Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Let's just talk about it."

We have a yelling issue in this household. I never wanted to head down this path, but I have become a yeller. I did not used to be a yeller, though with each passing year the habit gets worse. I hate that I am a yeller. I fully recognize that yelling does nothing to solve problems. In fact, most of the time, it just further escalates issues and creates anxiety in my kids. But, in those super-intense, aggravating moments, that release of force through my voice offers a release of stress that keeps me (against my will) going right back to this action when I get stressed, despite the fact that I feel incredibly guilty the second the words leave my mouth.

I don't want my kids to fear me. I do want them to listen to me. What parent doesn't? Sometimes I feel like the only way I can be heard is to be as loud as possible. The shock factor does successfully get their attention, but the problem is that once I have their attention, I don't usually get the response I am looking for anyway. So every day, I tell myself that tomorrow I am going to do better. Tomorrow I am going to keep my cool. Tomorrow I will not be a yeller. Then 7AM rolls around. The kids start waking up. They start interacting with each other. The house quickly goes from silence to a sea of activity, and the next thing you know, fights break out, no one is listening, breakfast is getting cold, the clock is ticking closer to the time we need to leave, anxiety levels start to go up... The next thing you know, the screaming and yelling begins.

I tell myself, as I put the kids down for naps, that post-nap time is going to be different. They will be more rested. I will have a break for a little bit, so I will be able to keep my cool. And yet, by 4:30PM, we are back to the chaos that is our daily life and my ability to hold it in is gone in an instant. Lord knows that once I get going, it is hard to keep my cool. I constantly think, "If they would just do what I ask, I would not get to this point!" But, I am an adult, and they are children. I realize this is a weak argument. Children are programmed not to listen. It is natural for them to test limits. So, obviously it is unreasonable for me to expect them to actually listen each time I tell them to do something. I know this, but it does not make me feel any better about their defiant actions.

I started noticing changes in my kids recently, probably over the last six months. It seems that everyone is high strung. Anxiety levels are really high. Fights (actual, physical fights) break out between the kids over even the smallest of annoyances. My youngest is especially physically agressive. Any time someone happens that does not go their way, they scream at each other as loudly as they can. They are constantly on-edge and their fights are extreme. I know siblings fight. I have two brothers. I remember. However, at this age, it just seems a bit overboard for my kids to be having these intense outbursts all the time. Something is not right. Why are they responding to each other like this?

The answer is obnoxiously obvious. Any time I am frustrated with them, I yell and scream at them to get their attention and hopefully get them to do what I want. So, is it surprising that when they get frustrated with each other, they immediately turn to each other and start screaming? Charlie is not as great with vocabulary and speech as the others, so his outburts often shift to hitting or kicking when he is unable to put his frustration in words. Watching them this last week, I felt this horrible weight of guilt and shame creep over me. I did this. I created this. They are doing what I do, not what I say (as the saying goes). I tell them to be nice to each other, to be respectful, etc. Then the moment I get upset, I become unglued and lash out. They aren't listening to what I am telling them to do. They are watching what I am doing and mimicking my actions.

Big gulp. Whoa. I created monsters. Something needs to change, immediately. By something, I mean me. I need to change. I cannot yell like this anymore. I am setting such a horrible example for my kids. This is not OK. As I said, I have told myself before that I am going to do better tomorrow and I honestly do try. But I need to be more serious about my efforts now. The kids are only 6, 4 and 3. There is still time to shift their behavior. If it were 10 years from now, the damage would be more permanent. It is hard to change behavioral tendencies when your child is already 16 years old. It almost becomes too late. But it is not too late yet. I need to make a change, and this change needs to happen immediately before more damage is done.

Today I adopted a new motto for our family.

"Let's just talk about it."

I sat down with the kids today and told them about our yelling problem. We talked about how they do not like being yelled at by Mom and Dad. We talked about how Mom and Dad do not like when they yell at each other. We discussed how it makes us feel sad or upset or mad when there is so much yelling going on... They completely agreed that they do not like Mom and Dad yelling, but they did not necessarily have a problem with yelling at each other. Naturally. But I hope using our new motto over time, they will learn to be more respectful of each other.

