I’m far from having it all figured out, but I’m glad you stopped by so we can talk it out together. Nothing has shaped my parenting more than the reminder that my kids are future adults, with all the emotions, passions, and compulsions that we, their parents, struggle with and work out daily.
But what about unconditional respect?
Have you ever been given this kind of respect, a respect you don't have to earn and you can't lose? If you can answer yes to that, then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. You might have heard of it before as 'The Golden Rule' or the Proverb that says 'a gentle answer can turn away wrath.' Maybe you remember Thumper, the adorable little bunny from Bambi, saying, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say nothin' at all." When you boil it down, these are the same message: Treat others with kindness regardless of how they've treated you.
Have you ever given unconditional respect to others? It's a world-changing practice, one that I honestly believe could bring about world peace if only we would all take part in it with our whole hearts and strongest efforts. When you answer a mean or careless yell with gentleness or smile at a crabby person on the street, you're practicing unconditional respect. Unconditional respect says, "It doesn't matter how you treat me. I'm going to empathize with you, recognize that factors in your life may be influencing the way you treat me, and treat you only with kindness and honor."
This isn't something we see very often in America these days.
In fact, I rarely see this kind of concern for others in my day to day life. Our culture perpetuates this idea that you have to earn my respect and, until you do, I'm entitled to treat you however I see fit. In addition to this mindset, we have a tendency towards apathy, a lack of concern and care for others. If I don't know you, I'm in no way expected to make an effort to make your day better or brighter. This kind of thinking not only causes disrespect amongst people, it breeds lack of accountability, the idea that I'm not responsible for my neighbor, and even crime.
How far does this respect go?
I have the privilege of teaching eighth-grade health as well as science and math. When I taught my students about this kind of respect, one of them challenged me and asked if I would still respect him if he broke into my house and stole from me. He was quite shocked when I answered that yes, I would still show him respect.
Why, he wanted to know, would I still show respect to someone who stole from me? Because I don't know what you were going through to cause you to break in. Maybe you needed something that I had. Or you were desperate for some kind of attention, anything to make someone take notice of you. Maybe you had to get that money to help pay for your grandpa's medicine. Truth be told, I might not feel respect for you in my heart of hearts, but I'm still going to show you respect. Sometimes we have to act in a way we don't really feel. That's #adulthood, ya'll.
The result of unconditional respect is... respect.
The incredible thing about unconditional respect is that it pays you back with respect. I proceeded to ask my students how many of them could spit in my face. They were aghast at the very idea. Responses ranged from "No way, Mrs. Hayward!" to "You're my friend, I could never do that!" But every single one of them told me they wouldn't be able to do it. I scaled it back and asked how many could bad mouth me to another student in the halls. The looks were less shocked but the responses were the same.
Because it's hard to treat someone poorly who consistently treats you well. It has been my general experience that by showing unconditional respect to people in my community, workplace, church, family, and grocery store almost always results in a kinder, more friendly response. Often, we're so used to poor treatment from others, being ignored at best and treated cruelly at worst, that when we're shown kindness by another it's a wonderful surprise. I don't know about you, but I want to be the person who brightens someone's day. I want to be a smile maker, passing respect and kindness forward through those I interact with each day.
Children can only learn this from us.
Not only do I want to show this kind of respect to strangers, I want to treat my children with unconditional respect every day. I want to teach them by example how to treat others. Goodness knows they won't learn it only by hearing me tell them. They must be shown. If we can rise up and show our kids how to extend this level of compassion to others, our world would be completely rocked by it. In those tough moments when you're exhausted or stretched thin by hours of bickering, it can be really hard to respond with respect. But it's okay to mess it up. It's okay because it gives you an opportunity to teach your kids how to apologize and mean it.
Unconditional respect, unlike love, is usually harder to offer to those closest to you because they're the ones you interact with most. They've got the highest chance of being around when you're off your game. So forgive your own mistakes, ask forgiveness from those you're less than patient with, and shut your mouth when something unkind tries to cross your lips.
Change starts with you.
So here's my challenge. As you go about the rest of your day, try some unconditional respect. Choose kindness in every response. When your grumpy side gets the better of you, apologize sincerely, with humility, and try harder the next time. I promise you that it will get easier. And I also promise you that the world, your world, will be better off because of you.
Be kind. Choose respect. Love one another.
Leave a comment below letting us know how unconditional respect has impacted your life. And thanks for reading!
Sometimes we do whatever it takes to get our children to listen and obey. If my daughter were on her way into the street, you bet I'm gonna yell. If we're out past bedtime and just need to make it back home with minimal whining, you'll probably hear me offer a bribe. All of us have those moments.
But what about the rest of the time?
How Can You Get Your Kids to Listen Without Tricks, Counting, or Bribery?
