. I believe that they should know and care about current events and people outside their immediate sphere. I also believe that there are some forms of ugliness from which they still need and deserve to be protected. I believe that one of my jobs is to filter information that is just too difficult or complex for my daughters, for now. There will be plenty of time for them to experience the full weight of the world when they are older.

We only turn our television on once a month or so, but even if I were still in the habit of catching the local news, the TV would be off today and for the next few days. We’re going to be avoiding the radio for the next while, even music stations, because they do often broadcast snippets of high profile stories. PBS has an excellent guide to how to handle exposure to and discussion of disturbing news events with children of different ages.

Over the next hours and days, I’m going to have to figure out how to handle it if my daughters hear about the Boston bombings at school. They have a lot of older friends, and other parents may not be as vigilant as me at keeping the news and its disturbing images out of their homes. Kids overhear teachers talking all the time. I think I’ll just make some sort of open-ended statement in the morning: “If you hear about something in the news that you want to talk about, remember that you can always come to me.”

As with all things, if we need to discuss today’s tragedy, I will be honest. I will tell the children that I, too, am scared and sad and angry. I will tell them that I don’t understand why some people are so broken that they would want to hurt others. I will tell them that I know that we live in a mostly safe world, but that unexpected tragedies happen and that I find that very frightening. I will remind them that most people in the world are like Daddy the soldier, Grampy the firefighter, their great uncle the policeman, and all the wonderful teachers and mentors in their lives. Most people are there to protect them, and they are safe, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.

Do your kids see or hear the news? Are their certain stories you filter? At what age do you think it’s appropriate to start and stop shielding children from media coverage of disturbing developments?

Sadia is the mother of 6-year-old twin daughters and a former US army wife, now divorced. She lives in the Austin, TX area, where she works in higher education information technology. She is originally from the United Kingdom and Bangladesh.

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Talking to Kids About Depression

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Categories Education, Medical, Mental Health, Mommy Issues, Perspective, School-AgeTags , , 16 Comments

My 6-year-olds love going through the drive through pharmacy. They’re fascinated by the hardware that allows me and the pharmacist to send clipboards, debit cards and medications back and forth without my having to leave the driver’s seat of my car. They never tire of the box magically closing just before it disappears into the cavern above our heads.

While we were waiting for my refills and debit card yesterday, M wanted to know what the medicine was for. I told her I’d explain on the way home. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

I have clinical depression.

I didn’t say I was depressed. I’m not depressed. My emotional and mood responses to the challenges in my life are proportional and appropriate. I see the little joys in my day. My temper is completely under control. I don’t find myself needing to examine my every thought to determine whether it’s a real one or the product of a brain that isn’t working right. It doesn’t take an all-consuming act of will to get out of bed, eat, or breathe. Not any more.

I explained to my daughter that, many years ago, I started having horrible feelings of sadness. There wasn’t a reason to be sad, at least not as sad as I felt. Some mornings, my brain would tell my body to sit up, but my body wouldn’t listen. The sadness was controlling my body. I went to a doctor and a counselor—my daughter knows about counselors because her school has two amazing ones—and tried to fix things by thinking about my feelings, talking about my feelings, understanding my feelings. It wasn’t enough. I tried all the things we practice at home to manage our feelings: deep breaths, time out, reading a book, writing about our feelings, asking for help. It just wasn’t enough.

Finally, my doctor told me that I have an illness called “depression.” Everyone’s brain has chemicals in it, just like all other parts of the body, to make sure it works right. For some reason we don’t understand, some of my brain’s chemicals were missing. (I figured that 6 was a little young to go into serotonin reuptake. “Missing chemicals” would have to do.) The doctor recommended that I take medicine to help. I didn’t want to take medicine to put new chemicals in my brain. That sounded scary to me.

“This is a scary story!” my daughter interjected.

I asked if she wanted me to stop. She wanted to hear the ending, so I continued.

I started taking the medicine. After a few months, I felt better. My body started listening to my brain, and I felt happy. When I did feel sad, there was a reason, and fixing the reason fixed the sadness. My brain was all better.

When I decided to have babies, I didn’t want those medicines in their bodies. Their brains probably would never need them, and it’s not a good idea to have medicine in your body that you don’t need. With a doctor’s help, I stopped taking my medicines, and I still felt fine.

I had my beautiful little girls. (M smiled at that.) For four years, I felt just fine. Then, one day, the bad sadness came back. I recognized it right away this time. I went back to the doctor, and told them that I had depression and that it was making me feel sick again. He asked me to try the medicines that had worked before, and they worked again.

“So if you don’t take your medicine, you’ll be sick?” M asked.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I’ll probably just be the same that I always am, but this sickness, depression, might come back and make my brain sick again. Since the medicine helps make sure that I stay healthy in my brain, I keep taking it. There may be a good reason to stop taking it some day and be careful about watching my brain health, but for now, I think I should keep taking it.”

“Okay,” she said. And that was that.

J looked up from the book she was reading. “Did you say something about being sick?”

I told her we’d talk about it another time.

Twinkly TuesdayWhen the Dust Settles

Sadia is a divorced mother of precocious 6-year-old identical twin girls. She works in higher education information technology and has her depression well managed. She hopes that some day, the stigma of mental illness will go that way of cancer stigma. She believes that knowledge is power. So is compassion.
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