Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Some new strategies, some not

I want to say thanks to all of you who chimed in on the "summer fun time vs. annoying, ungrateful kids" topic. The vast majority of the comments were well-intentioned and respectful, and for that I am very thankful. I appreciate anyone who takes the attitude .... "Here's my experience; here's my opinion. This works for *our* family. It might not work for *yours*, but it's a suggestion I am willing to make WITHOUT assuming you are the dumbest person on the planet for even contemplating for one single solitary second that it might not be the best suggestion ever made in the history of the universe for *your* family, because all families are different, and all kids are different, and what works as gospel for us might not for you and that's ok, too, because the bottom line is we're all just trying to make our way without insulting one another or debating this for a single second." Or something like that. I might be paraphrasing. I was simply glad no-one got snotty or judgmental.

The vast majority of suggestions were that we should scale back our activities, in order that the kids might appreciate them more. I think that point is perfectly valid. However, let me be the first to assure you that it's not a non-stop, 25-hr a day circus around here. I'm as big a proponent of "down time" as the next mom. We go to the library once a week so they always have something to read, and we do "schoolwork" every day during the week, a time when the kids are sitting quietly at a table by themselves, working in workbooks or doing creative writing. My kids rarely play the Wii, we don't have any other gaming system, and they aren't obsessed with computers or videos. They do, however, have a tendency to turn into little couch potatoes in front of the tv if I don't monitor their time, which is probably another reason I like to get out of the house a lot --- they're perfectly content to watch 37 episodes of iCarly without moving, or the Three Ninjas Knuckle Up movie five times in a row (I speak from personal experience this weekend, and for the record, that might be the dumbest movie ever made ....Seriously? I'm supposed to believe a little eight-year old boy can take out seven grown men, all the while wearing an Indian headdress and shouting "hyah!!" ??? When I expressed disbelief to Kellen, he informed me, "Not a boy, Mom, but a highly skilled trained NINJA!" And the sad part is, he was dead serious. )

I think (and again, this is just me speaking for my three) that they are a little too old for "quiet time in their rooms", but they do **play** in their rooms (or on the staircase!) and I do encourage independent projects. In case you don't believe me, the words. "I don't care if you're bored, find something to do or I'll give you chores" came out of my mouth just today. :)

As luck would have it, when they were younger and I was more uptight about "safety", they actually had much more freedom to go outside and play. In Georgia, there were four other families with young children on our street, and it wasn't uncommon for all the kids to be outside from morning until evening, playing with one another, up and down the street.

Here, we live in an old neighborhood. There are no parks or trails or fields or creeks or playgrounds within walking distance. The playground at the elementary school is fenced and locked. There are none within biking distance (at least not any that I feel safe letting them go to alone.) There are ZERO children on our street, and only a few on the streets around us. The houses are small, on small lots, with small yards. So I find it slightly ironic (and frustrating) that now, when my kids are old enough -- in my opinion -- to have a bit more freedom to explore the neighborhood and play with friends, they no longer have the opportunity. And I do send them "outside to play" quite often, but it's never long before they are complaining they are bored and could we invite friends over??? There's something a little bit sad about watching your son try and scrimmage himself in soccer in the back yard ..... And then there you go, it's a scheduled play-date, the very thing I should cut back on.

I'm not telling you these things because I'm defensive about my parenting (ok, maybe I am, just a little) but rather to help clear up the (what I believe is a) misconception I somehow gave that we have activities planned every morning and every night, from sun up until sun down.

However, I do acknowledge that more down time, and encouraging them to make more of their own fun, wouldn't be a bad idea, and that is one of the things we're going to work on.

I love the idea of saving a fun activity for the end of the week and letting the kids earn it; so we've designated Fridays for that. We're also going to let each kid take turns picking the Friday activity from a pre-approved list. When we sat down with them and asked them to suggest activities, they ranged from "lunch with dad" or "more family movie nights" to "more time at the local water park", "Six Flags", and "can we go back to Great Wolf Lodge?" .... clearly, they ran the gamut.