First Things First: Consistency
Consistency is the key to all the issues we'll cover from here on out. Your kids want and need firmly set boundaries. Don't believe me? One of my middle school students approached me at the end of last school year and said I was her favorite sub. When I asked her why she sheepishly admitted it was because I made them do their work! Kids, big ones and small ones, want to know where the line is. That knowledge makes them feel safe, secure and cared for. They like to know exactly what will happen when they cross a certain line. They like to know how you'll react to any given scenario. And that's really hard when you let one broken rule slide this time and then totally fly off the handle the next, for the same offense. The best parenting is responsive, not reactive.
Set Honest Expectations
You know yourself and your children better than anyone else, so only you and your partner can decide on the rules that are most important to you. The values you want to impart to your children can help guide you as you decide which behaviors are unacceptable and which are a little more flexible. For instance, many moms get pretty upset when their children make a mess by pulling bowls or utensils out of the cabinets. I'm not one of those moms; partly because I've come to terms with a messy life and partly because I want them to feel like this house is theirs as much as it is ours. So making a mess isn't a punishable offense in my house. Getting a toy out of the closet without permission though, now that's punishable in my house because we encourage our girls to appreciate what they have and pulling additional things from the closet without permission can lead to a sense of entitlement which I don't want for them.
Maybe that example seems silly or harsh to you. That's okay with me. We're different moms and we have different goals for our children. I'm not here to tell you which rules to set. Only you can decide what's worth the fight. If you, like me, only have a certain amount of emotional and mental energy each day, save it up and only use it on things that will matter in the long run. If you want to raise honest kids, then lying is going on your list. If you want to raise gentle kids, then you'll probably include hitting, biting, and kicking. If generosity is encouraged, your list might include taking a toy from a sibling/friend or failing to help with household chores. Take some time with your spouse or partner and write down a list of the values you want to instill in your kids and the rules that go along with them.
Make the Consequence Fit the Crime
Whether you prefer to think of it as a consequence or a punishment, the thing that happens when your child steps out of line should be proportional to their rule breaking. It's too easy to overreact when you're parenting from a desperate or tired place. So do you and your children a favor. Pre-set consequences and stick to them! If Billy knows biting results in the loss of his tablet time, then when he bites, whether it's a nibble or a chomp, he loses his tablet time. Done. He knew it would happen and you don't have to think about how to handle the situation while you're angry.
Lead By Example
That old idiom, "Monkey see, monkey do," came from real life experience. Kids copy what they see every day. Any parent who's ever had to break a kid from repeating a curse word knows this all too well. It doesn't have to be only your bad habits they pick up on though. Modeling the behavior you want to see in them is the very best way to teach them how to act. The very best. And also the hardest.
if you want honest kids, you have to be honest with them and honest in front of them, especially in tough situations. If you want generous kids, let them see you giving your time and money. Invite them to be a part of it by volunteering together. The next generation NEEDS to be taught by example so badly. In our social media-driven culture it's easy to tell people what to do. Every Instagram celeb and YouTube personality can tell you the best, coolest, newest, trendiest things. Our culture talks and talks. Our kids desperately need us to act. On the flip side, if they hear you harking at them for something like lying and then witness you lying in your day to day life, they'll lose respect for you and your rules. You know, because you'd lose respect for someone you witnessed being hypocritical too. We have a bad habit of thinking our kids are different than we are. They're not. They're just as quick to sniff out hypocrites.
Tips for Getting Your Kids to Obey without Tricks, Counting, or Bribery
Now that we've got the basics out of the way, let's talk about some applicable things you can do to get your kids to listen and obey the first time you ask.
1. Don't Ever Count. Ever.
I always tell my kids that delayed obedience isn't obedience at all. If they don't do as you ask when you ask, they receive the allocated consequence. In my home, we use a card system with their toys. If my daughter whines at me when I ask her to pick up her toys, she instantly loses a card. No warning, no second chances, no questions, and no bargaining. She knows the rule and the consequence. So when she ignores me and continues playing, I say "Okay, one card gone." And wouldn't you know it, she skips to and gets those toys picked up right away.
Kids who are used to getting a count-of-three know that you don't really mean business until that last number. And they will squeeze ever tiny nano-second out of you. Not to mention how frustrated you feel when you have to count every single time you need them to do something. It's bad for your mental health and happiness as Mama. So do yourself a major self-care favor and dole out that consequence straight away.
2. Show Them How First
Nothing makes me feel like a bad mom quite as much as getting upset and frustrated with a 'disobedient' child who I later realize just didn't know how to do what I was asking her to do. This can be especially applicable for the second- or third-born kids. We forget that we spent time teaching our eldest kids how to do something as simple as picking up the cards and put them back in the box. But our second kids don't learn those skills simply from being around their older siblings. Pause for a second and show them how to do it.
3. Feed Them
Seriously. You have no idea how many meltdowns and tantrums and yucky moments are caused by simple hunger around here. My husband and I have an unspoken rule that we don't ask our youngest to do anything mildly strenuous unless she's eating within the last two hours. Hanger is a real thing. Give your kids grace for it. Same goes for sleep and personal space. I talk a lot about self-care and this is your gentle mom-to-mom reminder that your kids need that same mental space.
