“No Lip” or How much talking back is okay?

I’ve been thinking a lot about behavior lately–namely, whining and back talking.  I’ve recently taken on a no nonsense discipline strategy that been really effective.  There’s a lot of things that I don’t tolerate, and the girls get disciplined immediately for it.  It’s been great in a lot of ways.  It’s helped them understand their limits, and it helps me “parent without screaming.”  But as my 3-year old ages, she is becoming mouthier and more independent by the day.  I’ve been blaming this on her figuring out who she is coupled with early language that she doesn’t fully have a grasp on.  Early language or not, though, it’s time to reign in the mouthiness.

I guess I’ve been waiting on feeling like she is aware of her behavior, capable of being responsible for what she says–not sure if that makes sense, but her language is FAR beyond her understanding of it.  She’ll yell all kinds of things that she doesn’t understand.  Like, “This is NOT MY responsibility!  It is YOUR responsibility!”  She doesn’t know what responsibility means, she only regurgitates… and, she regurgitates so stinking well.  She’s often mistaken for being older than 3 because of how well she speaks and has conversation, but her emotional maturity lags far behind.  So, I’m in this weird place: “Is she old enough to reign in her emotions, or at least reign in her disrespectful behavior toward me?  Is she old enough to learn respect?”

Here’s where it recently hit a head.  Sunday night, cookout.  I took the girls by myself.  Cookout with a whole bunch of people I didn’t know and a small few I did.  When it was time to go, I gave the 5-minute and 1-minute warning and tried to round the kiddos up. Sophia ran away from me, and Abby started screaming with the loss of my immediate presence.  Everybody froze.  Abby’s screams will make the toughest mothers crumble and the less seasoned ones FLIP OUT.  To say she’s a drama queen is a serious understatement.  I nearly had to drag Sophia by the arm, and I had to rescue my screaming Abby from the arms of a well-meaning complete stranger.  I haven’t felt so judged, so “all eyes on the mother who doesn’t have it together” in a long time.  I couldn’t yell my usual countdown to get Sophia to obey… I had no weapons.  I already got stares from merely calling her name in a loud-ish voice.  By the way, countdowns… They used to work…  But, now I only get compliance when I count.  That’s not good.

At this very moment, I realize I need to start small.  I need to pick a behavior, make it plain to her that it will no longer be tolerated, and henceforth make consequences for it.  The question, when it comes to all things “talking back,” what behavior is the worst?  Where should I start?  Obviously, “I hate you.”  “I’m gonna kill you.” “I’m gonna throw you in the trash.”  Those aren’t going to fly.  But, what about, “No!  I won’t do that!”  Or, “I don’t want to!”  Or, “BUT,….”

My mother used to tell me, “No lip.”  What exactly is “lip”?  All things “talked back” when given an order or instruction?  And, how much is too much?

Some would say that any “lip” is too much, but here’s what I wonder: At some point, she may have a legitimate argument or opinion, one that I should be available to listen to.  For example, I see her hit her sister.  I immediately send her to time-out.  According to my mom, any bit of “lip” would be saying anything before going to her room.  “But, Abby bit me!” would be legitimate “lip” in my opinion… I never tolerate hitting, but I do think she deserves to be able to defend herself both physically and verbally.  And, I should know what happened.  (I realize in this situation that asking what happened would be a better place to start, but you get the idea… And, when it comes to parenting in the moment, I’m not perfect.)

I want to create a tone in the house where my girls feel like they can talk to me.  I don’t want to cut them off from their emotions.  I want them to have their feelings.  If they’re angry, they should be allowed to be angry.  If they’re sad, they should be allowed to be sad.  And, we should be able to talk about it if she wants to and it’s appropriate.  In time-outs I always let Sophia scream and moan and say whatever she’s feeling, but what about other times?  And, what about when her anger and sadness come out badly, sinfully…

As I write this, I feel like I’m answering my own questions.  Two things shouldn’t be tolerated: Telling authorities (Mom and Dad, first) “no,” and a nasty tone of voice (yelling and what-not).  She needs to learn respect.  And, she needs to learn that her voice will only be heard if she uses a tone that is appropriate.  That’s not too much to ask, right?  It’s hard to narrow my focus.  I also want to discipline her tendency to be overly bossy and snippy or just altogether disagreeable and no fun…  3 is a hard age.  For daughter and me.  I don’t want to baby her, but I also don’t want to expect too much.

