Friday, July 9, 2010

Hopping Out Of Bed?

The Question:
Hi Jane-

I'm wondering how you deal with children repeatedly getting out of bed after they have been tucked in for the night.  After going through the entire bedtime routine, my 3 1/2 year old daughter often appears at the top of the stairs minutes later, claiming she can't sleep.  I understand an extra drink or trip to the bathroom before she settles down for the night, but really I think she just doesn't want to miss out on anything that might be going on while she's in bed.  Short of keeping up her up until the rest of the family is in bed or tiptoeing around the house until she's fallen asleep, how can I help her understand that bedtime is non-negotiable?  It discourages me that an otherwise wonderful day together can end on a sour note as we spend an extra hour convincing her that it really is time to go to bed.  I would much rather send her to bed with hugs and kisses than tired lectures on obedience, agency, and consequences.

Thank you for your ideas and willingness to share your life experiences with all of us.

The Answer:

Dear Friend,
I really wish there were a simple answer to this question.  Have you heard this little song?

I love it because it confirms the universal nature of this problem.  Children hate going to bed.  I've always laughed at the irony of things--how I'd love to have someone lead me to a quiet room every day and order me to take a nap, how I'd enjoy being congratulated for eating everything on my plate--and even seconds!, how I'd jump at the chance to go to bed every night at a regular time--undisturbed til morning.  Just about the time human beings  make the shift to loving sleep, it becomes a vice instead of a virtue.  But that is the way of things.

There are people who are extremely structured about bedtimes, but I've always wondered how they did it.  Because young children have such varied schedules--some days they take a late nap, some days no nap, some days tired, some days not so much, bedtimes vary somewhat.  I just watched for the signs that my children were tired.  If they napped til four in the afternoon, they probably wouldn't go to be til I did.   On an ideal day, my little children would all take a nap or have a good rest right after lunch so they were ready for bed by 7:30 or 8:00, but like me, they didn't always stick to that schedule.  I wasn't one to put them in bed at 7:00 no matter what and then battle with them for 2 hours because they really weren't tired.  I just tried to read their cues. 

But I understand that many women like to have several hours of uninterrupted time with their husband at night.  We weren't like that so much.  We didn't mind having a child up if they were pleasant and not tired.  When they got tired, we put them to bed.  Around school age, we established a pretty firm bedtime that seemed natural.  Even now, we have scripture study at 8:30 and then bed.  Our children  fall into that routine easily at that age and our older teenagers choose their bedtime.
Good luck.  You're not alone in the bedtime battle.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Toddler and a New (special needs) Baby?

The Question:
Dear Jane,

Oh boy, I've got a bazillion questions.  I've been thinking about your blog a lot and in particular your ideas on loving discipline.  It resonates with me, especially because I recognize the fact that my own upbringing was one where there was a lack of love felt, plenty of shame/yelling, etc.  {Not to be a cry baby and not that it was all bad, but it is what it is.}  With my own daughter I've tried very hard to form a strong, loving bond.  I try to be especially cuddly and physically affectionate.  So when you talk about the importance of these things, I get it.  Here's what I don't get....

