Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Alas, more cake

G brought home a suspicious white box yesterday. Leftover cake that his supervisor brought for him and was shared at their weekly meeting. The kids, for once, didn't whine for a treat after dinner, so we didn't offer it to them. I asked G what I should do with it, and he thought the boys might have it the  next day. Expect I already told B he was "NOT getting a treat tomorrow", so we each ate a bit (I didn't like it) and threw the rest out.

That brings me to the real point of this post. I was prodding B to put away his paints and start getting ready for bed, so he hit me and said "you're stupid". I lost it and grabbed anything I could out of the air, thus the "NOT getting a treat...".

Both boys have been driving us crazy lately with two major issues: 1) aggression---hitting/scratching/biting/kicking either each other or me & throwing things (forks, paintbrushes, toys) and 2) constant whining and demanding of "treats" (desserts, movies, stories, new toys, "a surprise"). 

I realize that the bad outcomes come from a combination of their behavior and our response, which is based on lots of underlying factors. We have discussed, identified, and actively work to reduce & avoid the "triggers" that usually result in yelling & such. But sometimes it really is the kids fault. I'm sort of joking, but what I mean is that sometimes their behavior is THAT atrocious that anyone would agree it needs to be redirected, and we do NOT have a good strategy for how to productively discipline them.

We are not consistent with any discipline technique, nor have we found one that seems to actually work on any of those behaviors. We have tried the following:

-1-2-3 Magic: doesn't work. I often get to "3", and then what? yeah.
-Time outs: traumatic for everyone, because we have to physically restrain them to get them to stay in the spot. And then they cry constantly and when they get out, lash out even more.
-Consequences: some make sense and work---if they fight over or throw a toy, said toy is taken away until the next day. others are more arbitrary---no ice cream, no movie, no stories if you hit your brother again, etc... And if not immediate (i.e. no treat tomorrow), involves remembering, and both being on the same page. Also brings up yesterday's bad memories into today.
-"Marks": this started two weeks ago, where an infarction earned the kid a "mark" on the white board. 5 marks=some consequence. Again, the consequences are often arbitrary, and not consistent. Sometimes they were in a hitting/hurting frenzy and earned all their marks by 7:15AM. THEN what?
-Talking it out: I've read and re-read "how to talk so your kids will listen..." and I try really hard to work with B with short talks about why what he did might be wrong and hurtful and how to prevent him from reacting that way again. L is too little to get it. I much prefer to go this route, but again, it doesn't WORK necessarily, and shouldn't there be SOME consequence? (maybe not, I really have no idea what I'm doing here)

I hate having to enforce punishments. HATE it. I want the atmosphere in the house to be peaceful and fun, not heavy and stern. But I also do NOT want to be "that parent" who lets their kid run roughshod over them and everyone else with no adverse consequences. It is absolutely not OK for B to hit me or call me stupid, or to shove his little brother onto the ground. How do I get him to think before he reacts? And its annoying when they act like spoiled brats expecting something "special" several times a day every day. How do I get them to show some gratitude and respect?

I know a lot of my readers have younger kids and aren't at this stage. I know at least one whose kids are perfect and thus never had this stage. For the rest of you, what have you found that works in redirecting/preventing the above behaviors?


  1. Hey, my daughter got another note home from daycare about biting yesterday. But I assume that's me you're talking about, so I'll keep my mouth shut otherwise. Though I will say I'm pretty darn good at getting *other* people's little hellions to behave themselves, even if I can't prevent my kid from biting people at daycare. (Reports say this time that the other parents said hopefully he'd learn from being bitten to stop taking another kid's stuff when the other kid says stop, so at least we're not in trouble.)

    BTW, what age are your kids again? Different things work at different ages.

    1. 4.5 and nearly 3. If you have useful info, I'd love to hear it (though, yes, I was talking about you, obviously!).

    2. Here's my best general advice: If your kids go to a good quality daycare (which you will know by how good they are at preventing and dealing with conflicts!), ask if you can pick them up early, preferably during free-play and observe the teachers (both you and your DH, if possible, at different times). Watch them do conflict resolution. Copy them. Mimic their actions. Use their language. We've done this with three different daycares (two for my son and another for my daughter) and it really helps because with my son when we say, "Walk away" he knows exactly what that means and he's used to it. "Stop" is the equivalent for my daughter at her new preschool. We've done it the property rights Montessori way and the Christian sharing is caring way depending on the daycare and it just helps to be on the same page as what they're getting in school.

