#11 If the balance of power is rather equal and they are not bleeding, then let them handle it. Don’t step in and fight all their battles for them. (But don’t allow name calling and other kinds a disrespectful talk. That’s just not right! You wouldn’t believe how many disrespectful, naughty children there are on the playgrounds. Seriously, if parents don’t correct children’s misbehavior, they won’t learn.)
In fact, it is a very wise thing to pick your battles carefully. This is a lesson that only a broken, tired, humbled mother can understand. If I didn’t pick my battles, I would find myself fighting all day long over the littlest things, especially when my third is so willing to fight me on everything.
So I’ll back off a little; “Ryder, pick up these toys while you watch TV.” Not good enough for him. He’ll begin to whine and fight it. And I’m usually right in the middle of doing something and can’t stop to battle a toddler. (Maybe I should pick my timing better, too?)
So I’ll back down a little more, but I’ll make it sound firmer and with a more serious tone-of-voice, “Ryder, put that one toy away that’s in your hand RIGHT NOW, and then go back to watching TV.” That is basically all he was going to do in the first place, anyway. So he happily complies, and I convince myself that I really asserted my authority that time. (Wow! Is that pathetic or what? If he turns out to be a monster, I can’t really ever wonder why! Honestly, though, I’ve really only done this a couple of times . . . okay, a handful of times. I’m working on it. This is more like advice of what not to do!)
Back when I had it “all together,” I never thought that I’d see the day when my kids would be screaming like wild animals, grabbing handfuls of hair, fighting about something or other . . . and I would be sitting there peacefully (or exhausted) in the chair and doing nothing to intervene. Just watching! (Trust me! If I’m that exhausted, it’s probably better that I don’t intervene. Totally flies in the face of my “correct their misbehavior” advice. Sorry!)
Besides, if I just sit here long enough, Daddy might hear the fighting and see that I am doing nothing, and he’ll step in to deal with it. Seriously! The first parent to make a move to intervene or ask what’s going on is the one who has to do something about it. (Same with whoever notices the poopy diaper first.) So, if you can just wait him out, your husband might just have to jump in and take care of it. (You don’t learn that kind of advice in a parenting book, either. It’s just the kind of thing that comes with experience - and a severe lack of sleep.)
#12 Matthew 5:37: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ . . .” I totally agree with this, but this is a tricky one because children speak a different language than parents do. Let’s say they ask for something. Here are some of the things we say and (what they hear):
“Yes!” (Absolutely! I will jump up this very minute and do your bidding.)
“No!” (Ask again in a few minutes.)
“I don’t know? We’ll see.” (Yes, but ask again in a few minutes.)
“Give me a minute. Will Ya?” (Stand there for three seconds, swaying back and forth, and then ask me again.)
“In a little while!” (As soon as you ask me again a few more times.)
“Not right now! I’m busy, can’t you see!” (I don’t have time, so ask faster.)
“I said stop asking me about it!” (Forgive me, for I must not be understanding you properly; so ask louder and with more whine.)
Parents, you know I’m not exaggerating! I found that a good way to stop the endless pestering is just to say “no” right off the bat. And say it firmly, with the added note, “If you ask again, it will definitely be a no!” (Redundant, huh? But kids don’t get that. They can, however, smell indecisiveness. So put on your best poker-face.) Then when I’m ready, I can just say, “I changed my mind. Now I’m ready!”
This, of course, has its own pitfall because it only works the first time. And, of course, it isn’t really letting your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no. Kids will quickly learn that “no” really means “Yes, in a few minutes.” But, ironically, if you had just said “Yes, in a few minutes,” they would hear, “Ask me again in about fifteen seconds or I might forget.” It’s a learning experience. Good luck with it. I still haven’t figured it all out.
A friend of mine, Corrie, once gave me a piece of good advice that her mom told her. “Say ‘Yes’ as much as you can, so that when you say ‘No’ it means something.” I love that. It makes perfect sense. Especially when I see how my way of saying ‘no’ right off the bat doesn’t really work anyway.
There are so many times that my first reaction to any request is to say “no.” And then, when I think about the request again, I realize that there was really no good reason to say “no.” Why not “yes”? Usually, if I’m honest with myself, it’s just because I’m too tired or busy to process what they are asking, or I just don’t feel like it. Usually, saying “yes” entails some work or effort on my part. But I’m trying to remember to think about their request before I answer. It’s a lot better than changing my answer after spontaneously reacting with “no.”
#13 Just like we have to know how to speak their language, we also have to learn to anticipate how they think so that we can be one step ahead of them, head them off at the pass. I did something once that was quite stupid. In an attempt to try to educate my child with a fascinating experiment, I called Hunter over to me and said . . . (Well, first of all, you have to know that Hunter likes mischief and danger a little more than his older brother, Kody. He likes trying to see what he can get away with and how far he can push the envelope.) . . . anyway, I said, “Hey, wanna see what I can do with a magnifying glass and a dry leaf?”
Oh, yes . . . I did!
That’s right! I was gonna show him how to burn a hole in a leaf as an experiment on the power of concentrated sunlight. But what I saw as an educational experiment, he saw as great evil-genius power. I could see it in his eyes as I showed him how the sunlight burns a hole in the leaf. And you know, as I was asking him if he’d like to see the experiment, my brain was telling my mouth, “Abort mission! Abort mission! Not the right child to show this to!” But I didn’t listen.
As I finished the experiment and walked away, I could feel the glee emanating from him. I could hear the anticipation; he was waiting for me to go in the house and leave him alone with the magnifying glass. And I realized the horrible evil-genius power that I had just unleashed in him. And I knew that if I didn’t do something, we would end up with a flaming backyard.
Well, I knew that if I banned him from it completely, he might be tempted to try it while I was not looking. And so I had to make sure that didn’t happen. I went outside and said, “Hunter, do not ever try this on your own. You could start a fire. But if you ever do want to try it, come get me and I will watch you do it.”
I don’t think that he ever tried it without me. (At least, we have never had any fires.) But the lesson I learned here was to anticipate what might be going through the child’s head and stay one step ahead of them at all times. Oh, and I learned to be more careful with putting the wrong kind of power in the wrong hands.