I can still remember the first time I got it back.
I can still remember the first time I got it back.
This is a post celebrating the power of the cuddle in terms of improving behaviour. It is so hard to find the time to cuddle up with a book / TV show and your little one(s) (until they’re bored) but so worth it for me this weekend. I would advocate trying this when behaviour seems to be going downhill. Here is how it worked for me…
Saturday offered a pretty poor start to the weekend with moods and behaviour in our house. We wanted to take the boys out in the buggy to a big play area for a picnic; we were loading their little bikes up on it so they could cycle along a nice off-road path when we got nearer. They were really up for this trip out but could we move them along and do the sorting that needs doing first – sandwiches, Friday night’s dishes, basic hygiene, etc….(nope we couldn’t).
The whinging noise was awful and probably something that could only be achieved by two under 4. (Please don’t correct me on this. I need to believe we are nearly out of the high octane whinging.) What made it more upsetting was that they weren’t being kind to each other; T in particular was picking on M. Anyway we got out a lot later than planned but we did at least have a lovely day. But why the painful start?
T has seemed a bit meaner towards M lately; winding him up verbally as well as pushing him and pinching him when he gets the opportunity. He is loving with him too but seems to feel the need to upset him more often than normal. I don’t know if its anxiety about starting school (wherever we go people seem to be asking and talking about it) and/or a bit of jealously – M is 18 months younger but will start school two years later. I think being the eldest brings with it a few pressures and he had to give up being the baby so much younger than M (T still calls him his ‘baby brother’ but he is now 2.5).
Anyway, I moved him away, I asked him how he would feel, I threatened to cancel his birthday party (I know, not a great thing to say – you know when you just hear the words come out??). T is super sensitive and would have no doubt felt strongly that I was annoyed and frustrated with him. Whenever he is told off he asks if I still love him, obviously I always reassure him and explain its what he is doing that is the problem but at three I’m not sure he understands the distinction.
Sunday morning came and started to go the same way. Luckily something made me think of something that I have previously read, about how children very rarely get to end cuddles or chats as its the parents that normally go off to do jobs, etc*. The suggestion being that they might not get the reassurance and feeling of safety that they’re after. Without thinking much more I picked T up and told him I thought that he needed some cuddles and I plonked us both down on the sofa. T is a very cuddly boy and was happy with this, obviously it wouldn’t work if he wasn’t, although love bombing is a technique worth exploring and appears in the first book listed below. I bet with some children just being there and sharing the television programme or book is enough. So we sat and watched television together for about an hour and a half then he got up to play. He seemed so refreshed, happy and content. And so much kinder to M.
Sometimes it feels like you haven’t got the time. And sometimes you simply haven’t. We did actually get out the house about two hours earlier on Sunday as it turned out; the boys were happy and we could sort ourselves out for the day without sorting out the commotion every two minutes. I guess I will never know the reason – sore throat, growth spurt, needing more sleep, anxiety about school – but it seems the cuddles helped all round.
*Divas and Dictators by Charlie Taylor; Siblings no Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The pictures of the books are there to show that I really care about doing the right thing by my kids. I am not saying that you need to read books to care and/or do right by your kids. I guess my thinking is that most people who read parenting books are trying to do right by their kids, but obviously not all people that are trying to do right by their kids read parenting books. Phew.
This isn’t even what I’m trying to blog about today. Bear with me. Basically I think I might sound trivial so I want you to ‘get me’ a bit first. Essentially – despite what my two year old says – I am not a “doker”.
Aaaarggh. I digress, I digress, I digress. What I want to blog about is the importance of metaphorically throwing out the books and finding you and your connection to your kids.
I am lucky to have worked and to work with some awesome teachers. One quite recently said how he made sure that every lesson had something that he was looking forward to in it. Selfish? Maybe. Beneficial? Definitely. He is a Chemistry teacher so the something can be pretty cool and literally explosive. But more importantly it means the students get to see him happy, engaged, enthusiastic and relaxed; doing something that he loves. I don’t want to go down the teacher blog route and you can probably see where I am heading with this. Stopping parenting and doing something you love with them (ignoring the extra mess, noise and chaos essential) can let them know you that bit better, make everyone happier and help some of the day to day stresses melt away.