      Another thing that I picked up from Super Nanny (which I watched religiously before I found out I was infertile) and I see teachers do too is when something is important, you drop your voice an octave, then get down to their level so you can look them in the eyes. Then explain whatever it is you need to explain.

      And there's always the acting out because they're gifted and aren't getting enough challenges problem-- your 4.5 year old might be facing that. Our only solution there has been acceleration, though there's probably enrichment that could be done instead.

    3. Also, unless your kids are super-geniuses, which they may very well be, delayed consequences are probably not going to work most of the time. That's more of an older kid thing. My son didn't even start remembering previous important activities (like going to Disneyland) until he was 3. There's no way he would remember why he was getting punished even half a day later (heck, at age 7 he seems to not remember why he's getting detention when he gets it, just that he got it). Both of them are probably too young to do the gratitude thing other than the occasional unfocused I love you or thank you.

      Charts wouldn't work for my son-- he just didn't think that way. He wouldn't understand rewards. My daughter, otoh, might. She's a different person with different motivations. And a different sense of humor.

      Lessee... Never tried 3-2-1- magic, but I do have a Catholic way of calling my kids by their name that's similar and includes an implicit warning. It usually works to get them to stop when they're thinking about misbehaving but haven't actually misbehaved yet. We tend to move on to distraction or natural consequences if that doesn't work.

      Time outs are traumatic-- we did about 5 of them with DC1, all for hitting around age 3. DC2 isn't old enough for them yet.

      We do a lot of immediate consequences. DC2 draws on things she's not supposed to draw on and we are constantly taking the pens away. We try to keep them out of her reach, but she's clever about getting them and we've mostly given up trying to fight.

      My son wouldn't get "marks" at those ages, but he might now. My daughter is currently too young.

      We do naturally do a lot of the talk to your kids stuff. Also, I think it's important to assume the best. Assume the kids *want* to behave but for whatever reason they're not. Then try to eliminate the reasons they're not. Guide them. Make sure they're fed. Make sure they're entertained. Make sure they're exercised. Make sure they're getting enough attention. Take away things that cause trouble and replace them with things that don't. "We don't hit. If you don't want your brother to do that, tell him stop/walk away." "When your brother says to stop/walk away, you need to stop/walk away" "Can you say you're sorry and give him a hug and a kiss?" (Stolen from daycare!)

      Re: wanting stuff. We say stuff like, "That's a special treat" "You only get that at nana's house" "Maybe some other day" "We're saving that for X" "That's Y's" and so on. And sometimes just, "Sorry kid, not today." Or, "That's not good for you," or, taking a page from sesame street, "That's a sometimes food" "Cookies are yummy, but we don't have any right now." And laughter helps. And it isn't so bad in life to always be asking for more, the key is learning how to not be annoying about it and to accept not getting it gracefully.

      Now I really need to see what DC2 is destroying right now.

    4. Definitely no geniuses, but my older one is really good at remembering things, and he totally gets the concept of past & future (and will remember, on Saturday morning, that we mentioned on Tuesday that he would make pancakes on the weekend). He definitely KNOWS what he's supposed to do, and WANTS to do the right thing but gets very emotional (sad/angry) about very little things and lashes out. So its more about trying to manage the emotions better (in ways that don't hurt others). I've told him so often that "if we do it every day, its not special, etc..." that I hear him teaching his brother. But still, he gets angry/frustrated about something and suddenly he feels the NEED for a treat of some sort to soothe the emotion.
      I asked him yesterday what he thinks is the best method (just wanted to see what he said), and he said he likes the marks. But I think its because there is no immediate consequence to worry about.
      We exercise those kids like nobody's business, but the older one NEVER gets tired, even after a 2 hour hike in the woods (with elevation) and heat, the rest of us were passed out, and he's climbing/jumping. And obviously we feed them and make sure they get enough sleep.

    5. https://twitter.com/AnnaTarkov/status/493426950946312192

    6. Oh, and thanks for the suggestions. I like the one about daycare. He never gets in trouble at school so I have NO IDEA what the do to the other kids.

