Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Focus on the Home

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I think I've been very candid about my struggles with Logan and his behavior.  Ages 2.5 to 3.5 has been rough for us.  He was just so disagreeable, so strong-willed, so stubborn, so grumpy, so unhappy.  I felt like a failure as a mother.  I looked at other 3 year olds I knew and they seemed to be so much better behaved than Logan.  And so much happier.  Why couldn't we get it together?

Daniel and I would regularly have talks that went something like this:

Me:  "Logan is so bad.  What do we do?"
Daniel:  "I don't know."
Me:  "Me neither, but what we're doing isn't working."

And then we'd discuss yelling and spanking and time-outs and bedtimes and TV and sugar and on and on.  But we never really came to a solution.

Until one day Daniel said something to me that changed my perspective forever.

"Maybe if we can't change his behavior, we should just focus on our home.  Making it a happy place and try to eliminate contention."

Lightbulb.

From that moment on, my focus completely changed from trying to change Logan's behavior to changing the feeling in our home.  To making it a happy place, a place that we all wanted to be, a place that we would make family memories together, a place where the Spirit could dwell, a place we could be ourselves and be accepted.  A home.

Of course, this didn't just happen.  I had to consciously change my approach with Logan.  I found this article, which became my basis for dealing with his defiant behavior.  I HIGHLY recommend reading the entire article, but I loved this part in particular:
"Strong-willed kids aren't just being difficult. They feel their integrity is compromised if they're forced to submit to another person's will. If they're allowed to choose, they love to cooperate. If this bothers you because you think obedience is an important quality, I'd ask you to reconsider. Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it's hard. But that doesn't imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because you want to. Morality is doing what's right, no matter what you're told. Obedience is doing what you're told, no matter what's right.So of course you want your child to do what you say. But not because he's obedient, meaning that he always does what someone bigger tells him to do. No, you want him to do what you say because he trusts YOU, because he's learned that even though you can't always say yes to what he wants, you have his best interests at heart. You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility, and is considerate -- and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else."
Yes.  Yes, yes, yes!!  The article goes on to talk about routines and rules and giving options.  All of which I already did, but this attitude totally struck me.  It's not about expecting blind obedience.  It's about training your child to trust your judgment so he wants to obey you.  

Ok, ok.  So what exactly did I change, other than my attitude?  Here's 5 changes that I made in our home that have made a night and day difference in the behavior of my 3 year old:

1.  Morning Family Prayer.  This is by far and away the most important thing I've started doing.  Daniel and I have been listening a lot to our Church's most recent General Conference talks.  Daniel suggested after listening to Tad R. Callister's talk: Parents: The Prime Gospel Teachers of their Children that we begin having morning family prayer together, something that we had never really done in our home.  The next day, Logan was having a huge meltdown about what he wanted to wear (a daily struggle) and I stopped right then and there and said, "We need to pray," dropped to my knees and began to pour my heart out to my Heavenly Father to help heal our home.  At first, Logan was crying and screaming, but as I ended my prayer, he was quietly kneeling next to me with his arms folded.  Then he got up and said, "I guess I can find something else to wear."  I was flabbergasted!!  Now, every morning, we pray.  Sometimes someone is crying and screaming when we begin, but it always ends quietly, with the Spirit present.  I used to pray all the time that Logan would listen and be obedient.  But now I pray for our home.  That those who live here will be happy.  That it will be a place that we all like to be.  That the Spirit will dwell here.  That we will think of the other people who live here before we think of ourselves.  You get the idea.  When I make the focus on the home, Logan doesn't see himself as the problem.  He feels like he can be part of the solution.  He can be more agreeable, more likely to make a deal, throw less fits, and be kinder to his family members.  And including God in the solution helps us all to try a little harder. God answers these prayer.  Oh, how He answers them!!

2.  Remember What You're Really Trying to Achieve  I used to think, "He needs to learn to just do it my way, and learn to listen to me!"  Now I'm trying to compromise more so we can both have it our way.  I'll give you a few examples:

  • One day, Logan wanted fruit loops for breakfast, but he didn't want milk.  I wanted him to have milk because the only reason to have fruit loops is so he can get a little calcium and protein in the morning with the milk, am I right?  The old me would have said something like, "You can't have fruit loops unless you have milk."  I would have poured him a bowl of fruit loops with milk and struggled for a half hour to get him to eat it.  But instead of going that route, I thought to myself, "Is there a way that we can both get what we want?"  So I said, "Ok Logan, you don't have to have milk with your cereal, but will you drink it in a cup instead?"  And he agreed.  Win-win.  This has also worked when he didn't want a peanut butter sandwich but agreed to eat a piece of bread and a spoonful of peanut butter instead.  
  • Another day, we were fighting about what Logan was going to wear.  Again.  He wanted to wear a dirty shirt and shorts (in -29 degree weather).  We had to go to the store later.  The old me would have said absolutely not, forced him to wear clean clothes and pants.  Logan would have cried about it and it would have affected his mood (and mine) all day long.  But this time, I said, Ok.  You can wear what you want but when we go to the store, you have to put pants on and a clean shirt.  When we come home you can change back.  And he agreed.  I had to remind myself, that I don't really care what he wears at home, but when we go out he should probably look presentable and should definitely wear weather appropriate clothes.  I've also made deals that include wearing PJ's under jeans and Church pants and agreeing to wearing some clothes backwards if that's what he wants. 
I guess some people would call this picking your battles, but I think it goes past that.  I still feel like I'm winning, and so does Logan.  I just have to remember it's not about doing it my way.  It's about achieving MY goal, but allowing Logan to do it HIS way.  And going back to point #1, I feel like praying in the morning has made Logan (and me) more likely to compromise, and more agreeable.  

3.  Make New Rules for Recurring Problems If you haven't noticed, some of our recurring problems include clothing, eating, and sleeping.  Those are the big ones.  I am pretty good (I think) about consistently enforcing the rules that we have.  But I realized that while we have rules for not throwing toys and not hitting your sister and washing your hands after you go potty, We didn't have any rules regarding these trouble areas, which was probably the reason they were causing so much trouble.  So I made some new rules.  For clothing, Logan can choose what he wants to wear, but he has to pick something out of his drawer (aka something clean).  And when we go out, he has to wear pants (for now, when it warms up he can wear shorts).  For eating, he has to eat what I pick, but he can eat it the way that he wants.  For sleeping, he he has to wait until his new clock glows green.  So now instead of arguing about if he can wear this or that, or forcing him to eat things he doesn't want to, or getting up at 4:45 am I can just quote the new rules we have.  All moms know that a tired, hungry child is much harder to get along with, so this has definitely helped in that department.  

4.  Give Reasons  I've learned that Logan is not going to accept, "Because I said so."  He is always going to want to know why.  So I've been telling him.  And this has helped me with point #2. Am I really achieving my ultimate goal?  If I don't really have a reason, then maybe I shouldn't be insisting we do it.  When he doesn't want to eat something, explain why that particular nutrient is important to have in his body.  If he doesn't want to wear something (or he does want to wear something) explain why you are insisting that he wear or not wear that.  The other day I honestly told him that I would be a terrible mother and people would think he were homeless if I let him wear that shirt in public.  And you know what... it worked!  I've also learned that I can't wait for him to ask why.  If he's resisting, that is his way of asking why.  That is my invitation to dispel his confusion and explain to him why he can trust me to set reasonable rules that will be for his benefit.  Once he understands the reason why he can or can't do something, he is much more likely to honor that rule in the future.  

5.  Try to Say Yes  One of my role models is President Gordon B. Hinckley's wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley.  She once said, "I tried to never say no if I could possibly say yes."  If I don't want Logan to be disagreeable, I can't be disagreeable either.  A happy home needs to be the focus, so if I need to say yes to some things I would normally say no to, so be it.  This doesn't mean Logan gets everything he wants, or that I don't get what I want.  It means that I respect his desires as well as mine.  A lot of times what he wants is the same as what I want, just in a different way.  Take TV for example.  I say "No" to TV a lot.  I've realized that when I say "Yes" Logan asks to watch it less.  He doesn't really want to watch TV a lot the time he's asking for it.  He's simply asking because it is off limits.  The small things don't matter that much.  A happy home is much more important that anything "the experts" tell us we should be saying no to.  Taking away the contention associated with "No" has actually converged my will with Logan's.  

My change of heart occurred 6 weeks ago.  And the past 6 weeks have been the best we've had since before Reagan was born.  I want them to always want to be here.  To want to bring their friends here, to hang out with mom and dad on the weekends here.  To have a home worth modeling their future homes after.  I want my kids to look back at the time they spent at home with the happiest of memories.  I am thankful to God for opening my eyes while my babies are little so that I could make the necessary changes to create the kind of atmosphere where they can thrive and have a happy childhood.  

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