The thing ‘you love’ can be a big day out or a quick dance to a favourite song. Small things can have big effects. My two boys trash the place prove this every day in an amazingly small space of time.
I have read some amazing books* and taken something from each one but I can’t believe the authors are/were rigid parents. Surely they couldn’t have written such great books if they were?? You need to freestyle a bit to discover right? More importantly you need to freestyle for your sanity. I think we should be brave and not worry that everything will turn into a dreadful habit. I spent my early parenting months worrying that everything would become a habit. Now I just think sod it, I’ll adapt this solution when it stops working.
I would argue that it is okay to have ice cream for breakfast once in a while (we’ve only done this once…so far), abandon tea and let them have toast (it was minging experimental) or let them safely run amok. Indulging every now and then in an ‘end of term’ spirit is sometimes the best thing to do. Letting the bus go rather than chasing after it can give you an amazing feeling of calm control.
If something makes you happy (and stops you tearing your hair out) it has to be a good thing all round surely??
I just want to check the following with you as I think I’m being a bit naughty….
My two year old has this great thing at the moment where he asks me to “put his bogies back” when I wipe his nose. Its brilliant. Basically I get to have another go and another go and another while “putting them back”. Meanwhile my three year old will only apologise if “someone else says sorry first” which means I get to air my frustrations with phrases like “I am sorry we have to go through this facade every time you need to apologise”. He looks as pleased as punch and my irritation regarding whatever he has just done to his brother evaporates so much quicker.
Basically I’m quite confident up to the bogies and apologies bit. This is okay isn’t it? I genuinely worry (a bit) that they may somehow be scarred if they work out (on some level) that I’m laughing at them. Is this bonkers or is there no place for infantile behaviour when you’re a parent?
What I tell myself is that a happy mum is so important and rightly or wrongly I thrive on this low level humour. Its born out of love and me wanting to keep my patience. But is low level humour ever an acceptable activity for the thing ‘I love’ for the day??
UPDATE** At tea tonight my two year old wanted me to pick out ALL the YUCKY BITS (basil) from his pasta sauce. Instead I covered it with cheese and told him it had gone. To quote my three year old again “I just can’t stop being naughty”.
*I’ve not read them all yet!
**In my defence I was at work today so I am very zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
“Josie Jump is Mikey’s name.”
“Me not Josie Jump.”
“Jumping up and down is Mikey’s game.”
“Me not Josie Jump. Me not lady.”
While this goes on in loop at least I have got them into their car seats without any aggy….
“Mikey’s in my seat. I want to sit there.”
“You can’t. Me sit here.” (Perks up).
“I’m in your seat then.”
(Unmoved. He’s learning.) “No, me in YOUR seat.”
Cries. “Josie Jump is Mikey’s name…” (fail safe)
Cries. “No me not Josie Jump.”
A lady on the checkout asked if they were twins recently. When I said not she laughed and said Irish twins then, which I assume (as well as being a bit rude) was some reference to us opting to have them close together. They are eighteen months apart. He must have been an easy baby she says nodding to the eldest. “No he just took three years to make. The second one three minutes.” The last bit was voiced only in my head. I smiled instead opting to reinforce the easy baby myth. It is myth right??
They love each other so much and it’s so nice when they pick the same odd socks so “people know we’re brothers” or when they tell each other they love each other or hoot hysterically at each other’s jokes, especially the classic “bum, poo, wee” joke. That is the joke btw. But wow can they wind each other up. The skills the two year old is already mastering leave me almost proud…I heard the classic “Can you see now?”, “Can you see now?”, “Can you see now?” routine from the kitchen yesterday, when the little ‘un was clearly slowly and deliberately visually editing his brother’s favourite Peter Rabbit programme with bizarre moves in front of the television. I’m sure I was still wheeling out that classic on housemates as an undergraduate.