We also sat the kids down and told them I would NOT cancel plans or un-invite friends if one of them misbehaves. I agree with everyone who said that is unfair to too many people. If, however, one of them misbehaves in the morning, the offender will have to sit out at least a portion of that day's activities. If it happens during the activity, they will also sit out. If it happens on the way home, or on a day we're staying home, or in the evening, we instituted a "chore jar" --- strips of paper with household chores above and beyond their normal chores. Really gross stuff that I don't like to do either, like cleaning baseboards and toilets and vacuuming out the van. I bought a small notebook to keep track if a child is told they must "pull a chore strip" during the day (because yes, I am the kind of parent who would forget ....) and they must pull the strip and do the chore the minute they get home. We're going on three days and no strips yet, although Brayden and Kendrie both came very close today and only got out of it by apologizing (UN-prompted) to one another for their actions.

I also started writing down a list of what we did (or didn't do) each day, and who got to invite a friend/have a sleepover/attend a play date/etc. I hope this will help me when the inevitable "It's not fair!" debate begins about how one child always is the preferred one. Of course, whichever child *that* is depends on who feels slighted and who is doing the arguing. According to all three of the kids, I ALWAYS favor "the other two" ... and best as I can tell, that's mathematically impossible. I just need to help them understand it, and also help them understand "Because I said so" is indeed a complete sentence.

I also need to work on my knee-jerk parenting style when it comes to arguing. A private e-mail I received from a friend brought up a good point .... even though arguing is annoying and drives me batty, it is one way that kids learn to work out disagreements and solve problems. So I'll be trying harder to balance a healthy amount of "letting them work it out without butting in" with "hush stop arguing for pete's sake because I said so that's why!"

So in a nutshell:

1. Fewer activities over all, although no-one is going to confuse us with homebodies, even with a calmer schedule, because *I* like to get out socially, too.

2. More "delayed" activities, IF they are earned, and letting the kids take a more active part in planning them.

3. Clearer punishment for kids who argue, fuss, fight, moan, complain, or in any way make life miserable for the rest of us.

4. More chocolate for me.

(Well, come on. That's just a given, isn't it?)

Thanks again for chiming in. I'd love to hear who else got some great ideas from the comments section, and how they're working out for you.

It takes a virtual village ...... (and a lot of chocolate.)


Sandie said...

When I was in college for my elementary education degree, some professor at some point said "Being fair doesn't mean treating every child the same." This has stuck with me in my parenting years. Maybe it will stick with you too:)

kimi said...

AWESOME! I love this...can I engrave the comment about knee-jerk parenting on my husband's forehead? I am going to print this out and work over some of it to fit the ages of my kids. You are seriously onto something here...

Thank you again for saving my sanity just by sharing your life.


Ginger said...

Definitely buying my own notebook and "chore jar" tomorrow!! :o) Sounds like a great way to get them to think before they say or do something that they shouldn't, and teach them a bit more about consequences along the way in a productive way. I love it!!

Alisa said...

Wait- I did not get to comment yet on the parenting post! I was still trying to figure out what to say!
I agree with the chocolate.
Love the chore jar, and the notebook. I need to do that. Just yesterday, Jay took away some things from Luke, and by the end of the day I could not remember what his consequences were. I think writing them down would be good.

M said...

I still think boxing gloves are a good investment :) All kidding aside, mom's know what's best for their kids!

Danielle said...

Sounds like you have a great plan! And bonus that it is quickly starting to help. Great idea for the clearer punishments. You can then dole them out with less emotional involvement. I know for me it is never good to come up with a punishment while I am still angry. Plus it just upsets me to have to punish at all even when deserved.

Sue said...

Sounds like you've got your ducks in a row!

On the "not fair" issue: I work in a classroom of 14 8-year-old ESL students. I am convinced that they are not allowed in the country until they can say, "That's not fair!" in perfect English. I hear those words when I dismiss tables to line up, when I randomly pick names from my popsicle stick cup, when I give someone a certificate and small reward for passing their multiplication facts (yes, same reward every time). If I tell them the field is too wet for them to play on, it's not fair.