4. Bribes Are Not For Normal Expectations
Bribes are for dentist appointments or long car rides or trips to Great Aunt Muriel's. They're certainly not for doing your homework or feeding the dog or putting your dishes in the sink. Those are normal everyday expectations for being part of a family. If you bribe them for feeding the dog, you've just set a new standard. Your kids start to think, "I'll wait until she tells me and then I'll get candy for it." Um, no way, Jose!
5. Fill Their Love Tanks
Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages of Children, writes "Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best." Learn what your child's love language is and how to speak it better so they may confidently rest in your unconditional love. It's amazing to me how many kids act out in an effort to get attention. (I'm a teacher, remember...) They just want to be seen, to be heard, to know someone cares. A child with a full love tank is way more responsive to correction and higher expectations. That might look like taking a few minutes away from your phone to give your son undivided attention while he tells a story. Or reading and cuddling with your daughter before asking her to clean up her room. Maybe it looks like spending a Saturday with your teen doing something he likes. If your kid's love tank hasn't been an area of focus for a while, it might take some time to see the change. But I guarantee you there will be change.
What Would You Add?
What awesome advice did I miss? Share it in the comments. You're a great mom. Don't forget it!
8 Ways To Celebrate Without Sugar
Visit A Landmark
A river, lake, or mountain would be a great place to visit and spend an afternoon. And it's free which makes it twice as awesome! The world is incredible and while you might like to visit somewhere different, there are people out there who want nothing more than to visit the place where you live. So be a tourist for an afternoon and explore your city or county. Visit a local county or state park. Hike, swim, take pictures and enjoy the time together as a family. I guarantee your kids will love this even more than a trip to the ice cream shop. And they'll remember it infinitely longer.
Visit An Attraction
Maybe you live near a theme park, zoo, or another touristy place. In my hometown, we have a small railroad company that puts on themed 1- or 2-hour excursions. My daughters love getting on the train and, even though we don't even travel five miles from home, that ride becomes the highlight of the whole month.
Purchase A Lasting 'Treat'
Take a trip together to a shop you don't usually visit and purchase a new piece of clothing, shoes, a book, or a new toy. It doesn't have to be big or cost more than a few dollars. My kids love to visit a bookstore where my oldest will usually choose a new reader and my youngest will choose a new stuffed animal. (You know the ones, those new beanie baby animals with giant glittery eyes... Yeah, we have a small army of them.) My daughters also love to pick out their shoes or clothes so when they need new ones, we make it into a big thing. They get a 'special treat' and I get to spend only money I needed to spend anyway!
Take Advantage of Free-For-Kids Activites
Especially during the summer months! Our bowling alley offers free daily bowling for kids under 18, the movie theaters have weekly free matinees, and many restaurants offer free-for-kids days or evenings each week. These can be excellent ways to get out and have fun with your kiddos while also saving money, which I'm all about, you guys! The cost of an outing doesn't affect it's specialness one bit!
Make Something At Home
Make your own popsicles by filling molds with this smoothie recipe. Use bananas instead of honey and you've got a 5-minute sugar-free treat that your kids will definitely love! One ingredient sugar-free ice cream? Done. How about some fresh berries with lightly sweetened whipped cream? See the common thread here? Fruit! Let them enjoy the bounties of summer straight from the bush/tree/vine. I can almost hear you saying, "but Jessi, fruit has sugar too!" I know, I know. But it also has fiber and micronutrients that your kids' bodies need. Maybe they shouldn't eat only fruit, but 2 servings of fruit, especially when secretly mixed with spinach, is definitely good for them.
Let Them Organize A Party
I don't know about your kids, but mine love to be in charge! The idea of planning their own tea party or backyard pool party and inviting all their friends or cousins over would be the coolest thing since learning to butter their own toast! Let them do the invitations, the decorations, and the activity planning. And if you're a 'planning' mom, do your best not to take over 😉 If they want to hang the Frozen decorations from 2 years ago with the Spiderman table cloth they found in the closet, let them! It's their party and half the fun is in making it happen.
Get A Little Messy
Water balloon fight anyone? How about these totally washable chalk bombs? (Honestly, I hate these things, but my kids... my kids LOVE them...) You can paint a window with shaving cream paint and spray it all off when you're done. There's something magical about kids and messes. And when you, the stop-that-I-don't-want-to-clean-it-up-again Mama join in on the fun, I guarantee they won't forget it easily.
The Next Time You Need A Reward or Treat
This list includes things you probably won't do every day, but that's okay! You wouldn't go out for ice cream every day (I hope!) But the next time you need a treat or a special reward or *ahem* a bribe, remember these ideas. You'll have one very happy kiddo on your hands and you'll still get them to bed on time without the sugar-high plummet tantrum. --You're welcome--
What would you add to this list? I'd love to add a few new ideas to my sugar-free arsenal! Let me know in the comments.