Ultimately, I want to teach my girls to be kind, patient, compassionate, loving and respectful.  I also want to foster an environment that is available and ready to hear with compassion and love.

You have any ideas for me?  What back talking and whining and tantrum throwing do you “tolerate” and what do you hammer down on?

 

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To that bitchy lady in Home Depot…

About a year ago, I quit being affected by those disapproving looks at the grocery store… until, yesterday.

Yesterday, we were in Home Depot picking up some paint samples.  First of all, picking out paint colors stresses me out.  How many freaking shades of yellow can there be?  Bring along two cranky kids with you, and you’re asking for it, right?

It started out when I let Sophia down from the shopping cart while I was speaking with a group of men about picking out blinds.  After losing Sophia around the corner, I let her know the consequences of what would happen if that happened again.  The men who were consulting with me all either nodded or said, “I totally understand.  My kids do the same thing.”  

Moments later she disappeared around the corner again, testing me.  I grabbed her and put her in the cart–consequences for leaving my line of sight.  The screaming and falling apart began.  I finished my business in the blinds department, and we quickly moved on to pick up the paint and get out of the store.

I was un-phased by Sophia.  She acted bad; she got consequences.  This is my every day.  But, the horrible glances I got!  The woman getting our paint gave each of the kids a sticker.  It was nice, but it did nothing for Sophia’s meltdown.  She begged me to get out and “try again.”  (That’s her new thing.)  After I said, “No.  You ran away from me in the store.  Your consequence is that you will stay in the cart until we leave, ” she continued her yelling fit.  Just as we approached the cashier, an older woman with the most disdainful look of disapproval I have EVER seen scowled directly at me.  It cut me.  I wasn’t angry at her.  I didn’t yell, “Whachoo lookin’ at, B#%$^?” like I wanted to, I just stared back at her with wonder, watched her pass by, and then laughed out loud.  Her look was deeply passionate and so angry.

I am a GOOD mother!  My daughter ran away from me in the store.  I will not tolerate the possibility of her getting lost or kidnapped or otherwise hurt in a home improvement store.  So, I am giving her the consequences!  Yah, she’s screaming.  She’s 3.  She doesn’t like consequences any better than you do.  But, I am a GOOD mother!  I am doing what is best for her.  Control my daughter?  Is that what your disapproving look says to me?  Well, Scowl-face, thank you.  I’m doing just that.  I am teaching her how to behave.  I am sorry that it intruded on your day.  

Why is it that a kid’s tantrum can cause passerbys to go so bitchy on a stranger?  I haven’t been able to get her ugly mugg out of my mind.  Why is that?  Do I feel sorry for her?  Maybe, I wonder what’s going on with her that she would intentionally throw such a look at me.  Or, maybe it’s the fact that I say it doesn’t bother me, but it clearly does.

Well, then there was today.  Sunflower Market was our fourth stop this morning.  We picked up some groceries on double savings Wednesdays.  Crowded market, but worth the extra savings.  Sophia was upset with me for not letting her ride in the cart since Abby was in the baby seat, so I let her ride in the large part of the cart.  She was pretty tired from being dragged around 3 other stores…  About 5 minutes into her joyride amongst my groceries, I saw that she had pulled the top off of our gallon of milk and was holding it!  As I saw the milk about to slosh out, I snapped at her, “You can’t do that!”  I ripped the milk and cap from her hands and yanked her up out of the cart and onto the ground.  Sophia, of course, went into meltdown, i.e. Screamfest 2011.  This woman walking by only feet from me gave me the warmest knowing look–a kind smile and eyes that said, “I understand how the same kids you love so dearly can also infuriate you.”  I wanted to hug this woman!  How is it that two women can act so entirely different to similar situations?  I could blame it on the scowling woman’s age:  She looked to be in her 60s, where the woman in Sunflower looked to be in her early 30s.  I could blame it on the days they were personally having, their upbringing, their own parenting expectations (or lack of them).  But this is nothing new.  You know if you’re a mom of young children, you get these looks all. the. time.  Why is it that other people’s kids’ behavior create such a reaction in onlookers?