Don't worry about being fair. Those words just mean, "I want attention" and have almost nothing to do with how you are treating them.

Anonymous said...

Good ideas...LOVE The chore jar....that may show up in my house as well. God knows there are plenty of things that could be done around here.
The "fair police" live at my house too...
Milford, CT

Jeanette in GA said...

Good luck on the new schedule for the summer!

I agree-let them fight it out, but make sure they have the tools to comprimise (kids do not have an inborn abitlity to comprimise!) and then make them go into their rooms or outside so you won't have to listen! This has helped us when there are arguements in our home.

PS We miss you all being out from morning til night as well.

Donna said...

Mmm, chocolate!

Love the chore jar. Another mom told me that anytime the words "I'm bored" or something similar are uttered, the offender must immediately go and pick up five toys/books/random items of clutter.

I am trying to think of something we can do of a volunteer nature (wanted to do the animal shelter, but #2 has bad allergies) to get the focus off of "me, me, me." Not sure if I will be able to find something good for a 7-year-old though.

David said...

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The underlying model developed by our team of psychologists reveals an underlying complexity far richer than just 'strict' or 'relaxed' classifications.

And what's particularly interesting is that you can take the test for a spouse and see where potential conflicts might lie and get advice on how to deal w/them. You can also compare results to your friends'.

Jenn said...

I'm a long time lurker here, and I wasn't going to give any advice because it would have been a lot of work for me and I didn't want a lot of work and I also figured you were a fairly good parent and would figure out what to do, and I'm happy to say that you seem to have come up with some great ideas, and I also didn't read all of the other comments because that too would have been a lot of work. Btw, I like run on sentences. A lot. Anywho...I did want to add a comment, in case you didn't think of it or hadn't heard it in a comment (I wouldn't know since I didn't read them).

The point is that I have 7 children, and we homeschool (please don't stop reading, yes, we are one of THOSE families, but I am a good person, really!) and the thing that I believe most about getting your children to behave the way you want them to, is to practice. I don't think your children are too old for this, and I'm betting a little bribery would still go a long way? Basically, you sit them down and choose what you want to practice (not arguing in the car) and then you act it out. You can sit in a chair driving with them on the couch behind you. Occasionally throw in an argument for them to practice with like someone is breathing too loudly or something and figure out what others would say/do about it. At the end of a practice session, reward them with whatever (30 min. of t.v. if they practiced well, piece of cake, etc.).

I'm sure I took up enough of your comment space now, so I'll leave you to ponder the art of practice. Again, I'll swear by it, but don't hold me to it if it doesn't work.

Much love,

Jenn said...

Ohhh, one more kids get chores for punishment also. I can get a lot of things done some days, so it may turn out well if they do argue. Not that you would want that.

Stephanie D. said...

See Kristie - I told you that you rock at this motherhood thing. :-)

Sara said...

I'm fairly new to your blog and wanted to offer a comment.

You mentioned that you are going to start keeping a notebook of who got to do what/when, so you will have ammunition when the kids complain that their siblings are being favored. I think that will be a wonderful resource for you, so you can remember things and see if someone really is being slighted. But, I would caution against referring to it directly with the kids.

You are the mom. You are the boss. They need to respect you and your decisions. I think it's possible you could end up on a slippery slope with your authority with the kids if you feel like you have to show them or refer to the "notebook" when someone complains that their sister had 5 friends over last month, and they only had 3. It might seem to them as if you are trying to justify yourself?? Additionally, I don't think there is anything wrong with one kid getting more than another occasionally, as long as it washes out in the end. It teaches them how to handle life not always being fair.

So, anyway, I think it will be a wonderful tool and journal for YOU, but my suggestion is to be cautious about how you use it with the kiddos, lest they figure out how to use it against you! :)

By the way, I really like your blog. I added you to my bloglines as soon as I found you. :)

Natalie said...