Need more treat-free ideas?
We All Know The Scenario
"Well hello, aren't you adorable! How old are you?"
"I'm three. Do you have a baby in your tummy?"
The 50-year-old man looks at you and chuckles uncomfortably. Meanwhile, you melt into a puddle on the floor.
Kids Say The Darndest Things
If you have kids, I guarantee this has happened or will happen to you at some point. Kids don't think about people's feelings before they speak. They just say what's on their mind. Their innocence is part of what makes them so adorable. So the next time you find yourself in this situation, remember these 3 steps.
How To Handle That Embarrassing Moment
Step 1: Smile and Take A Deep Breath
Didn't we just go over how every single parent ever has experienced this moment? That means even that overweight man your child just insulted has very likely been on your side of this situation. Smile at your child's victim in an apologetic sort of way and take a deep breath. Don't overreact. Heck, don't even react. Let the moment slide by and give your cheeks a few seconds to stop burning. Usually, the person your child's just slammed is every bit as embarrassed as you. No one wants to be called fat, even by a three-year-old.
Step 2: Say Something Nice
You can apologize briefly and quietly if you must, but don't make a big deal out of it and DON'T force your youngster to apologize. It will only embarrass her and make things more awkward. Instead, I like to change the course of the conversation by offering a genuine compliment or asking a question of the offended person. Something like, "I really like your hat. Is that your team?" This does three things: First, it takes the focus off that awkward, and usually true, thing your kid just said. Second, it provides that poor guy an opportunity to walk away from your encounter with something other than the embarrassment to remember you by. Third, it sets an example for your child about polite conversation starters. So they know. For future reference.
Step 3: Talk About It LATER
After you've left the grocery store/barbecue/funeral/etc. and you're in a place where you and your kid can have a comfortable and genuine face-to-face, bring up the comment. DO NOT attempt to have this conversation if you are still feeling at all embarrassed or upset. Using your I'm-not-mad-this-is-just-a-normal-conversation voice, you can gently explain to your child that we don't ask people if they have babies in their tummies or say they smell funny or ask if they just farted. Only use this conversation to go over your kid's current offense. There's no need to rehash old offenses unless they specifically ask you about them. This can be very simple: "Honey, it's not polite to ask if someone has a baby in their tummy. Maybe next time you can say/ask..." They'll have questions. Good Lord, will they have questions. Do your best to answer honestly and completely. "Why? Well, asking if they have a baby means you think their tummy is big and that can sometimes hurt people's feelings."
Remember, Your Child Will Grow Out Of It
Sometimes your kid will come up with more questions and that's great. Answer as they arise. My daughter went through a phase where she would whisper what she wanted to ask in my ear before saying it out loud (she's always been a total rule follower). I'd either nod or shake my head and she'd proceed accordingly. These scenarios are super common and don't have to be a big deal. Most of the time, the people your children talk to are going to be perfectly reasonable adults who've been where you're at and they'll give you loads of grace. If you run into someone whose feelings genuinely get hurt... well.... they're a grown-up. I'm not sure it's your job to help them work through that.
Things You Should NOT Do:
Don't make a scene by yelling at or hitting your child because of their comment and don't embarrass them in order to show them how it feels. That's just mean.
Don't force them to apologize for their innocent words
Don't try to explain away your child's actions to the other person. This only keeps the awkwardness going.
Don't run away. Stick around and show your child how grown-ups interact.
Don't discipline your child for their comment, at least not the first three times. If they keep saying rude things despite knowing very well that it's not okay, well then...
Don't try to deal with the situation while you're embarrassed. Wait until you get some separation and perspective to talk about it. I promise you will laugh it off eventually.
Forgive and Don't Forget
Kids are great because they're kids. Let them be little, for this time is so very short. Forgive them easily. I promise they don't mean to embarrass you or others, they're just genuinely curious about literally everything. The fact that your child feels comfortable enough to ask a stranger if they're pregnant is a sign that he's developing well. And don't you forget this moment (not that it's likely to happen) because someday the one gaining a few pounds or trying to quietly relieve some bloaty pressure may be you. And it will be up to you to laugh it off and smile knowingly at that young beet-red mama.
Care to share your stories? It's always great to know we're not alone in this Mama journey. Share with us in the comments!
So You've Got An Introverted Child?
Maybe you know all about the life and needs of an introverted child because you're also an introvert. Or maybe you're pulling your hair out because you're extroverted and nothing about this sweet child of yours makes sense. Whether you understand her or not, she deserves allowance to be who she is.
Why Your Introverted Child Needs Support
We live in a society where politeness and friendliness are supreme. As adults, we understand that if a stranger smiles at you in the grocery store, politeness dictates that you smile back, maybe even offer a "Hello, how are you?" This is a learned behavior, and often quite difficult for even most adults to accomplish. (We've all had those days where nothing at all can snap us out of a cranky mood.) Those moments are magnified for our kids, especially when they're young.
