Ever get a feeling your days are starting to look like a scene out of a bad reality show?
I remember a time when every morning felt like that!
My daughter was just about 3 years old then.
My in-laws were visiting us.
I have no idea why, but my daughter had started to really act out. She seemed to resist, fight and demand that everything must go her way. But the mother of all battles was about what clothes to wear. Every. single. morning.
Summer was long gone, and the cold winter was settling in. But she was not ready to give up her favorite summer frocks yet. She had declared war on every coat, jacket, leggings, full-sleeved shirts or winter dresses that we owned. NOT fun.
After a couple of weeks of begging, pleading, bribing, screaming, crying, tantrums and threats – every single morning – we were all worn out.
To me this was a double whammy. I was not just frustrated with my inability to dress her up in weather appropriate clothing, I was also eternally embarrassed about the daily spectacle that my in-laws got to witness.
And then one day, my father-in-law had a suggestion.
Now honestly, I can be a butt-head about accepting advice, especially from in-laws, especially if I felt that it questions my parenting abilities.
But seriously, I had no defense – any semblance of my parenting capabilities lay tattered on the floor and besides, my father-in-law is the sweetest man in the world.
So I decided to take his advice which was pretty simple – set out the clothes for the next morning on the night before, so hopefully the drama plays out in the night when things are not so rushed, instead of the morning.
I actually had no expectations that it would work. I knew this just meant we would end up having two dramas – one on the night before, and one in the morning.
I was right — at first we did end up having two dramas. But my father-in-law wouldn’t give up. And his persistence paid off. Slowly, a new routine emerged. Here’s how it went –
Every night about 10 minutes before it was time for bed, grandpa would ask her if she had the clothes for the next day picked out. He would pick a moment when she was really involved in some game or the other. I would tell her that it was time to go to bed, but if she picked out her clothes by the time I counted to 10, she could get a 10 minute extension.
We would sometimes have disagreement about what she picked but I continued to count through it and thanks to her impatience to get back to play and the temptation of the 10 minute extension, we would generally reach a quick agreement.
A couple of times in the morning she threw a fit and refused to wear what she had picked out, but those nights, we held fast to the policy that she wouldn’t be getting the extension and took her to bed 10 minutes earlier, even if it meant having to deal with a meltdown.
After the initial bumps, the new routine was accepted!
It’s been close to 2 years now, and we still follow it. Smooth nighttimes, and smooth mornings. Can you ask for anything more from life? 🙂
It was a bit of an ‘aha’ experience for me. I made me see the value in preplanning and its role in preventing explosive situations. The need to swallow pride and accept advice. The process of creative evolution required to find something that works for all of us.
The pre-planning/prevention mindset and habit doesn’t always come easy. It takes some time and effort to get into, but the results are usually so worth it.
Here are some of the lessons I learnt about prevention/pre-planning –
1. Avoid or plan around as many known triggers as possible
With our daughter, as with most kids I suspect, the most common triggers for tantrum are if she is hungry, tired or close to sleep time. The next big trigger, which played out in this situation, is any sort of transitions. When we avoid these or plan around them so she is given ample time to adjust, I have found out that it is much easier to avoid explosive situations.
2. Give them control
When I started letting my daughter choose her own clothes, we ended up with some very interesting combinations of clothing. They were so interesting in fact, that I was at times tempted to pretend that I was just an aunt in charge of this child for the day…. but hey, there were no arguments, and who knows, maybe she will audition for the Next Fashion Star, someday 😉
3. Accommodate your child’s wishes if reasonable
I squandered away the wonderful opportunity during the transition period between summer and winter when the weather was starting to cool down, but it was not quite cold yet. With my in-laws watching me, I felt the stress to show that I was in charge. What I ended up in was a lot of power struggle that pushed my daughter’s resolve to refuse to wear the cold weather clothes. This was such a lost opportunity since I had the perfect chance to empathise with her wishes and slowly transition her to the new wardrobe.
4. Be open minded
Sometimes you just can’t see the forest for the trees. When you are in a rut, give up your pride and listen to well-intended advice. You may not think it works, but give it a whole-hearted try anyway. You never know what might come out of it unless you try!
5. Get creative, evolve
Your first attempt may not quite pan out as you hoped, but tweak your approach until you figure out something that works. By timing the request to choose her clothes, by putting a deadline on how much time she had to pick them out, and by offering an incentive for doing the task, we were able to find a system that in my opinion is just perfect.
6. At first, it requires discipline. In the end, it’s just another habit
We had to really remember to get her to pick out her clothes every single night (how lucky I was to have my in-laws here to remind me! 😉 ) We had to enforce the “no extension because you did not keep your end of the deal” a few times. But in the end what came out is a wonderful habit that has sustained the test of time.
And as always, give yourself the permission to fail, but never the permission to quit. If one thing did not work, just move on to figure something else that does.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
If you just read and do nothing about it, nothing will ever change. We are in this journey together to break some of old habits and create some new ones. All the articles will include some kind of an action plan to keep us on track. To get the best out of the time you spend on this blog, try consciously to take some action (it need not be something I list, but as long you do take some action that helps you make progress, it’s all good!).
So, today’s immediate action plan is to answer some of these quick questions –
- What is the one contentious situation that plays out over and over in your house?
- Why does your child do this? Can you accommodate your child’s wishes in some way? (Remember, even partially accommodating them is better than total rejection.)
- How can you prevent this situation from playing out the next time?
You don’t have to answer these questions out loud… they are here to get your thought process started. That said, I do find that for me, personally, putting things down in writing really helps clarify a situation. So, I would highly recommend you see if that works for you too. Jot your answers down in the comment box below and it may result in a revelation not just for yourself, but for some of us as well! What you write here not only makes your thoughts more concrete and attaches some kind of accountability, but also has the power to influence others who read it. So, go ahead, give it a try.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Through the little exercise above, you may have identified the one situation that causes the most stress in your household. Or maybe you came up with a list of several. If it is the latter, then pick one instance. At the beginning it’s much easier to make progress and succeed if you focus your attention on just one situation. After you tackle one, it will be a lot easier to get to the others.
If you don’t have any situations like this – either you are really doing great already, or need to keep looking. If it the former, Congratulations! Keep on doing what you are already doing. And drop a note below with tips on how you have achieved it – we will all be very thankful to learn from you! If it is the latter, make sure you have looked at all aspects of your daily life – eg., bedtime battles, sibling rivalry, the morning routine, chores, spending habits, screen time (TV/Internet/video games etc), time with friends, healthy eating habits, homework, etc.
Spend the next week to figure out a way to avoid this one situation. Get creative. Try different options.
I promise you, if you approach it wholeheartedly and with a strong resolve, the situation will start to melt away right before your eyes. Preventing power struggles with kids isn’t as hard as we think! Good luck!