Friday, July 24, 2009

Limiting Myself

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

So much of the focus in the realm of child discipline falls under the category "Setting Limits." (Other categories might include "Communication/Negotiation" and "Managing Emotions.") Usually when I think, talk, or write about Setting Limits, I'm referring to the process of the parent setting a necessary limit for the child.

A recent example of my setting a limit for Morgan is when she wanted to jump all over the sidewalk outside a busy shopping mall, jumping toward traffic. I myself would have had a heart attack if I'd been driving a car and saw a small child jumping TOWARD the street as I was passing by. I set the limit by shooting out my arm reflexively, preventing her from jumping so near the edge of the sidewalk. (She got knocked down, too, which was not my intent--my arm had a mind of its own.) She stayed away from the edge after that!

I'm learning there's another way to set limits that is necessary (not to mention effective) in discipline. And that's when I set a limit on my own behavior.

Sometimes I do this by taking a Mommy Time Out, which is when I'm feeling really mad and verging on getting out of control (for me, this manifests itself in the Ranty Yelling that everyone is so fond of :/ ). So I'll say, uh, loudly, "I'm feeling mad! I'm going to go upstairs and sit in my room until I'm feeling more in control!" This really works for me--I can have a few minutes of peace to regain my composure, get my brain back into problem-solving mode (much more preferable to fire and brimstone mode), and models a good self-control behavior for the kids to boot. I'm getting better at using the Mommy Time Out, and I really don't need to do it very often.

But I'm becoming a fan of a new self-limiting technique: Deciding What I Will Do. When I'm frustrated with a situation--usually something with multiple occurrences over a period of time (spur-of-the-moment problems result in the Mommy Time Out self-limit)--I am learning to refocus my efforts on what I am willing to do, what I can control--my own behavior--as opposed to the kids' behavior.

We've been having issues with getting people all loaded up into the car to go somewhere. Now I usually do try to Find the Funny in these situations, but when I'm having trouble getting out the door a few times a day for several days, the humor wears thin and frustration bubbles to the surface. I begin to anticipate that we WILL have a problem, putting a chip on my shoulder about it before I've even uttered the words "We're leaving in 15 minutes!" (Not a good way to approach a situation where problem-solving may be necessary.)

About a week ago, after a Get in the Car problem was "solved" by my shouting "GET IN THE CAR!!!" I decided to get a grip on MY part of the problem. I actually sat down and asked myself these questions:

Why did I shout?

Because I felt like nobody was listening. Louder = Harder to Ignore, right?

Why is this situation so frustrating to me?

Because I'm repeating myself so many times and we really need to get out the door.

And the most important question: What is something about this situation that is in MY control?

The number of times I choose to repeat myself.

This was quite an epiphany. I do NOT have to repeat myself a zillion times and raise my blood pressure. Seems kind of obvious now. :o)

So what can I do to limit MY behavior?

I thought about this for a while. I decided that I will give up to two reminders. I will do my very best to make sure I have their attention when I give those reminders, but after that, I'm done.

What will happen as a result of this new limit?

It depends on why we need to leave the house. If I say my two reminders and nobody gets in the car, then an obvious result would be that we just don't go. And that is okay, if the person who is dawdling or resisting is the person we're leaving the house for--if we're taking Ryan to taekwondo, for example. If he refuses to cooperate, then he doesn't go.

But it's not fair to Ryan if he has to miss his activity when Morgan is the one who is refusing to get ready to go. In those situations, I decided that I would simply physically put the person in the car (kindly, without yelling or ranting) and we can stay in the car after we reach our destination to recover from the inevitable sadness.

Now when I am the one who needs to do something, such as run an errand, I'll have to evaluate whether or not I'd like to go to the store with one or more kids possibly having a big fit. If I think they will be able to recover from the indignity of being put into the car against their will, then I'll go ahead with the plan. If not, then we won't go. Not fair to me--no. But sometimes preferable to having everyone wigging out when I'm trying to accomplish something, especially if we're in a public place. I can express my feelings about it though. And if we are lacking in favorite snacks because we couldn't get in the car to go to the grocery store, then so be it. And we can always try again a little later, when everyone is in a better frame of mind. Do Overs are always an option.

