After writing yesterday’s post about time outs and other behavioural management strategies that I employ to prevent total anarchy from breaking out in our living room, I thought further about things. And while I still contend that the kids, at the age of three and each possessing fine sparky personalities that encourage boundary-pushing in a variety of ways, are the ones who need to get with the game plan vis-a-vis not being crazy, there is another element that must be acknowledged.
I am a busy person. Even when I’m on holiday, I’m busy. When I was at home with the babies I was editing the multiple club’s newsletter, and later became co-president. Then I started my degree, and for the first year I juggled my studies with the club stuff. And before I had kids and was still living in England I spent the last couple of years holding down a very busy City job, finishing a post-graduate HR qualification, and serving as a trustee of two charities and the governor of a school. In other words, I have a long track record of doing a lot.
The thing that I’ve had to recognise – and try very hard to remedy – is my tendency to continue to be really busy, even when it really isn’t necessary. And when Hattie and Joe fail to comply to the arbitrary schedule in my head, I’ve had the capacity to become so wound up by it. And it’s so ridiculous. As if it matters that we take an extra half an hour to get out of the door! Where are we going that our punctuality is so critical? The three of us aren’t exactly fighting fires or performing life-saving surgery: we’re going to the park, or visiting friends. But there I’d be, getting all “COME ON! PUT ON YOUR SHOES!” or whatever, creating bad feeling between the kids and me, and acting like I’m far more important than I actually am (and if I’m totally honest with myself, that desire to still feel like I’m doing important things might well be part of the reason for this foolish behaviour). I’d even interrupt them having a perfectly good time at home, because of the promise of having a good time elsewhere. That’s mental behaviour.
So, just before Christmas, I realised that I was actually playing the starring role in some of the dramas that were occurring. And with knowledge comes the power to actually change my behaviour, so I tried that one day. A big part of my new philosophy owes itself to Nigel Latta and his adage ‘don’t let their problems become your problems’.
The first day in my brave new non-control freak world involved inviting the kids to come with me to the bedroom to choose their clothes for the day. We got down to their room and, as usual at that time, they buggered around, so after a minute or two I pleasantly said “OK, guys, I’m going to head back to the living room and read my book, so come and find me when you’ve got your clothes and are ready to get dressed”. And I reclined on the sofa and read my Diane Levy book. Ten minutes later Hattie appeared with her clothes, but balked at the prospect of having her nappy changed and getting dressed. So I said, in my new-found supernaturally calm tone, “You’re obviously not ready to get dressed yet, so just let me know when you want to do it”, and continued reading my book. Somewhat flummoxed, Hattie tried to get me to play with her, or read a book (I can’t remember the finer points), but I just smiled and said that I was reading my book, and once she was ready to have her nappy changed and get dressed, we could get on with our day. Meanwhile Joe came in and we had similar conversations. Eventually, both children happily agreed to be dressed, largely because they’d realised that nothing else was going to happen until they played ball. The same scene repeated itself around tooth-brushing, and again before lunch, and I kept calmly reading and telling them to just let me know when they wanted to get moving.
Later that day we were planning to go to the park, but – again – they were buggering around about getting ready. So out came my book again, and they were told that we’d leave for the park once they were organised. Finally we got out of the door, but there was a consequence: we could only have 20 minutes at the park, because they’d eaten into too much of the afternoon and we needed to get home for dinner. And that’s the big thing that I realised: in most instances it’s actually their good times that are eroded if they take ages to get organised – so why was I stressing out about it? I read over 200 pages of my book that day! It was awesome!
By slowing down and not trying to rush all of the time, I’ve realised that the kids doing really need me to occupy every moment for them these days. Often, I’ll make vague noises about going to the park or whatever, but Hattie and Joe will be having a great time playing together and won’t be in any kind of hurry to stop. This is the marvellous benefit of twins: they actually do play together. Their most recent self-designed game involves acting out the entire plot of Room on the Broom, their most recent favourite book (they’ve both memorised every word of this story, so they really can put on a great performance as they ‘fly’ around the house, picking up animals and being chased by the dragon). And if it’s not a game that’s this structured it’s some kind of random activity that I don’t fully understand, but that they absolutely love – usually involving running around, shrieking with laughter. What’s the sense of interrupting that kind of good time, just to possibly have another good time elsewhere?
That basic approach has continued to work for me (whenever I remember to use it – I’m not yet 100% on it yet, unfortunately, and sometimes I can’t help myself and get frustrated). It’s the foundation of how I handle our mornings now. At present we don’t really have much of a deadline for getting organised in the morning because we’ve all been on holiday, but that is soon going to change: they’ll be back at creche, and later at kindy, and I’ll be heading back to university in a few weeks’ time. I actually need them to get going relatively quickly (and let’s be honest, this will be the story of their lives all through school, the need to be appropriately dressed and ready to go at a certain time all morning).
With all this in mind, my new approach is to pretty much lead them through the morning stuff very quickly, but without fighting about any of it. As soon as they finish breakfast I suggest that we go and choose their clothes (and they like choosing clothes, so that’s seldom a struggle). Once they’ve got dressed and had a nappy change it’s time to brush teeth. At this point Joe occasionally ends up in time out, because he’s suddenly decided that it’s fun to be contrary about something that hasn’t bothered him in the slightest in the past. Why brush your teeth when you can scream and cry for a few minutes? It’s a good early morning cardio workout! But we try to manage that in a calm way, too: it’s a case of saying “OK, it’s time to brush your teeth now, so you have two choices – brush your teeth, or have a time out”. And once he’s in his room we pop in every couple of minutes and ask him if he’s ready to brush his teeth yet. Yesterday morning I think he had to be visited two or three times before he decided that this was a pretty boring way to spend his day.
The next flash point involves doing Hattie’s hair, because wearing it tied up is a recent development and, let’s be honest, that girl does love a bit of drama. And in the case of this (and trimming the kids’ fingernails each week, which Hattie particularly hates), I don’t even try to convince them: I let them have ten minutes of TV in exchange for compliance. Hattie goes into a trance when watching TV, so it’s totally worth it to have her sitting still. And then I turn off the TV at the end, ignore the wails of complaint, and we get on with our day. TV is magic! TV enabled me to get her hair to look like this the other day!
I also use that promise of ten minutes of TV as a way of encouraging them through the earlier ‘getting dressed and brushing teeth’ stages, if necessary.
The moral of this particular story is that I’m actually the grownup in the Hattie, Joe, and me triangle, so it’s done me good to remember that I can manage the way in which we jointly navigate the perilous waters of daily life. Or something like that. In simpler terms, I can either be part of the solution or part of the problem, and if I’m needlessly rushing the two of them I’m just making life less happy for all three of us.