Unfortunately, I can’t deny that I am completely un-phased by a passerby’s scowl or smile.  After all, we live in a community.  And, we all must want each other to succeed… right?

To those women looking onto young mothers trying to parent in public:  Stop thinking about yourself and how much the crying bothers you.  Think about that mother.  Think about how much she wants to raise a respectable member of society.  Think about how she disciplines because she loves.  Avert your eyes if you must.  But, if you can muster up enough unselfishness, give her a look of compassion. Don’t you want someone to smile at you when your trying your hardest to be the best you can be?

Lemme brag on my children.

For those of you that only come to my blog for my children…  You know who you are.  😉

My girls have had a complete turn-around in behavior lately.  Sophia has turned into this wonderfully sweet little girl.  She’s acting like a baby so much less.  She’s throwing fits less.  She’s back-talking less.  She’s playing by herself and with her sister very well.  I’ve seen her talk to Abby, consider her needs, and try to help.  I’ve been brought messages like “Abby told me she pooped.”  I’ve seen her get her feelings hurt because of Abby’s attitude.  I’ve seen her feel love when Abby says “sorry” to her.  I’ve seen her choose to do the right thing (share, apologize, hug, etc.) all by herself.  I’ve seen her offer to help me and actually help me.  I’ve seen how much it means to her for me to let her help me. I’ve seen her persevere in learning to read and ride a tricycle.  I’ve seen her broken heart when a friend chose to play with others instead of her.  I’ve seen her memorize bible verses and sing new songs that I didn’t teach her.  I’ve seen her love her daddy more than anyone in the whole world.

Now Abby.  She is now a toddler!  If she wasn’t already…. She’s just started playing by herself and is finally “into” something.  She’s super into babies and wants to do everything with babies.  She now must take one (firmly gripped with a bottle in hand) EVERYWHERE we go.  Feed the baby, change the baby, put the baby in night-night.  All by herself, without direction from me.  I have heard this child use new words every day and communicate full ideas using up to 4 word sentences.  I’ve seen she and her older sister play by themselves for an hour actually talking to each other like best friends.  Here’s a story for you.  I told Abby if she hit sister one more time, she would go to time-out.  She walked away and sulked.  Then, she came back less than a minute later, looked right at Sophia and said, “Sorry,” clear as day.  Unbelievable.  Unbelievable what she’s learned just from watching.  I never would have dreamed of asking her to say “sorry.”  I would’ve thought she was too young for it.  What a nice surprise.  She’s since said “sorry” a handful of times.

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The excitement that fills my heart to move on to this new bigger girls’ stage!  OH!  I can’t explain what it’s like to witness these girls growing up.  The girls that they are becoming warms my heart like no other feeling in the world.  I guess, you know, if you’re a parent, too.

Vacation.

I have a few pics from our recent Southwest CO vacation.  Yes, we drove from one end of the state to the other.  We had to drive around the range to shorten our drive to 7 1/2 hours (no stops).  Can I give you some travel tips with toddlers?  I feel like we’ve mastered it.  Pack the car the night before.  Leave as soon as the kids wake up.  Eat breakfast in the car.  Pack lots and lots of children’s books within arms reach.  Picture books read on audio are also awesome!  Children’s music like Yo-Gabba Gabba may also when they’re getting restless.  (As long as you don’t mind listening to it over and over.)  Bring plenty of healthy finger food snacks.  Bring a packed, picnic lunch to eat quickly at a rest stop while the kids run off their pent up energy.  Resume drive at nap-time.  Put on loud Mommy and Daddy music with a good beat… and kids pass out.  Voila–8 hours have passed.  Kids wake up, and you’re there.

Eat this, then that.

