This week has been one of the most difficult of my parenting career. Not because of the foot, or the heat (and the pool is still empty...PEOPLE!! That is why we pay one million dollars in HOA dues.....) or even the stinker (aka Cubby). It is because my 6 year old is winning the battle of control of the house. It perplexes me.
I am a STRICT mom. Fair, but strict. I don't let these kids get away with much. Just ask my mom and several of my friends, they think I might be a little bit TOO strict. I just feel that there is behavior that is unacceptable and it doesn't matter if you are 2 or 20, I won't allow it. Ever. Things like being unkind, impolite or sassy. Things like being disrespectful to others, taking things that aren't yours. The basics. It doesn't matter that my 18 month old doesn't REALLY understand that he is not allowed to take another child' s toy away (I know it is a development thing). Each and every time he does it, he will be walked over to the other child, give back the toy and give a "soft touch" (a pat on the arm or head). EVERY TIME. At some point he will understand and it will just have always been that way. A phrase that is often used in my home is "try again". We also do the "one, two, three" method with my daughter. After the third chance she is OUT. Sometimes she gets three chances in a row, for example.
"Lu, it is time for bed"
...and if she makes it to three; things will be very grim (no song, no stories, etc). Sometimes it is over the course of a day. For example, hitting her brother....if I have to get to three by the end of the day, then things are REALLY grim. It works too. I have found that it allows me to discipline while being unemotional. If I get worked up, we loose ground very quickly. She knows the rules and she knows what is expected of her and if she does the wrong thing...well, the rules are clear. This has been very effective ever since she was small. That was yesterday. Now she is almost 6 and the rules have changed. Basically, I don't make the rules or hold the power anymore.
I have always struggled with 6 year old girls. Sorry. They are awkward and silly, too big to be little and too little to be big. I kind of dreaded this age anyway. I would take my then three year old to the park and watch the older girls and dread the day she became one. I didn't know that 6 would be so HARD. I joke that it is just a fun preview for 13, and I am sure it is, but I am amazed at how one (small) person can set the mood in our home.
Lately, Lu has decided that the rules in our home are optional and that it doesn't matter the consequence that is given, being sassy or having the last word is more important. Going to bed early? Oh well. No TV or computer? Who cares, she'll just draw. No snacks? She didn't want one anyway. The other night, she was in bed early and she actually GOT UP and went outside to play in the back yard. I had to physically carry her back in. Clearly, the key to discipline is that the consequence has to be more uncomfortable then the behavior (although..someday I am told they will want to be good for the sake of being good....I am skeptical). That seems to be the missing key. I found myself constantly yelling at her and having to be louder and longer as the week progressed. Short of physically punishing her (which I am not totally opposed to, but this was not the correct solution here) I didn't know what to do. Every interaction we had was negative...and we had to interact 300,000 times a day. It made our house feel like a dark cloud was hanging over it all the time. I was cranky and at the end of my rope all the time. Frankly, I was battle weary in a way I hadn't been since she was two. I dreaded getting up in the morning.
I came to the realization that the balance of power needed to shift in a BIG way. She needed to understand that I was in charge and that I wouldn't tolerate this anymore. BUT, I needed to do it in a way that would allow me to discipline her w/ out high emotion but make it consistent too. Sounds like a challenge, huh? I borrowed an idea from the sister of my friend Suzi.
Welcome to "The Last Resort".
What is the Last Resort? One morning last week (when it was only 8:30 and we had already had multiple fights), I decided that she wasn't going to get to have ANYTHING in her room. Nothing but a bed (and I let her keep the pink sheets and not put the white ones on...that is the last resort at the Last Resort).
We moved EVERY SINGLE thing out of her room. All the posters on the wall, all the toys, all the books, all the clothes. EVERYTHING. She has to earn them back. It is nice to have such a clean room. See the pink shelf that used to be full of books, Barbies and Polly Pockets? Gone.
See the desk that used to have paper, crayons, markers and glue. Empty (I even took the chair) and I put them in the closet where the door will remain shut.
All her clothes are gone too (I put mine in her closet and hers in mine). She has to ask me if she wants to change and I get to decide what she will wear...instead of the usual, one-of-us-picks-the-top-and-the-other-picks-the-bottom (to make sure she semi matches). The best part is that I made her do it. I got a bunch of baskets and told her to fill them up and put them in her brother's room. She had to be the little pack horse and believe me, she was crying the whole time. It really made it hit home for her. She was even late for school b/c she was taking so long.
I know this seems drastic and it is, but without relaying the play by play, it was necessary.
The result? We are on day three and it is working. Every minute of the day is spent w/ Lauren trying to do things to earn stuff back. She keeps saying "isn't it great how happy I am being?" "Isn't it wonderful that I am playing with Jacob?" You know what? It IS!!! Instead of us focusing all day on the bad things that are happening, she is fixated on the good. She has already earned back her radio (so she can listen to music at night) and her pretty pillows for her bed (she IS my daughter after all.....home decor is very important). Tomorrow might be the chair for her desk, or the Polly's. We will see.
Harmony is restored, we are having loving words again and I am slowly editing the toys (she will never know). The Last Resort just might have saved our summer.