I believe in being firm with discipline, rules and boundaries.  {Another thing I know I lacked in my childhood and thus actually contributed to me feeling less loved.}  So in my mind, I try to balance being the firm disciplinarian with being a loving, fun mom at all other times.  But again, I like what you've talked about...I like the idea of treating kids as we would want to be treated and trying to encourage behavior through love rather than force. BUT....BUUUUUUUT I'm really struggling to see how I could get my daughter--a toddler, who is 3--to do certain things any other way, than without using something that basically adds up to a threat.  If we ask her to do something, she often complies because she's genuinely and generally a good girl.  But she's still 3 and of course doesn't do everything asked of her.  Naturally.  Additionally, lately she's been going through a rather defiant phase and without saying things like {even very kindly}, "Sweetheart, if you don't do _______ you're not going to get any treats."  Or "Sorry sweetie it's time for bed, and you know if you scream and throw a fit that we take your book away."  I guess I can see how your approach over time really helps, particularly with teenagers, but I'm having a really hard time seeing how I could use this same approach on a toddler who would and could just say no every time I ask her to do something.  I know you talk about having high standards with your children and that they definitely have boundaries, but I just need help seeing this with toddlers.  Oh, and we've even done a bean jar lately to promote obedience and to use a positive approach, but I'm also afraid that now she's just being obedient just to "get a bean"  and of course it still doesn't work all the time.  I know that my aim isn't just to 'get her to do what I want, when I want' but at the same time, I do think there are times that when I ask her to do something, it needs to be done.  Period.  And so far I can't figure out how to do that without a natural consequences approach.  And I guess I've been sorta hard on myself lately because as I've really been thinking about this I've tried to utilize the method unsuccessfully a few times, only to get frustrated and even once to the point of yelling and walking out.  So I could use some help....I don't want this idea to be some elusive ideal that I can't reach and in the meantime only get frustrated with my lack of know how and end up doing something worse {yelling} than my original approach...does that make sense?  Also, as mentioned in the title, I'm feeling particularly rushed as I'm pregnant with our second daughter who is going to be born with special needs.  I know this is going to change everything in a lot of ways, and that I might feel additional stress of not just a newborn but a newborn that comes with a whole new set of issues.  {I'm seriously writing this in the hospital right now, preparing to have a c-section tomorrow 5 weeks early because she needs to get out don't have to put this part on the blog if you post my question, but I'm so desperate for some guidance that this is what's on my last minute to-do list.  I know...crazy much?} 

Anyway, thanks for your help.  You're a cool cat Jane and thank goodness for mothers like you.


The Answer: 
Dear Amy,
I am constantly amazed at the obstacles that mothers have before them and the strength and determination they meet them with.  By now, you have a new baby with special needs.  She's very blessed to have you.
As for your three year old, I really do understand your frustration.  You feel like she'll walk all over you if you use a loving approach and she often does.  Probably 80% of the questions I receive have to do with this age group.  The reason it's hard for me to answer this question is because I can hardly remember what it was like to have only one or two children.  I know I hovered over them and was aware of all of their behaviors.  But for the last five or six children, I just became very easy going.  I made few demands and just enjoyed them at this age.  I didn't really discipline much.  I fed them when they were hungry and gave them naps when they were tired and we all played with them and enjoyed their little antics.  I potty trained them when they were ready, read to them a lot, and taught them new things.  I just had very few power struggles.  I did teach them that no means no and that there were limits. I didn't give in when they cried or whined.  I would follow through.  "I really want candy.  I'm sorry but we'll have some later."   Big hug. Walk away.  And I was firm about things.  "You may never hit.  Hitting hurts people"  Focus on the victim.   As I've mentioned, the whole focus at this age is on teaching correct behavior--practicing it and rewarding it and helping to bring about success.  Role play so she gets a good picture of what you want.  "Let's practice walking through a store."  "Let's practice coming right when you're called."  I think the bean jar and things like it are good because they reinforce good behavior.  Hugs and lots of eye contact are even better.  Not just stern, teaching eye contact but "I love you" eye contact and lots of smiles.  "I'm going to tell you ten reasons why I'm glad you're my little girl."    Three year olds are still very small and irrational--though smart.  They don't really think through things yet.  Just be patient, love and teach.  As they get a little older, they really will have a more true sense of right and wrong and be able to make more good choices.

The greatest advantage of my age and stage of life, is perspective.  I know that most of the things that I worried about with my earlier kids just corrected themselves with time and maturity.  I learned to relax and enjoy my children and as a result, they turned out to be sweet and loving.  That's really why I write this blog--to tell you the great secret--that you are free to love and enjoy your children without worrying about ruining them.  When they sense your constant disapproval, they'll be discouraged.  When they feel deeply approved of and accepted, they will thrive.  Think about the way your husband treats you and what kind of treatment brings out the best in you.  Especially when you are undeserving.   It's a universal principle.
Congratulations on your new little baby girl.  I'm thinking of you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Children Who Help Keep Things Clean?