Young children are adorable and everyone and their brother wants to say hi and receive a sweet, chubby-cheeked smile in return. For an introverted child, that moment of expectation in the grocery store can leave them feeling uncomfortable, even fearful. My five-year-old is as introverted as they come. When a stranger says hello to her, she resolutely sets her eyes somewhere off to their left and pretends they do not exist. I learned, much later than I should have, that pushing her to respond in kind would only make her more uncomfortable. And I'm also introverted! How can we empower our introverts to be courageous and friendly but also honor their personalities?
Expectations Start With You, Her Parent
The first step is to stop caring how other people feel. I'm being totally serious! All too often, we, as parents, feel this unspoken pressure to have perfect children. If my kid throws a fit in the grocery store, I feel like everyone around us is judging me as a mom and a human being. If my kid doesn't respond politely, then I must be failing at teaching him manners. If he doesn't smile at you in the store, it's because I'm not a nice person. These sound ridiculous when I say it like this, but we've all felt this to some degree. Our children are a reflection of us and we want to be seen as competent and capable, not embarrassed or judged.
So, step one, Mama, is to toss all those expectations aside and let your kid be himself. His tantrum is not a reflection of your parenting. His tantrum is a reflection of his own developing ability to regulate his emotions. Sure, you can help him learn those skills (and you should) but he's NOT going to get it right every time. Heck, you don't even get it right all the time! Give him grace and space. Grace for the times he's just not up to it and space to figure out how to manage his own feelings before you swoop in to help.
6 Ways To Support Your Introverted Child
1. Stop Telling People She's Shy
Your words have the incredible power to define your child. If she always hears you apologizing to those polite grocery store people by saying she's shy, then she'll start to believe she's shy. Newsflash, being introverted doesn't mean you're shy! It means you recharge your batteries by spending time alone. I know plenty of people who are quite outgoing and social and are also introverted. But if you're sweet girl grows up constantly hearing her personality defined as shy, she's going to internalize that message and she will become shy. Ask me how I know.
My vivacious, talkative, bossy oldest, when she was three, literally hid behind my skirt at the farmers market one afternoon while I had a conversation with a friend we hadn't seen in a while. After we parted, she looked up at me and matter-of-factly announced that she couldn't talk to them because she was shy. Couldn't. You guys... My heart broke that day. I haven't used the word shy around her since. And neither has she. Oh, she's still hesitant around new people. She still sometimes chooses to pretend grocery store shoppers don't exist. But only sometimes. Other times, she'll smile and wave.
2. Let Him Have Time Alone
Introverts recharge their batteries and recover from stress by being alone or with one or two people whom they know and trust very well. That meansyour child also needs time alone or one-on-one with you to calm down, find peace again, and truly relax. This is especially true if he's in school or spends his days at a daycare center with other children. Introverts tend to burn-out on other people's emotions or energy. We need space where only our emotions are present so that we can refocus.
Allowing your child to spend time alone in his room to read or draw or even play video games is perfectly normal and should be encouraged. When my daughter is feeling overwhelmed, and you can tell because she gets grumpy and snappy, she'll tell her little sister that she just needs some alone time. She's five. I've shown her that it's okay to retreat a little, that it's healthier on her relationships to take a time out.
3. Don't Force Your Young Child To Interact With People She Doesn't Want To
You wouldn't dream of forcing your child to hug a stranger. You want to empower her with the knowledge that she, and she alone, has control of her own body. So why would you force her into conversation with someone she's not comfortable with?
For an introvert, each day starts with a 'glass full' of emotional energy. Every interaction draws some of that out, like tipping a few drops over the rim. Interactions with trusted friends or family use only a couple drops. Interactions with complete strangers use quite a lot more. Simply saying hello to a stranger may use just as much emotional energy as a full hour conversation with someone she knows. Introverted children don't know yet how to regulate the loss of that emotional energy. If you find yourself constantly nagging your young child to be polite and respond to a stranger's advances, take a step back and reassess. Is it necessary for her to respond? Can you respond just as easily and both show her by example and protect her emotional energy?
4. Learn To Gauge His Emotional Energy Level
That glass of emotional energy I told you about... There are signs to watch for that will tell you he's close to running dry. When he withdraws from conversations with those he's closest to, like a sibling or you, he probably needs time to recharge. Grumpiness, sadness, anger, and a shortened temper can all be signs that he's done for the day. If you learn to recognize it, you can teach him to recognize it too. And that puts him one step closer to being able to regulate his own emotions.
