Some days are longer than others. I don’t know about you, but during this Corona Virus home stay lock-down most days blend into each other and the hours stretch looong. Now that we’re all stuck together 24/7 with no reprieve, without our usual outlets of school or social life, we’re all getting a little wiggy. Both kids are trying to let off steam, and sometimes it means they start exercising their annoyance skills. Whether it’s bugging the poop out of each other, or pushing as many of my buttons as they can to get a reaction, it’s often very hard to keep my calm. However, this is the best time to practice one of my own idioms: Choose Your Battles.
You’re the leader of this unruly bunch, and you have to use your authority. How? By not using it.
Let’s Think Of This From A Kid’s Perspective
If they are feeling out of control, which during this unprecedented time is understandable, they’re going to want to regain some of that control. The authority figure – you – are their gatekeeper. You are the one telling them that they can’t go outside. You are preventing them from hanging out with their friends. Their normal routine has vanished, completely and suddenly, and they’re adrift.
They need boundaries, but sometimes in order to feel like they have some control over situations, they need to push those boundaries. Sometimes it’s to make sure they are there to stay safe. Sometimes it’s to try to take some authority back to themselves. Really depends on their age and maturity level.
Makes sense so far, right? (Dear gods, I’m not ready for teenagers yet.) Okay, so let’s take this further.
If safe boundaries are what they need, but they’re feeling a little cramped, they’re going to lash out. It could start small, like refusing to do small chores that they usually do, and manifest into full on melt-downs. Now, we’d like to avoid the latter but it’s possible they’ll get there. After all, you’ve lost your temper once or twice I’m sure.
However, YOU are the leader here. Not them. Which means you have to keep restraint of your reactions as much as possible. Your anger is righteous, and you can’t devalue it by screaming at every little argument. You’ll get nothing but exhaustion, tears and frustration from everyone, and you will have lost some authoritative credit.
Use Your Authority Like A Boss
Remember how I said that they best way to use your authority is to not use it? Now that we have some context, let’s expand this to mean: don’t use your authority unnecessarily. Choose your battles.
If you blow your top for every little annoyance, the kids will learn that they have control over your reactions. Think of the stereotypical Principal – the always over-reacting goofball that no one takes seriously. You don’t want that reputation. You are a Queen or King of this family, and you deserve their respect. So own it.
There will be times when it’s really not worth it, so don’t react to it, no matter how much you want to.
Okay, Gimmie Some Examples
My little girl is truly a warrior. She is a head-strong, determined bundle of fierce when she puts her mind to it. Her record tantrum is 45 minutes long – that was at 2 years-old. I’ve been learning how to work with her, not against her. At her age, her emotions can take over all rational thought – so it’s my job as the parent to be the calm, rational brain she can’t tap into. Which means that I have to recognize when my hackles are up just because hers are, and whether it’s really worth fighting over.
I’ve learned that instead of fighting with her to put on her jacket when it’s snowing outside isn’t worth it – she wants control, she can have it. I’ll just bring the coat along for when she decides that she’s cold enough to wear it.
This translates into so many different occasions. She really wants to bring Angry Baby* to school? She can – as long as she’s kept in the office all day. She insists on painting her entire body? No problem! As long as she has a bath afterwards.
Overall result, happier mommy, happier kid, and we’ve successfully laid down mutual lines of respect. Plus, there’s the added bonus of learning about consequences. See what I mean about being good on the mental load!
*Angry Baby is a very scary realistic doll which Warrior fell in love with, and deserves her own post.
Fine, But What About School-Age Children?
Same approach, but with more patience. Little’s really have no control over their emotions as their brains are so underdeveloped. School ages children have an advantage – their reasoning capacities are expanding – as are their tactics for getting under your skin. My 8 year-old has already started using sarcasm and eye-rolling at my boundaries. It irks me, let me tell you, but it’s also making me dig deep into reserves I didn’t know I had. By not reacting to his every huff, I’m actually increasing in his admiration – or, at least in my role as a parent.
So when I’ve given him plenty of warnings, insisting on the line that he’s toeing, I’m keeping my cool. When he finally does cross that line, that’s when the authority comes down – firmly, sometimes angrily, but real. That’s when he knows that he’s taking things too far and he turns into a young child again, weeping his apology. Then I can turn from stern authority figure into loving mommy again, and hold him through it.
Choose Your Battles
You only human. You only have so much patience, energy or empathy. So be wise with it. Keep it for when it’s worth it. Little one bouncing on couches? Meh. Running pell mell into the street? Absolutely let rip! Bigger one making poop and butt jokes constantly? Let it slide. Being deliberately disrespectful? Let those dogs out.
You’re who they look up to and emulate. If you flail every time they flail, how can they depend on you as their rock? However, if you keep yourself steady as they go through the ripping tides of emotional upheaval, they they fell safe. And then when you lose your s**t, they know there’s something really wrong and to listen tight. However, it’s up to you to dictate what battles are really worth fighting.
Be a good leader, and save your strength. You’ll probably need it.