So this all sounded like a good plan to me when I thought it up. I told Ryan and Morgan about my Only Repeating Things Twice Rule, explaining that two was my upper limit, not a standard (since I don't want them to get in the habit of waiting for that second reminder). They seemed to understand what I was saying about not enjoying losing my temper after being frustrated by constantly repeating myself, and that I was trying to focus on what I could do about that situation. (My Two Reminders Rule goes for other situations, too, not just when we need to load up in the car.)

My new plan was really put to the test the other morning though. Ryan was resisting getting ready for taekwondo, and they were really cutting it close in order to get there on time. The rule is that if any student is more than 5 minutes late to class, that student doesn't get to go. I've actually seen kids get turned away for being too late. To be fair to the students who are in the gym on time, they don't like for there to be interruptions that occur from late-arrivals. This is a rule that all of the students are quite aware of.

Well, Ryan was just fooling around over breakfast that morning and couldn't seem to get his uniform on. Brendan and his mom were going to take him, so I wasn't going anyway. I reminded Ryan once to get his uniform on, once, twice, and nearly a third time before I remembered my limit. WOW. Was it HARD not to say anything else! Brendan came through with a couple of other reminders--but that's up to him, how many times he reminds.

I did mention the 5 minute rule (that being a different reminder than the uniform reminder). I mentioned it only once to Ryan though. After that, I sat and squirmed and fought against my desire to do almost anything to make sure he made it to class in time. I was surprised at how much I wanted Ryan not to miss taekwondo. I knew he would be sad if he was turned away, and no parent enjoys seeing their child sad about something.

Still. I didn't say anything. They did get out the door and made it to class, barely in time. Now that I've had practice at not saying anything, and the experience of the overwhelming desire TO say something so that the kid will get what he wants, I think I'll be better prepared to keep to my personal limit and let the consequences fall where they may. I suspect he'll have to experience missing class at least once, and that will be hard, but it will be his decision and his responsibility.

It was a funny situation because I am usually so grumpy about repeating myself. When I'm in a Grumpy Moment, I really don't care if somebody misses something. But since I prevented myself from getting to the grumpy point, I had the opportunity to be all sympathetic. Strange feeling. So hard not to give them what they want and let them have what they need. [Insert Rolling Stones here.]

This thinking about my own limits has been a good exercise for me. I like doing it because it helps me focus on MY needs, which I sometimes forget to do in the shuffle, which adds to the grumpiness. And it helps the kids realize that I have needs. If I don't speak up and tell them "This is what I'm going to do because I want/need something...." then they will probably not realize that I even have needs or desires.

Because in their view--and this is only kind of a joke--I'm MOM, not an actual person. :o) Now I know the baby doesn't understand this distinction, having only recently grasped the idea that he and I are separate entities, but the other two are beginning to get that Mom-as-such is not who I am. I am Jenn, who happens to be their Mommy. I know it's a hard distinction and it may very well take each of them reaching adulthood to fully realize it, but they're not going to get it if I never mention it!

Now, shortly after I figured all of this Setting My Own Limits thing out on my own, my Positive Discipline Parenting Tool Cards arrived in the mail! If you don't recall, this is a little deck of 52 cards, each describing or defining a Positive Discipline principle. The Tool Cards were developed by Jane Nelsen and Adrian Garsia and are brand new. (I get nothing from mentioning these--just passing along the info!) The idea is that you choose one card about once a week and focus on improving that particular parenting skill. Not that you don't use other PD techniques, of course.

So I was flipping through the deck of cards and whaddya know? One of the cards is called: "Decide What You Will Do." The principle on the card is:

"Decide what you will do instead of trying to make children do what you want them to do."

And that's what I did! So this particular idea has been my parenting focus for the last few days. I think what I'll do is share with you which idea I'm working on improving, and talking about it a little bit on the blog. It will help me retain this focus, and since writing on the blog is a way for me to introspect about my particular parenting experiences, I think making this exercise into a semi-regular blog feature will serve me well. Because I have needs, too!!!! :o)

So--thoughts on the Setting My Own Limits thing? I have other techniques that will help us get out the door, too--using the kitchen timer as the Keeper of Time will help, for example.

Also, what about the PD Tool Card semi-regular feature? I've got a whole stack of cards with issues I certainly could improve on. What I was thinking of doing is sharing the idea on the card first, and then do a follow up post with my successes and failures.

And now I'm off to tackle the other things on my To Do list!

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