I told them that from now on, when there is yelling going on, we are to tell the yelling person, "Let's just talk about it." This will be our cue to each other that screaming and yelling is not going to solve the problem. We need to talk to each other, in normal, respectful tones, if we want to communicate with each other. When we use this phrase, it is our reminder to take a deep breath and calmly express ourselves and our feelings to one another. I gave them the green light to use this phrase on Mom and Dad, too. I wanted them to be able to hold us accountable, too. Hopefully hearing it from their little mouths will be enough of a reminder to me (and my husband) that no matter how frustrated we are with them, yelling is not the answer... I hope it will remind us that they are watching our behavior and learning how to deal with their own frustrations by watching us deal with ours. The yelling has to stop, and we have to be the leaders of this new charge. We have to show them how it is done. It is going to be challenging. It is going to be draining. Some times I am sure I will want to rip my hair out. But, I do not want my kids to be filled with anxiety and aggressiveness and anger. It's time for a change, a serious change. One day at a time, I will be working on bettering my stress-management skills so I can show my kids how it is done.

Instead of yelling and screaming and freaking out over my frustrations, the new plan is simple: Let's not yell about it. Let's not scream about it. Let's not hit or kick because of it.

"Let's just talk about it."

That's the plan... Now, ACTION!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Passports!

It's summer break!! WAHOO!! As I sigh a huge sigh of relief and celebrate that we have survived another school year (my first experience with elementary school, too), I also feel this sense of doom creep over me. It's summer. The school year schedules and run-around to extracurriculars is over (or ending soon). So... now what?

By the time May hits, I am totally over all the stress of the school year and scheduling. But at the same time, my kids do very well with scheduled-out days, knowing exactly what is coming next, staying busy all day long. The laid-back summer life is amazing... at first. However, about one week into summer, the dreaded words start to pour out of their little mouths...

"Mom... I'm bored."

Seriously. They're bored. They are so used to go-go-go all day long that having some down time is equivalent to "bored" for them. For me, down time is amazing! I am thrilled! I don't have to go anywhere today? Awesome! To them, it is torture. They enjoy having things to do. And even though I do try to keep them busy in the summer, my attempts at entertainment are always followed by, "We never do ANYTHING fun!" when we have a 5-minute break in our day. Right. We NEVER do anything fun. EVER. We just stare at walls all day, as far as they are concerned. That fun, 3-hour pool visit we just returned from 10 minutes ago becomes a fleeting memory. My kids get childhood Alzheimer's in the summer.

When my friend Deb, mom to triplets (the same age as my oldest), contacted me about this fun, "summer passport" idea, I was thrilled. I was interested in finding some way to 1) keep myself accountable by having a list of activities ready to go and 2) make it memorable for them so they were not so quick to think we never do anything fun. This summer passport plan was exactly what I needed.

So how does it work?

There is no one correct way to do it, so feel free to branch off and make it your own. For me, I ended up purchasing three, small, spiral-bound notecard booklets from the dollar store. There are 50 notecards in each booklet. I drew a dividing line on each page so I can include two activities per page. Using a list of ideas my friend Deb gave to me and some ideas I drafted on my own, I filled out the notebooks with all the things I would like to do with the kids over the summer. Some of the ideas repeat. For example, I think I have about 8 spots for "Go to the pool" (we are there at least 3-4 times a week!), and some of the ideas are just in there once (such as 4th of July fireworks). Each day, we will try to do at least ONE fun activity from our summer passports. It does not have to be some epic adventure. It can be something completely simple, such as "go for a bike ride". Or, it can be something extra special such as "visit the Ribfest festival". The nice part about this activity is that it is completely up to you! You can make it as drawn-out or as simple as you'd like. Once we do an activity, the kids put a sticker (or you can use a stamp) on that entry to show they completed it.