Humor me.  I’m rejoicing in a small victory today.  Lunch time woes.  Both of my kids have it.  “Lunch?!  I hate lunch! I want to throw lunch in the trash!”  Interpretation: “I only like to eat sweet, snacky foods–fruits and snack crackers and cookies.”  Today, my patience paid off–for BOTH of my children!

Lunch for the children today was meager: pile of tomatoes, pile of real mozzarella cheese, and 1/2 wheat bread slice.  I would’ve made a grilled cheese with tomatoes, but they wouldn’t eat it all together like that… They each ate the bread.  They each ate the tomatoes… and then, the cheese was left.  They looked at what Mommy and Daddy were eating and started losing it.  “I WANT a SANDWICH!”  (Of course, I know better… We’re eating fancy paninis, complete with pepperoni, cheese and veggies.)

They see the whole grain chips and hummus we’re eating.  My 19-month old: “Chip.  Chip.  Abby chip.”  It started with Sophia hollering and beggine and continued on to Abby.  The easy thing to do would be to just give in–give them each some chips.  After all, they’re whole grain.  Or, I could simply have put chips on their plate in the first place.  However, I had a sneaking suspicion that neither of them would eat this foreign looking cheese.  I was right.

Since Sophia asked for a chip first, I told her that she would need to eat some cheese before she could have any chips.  After flipping out and yelling awful things, she finally asked to leave the table to go play.  5 minutes later, she was back.  She ate a piece of cheese and got a chip.  10 pieces of cheese and 10 chips later and lunch was finished.  Abby didn’t quite understand the concept so well, though we’ve done it many times.  (Either that, or she’s stubborn as a mule.  I think she’s stubborn as a mule.)  After 10 whole minutes of screaming her head off for a chip, she asked to be all done.  Then 10 minutes later, Abby came back to the table and asked for a chip.  This time when I said, “Cheese first, then chip,” she ate the piece of cheese and then ate the chip.  (Sophia helped.)  10 pieces of cheese and 10 chips later, and she was also completely finished with her lunch!  AH!  Victory is mine!

It’s a simple rewards based system that teaches children the importance of eating what’s more healthy first before moving onto the junk.  Some people don’t like to reward with food, but it’s such a simple concept that is effective.  As long as your rewards aren’t crap and as long as what you’re using to teach them to eat is truly healthy food, then I think that it will teach them good eating habits.

Another trick we use with our eldest is dessert rewards.  When she completely finishes her (well-balanced) plate of dinner, she is rewarded with a (reasonable) dessert.  Dessert is usually fruit, sometimes a fruity popsicle, or something sweeter like chocolate or a cookie.  I want to teach my kids to eat EVERYTHING, appreciate foods with different flavors, textures and colors…  I think it’s working, little by little.  The trick is having the patience to be okay with screaming for a few minutes.  My kids sure can throw fits!  I bet yours can, too.  😉

An homage to a long lost friend

Cowboy.  That stinking cute animal has been the thing I love to hate for almost 2 years, now.  Cowboy has been that over-loved, stuffed cotton dog that has been the bane of my existence every day at 1:00 and every night at 6:30–sometimes spending up to 1 hour looking for the blessed thing!  The emotion I have spent being angry with that little stuffed animal!  I have retrieved her from all manner of hiding places, washed her after trips into the potty, cleaned her when her face was green with snot.  And, of course, consoled Sophia countless times for said trips to the washing machine.  “Cowboy needs a bath.  She’ll be back soon.”

I have thanked God for Cowboy every night.  Yes, that’s right.  Sophia would add Cowboy to the list every night when we thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, Abby and Sophia.  (Nighttime talks.)

Cowboy has been with us in nearly every picture that has been photographed in the last year.  Cowboy has gone with us on nearly every trip the store.  She’s been introduced to every stranger we met along the way.  Cowboy’s been on every camping trip and every hike.  How many times have I said, “Let’s leave Cowboy in the car so we don’t lose her.”

