What do you say when your child does that troublesome thing they always do? Yelling at a brother, saying "no" to you? Though you've trained them, explained them, consistently and always, still the same wrong behavior recurs. And it never ceases to take us by surprise. Why do we act as though we've been sucker punched? Blind-sided! When the wrong behaviors are so utterly consistent? Bed time, meal time, nap time... Repeat! Still you're shocked and can't help feeling personally attacked by the three year old who refuses to leave the park without flailing arms and blood-curdling screams. Coming out of bed for the fifteenth time. Crying over the meal that's been lovingly prepared. Throwing a fit in the grocery store over rainbow colored Goldfish, tic-tacs, and Sunny-D. Wet towels on bedroom floors. Complaints over chores. Staying in their seats during meal time. Sunday morning battles over church clothes. Helping to clear the plates without a dramatic melt-down. Physical and verbal explosions between siblings...
Amazingly we find ourselves surprised each time. Surprised and speechless! Or worse... we yell back with all the wrong words.
Of course there is no one-size-fits-all response that can calm every storm in every home. But we can, individually and very intentionally, take some time to consider the right words... the right response... before the storm hits again, so that we'll be ready when it does. Because it will.
I call them scripts.
[Tweet "Parenting Scripts are words strung carefully together, when you're calm and collected. Crafted beforehand and then memorized and delivered at just the right time."]
Here are a couple of examples that showcase my pre-meditated responses. Please remember, this is not about my actual words - they are just examples of what it might look like to prepare your own responses before your responses flow reactive and emotional at your kiddos.
Example #1 Your child argues over anything and everything (from homework to the color of the sky to how many cookies they can have.)
"Sweetheart, I am calm. I'm not fighting with you. I gave you an answer. Do you want to live a life where you fight with everyone? No? Then don't fight with me. I am a good and kind mom, and you can trust that my answer is a good answer." (If they are not used to you staying calm, then you may have to repeat your words over and over.) "If you need to get upset, then you'll have to do it in your room on your own. Come on out when you are ready."
Example #2 You've asked your child to clear the breakfast table and they respond with anger.
"Every morning clearing the breakfast table is your job, honey, so there's no need to argue. You're not in trouble, this is not a consequence, this is simply your job. My job is to get you ready to have a great life once you are all grown up, and learning to clear the table is one of those jobs. So I will do my job (teaching you) and you will do your job (saying, Yes ma'am.)"
Example #3 Your child throws a fit because you didn't buy them something. "Your fit will not change my mind. I love you and am making the right choice for you. You have a wonderful mom who is making healthy choices for you today. Let's head home without crying now. Crying won't work, it will only make you sad. Here, hold my hand."
Example #4 Talking back with a rude voice and haughty eyes.
"You may choose to spend some time in your room if you want to be unkind with your words and the looks you're giving. Of course, I hope you can get over it quickly because I sure want to be with your today. But your bad attitude will not get you want you want. And you may not take it out on us." (If they fight over this loving encouragement...) "Alright Sweetheart, now I'm going to have to require you head to your room. I am not going to fight with you and you are not being kind. I'll come check in with you in a bit. Please don't call for me."
Example #5 Refusing to eat what they are served for dinner.
"I'm not going to argue with you at the dinner table. I have served you a good dinner. It is not your favorite but you may not throw a fit about this. Sit there quietly now and eat your dinner, or choose not to eat it and go to bed hungry tonight, but there will not be dessert or snacks when you get hungry... No, you may not leave the table. We are sitting here as a family having a meal together... No, you may not get a yogurt, this is dinner..."
Remember, these are my words, my ecxamples, my responses, scripted in calm moments. You don't have to like my responses, you get to write your own. That's what this is about.
[Tweet "Figure out what you mean to say, before you say something mean."]
Then wave it like a magic wand over each stress-filled moment. Wave it consistently, with calm kindness.
For more on calm parenting, when your kids want to tussle, join me here.
Mom, I have a boat! And when I use my imagination it's a real boat!
My heart stopped. Stopped because he's so stinkin' beautiful, with his brilliant boy imagination, splashing around our pool at 9:56 in the morning! My heart stopped as I watched his boy body strain under the pressure of paddling. Then up came his "spear" and he slayed the eels that swarmed 'round his boat. His face contorted and I knew it was all real.
My heart stopped, because I had committed to not give in when they begged for a TV show after breakfast. I didn't crumble when they cried for my intercession. I didn't rob them of their own brilliance by saying Yes to a trip to Target - even though they wanted to spend their own money.
Boredom Breeds Brilliance.
I remember the forts of my youth, and the friends who met me deep within their leafy rooms. Some friends were real, others imaginary. And I'd ride my pink bike with the white basket to Kerry's house three blocks away. I don't have one memory with her inside one of our homes until we were 12 and started watching her mother's soap operas. Life was lived outside in our youth, with change in our pockets in case we came across the jingling song of an ice-cream truck.
Then there was the "dump" down the street, where our local school discarded old desks, pieces of machinery, and the deflated red rubber balls I played handball with over the course of the previous school year. Michael and I would squeeze through the chain linked fence and gather what we could for our summertime inventions. We'd throw cardboard boxes over the fence before squeezing back through and carrying our loot home to his house or mine.
It was a successful day, a memorable day, the day we made our first "Crap-Mobile." Using blue painting tape and silver duct tape, yellow masking tape and clear scotch tape, we strapped boxes to our skateboards, decorated them with markers, and pushed one another down the middle of the street.
But the day I count even more a success, even more memorable, was the day my boys pushed through the discomfort of their boredom and constructed their own cardboard fun.
When we let our children work through
the discomfort of not being entertained,
they have a shot at brilliance.
When we let them explore
an ordinary card board box,
they begin thinking outside of the box -
And the ordinary becomes extraordinary!
Children need to be outdoors. They need time to be bored so that they will have to figure out how to occupy their time creatively... They need to be around books and have lots and lots of imaginative stories read to them and then have time to pretend the stories.
Here w are on the other side of childhood, trying to orchestrate our children's turn at this magical season. But they don't need us to fill their time with activities and entertainment, what they need is a safe place to build a fort, dream dreams, and become brilliant one long summer day at a time. They do not need us to act the director of their play, simply build them a stage, shout action and offer our applause as the street lamps turn on and the fireflies come out.
Our generation lived outside in our youth, but now we fill our own kids' summers with one camp after another, short breaks for vacations, then back again to camp. We've taken the oxygen out of our children's atmosphere, by planning away each morning, noon and night. And when a moment is unplanned, on go the TV and video screens.
Boredom Breeds Brilliance.
Our children need quiet spaces where minds must become creative to conjure fun. Quiet spaces, bored spaces, without the flicker of video screens, or the hurried pace of camp activities. Long, uncomfortable hours give way to a duel between Peter Pan and Captain Hook. And when their Dad comes home, they take him on a treasure hunt and dig up the chest they'd hid earlier that day... with a line of ants leading the way to their bubble gum booty.
I dare you to let them be bored this summer. I double dog dare you!