This activity is great for a few reasons. First, on those days when I feel like I have already done EVERYTHING I can think of to entertain the kids, it gives me something to turn to for additional ideas. Second, it is a reminder to the kids of all fun things we did over the summer. Thus, the first time they say, "We NEVER do anything fun!", I can quickly whip out their passports as a reminder of all that we have done thus far! Third, there are stickers involved. My kids, like most kids, are sticker-obsessed. They will do anything if it means they get a sticker. So having the reward of putting a sticker in their book puts a huge smile on their faces.

The passport thing is super awesome. But, taking it a step further, Deb had the idea to add in journaling as well. #WINNING Her girls and my daughter are all entering first grade next year. Journaling is a great way to keep their minds fresh and their fine motor skills exercised. What a great way to practice reflection while also working on storytelling with writing, spelling, etc. Perfect. I bought three composition books for my kids for their journaling. Each night, as a winding-down activity, we write in their journals. My first grader can write on her own, and she usually draws a little picture to go with her entry as well. My boys are too young to write, so I write a quick summary of what we did that day and they get to choose what they would like to draw to represent the day. It's a fun, family-oriented way to settle down at the end of the night. Another added bonus is that my husband (who works late hours and travels for work) can read through their journals and relive their summer experience even though he cannot always be present for all the activities. Win, win, win, win, win.

The preparation process took the longest. Buying the materials. Adding the activities to the passport. Introducing the concept and helping them through the first couple journal entries while they get the hang of it. But, as with all family routines, once they have a week or two with the system, it will just become a normal part of our day. I am sure there will be some overwhelming days where we will forget to add a sticker or skip out on journaling. That is OK, too. I did not decide to do this so I can stress myself out over keeping up with it in an obsessive way. It's just a fun way to keep summer interesting and fun and filled with new ideas and activities.

If you are interested in making a summer passport, here are some ideas I included in ours:

- Storytime at the library
- Visit the pool
- Go for a bike ride
- Go fishing
- Go on a camping trip
- Backyard camping
- Feed the ducks at the Riverwalk
- Go for ice cream
- Have a playdate with a friend
- Donate something to someone in need
- Attend swim lessons
- Attend Vacation Bible School
- Take the dog for a walk
- Go on a nature walk
- Visit a family member's house (Nana, Papa, Grandma, etc)
- Visit a specific park (made a separate page for 5-7 local parks)
- Go to downtown Chicago
- Go for a boat ride
- Visit the beach
- Attend a birthday party
- Make a card and mail it to someone
- Play lava rocks
- Rent a movie and eat popcorn while watching it
- Join the Summer Reading Program
- Go to Cosley Zoo
- Visit the Brookfield Zoo
- Go to the Morton Arboretum
- Go to a bouncy house place
- Visit the DuPage Children's Museum
- Go to open skate at the ice arena
- Go to Ribfest
- See the fireworks
- Go to a parade
- Attend a luau party
- Go mini golfing
- Make s'mores in the fire pit
- Hike in the forest preserve
- Visit a pool other than our usual pool
- Make goody bags for a friend and surprise them with it
- Go to church
- Visit the Shedd Aquarium
- Build a blanket fort
- Bake cookies and eat them
- Have a picnic at the park
- Eat dinner at the pool
- Wash the van with Mom
- Shop at a garage sale
- Water balloon toss
- Pick berries
- Phillips Park
- Night swim at the pool
- Picnic in the backyard
- Make a lemonade stand
- Visit a Farmer's Market

The list can go on and on... If you are like me, reading this list will probably shoot off at least 5-10 other ideas that are applicable to your area or your family, too. I hope this list helps create a starting point for your brainstorming. You can add other basic ideas, too, such as coloring, play-dough play time, painting, building a tower with blocks, etc. It can truly be as simple as you'd like!

So, happy summer, moms! I know we have all been looking forward to this, even though in a week we will likely be counting down the days until they return to school. I hope this idea ends up being something that can help keep your kiddos entertained throughout the summer. Good luck and Godspeed. ;)