I have listened countless hours about how much Sophia loves her, how she’s her best friend.  I have spent every trip out worrying about that stuffed animal as if it were a 3rd child of mine.  I have said, “Do you have Cowboy?”  or “Where’s Cowboy?” so many times a day that I’ve nearly lost my mind over that animal!  How many times have I snatched up that stuffed animal and hid her in my bag so that Sophia wouldn’t lose her?  I have felt so much anxiety about keeping up with her that now that that anxiety is absent, I feel empty somehow.  Cowboy was my daughter’s best friend.  Ugh.  I’m nearly sick to my stomach about the loss of this… this… lovey.

“Cowboy” now is this word I dare not say aloud.  A word that I used to use and hear, literally, hundreds of times a day!  It’s now a word that brings up heartache at my daughter’s first loss.

If this sounds over-dramatic, then I fear you haven’t been a mother to one who was so attached to a doll…

Thankfully, though… it seems that it has been harder for me….

We lost Sophia’s lovey at a huge shopping mall this weekend.  He got dropped somewhere along the way… and, well,… nobody noticed.  Until it was time to go home, many hours later.  No one is blamed for the disappearance, other than the fact that she got dropped and lost.  (By the way, Cowboy is a girl in case you hadn’t gathered.  This is very important.)  Sophia was so exhausted from the trip that she conked out in the car while Will and I took turns going back into the mall looking for Cowboy and leaving our name and number with all the stores that we went to.  Her falling asleep meant that we didn’t have a huge, dramatic scene, but it meant that the drama would be post-poned… and, we would have to tell her about it after there was nothing we could do.  As we pulled out of the parking lot and drove the hour-long drive home, the reality was looming and settling in and the loss was real.  Will and I both cried as we imagine the devastation that Sophia would feel when we had to tell her, the difficulty it would be for her to soothe herself without Cowboy.  She’s too young to deal with this kind of loss.  It’s too soon!  We mourned that loss for the next hour.

By the time we arrived back in Fort Collins, we stopped and got popcorn and a movie to watch together, hoping to soften the blow.  After we got home, we sat Sophia down and told her what happened.  She cried.  She told us that she missed Cowboy.  But… she seemed to understand… (I fear that I’ve been warning her that this day would come.  She’s kind of aloof sometimes.)  She’s asked about Cowboy only a few times (bedtimes), none of which I have heard.   It’s so strange how this word has disappeared from my every day.

I’ve noticed something different about Sophia, though.  Since the loss of Cowboy (3 days), I haven’t once seen her suck her thumb.  She’s acted more grown-up.  There’s no whining about “where’s Cowboy?”  She’s wanted to cuddle with me more–not something she’s ever been that crazy about.  It’s been very strange.  It’s the complete opposite of what I expected.

Today, I heard this: Sophia walked into her room. “I’m going to get Cow– uh, Piglet.”  Officially, Cowboy has been replaced.  Replaced with a larger stuffed animal that used to be Abby’s before Abby attached to a Pooh Bear…  And, she’s sucking her thumb again… I’m. Left.  Feeling… Well. Strange… I guess, I feel bad for Cowboy getting replaced so quickly, though I’m relieved that she didn’t feel the loss more strongly.  Is it her age?  Is she not old enough to really understand the loss?  Or not old enough to have fully developed attachment as I see it?  I mean, Cowboy has been around longer than Abby!  Abby knows that Sophia and Cowboy go together like french fries and ketchup.  She would constantly take Cowboy to Sophia when Sophia didn’t have her….  And, now what?  Is this it?  Do we now live life as before but with Piglet?  At first I was encouraging a new attachment, but keeping up with Cowboy was getting out of hand.  And Piglet’s at least 3 times the size that Cowboy was, maybe 5…

Well, it was really good for me to look through all those old pictures.  (There are many, many more.  These just happen to be what’s on my MacBook.)  Well, it was good for my grieving… though, I probably won’t show Sophia for a while…  I do feel a lot less angry about Cowboy making it into all those pictures, now… funny, how things change.  Maybe, this will help me let him…er, her go.