I remember googling and reading about an 18 month gap when I first knew it was a situation that was hopefully on its way. “Like twins, but where one can hurt the other” being the description that I remember most clearly and which has rang the most true. Normally through exuberance. Sometimes through blind copying. Sometimes through ferrel biting.
And its true, you should always worry when they’re quiet. With my two it generally equates to building a “captain stinker”, which basically means putting everything that moves into a pile and jumping on it or most recently managing to open the front door (and get no further – thank goodness they went so quiet when on the brink of such excitement). At what age do they start bluffing….yikes …
The best bit about a small age gap to date is definitely what great buddies they seem to become. Then there is how much they learn from each other and this is a two way exchange already. It’s been lovely to see, especially the moment when the eldest relaxed instantly (from being very prickly!) when the youngest just threw his head back and laughed as an elder boy joined in their game. I so so hope their special bond lasts and that they look out for each other as they grow up. And when they tell each other that their favourite toys are in a dirty river I have so many happy times to remind them of (once I’ve stifled a laugh / pulled out my hair / cried into a cushion – depending on the day).
If you’re facing a similar age gap; it’s tough but what situation involving one or more child isn’t?! Its especially hard when you have essentially two babies in the first few months. I remember both of them crying at the same time, and then my mum starting up at the sight of two babies who both wanted their mum! In those early months – it was intense. But it’s so very worth it and on the days when you can laugh (not every day by any stretch) so very funny.
Overheard at Christmas. “I will open this present as long as nobody says ooooh.”
“Nobody must say ooooh.”
“Oooh. Ooh. Oooh. Ooooooooh.”
“NOBODY must say ooooh. Mum, Mikey’s saying oooohhh.” Cries.
And repeat many times. Before. The classic. What we are all waiting for….
“Josie Jump is Mikey’s name.”
Today may not be the best day for me to write a post with the title “The Power of Positive”, given that it started with my two year old biting my three year old and ended with the same two year old dancing in the three year old’s wee (having emptied the potty’s entire contents on the lounge rug). I am going to stick with it though as I need the positive energy and because there was no poo. Also as our happiest moments come out of the positive, if I am going to start my ramblings anywhere it has got to be with the positive. And what is usually my pursuit as opposed to mastery of it.
I am not going to ramble too much about those times when it’s easy to be positive, when it happens without you noticing. You know. Like every….so often. The first afternoon of the year spent pottering in a warm back garden. The spontaneous laughter of little friends/siblings sharing a joke. The random relaxed days when everything just clicks into place. Instead I want to strengthen my positive resolve for when my offspring dance in each other’s wee. For the I won’t eat my cereal because you didn’t let me pour 4 pints of milk on it “by myself” moments. Or the, I am going to take thirty minutes to get into this car seat and there is nothing you can do about it scenario. (And there’s no point trying as I will Houdini myself out of it even if you briefly manage it moments.)
So here I am chasing down the positive. Often failing, normally laughing, sometimes crying. Here is my list so far….
(1) Never put a child down
One of the best bits of advice I have had was in 2000 during my first year of teaching. “Never put a child down”. Thanks Pat! Pat was no mug. Kids behaved for Pat. Whilst keeping their self esteem intact. No mean feat.
(2) Close the windows of opportunity
Another gem from an old head of department. I guess with regards to a toddler it might be moving an object out of sight or emptying the potty pronto.
(3) 5 to 1 praise ratio – at least!
I regularly have to remind myself (and my husband – I don’t know how he puts up with my constant feedback on rearing our offspring) to think about how things seem from their viewpoint. I tell myself to think about how hacked off I would be with an email in my inbox (or a colleague in my face) that asks for this and that, but doesn’t seem to appreciate or thank me for what I have done. A cliche but “catch them being good”.
How hard must it be to have your whole day dictated and planned out for you with constant instructions. And to be so dependent. I would be vile if the boot was on the other foot. Bet I was. Sorry Mum. No wonder my two year old, who is mastering more and more words, is trying to own me the whole time! Charlie Taylor in his book “Dictators and Divas” advocated letting them be the boss in play sometimes to give them an outlet for this frustration. Sometimes I try this. Sometimes I “like” to take it further and “let” them be the boss in real life.
