I often joke that my children were created to teach me patience and anger management. I never knew tiny people could press on all my buttons and leave me raging and out of control. Oh, and I do not like being out of control. Needless to say, one of my biggest parenting challenges has been handling the episodes that drive my emotions towards that curve of no return: anger tantrums, disobedience and indiscipline. My kids are four years and 20 months. My son is a strong-willed boy who never forgets a promise made and has an amazing ability to block out my voice from 10 inches away. My daughter is a fighter, holding and demanding her own quite well with fists and kicks despite her pint size. Oh and she doesn’t relent. It’s her way or her way. And the two can fight like two bull dogs over nothing really.
Through all the chaos my goal is to be a peaceful mom. I am reminded that peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As is patience, joy, kindness, goodness and self control. I do not have to blow my top. I do not have to lose my joy. I can be kind despite the fact that my children are being mean to each other and to me. I can be good despite the temptation to withhold my love or hugs as punishment.
Slowly I’m becoming a ninja mum. But it has ben a journey. Of personal growth for me, of modelling right behaviour and reigning my emotions and forgiving and training in what I’d want to see. I am also learning my kids and what works and doesn’t. So here are some things you can try to help navigate the highly emotional training moments. *Learning is the operative word because most times I am raging and threatening and yelling and probably damaging my kids emotionally.
Often, bad behavior is my son’s desperate attempt to make us pay attention to him. He knows running over his sister with a toy truck or snatching her trike will get someone’s attention. He knows that his little whiny voice that can make the same request 45 times in 60 seconds gets to me. So when I realise he’s about to burst into tears for no “apparent” reason, I put down my phone, get the nanny to pick the younger sister from my lap, and we sit and cuddle. We talk if he wants to but most times he doesn’t want; he just wants to be held. After a few minutes (as long as the sister doesn’t run back to me demanding to be held also), he slides off my lap and goes on to do whatever he was doing before. When you find your child acting out, look at your relationship lately. Have you been too busy, too preoccupied? Is your child feeling ignored, unloved? Connect. Hug. Switch off the movie. Put the phone down. Take your child out or help them ride their bike or colour a picture. Spend time.
Hunger, thirst, fatigue, over stimulation and sickness are major causes of foul moods and anger outbursts. So anticipate these needs and preempt them. We carry a banana or crisps to the playground. I make sure the children are fed and have napped before going to the supermarket. When emotions get high, my first recourse is to cuddle and if things don’t get better soon, we look for food.
Deflect /distract/ prevent.
I marvel at how quickly you can get your child from whining for a toy by distracting with a funny sto that ends with lots of tickles. A child can choose a lollypop over a toy car. Yeah, Sh650 saved. Trade the iPhone she is crying for for an imaginary one. Know the things that instantly capture your child’s imagination. On the brink of a meltdown, you will find me making up a story about monkeys in the nearby tree or how I just saw Kayan of Disney’s Lion Guard laughing in the flower bush. At the supermarket I evade the sweet and toy aisle when I have no plans of buying. I lie that there is no power hence no TV time until homework is done. I send them to the bedroom to search for a ball while I sneak out of the door without accompanying tantrums. A mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.
Everything is negotiable with kids; you just have to know your kids. I used to tell my son that if he wants to watch TV he has to play outside for one hour. If he doesn’t cry in the mall, he will get Kinder Joy. If he is nice to his sister he can accompany me to wherever. I know he will do anything for an hour on YouTube or a chance to go to the mall with me. So I dangle that carrot. (I know the line is thin with bribery, hey, don’t judge). Also, discuss treats/gifts and rewards way beforehand. Let the child choose the gifts/treats they want. That way your child knows that on his birthday he’s getting a bike, a Ninja Turtle cake and lots of chocolate sweets. Allow this to sink in so there is no space for unmet expectations. Ask the child what he/she wants as a treat on a day out and arrive at a mutually agreeable item. And stick to your pledge. If you said you were buying a milkshake buy one. If she cries for chocolate as well remind her you had a deal and everyone needs to stick to it. Give ample warnings before introducing changes. So tell them you are leaving their friend’s house in ten minutes, then after five then two. Warn them that you will switch off the TV shortly or take away the tablet.