Rethinking my parenting style

That last post is actually from a few days ago… I’m finally opening back up the laptop and catching up…  I just hit publish because I thought it might inform where we’ve been and where we’re going (hopefully).

What a week.

I don’t feel like I can keep up.  This week: A 104.3 fever.  A call to poison control after a Tylenol incident.  Bite marks on Abby’s foot.  Keys in an electrical outlet.  Dealing with, “YOU NEVER LET ME DO ANYTHING?!”  Overhearing, “I’m gonna cut your head off, Abby!”  Putting Abby in time-out for hitting me with a book while yelling, “Hit!”

I think I may have plateaued on the hill of how much parenting sucks sometimes.

Hey, it’s good birth control.  Call in that vasectomy.  Stat.

I’m in a fog this morning.  Overwhelmed with where we are (i.e. where I am with these kids).  I mean, how is it that they’re 3 and 1 1/2 and I suddenly feel like I woke up with two crazy wild kids and when did it start getting so difficult.  Let me tell you something, parents-with-kids-less-than-3-years-old: Don’t fear the terrible-twos.  They ain’t nothing!  Nobody told me what 3 was like…  Mouthy, sassy, independent, boundary pushing, button pushing little monsters…

Okay, okay…  that’s enough.  Sophia’s figuring out who she is, how she fits in, what to do with herself.  That’s that.  I need to take control.

We actually started a new plan, yesterday.  I realized that I have sluggishly fallen back into a natural parenting style (post 18-months ago) that is not only lazy and ineffective but also counterproductive and bringing the worst out in my daughter.  Yes, I believe that part of my daughter’s behavior is my problem, too.

She’s probably gonna yell at me if I yell at her.  She’s probably going to swing at me when she’s mad, if I occasionally spank her when I’m angry…  She’s probably going to cower when I say, “I want to talk to you” if I’m always focusing on what she does wrong.  She’s probably going to yell and back-talk if I always answer negatively to her requests…

Yah, I’m being negative.  Coupled with not enough sleep and a touch of illness, our attitudes and behavior have snowballed out of control for both of us.  By the way, I just found this book at the library.  I’ve got it on reserve.  Anybody read it?

After another great conversation with my Mom, Will and I started something new with Sophia, yesterday.  Basically it’s a behavior therapy program.  It’s very similar to the therapy that I did with preschoolers with autism.  Sophia is rewarded for good behavior with stickers and get’s a prize of some sort when she gets so many stickers.  We ignore bad behaviors (for the most part… still working that out.)  So, 5 stickers gets her a treat or a show and 25 gets her something really special like ice cream or a movie night.

It has COMPLETELY turned around her behavior (and mine, honestly).  She hasn’t had a single tantrum since we started (less than 24 hours ago… but, that’s saying something lately.)  She also hasn’t back-talked or hit or been mean or anything.

I tell you what, though, it’s been completely exhausting pre-empting her every move, ready to reward every little positive thing.  It’s so alternative to my nature.  My nature is to focus on the negative, to nit-pick, to expect perfection and judge every detail that doesn’t measure up.  I know this about my sinful nature… It’s not pretty.  It’s been exhausting trying to find ways for her to “help” me so that she can get rewarded.  This is having on my “A-game” every minute, and it is REAL HARD!  But, this is parenting.  And, I’m learning about parenting my 3-year old.  What works and what doesn’t.  What seems to be productive for us to relate to each other and for her to learn.   What I was doing was shutting her down emotionally and sending her into desperate behavior measures…

Now, we’re not going to do this reward system until she’s 15… My hope is that it will remarkably turn around her behavior in just a few days or weeks, and then we can drop it for a more natural verbal system of rewards for good behavior–kind of re-train both of us.  What it’s doing for me is changing my focus.  I’m now focusing on everything that she is doing RIGHT.  Having such a positive attitude is helping her also focus on what she’s doing right and how pleased mommy is with her.  Her attitude is COMPLETELY different.  She keeps telling me how much she loves me, asking what she can do to help me or if I will do things with her, smiling again, and just altogether acting happy.

It’s worth the hard work.  I can change my natural inclination to parent as a perfection expect-er….