The Question:

Okay, Jane. 

You have dazzled me with your wisdom and parenting expertise so far, so I come to you with a conundrum of epic proportions.  Are you ready?  Here it is....
How do I get my children (9, 7, 6, 4) to pick up after themselves so that I don't continue living my life as the resident maid for the next 20 years?  It's not that I don't try to get them involved in cleaning--they do have chores to do, and normally do them well (when rewards are attached). BUT the fact that they can step over the same pile of junk 150 TIMES without batting an eye at it is starting to spin this relatively sane mother into a frustrated, overwhelmed ranter who loses it just a bit more often than she'd like to admit.


The Answer:
Dear Jonesy,
Oh for a simple answer to this question.  I think it's a battle that never ends while children are in the house.  I discovered that I had a level--beneath which I could no longer function.  In other words, I had a level of chaos that I could accept.  But when we dipped below that level, things ground to a halt.  So I feel your pain and I'll share just a couple of ideas.
I established a morning routine with the goal that by 10:00 or so, our house was clean.  Like your family, everyone had jobs to do.  During the school year, those jobs were done before school.  The key to making this happen is you.  You have to be up and moving through the house keeping everyone on task.  Beds should be made, laundry sorted, rooms cleaned and other jobs done.  This daily "putting the house in order" shows children how to do it and what the finished product should look like.  If they get used to disarray--days of seeing everything in disorder--they will accept that environment. 
Maintaining a clean house is another matter.  It is a never-ending process to teach children to pick up after themselves.  You have to be very engaged while they are young teaching them to put away one activity before they begin another one--teaching them to clean up after themselves as they go.  It isn't natural for them.  I've noticed that some very fastidious mothers tend to have children with that same characteristic.  I don't think it's genetic.  I think it's learned.  The children simply learn that nothing can be left out ever.  As for me, I'm not great at it myself so I don't really expect it from m kids.  As I mentioned, I can live with a certain level of chaos for a few hours.  I can spread a school project all over the living room, cook in the kitchen and let the toddlers have a free for all for a while.  But I can't let things go like that all day or for days on end.  When the project is finished, I rally the troops and we all clean up the whole house.  We might do it a couple of times a day.  "OK, everybody stop.  We're going to clean the  house before lunch...before Dad gets home...just before bed."  By clean, I don't mean Saturday deep clean--just put everything in its place.  When my children were young, we'd often move from room to room cleaning together--me barking orders while the kids ran to put things away.  I used a timer or some other little gimmick.  Now we can each take a room or two and have the house picked up in about 10 minutes.
What doesn't work is this.  Mom watches tv or blogs or reads and keeps saying, "You kids get that room cleaned up...Isn't that room clean yet?...What's going on in there?"  Mom has to be engaged in the process to ensure quality control and to teach organization.  Mom establishes the level of order and continually enforces it.  She provides a place for everything.  She doesn't fill her children's lives with mountains of things to take care of.  She keeps it simple.  She limits the number of shirts and shoes and toys her children have to deal with so that their lives are manageable and then she helps them manage.

When my son Peter was about four, I set up a little table for him near the computer.  I put a small desk organizer on it with just the right number of art supplies and put a shoe box on it for his finished works of art.  He loved that simple little place and I was amazed how orderly he kept it.  I think it was because I thought it through and made it manageable for him.  We can take the time as moms to think through the trouble areas in our kids lives and pare them down to simple and manageable.  Then model the tidy behavior we're after.  They really will accept our level.
I hope these ideas have been helpful.  I know you've heard this a hundred times, but the day will come--sooner than you think--when the house will stay clean all day.  Everything will stay right in it's place.  It will be way too quiet.  And you'll enjoy that for about a week before you start missing the flurry of activity and life that is a family.  Enjoy it now.
All my love,