When pressed to the wall, go hide. Leave the screaming preschooler and the spilled rice on the floor and walk to the bedroom or toilet or garden ALONE for a good 15 minutes or until you are no longer in murderous rage and the spilled rice stops feeling like a life and death situation. That mistake may no longer look so bad once you are no longer in the heat of the moment. You may even be able to view it from their lens. If you can’t physically walk off, go to your inner quiet place and daydream about Diani or ice cream. Pray. For peace and perspective and wisdom and that your blood pressure will come down and that these kids won’t be the end of you. Of course at this point everyone around you will judge your parenting skills but who cares. They don’t sleep in your bed and you know you are barely holding on. When you are at your wits end and you are about to lose your own temper, yell, curse or hit someone, breathe. Deeply. Five times. You are the grown up here. A broken TV screen isn’t the end of the world. Once you are calm you can teach your child how to do the same.
See their world from the eyes.Or at least understand that you do not see their world from where you stand. Sipping his milk to check if it’s ok without his permission is a big deal. Opening the sweet wrapper for her before she is ready is earth shattering. You don’t have to understand it. Ask for permission.
A mom’s gotta choose her battles wisely. So she wants more soda or won’t bite any of her veggies or meat. So this is the third cheap toy you are buying in a month out of pressure. So they don’t want to sleep at their bedtime or in their bed and you are tired of fighting with them. Think of how life would be if you never had them or something happened to either of you and the little annoyances get a whole new perspective. Embrace the early years. Embrace their drive and spirit. You were like that too. Don’t get too uptight that lessons aren’t sticking and your children will be malnourished, and you are turning into your crazy mother and your children will be the recluse of society. They won’t.
Put your foot down.
I was told to never force a toddler to eat. I tried it for a year until my daughter became badly constipated because she won’t drink water or juice or yoghurt or fruits or vegetables. She just loves chicken, ugali and cake. She had to gobble down the spinach whether she liked it or not. We were no longer negotiating on drinking water. We have to remove her poopy diaper even if she throws the mother of all tantrums.
Don’t be afraid of tears.
Kids easily manipulate and wear down your resolve, especially if you are in public – like church or a restaurant. I have learnt to eat my dinner amidst screams or to walk on unfazed by the teary preschooler who doesn’t want to go to school. My son has learnt my no is a no, whether he cries blood or rolls on the floor in fits. I got tired of being manipulated.
Catch the teaching moments.
Every moment is a moment to train your child into the person you’d want them to be. There’s no better time to teach about sharing as when your child is being selfish with his toys or chocolate. I ask my son what he would feel if he’s the one who wanted to play with the toy and someone wouldn’t share it. Once my son comes crashing on the floor from the sofa where he’s been bouncing despite my warnings, I use the pain in his arm to explain that he could get hurt or hurt others.
According to your child’s age and disposition. Spanking gets to my daughter. It doesn’t quite have the same effect to my son. For him I am currently trying denying privileges. He is currently not allowed to watch any TV for a month because he broke the TV screen. He gets it. He may not be happy about it but understands that he lost the right to demand for cartoon time after hitting the TV with a bicycle pump, intentionally. This is working way better than any spanking I would have ever done. He also does not get to play with my tablet indefinitely because he forgets to go to the toilet when on the tablet.
Use your normal voice.
Yelling will drive you crazy and you will find you have to increase the decibels as resistance to your voice builds. Instead go stand or kneel before your child, call out their name in a normal voice and stop until they look at you, then pass whatever message you needed to pass.
Well, that really doesn’t work for us but you can try. Threaten to never buy them another toy if they smash theirs down, threaten to abandon them at the mall if they dare raise their voice, threaten to never go anywhere with them if they misbehave… you get the drift.
Grow along. Enjoy the teaching and growth moments for both of you. Ultimately, my children are helping me become more patient, prayerful, mature, healthy, loving… And I think that is a big point. May be it’s the whole point.