    7. It's amazing what good daycare teachers can do. They can easily manage 8-15 kids with just 2 teachers (depending on the age). I swear we picked up all of our tricks from daycare. And they do different things with the kids at different ages-- my youngest is still at the distraction age (where we can trick her into putting her shoes on after a "no wanna" fit by asking if they go on my head, my hands, my tummy, my legs...oh where do they go? can you show me?), but yours probably aren't there anymore. And different excellent daycares do different things that still work. So it's not like there's one magic bullet, but there's a number of things that work.

      It's just so much easier piggy-backing off what they're already getting at school. Because they know what those words etc. mean.

      For excess energy, both of our Montessoris have this song that they sing to get the wiggles out-- we use it with our oldest when he's squiggly. It goes "[kidsname kidsname] jump up and down, jump up and down, jump up and down" and then they jump up and down! At my montessori back in the '80s I think we did jumping jacks when we had too much energy. And there's a "clean-up" song that they sing when it's time to clean up, etc. It's really nice to be able to do the same things at home too.

  2. Hahahah (that's to the thing about the perfect kids!)

    Yeah, similar problems here. How old is your eldest? I think LG was 3 before any sort of consequences or rewards made sense, and even then it was quite dicey because (a) there was very little she cared enough about and (b) she simply had/has no impulse control.

    Tiny Boy...egads. If I figure out what works--he DID stay in teh shopping cart when I offered up front to buy him a toy car if he did, well worth 99 cents!--I'll let you know.

    1. Yes to a and b. My older one cares about making us happy. But no impulse control, and nothing that works to hold over his head.

  3. We told our daughter that if she could get through an entire bath and not cry (i.e. throw a tantrum), we would give her an M&M. It worked. I also bribe her to go to the potty. Seems to work. I don't think I'll be doling out M&Ms forever. We were going to try to transition her to stickers instead, but my husband fucked that up by giving her the whole roll. Oh well. M&Ms work, so it's what we'll use for the time being. You just have to stick to what you say.

    1. we did m&ms a while back, it was getting annoying and we ran out and I stopped. stickers mean nothing to them. there isn't anything little enough that they care about enough to make this kind of reward system work, and they are too young to get the concept of "Earning" a bigger reward through lots of little "gold stars"

  4. Ugh. I say ugh because I could have written this post. Which sadly means I don't have much advice (though nicoleandmaggie had some great wisdom to impart).

    I will say this, Osita is driving me crazy right now (story of my life, right?) and I'm trying to be proactive about getting some good stuff in place before I go back to work. I will say that "behavior management" is not my strong suit, not as a mom OR a teacher. It just doesn't come very easily to me. I will also say this, I think you don't need to worry about the atmosphere of the house being too "heavy." My daughter just moved up to the oldest room at her preschool and the teacher there is SUPER STRICT. She has really high expectations of the kids, but is also really loving. The kids seem to LOVE her, even my daughter who must be getting it from her ALL DAY LONG. (Here is an example, a kid came up to me one day when I was picking up Osita and told me that it was pajama day, except it wasn't, and the teacher pulled him aside and had this REALLY intense conversation with him about how that was a lie and how he knew he was lying and he had to apologize to me. I was kind of taken aback, because, well, who cares if it's not really pajama day... anyway, he came up and apologized and I thought, damn, this woman does not let ONE THING GO. Not one.) And the kids seem to LOVE her. The thing is, she wasn't mad at all during that conversation, just very firm. That is what I need to learn how to do, be calm and firm when I'm mad (bwahahaha! That is NEVER going to happen, but I suppose I can aspire to it).

    A couple things I'm trying to do right now for myself.

    (1) Keep reading Playful Parenting because I found the techniques in there worked REALLY well with my daughter. There is a six hour, abridged audiobook of it too, I might just get that because I'll finish it way faster that way (I commute a lot). I definitely thought it was the best parenting book I ever read and I was only 1/3 of the way through it. I swear I've read every book out there too.

    (2) Maybe read How Toddlers Thrive. I've heard it's good but I don't know how I'd get through it right now (no audiobook available yet, I may wait).

    (3) Stay firm in just a few expectations at first to practice, and then expand those expectations. I'm getting better at standing firm when we've made an agreement even if she freaks out when it's time for her to honor that agreement. And if she doesn't honor an agreement (like I say, if we watch one more, no fussing when it's done) then the next time she asks to watch one more I say no and remind her that the last time she didn't honor her agreement (she is four and she's actually starting to get this--there is a total tantrum when I say no, but the next time she usually does honor the agreement). She also gets working toward something now, and is already starting to say things like, How about we play with it after school? (when she has to put something away because it's time for school). So she's definitely more future minded than she has ever been before, and that helps A LOT.