5. Teach Her How To Conserve Her Emotional Energy
It can be difficult for an introverted adult to conserve energy, so this will require lots of patience and practice from both of you. Show her that she can smile at that stranger rather than say hello. Talk to her about ways to reduce overwhelm at school by knowing that it's okay to do the things she wants to do, even if her friends are doing other things. (An all around good message for our kids to hear!) Show her by example what it means to love yourself, to value your own emotions, and to care about your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
6. Protect His Emotional Space Until He Can Do It On His Own
People have expectations for us everywhere you look. Parents, teachers, coaches, and, yes, even strangers have expectations for your children. That doesn't mean your kids have to be and do all the things those people expect of them. I could go on and on about how unhealthy it would be to try to live up to all of those, but I think you get it.
Being Mom means you have the weighty responsibility of protecting your children from physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual threats. If your introverted child freezes up around people, try to get to the bottom of why it's happening. If he needs more space, make sure he has it. If he needs more courage, equip him to be brave. But most of all, show him how by your example. Let him know his opinion matters, his voice is heard, and his self is his. The more you validate his feelings, the more he will validate others.
What Would You Add?
I'm sure some of you (about half, I'm guessing) are introverts. What are some ways your parents helped equip you to cope with a world that wants your undivided attention? What are ways they may have failed you? As parents, we're all just trying to do our best. I know I don't always get it right. It took me three years to realize the effect my words were having on my daughter. Thankfully, our kids are gracious and forgiving and they bounce back pretty quickly from most things. Keep doing your best and adjusting as you go and you'll do great!
Kids and Media
We all know it's better to talk to our kids than to plunk them down in front of a television. We all know that reading aloud to our kids is better than having a read-aloud book or robot voiced ebook read to them. But when we're tired and lonely or battling depression or anxiety, it's really hard to fight the urge to occupy them.
I'll be honest about my battle here: At our worst, my toddlers spent as many as 7 hours a day in front of a screen, be it television or interactive media in the form of a tablet or phone. While trudging along through two infants, 16 months apart, and battling postpartum depression, the sanity provided by the iPad probably saved my life. It certainly helped me get by. But it also left me feeling guilty... Really guilty. It took me three years to figure out how to battle my depression successfully. That was three years of tablet babysitters. Three years worth of interactive media from which to break free.
When I finally got treatment and found myself in a healthy place, my husband and I decided to purchase the Amazon Kindle for our kids because it has a built-in timer and excellent parental controls. Rather than sending my girls upstairs with their tablets and calling them down at some arbitrary time hours later, I could set a 2-hour daily timer so that they, and I, wouldn't lose track of time. It helped me stay accountable. And it worked for the season I needed it to work.
Then my oldest daughter started having nightmares. I did everything I could think of to help her with her nightmares, but nothing seemed to work. Shows as educational and innocuous as Octonauts were giving her wake-up-screaming nightmares every single night. My husband and I were desperate for change.
The answer we landed on made me more nervous than I thought it would.
We decided to take away their tablets.
Just for one week. One week of screen-free play time. One week to purge their little brains of the media they had been consuming constantly since they could barely even talk. It was a one-week hail mary to clear my little girl's brain of all her scary thoughts.
And you know what? It totally worked!
By the very next night, my little gal slept through the night without a single scary dream. And the next night, and the next, and the one after that. But it didn't stop there. We saw even more benefits in the form of their behavior and sociability and creativity. And it wasn't nearly as life-changing for me as I expected it to be.
The Benefits of Screen-Free Kids
They became more socially adept:
They play together better. There is way less fighting and way more cooperative play. My girls are close enough in age that they've always played together pretty nicely, so I was honestly surprised to find that, in the absence of screens, they formed an even closer bond.
Longer attention spans:
Together or separate, they play with one toy longer, stick to one storyline longer, and rarely ask me for a new thing to do. They're more independent and it actually worked out that I'm able to get more housework and more writing done while they play on their own.
This may actually just be due to the developmental stage they're at, but they make up and act out new (non-movie) storylines every day. Artwork and writing have become primary activities which they can happily spend hours doing. Rather than tracing a letter on a screen, they are writing words with actual paper and pencil.
It has been a month since we've ditched the tablets and my eldest has only experienced one night with a scary dream. Compared to the 2-3 nightly wake-ups before, this has been amazing!
Decrease in the "Gimmies":
They don't see any commercials or mainstream cartoons, so they don't even know about the latest and greatest, let alone ask for them. When we walk past a store's toy section, they like to look and admire the pretty dolls and animals, but they don't have the influence of the media telling them they need all those new things. It's pretty darn fantastic.
Decrease in Mom Guilt:
I used to spend hours agonizing over the feeling that I was failing my kids. Or else, I'd feel so guilty I would have to force myself to stop feeling in order to cope. I totally understand the whispers of depression that say you don't have a choice, you can't survive without it, or even that it's better than what you, Mama, can offer. But it's not true! You can do this and you can survive the transition!
For more help, get in touch with a therapist or call a helpline 1-800-273-TALK.