(5) Collecting rewards
Another Charlie golden nugget – collecting pebbles in a jar, although I tend to use ball pool balls in a jug. They don’t hurt if you throw them. Close that window. He advises just focussing on one behaviour that you want to change – for me it was kindness between siblings. The idea is that every time they do the positive behaviour they get a ball and put it in the jug and when the jar/jug is full they get a treat (for us it’s normally letting them wash up or pretend to drive the car). You aren’t meant to take balls away (although my husband likes to) but maybe take a break from collecting the balls / awarding rewards if things go awry. This method works SO well as it focuses you and them – you are looking for the positive and as a result see more of it. Can’t recommend it enough. It has given us happy days. Even if the kindness was saccharin sweet and hideously exaggerated.
(6) The little things
He also promotes the use of little rewards. ONE chocolate button for a tidy table after a meal. In our house it would have to include floor, walls, head and me but you get the idea. I NEED to buy a tidy tube of chocolate buttons; this idea of his worked an absolute treat a couple of years ago on my then nearly two year old. Second children definitely get it easier as I am currently just waiting for number 2 to grow out of it. Going to buy that tube.
I think sometimes you just need one fun thing like balls in a jug to set the tone for your day. After all children love to hear about how good they’ve been so relive it and repeat it. Let them overhear you telling your other half or Grandma about it. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Celebrate! My three year old loves it when I tell him he has made my nose go all tingly as he was so kind / gentle / thoughtful to his brother.
(8) Descriptive Praise
I LOVE “How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. A fantastic read and potentially life changing book on how to get the best out of children. I especially love their take on descriptive praise, which is basically you running a commentary on the positive behaviour displayed, describing what you like. The idea is that the indirect praise feels more genuine as they know what it’s for, which also might make them more likely to repeat the good behaviour. It can also be used subtlety so children copy each other rather than feel put out that they’re not getting the “well done”.
(9) Let them problem solve
Adele and Elaine’s book “Siblings no Rivalry” is another book well worth some time and I often draw on their idea that you don’t have to resolve all their conflicts for them. Obviously you want and need to keep them safe, but who gets the car they both want can be a problem that you help them solve. Ask them to solve. Over-acting definitely helps. “Oh no, you both want this car, there is only one car, what will we do?”
They make the point well that negotiation and getting along with each other are life skills that need to be taught and we don’t need to wade in as the judge; we can instead help them to build the life skills needed to resolve conflict.
A truly great book, worth reading for the odd gem that is bound to ring true for you.
Before we all go off to do something else a big shout out for re-direction. Don’t give the behaviour you don’t like much air time. Children, especially little ones, seem to hear everything as an instruction. You may feel you have to say what you don’t like once, but move swiftly on; tell them what you want them to do. And repeat this as many times as you need, perhaps with some re-phrasing. Act as though this is what is about to happen, is happening, carry them along in the moment! If you can make re-direction happen even before the event has taken place, it can be even more positive and powerful. I was surprised at how well my three year old responded to being told that rather than push his little brother he should ask me for a cuddle as I loved cuddling him, but when he pushes his brother over I have to instead comfort him. I just need to remind him of this when I see things brewing, which is not always easy to spot in the changeable world of a little person!
I think I’ve almost finished my first ever blog post. I hope that it helps someone somewhere. It has at least helped me gather my thoughts and any ideas to add into the pot would be gratefully received! You can’t have too many tricks up your sleeves in this game.
The thing with bringing up children is that you aren’t going to know if you’ve done a good job for a fair few years. Even then you won’t know what caused what. What if this doesn’t pay off? What if you don’t do it well enough? The best bit of advice probably in both books is not to give yourself a hard time, when the resolve weakens or you make a mistake, accept you are human, move on and try again. As both of the above authors allude to; children benefit from seeing you being kind to yourself and forgiving your own mistakes. Being kind to yourself is being kind to their future selves. They are modelling themselves on you so treat yourself how you want them to treat their future, grown up selves. So if you were looking for an excuse for putting your feet up with that magazine or taking that nice, warm bath….