    1. Not being mad...that's the part that I can rarely execute. I know exactly where my kids got their temper from...

  5. I had to break this into two because it was too long! HAHA!

    We also use bribes/rewards. Bath/shower time was a fucking nightmare for about a year. I started promising her M&Ms after her shower when she "made good choices" (ie didn't totally lose her shit). On the times when she did lose her shit I would slowly take away M&Ms (she got as many as her age, so now she gets four max) until there were none left. There were days she only got 1 or even no M&Ms and MAN did those days suck, but usually the showers after those days were the best and she'd recount how she didn't get the M&Ms the time before and how this time she was going to because she was making good choices.

    I try REALLY HARD to never talk about being a "good girl" (man do I fail at this a lot) and always talk about "making good choices." My daughter is very sensitive and I can see her internalizing ideas about being a good girl already, so we really stress making good choices and talk about what good choices look like in certain situations and it seems to be helping... some.

    And yet, she can be such a little asshole so much of the time (I'm sorry, but it's true, she is). I don't know if I'm doing anything right, and I don't know if it will get better, I'm literally just getting through one day at a time.

    1. Thanks E, comforting to know I'm not alone :) I may check out Playful Parenting. Staying firm is so important (but hard to do, when you are exhausted and would give anything for it to be EASY for once)

  6. I second NicoleandMaggie's advice to mimic what they do at school--one of the greatest benefits I had from working at my children's preschool was that I knew exactly what language the teachers used there and automatically defaulted to using it myself.

    As far as everything else goes, it's all about needing the consequences to back it up--for me, consequences have to be logical. I spend a lot of time thinking about the natural consequence is of what they're doing, and how we can enact that in a way that makes sense to them. For example, if they fail to brush their teeth, then no sugary things the next day because sugar is bad for teeth and you can only have it if you're willing to clean your teeth properly. Mostly it is a lot of denial of whatever triggers the behaviour... the other common thing is to fix whatever mistake has been made.

    Our default consequences when I can't think of anything else is to send the child to their room (if they don't behave appropriately, then they don't have the right to use the family space,) and the last fallback is smacking.

    1-2-3 works great once you've got established consequences to use. Until they know that 'three' means business, the count is largely meaningless. I also recommend doing time-ins. Sitting on the stairs with the kids until we have both calmed down and can talk rationally about why we're angry with each other (cuddling is allowed) has been very helpful. It's a familiar location and routine away from the situation.

    But mostly, it's a case of figuring out the best approach for the individual issue and often it takes me a few weeks/months to establish something at all effective. Good luck!

    1. I like it. I need to think of a good logical consequence for hitting/hurting, though. It always seems arbitrary to say "no treats" or "no stories" for hitting.

  7. I am definitely in the "kids are too young to have any realistic advice" segment. BUT, I do already understand because A can already be tough sometimes. I do try really REALLY hard not to escalate my own anger -- I purposefully adapt this sort of 'bland/detached' tone (it's not a NICE sounding voice but it's not yelling) when I feel myself wanting to go off the rails.

    On the upside, I have a feeling that in not TOO too long you are going to be in the promised land of having kids that really are easier. Watching my niece/nephew it seems like 5 is a magical age. (Not saying they are perfect but they seem to have a much better grasp of consequences and right/wrong).

  8. This: "constant whining and demanding of "treats"" is ALL our son is doing these days too! It's frustrating, and it's annoying to CONSTANTLY having to say no no NO (in a million different ways).

    We have found time outs really work for us, but we started them EARLY (he was about 1 when we started), so it's our go-to and he usually stops what he's doing if he gets a "do you want a time out?". Also, if we tell him "time out" he goes right to the chair. That being said, the last time we gave him one, he said NO, so we had to argue about that. Hopefully that was just a hiccup, but it might be a sign that we need to change things up.

    We also find it's not suitable for whatever he did. Like when he broke my expensive umbrella - so he got TV taken away from him for the day. I think that will become a more regular punishment, as it really sets in for him. We've also started sending him to his room for longer periods if it's something more serious.

    Good luck --- I'm finding this part of parenting really tricky too!