Towards the end of the school year, I started to struggle with my kids' "naughty" behaviors. They were constantly "fresh talking" to me, they were heavily engaged in "selective hearing", and they were having way too many afternoon meltdowns. To be honest, I was at my wits end. I thought I was losing my mind – and I'm pretty sure my kids thought they were losing it too. Sadly, with all of this chaos flying around, I turned into a "Horrible Mommy" who "Did Nothing But Yell" and was "Always Mean" to her kids. To hear my children say that about me broke my heart, especially because I didn't see it happening until it was almost too late.
As a mom, I find that I often struggle between knowing what is right and what is wrong – and as much as I'd love to say that I'm a Super Star Mom, I'm not. I have my good days, but I also have my fair share of the "Oh my God, did I really just do that?!" days where I'm ashamed of the way that I've handled a situation. However, these "Horrible Mommy" moments are important to me because they remind me that I am only human; as such, I am open to making mistakes, and as long as I learn something from them, I'm okay with it.
After my children pointed out that my husband and I were spending more time yelling than praising them, I knew we needed to change – FAST – which is how we came to our idea for the "Good Deeds Chart". There was no real hard science behind it, we just knew that we needed to stop the yelling. So we decided that if we focused on the positive things our children were doing instead of only pointing out the "bad" things they were doing, our family would be able to get back on track.
The rules were pretty simple. When you do good things, you get stickers. And when you fill up your chart with stickers, you get to decide what our family does for an entire day. No strings attached (unless you're asking someone to eat something that would make them throw up). Oh, and the most important rule was: once a sticker had been earned, it could never-ever be taken away as a punishment for a not-so-desirable behavior.
The kids were pretty psyched at the idea of being able to "rule the family for one whole day", so we set about making our sticker charts. I'd love to say that they were gloriously crafted, Pinterest-worthy charts, but that would be lying. Like I said a few moments ago, we needed to stop the yelling ASAP, so I asked the kids to pick out a piece of construction paper and decorate the top of it with stickers. Then I made a bunch of boxes on each chart – and taped it to the wall – under a picture that my daughter drew of her and her brother. That's it – and a new system was in place.
The kids only earned stickers for "good deeds" and only if they were genuine and from the heart. Stickers could be earned for helping Dad carry in the garbage pails (without being asked), playing nicely with each other, being kind to people, feeding the dogs or brushing the cat…the list goes on. They had many boxes to fill – I think it was 30 – but our kids get up at 6:30 AM and don't hit the sack until 7:30 PM, so they really needed to earn their 13 hours of fun!
Now this hasn't solved all of our problems – nor was it meant to. It was just meant to help my husband and I be better, more sensitive parents to our growing children's needs, wants and emotions. It was also meant to help our children re-evaluate the type of person they wanted to be. And we all learned that if paid very close attention to what our hearts and guts were saying, we'd almost always make the better choice.
Now, instead of being angry, I focus on how good they are and just watch the amount of stickers grow. And when they're naughty, I look at the chart too – to remind myself that their little minds and emotions are growing. Breakdowns, fresh talking and selective hearing are all par for the course of parenting – and they're not attacks on me, as a parent. It's just that my children are not equipped yet to express themselves as adults – nor should they be – not for many, many years.
As I continue to babble, I'm proud to note that both of my children earned their "Special Days" this over the summer. Our son earned his first, and only a screenshot of my Facebook page could truly show how proud we were:
To see him so proud of his accomplishment was all I needed to know that we are on a better track for improving our parenting skills. We know that not every day is going to be perfect, but that's okay. As a family, we will continue to wade the murky waters of growing up and simply do the best we can – always knowing that we love and respect one another – in both our accomplishments and our failures.
Go hug your kids, Denine
P.S. In the spirit of being truthful, our daughter's "Special Day" was full of hits and misses, mostly because she finished hers the day before we left for my husband's Ironman Mont Tremblant race and we were very stressed, but also because she's two years younger, and it was a very long (and exciting) day.
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