Love the chore jar idea! Definitely something I will institute. I also had the kids make lists and I was pleasantly surprised at how basic their ideas were--picnics at the park, the pool, hiking. We'll see how eager they are about hiking when the time comes! And knee jerk parenting--sigh. I'll make it a goal to try and stop that this summer. Thanks, Kristie, for putting this out there so we all give it some thought!

PS--I'm still hanging on to the quiet time though.

René S said...

Thanks for summarizing for us. It sounds like you got organized about this, and for me, I think that is one of my downfalls! I can start a system, but keeping it in place is a bit harder. Thanks for making me think about what to do to make this summer a bit less stressful. (My kids aren't out yet, so I'm still ahead of the game.) Here's to more good days and lots of fun together this summer.

Lollyblogger said...

Wow, that all sounds reasonable. You're so organized! My little ones haven't quite worked themselves up to this quandry yet (time outs still work for us) but I've always said I would embarrass the heck out of my kids when they were older.

If one of em' misbehaves, I'm dressing the whole family up in matching Hawaiian shirts and we'll wear them to their soccer game.

Or dinner table manners not up to par? The offender has to wear a rubber chicken hat for the rest of dinner.

With my luck, my whole brood will want a chicken hat. And they love Hawaiian wear. I'm pretty screwed.

alayna said...

I've been wanting to go back and read all the comments from that post to get some ideas too, so thanks for kind of summing it up! One thing we are trying this summer because my kids would be perfectly content to sit and watch TV all day too (and I suck at monitoring it on a consistent basis) is I got them pedometers (my husband and I are wearing them for incentives through our insurance) and every day that they get at least 7000 steps they have unlimited TV and video game usage the next day. If not, no TV or video games. I know that in order to get 7000 steps in even if I give them unlimited TV, they'll have to get moving in order to watch the next day. We'll see how it goes. For now, they seem excited about it - there is also a reward component in that if all of us can get 7000 steps for a week we'll do something fun together (that we'll decide on together) Good luck this summer!

Anonymous said...

I've been following your family since Kendrie's Caringbridge Journal. You have always been one of my favorite Mom's. I know that has nothing to do with anything, but there ya go.

Laura in Michigan said...

You know, I left a comment on the other post, but then my computer froze. So here it is again. When my kids were younger and began fighting, they were given a warning. After one warning, they were made to hold hands, NO MATTER WHERE WE WERE. It was very effective!

RSNA said...

Great ideas....I'm starting the chore jar with Nicholas tonight!
I have a great idea, why don't you all come spend some time with us here in Georgia! The only week we will be gone is 8-13 Jun 09. Always room for great friends!

Susan, Ray and Nicholas

Anonymous said...

I have a friend with 3 boys about the same age span as yours. She uses a version of the chore jar and has no weeds, clean shutters, and the cleanest car in her neighborhood. I'm so jealous!

Now that I'm grown-up and old, I firmly believe there are many right ways to raise kids. I think you're doing just fine.

Off topic, have you read Julianna's CB site lately? Poor dad! :(


Anonymous said...

I hope my posts weren't taken as offensive. I went back to read them and now I am all worried. That is one thing I hate about posting, you can't read tone. I have taken post went one way another and so I am always paranoid, lol.

Anyways, I think you are a fantastic, fun mother who clearly adores her kids. I have got alot of ideas from your blog and will also steal the chore jar, lol.


Anonymous said...

Also wanted to say that my kids *are* outgrowing me in a way, so I guess that is where I was coming from. It makes me sad, and I was in denial but it was a kind friend that gently but bluntly pointed it out to me that made me accept it is also normal. I still get plently of love, but they want to be on their own with friends alot more now:(

And for Bunny in Topeka, 1, my kids are 15, 12, 9 and 7 and I can tell you they *definately* have their moments of sheer brattiness and being "ill behaved". No exaggerating. Even after going to the pool, playing for hours, sleeping well and getting lots of excercise. Granted, they are fewer and farther between compared to the yonger years, but the definately still occur. Perhaps time has diminished your memories, lol, much like the pains of labor?

2. I would never allow a 12 yr old sitter to watch my kids when they were smaller. I don't think people do that anymore.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE the chore jar idea. I am going to make one now.