Decrease in built-in "Me Time":
Without those two hours of silence, I've had to get more creative with my days. When I need time to myself now, I ask my husband to take care of bedtime so I can meet a friend for coffee or do one of these self-care activities. I also set out special activities for times when I need to get work done. Quiet time boxes can be super helpful for little ones, as well as monthly craft boxes like Koala Crate.
My kids are living and playing more, which means they leave more of a mess in their wake. For me, it's a small price to pay for all those benefits and I remind myself of that every time I trip over a toy. And if the mess becomes a deal breaker, you can institute a toy storage system like we did to help control the chaos.
We won't go back
Sometimes things as simple as arranging a quiet time box for the afternoons can be enough to shift your whole perspective. I know I always feel ten times better waking up to a clean kitchen than a dirty one. It's the same with screen free kids. When I see them playing together or building a fort with every pillow and blanket in the whole house, there's this deep-seated mom happiness that shines through all the other gunk I might be feeling.
And, because there's always someone, let me say: I'm not at all what you'd call tech-phobic. I'm a blogger married to a web developer, after all. Our livelihood depends on the internet and constant connection with the world. Because of that, I understand that my kids will need to know how to use things like tablets and computers. I have no intention of keeping them away forever but, for now, I'm happy to limit screen usage to the occasional car trip or family movie night. I have awesome kids and giving them the gift of a screen-free childhood is worth the extra effort required on my part.
Blessing upon blessing,
Other parents on the subject of Screen-Free Kids:
"This was the wildest thing: They played together so much better...It seemed like they were more friendly, more sociable with each other. It's not a scientific study, but they came alive, if you will, for those months." Chicago Tribune
"And their approach to relaxation was so different from mine. When we finished exams, I would plunk down in front of the TV and just zone out—whereas they would make art, read, go for a run, call friends…. it just didn’t occur to them to relax in front of the television." Commercial Free Childhood
How much do you depend on tablets or television? Would you ever consider a screen-free week with your kids? Let us know in the comments.
When I took my kids' toys away, it was a moment of desperation, a time when something had to give. I'm so glad I did and I'll never look back.
So here's what we did.
1.Pack it all up!
I used big plastic storage totes left over from our move so I could keep things in the garage and go through them slowly, but boxes or garbage bags would work just as well. Collect all the toys, all the odds and ends, all the lost pieces hiding under the couch, and put them somewhere together where your kids can't come in and dig through it without you.
2. Implement your system.
Ours works like this: 5 cards per child. If you hit someone, you lose a card. If you throw a fit, you lose a card. If you disobey, you lose a card. You get the idea. At the end of the day, how many cards each child has left is how many toys they get to choose from storage the next morning. So if my daughter has a really good day, she'll get to choose 5 toys (or toy sets) to bring out and play with tomorrow morning. If she has a bad day and loses 3 cards, she'll only have 2 left and get to choose 2 toys for the next day.
3. Sort and categorize the toys.
Throw out any that are broken or store them in a memory box if you just can't let them go. Donate or sell any that don't get played with anymore or are too young for your growing child. Then categorize the rest and put them in their own easily storing bins, baskets, totes, or boxes. We use these and these because they're clear (easy to see what's inside for your pre-readers), stackable, and won't break open easily if knocked off a shelf, which sometimes happens.
4. Find a good location for Toy Storage.
Ours is a closet under the stairs, but you could use a tall bookcase with a curtain across the front or a cube organizer or a portion of your utility room. Anywhere the kids won't get into without your permission. Adjustable shelves make the storage space even more effective because you know your kids are almost always going to ask for the toy at the bottom of the stack....
No, they won't ever get them all back.
But it's not entirely what you think...
Well over a year ago, I read Ruth's amazing post over on her blog, Living Well, Spending Less, about why and how she took away her kids' toys. I was in awe and, as a mother of two toddlers, totally into the idea. But we had just moved and the girls had a whole room, separate from their bedroom, designated as the playroom. I wanted it to be full of beautiful things and as well organized as those perfect pins I had been collecting for so long.
The problem was that this playroom is open to the rest of the house (meaning there are no doors to close in the mess) and, on top of that, it's the first room you see when you walk into our home. Despite my best efforts, the toys rarely made it back to their labeled boxes and baskets unless I put them there. The girls, at two and three, had very little interest in returning an item to its proper place on the shelf. By the end of most days, I just wanted to bathe them and get their whining selves to bed rather than battle over the cleanup duties. Now, if clean up time could be around 10 am when they're at their happiest, maybe we'd have had a better shot....
Needless to say, this left me feeling stressed out, constantly worried about the prospect of anyone dropping by unannounced, and grumbling about tripping over things. There were days I would simply drag all the roaming toys back to the playroom, make a big pile in the middle of the room, and call it good.
When It Changed
I was growing more and more frustrated by the chaos in our otherwise tranquil home. The toys and the mess and the daily battles to keep it in order were wearing. Me. Down.
And then, my oldest started throwing tantrums.
Oh, these were big ones; screaming at the top of her lungs, dropping her weight so it was almost impossible to carry her to her room for time out, kicking the walls and door once she was safely delivered to baby jail. We tried letting her cry it out, putting her to bed earlier, cutting out refined sugar and artificial food dyes and taking away the tablet. We even resorted to spanking (never angry and always pre-warned). Nothing worked.
Then one night, she threw herself down because she didn't want to wear the pair of pajamas I had laid out for her.
You read that right. She was coming up on her fourth birthday and had all the words she needed to ask me for another pair, but instead, she took one look at the bed and let out a monstrous scream. I couldn't even get her calm enough to talk to her. It was a nightmare.
And I lost it.
I turned away from her, stomped downstairs, grabbed a big garbage bag, and then paused to take a deep breath... Once I was back in my head, I walked calmly upstairs and began to pack all of her stuffed animals and books (the only toys allowed in their shared bedroom) into the garbage bag. I stripped her bed of the Frozen comforter and pillow case and replaced them with plain ones from the linen closet. All of her sister's special things stayed in place because my youngest wasn't the one throwing the fits. My oldest didn't even stop screaming long enough for me to explain what I was doing. I took the bedroom things to my room where they would stay until she earned them back.
Then I went downstairs to the playroom.
My husband put the girls to bed and my oldest cried until she fell asleep that night (which didn't take long). By the time he got downstairs, I had all the empty totes from the garage spread out in the playroom and I was tossing everything into them. In went the dolls, the plastic animals and dinosaurs, the instruments, the play food, the dishes. In went the felt play scenes, blocks, little people sets, dress up clothes, puzzles, books... everything.
It took me two hours. Once each tote filled up, my husband took it out to the garage. The only exceptions were my younger daughter's three favorite things: two dresses and a cape. The playroom shelves were empty, the art table clean for the first time in a long time, the floor uncovered and trip hazard free! My husband and I talked it out and then we came up with a plan.
We decided on a reward system. This is how it works: Each morning, my girls start with 5 cards each. My oldest helped me make and decorate the construction paper cards and we hung them on the fridge where we'd all see them. Grace is new every morning, so are my kids' chances to have a good day.
If they throw a fit, or fight with each other, or disobey, or act in an unkind way, or hit/bite/kick, or anything else they know is not an okay behavior, they lose a card. At the end of the day, if they have 2 cards left, they get to choose 2 toys to play with for the next day. If they have all 5 left, they get to choose 5 toys the next day.
We talked about it all together, at 10 am when everyone was happy, and the girls agreed that it was okay. I spent the next two weeks organizing the toys in the garage and we created the toy closet, a utility closet under the stairs, with what toys were left after we donated or sold about a quarter of what they'd had.
Within one week, my daughter's tantrums disappeared. She spent the first three days using the 1-2 cards she had left to 'buy' back her comforter, pillowcase, and room things. The next three days, she used the 2-4 cards she had left to 'buy' back some stuffed animals and choose a toy or two to play with the next day. On day seven, she finished the day with all 5 cards and all four of us did a happy dance in the kitchen with her. She was even more proud of herself than I was, which is saying something, and we've never looked back.
Within two weeks of removing all the toys, I found myself way less stressed, clean up times were surprisingly easy and battle-less (they have to put their toys away each night or they lose a card and get one less toy the next day), and we were all happier. The most surprising side effect of the whole deal though came in the form of lasting change.
One day while I was cleaning up after breakfast and the girls were in the playroom, I heard them playing bakery. They'd played this game before, but only if they had the right toys, meaning the plastic dishes and proper dress up clothes. We had just picked toys for the day and I knew they hadn't chosen either of those things. Instead, they had a wooden food cutting set and they were pretending the food pieces were the bakery, standing in for everything from the mixing bowls to the baked goods to the spatulas. Later in the day, that same food cutting set became a box of moon rocks, a stencil set, and a collection of special gifts for the queen.
Our consumerist culture tells us we have to have exactly the right tool or utensil to do a job. How else do you think we get inventions like this and this and this? Instead of having one high-quality tool which we use for a multitude of jobs, consumerism tells us we have to have a dozen specialty tools for one specific job each. It's the same with our kids. If you give them a Cinderella themed castle, chances are they are going to want to only reenact the Cinderella storyline with that castle, especially if they have the right dolls and dresses to go along with it. Give them only a few, preferably generic, things to play with and, surprise!, they'll engage their creativity and imagination to use that one toy for a multitude of activities.
I don't know about you, but creativity is a major value which I want to cultivate in my future adults!
Would I Do It Again?
You bet I would!
Taking away their toys made them appreciate what they had, lifted significant stress from my shoulders, and encouraged them to play together nicer and work together to invent new ideas. I'll never go back to a room full of toys!
Blessing upon blessing,
How about you, do you have any similar systems and how does it work for your kids? Anything you would add? Share with us in the comments!