Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Raising Boys and the Value of Play

I haven't been able to listen to the whole sermon yet from last Sunday because I was in the nursery. We did have the sound from the service through a set of speakers, but it wasn't turned up high enough and I didn't want to be distracted from my baby-holding duties. However, one thing I do remember hearing, was that we should be glad when we are feeling tempted because it means we're doing something the devil really doesn't want us to do.

Well, I guess that applies to my Monday. First of all, it was a Monday. Secondly, it had been raining off and on for a couple days and my two boys were driving me crazy. From the moment they woke up until they went to bed they were disobeying, not listening, tearing things apart, and non-stop fighting. It all culminated with an event (during what was supposed to be rest/nap time) involving a box of tissues, lotion, my glasses case, and a lamp.

Needless to say, I was frustrated. My oldest, at four and a half, had decided time out was just hilarious and wanted my attention anyway he could get it. I sincerely regretted all my bragging and boasting about how I was sure homeschooling would be a breeze. I felt like a terrible mom all Monday evening and after cooking dinner, I just tried to de-stress as much as possible. A decent night's sleep put it into perspective for me, though. The next morning I woke up with a different plan.

Whether or not my children's behavior was good or bad, I had a few things that could affect the overall attitude for our day and I pulled out my arsenal.

  1. Prioritize active play with my kids - This may seem counter intuitive, but to head off a really miserable day where you spend all your time disciplining your kids, spend some in-depth time in the morning playing actively with them (not just being in the same room as them). Some of the games we played Tuesday morning included reading books, yoga, jumping over pillows, and a pillow fight. At first, when the pillow fight was getting out of hand and needed to be over, I was worried we were going to get off on a bad foot again, but by substituting another game, it ended up being an example of positive behavior reinforcement rather than negative and actually that small conflict set a better tone for the day.
  2. Keep my attitude calm while disciplining - When things did start to go bad on Tuesday, I was able to calm myself down and rather than reacting to the situation, I gave calm, clear choices. For example, after the pillow fight I told my son, "We can't hit so hard with these pillows because your brother will get hurt. We can either put the pillows on the floor and play 'hippity-hop' or we can go upstairs and play in your room. 
  3. Positive reinforcement over negative - I knew that I had hurt my child's psyche a bit Monday with comments I made from my own bad attitude (telling him bad idea, he knows better, etc.). So I tried to focus on catching him being good. "Thank you so much for responding right away when I asked you to take that toy back upstairs." and "Thank you for watching out for your brother, if you bumped into him, he could really get hurt." Those types of positive reinforcement need to outweigh negative discipline (i.e. don't hit him, stop it, put that away). If not, the unwanted behavior will actually increase. Negative attention is still attention, and if they aren't getting attention from doing any of the right things, they will keep doing the wrong things.
  4. Pray for better weather - Okay, so this may not be something I can directly control. However, the weather Tuesday was amazing (I actually got sunburned on the top of my shoulders). We ended up spending almost 3 hours outside. Boys are very active creatures, and if they don't get to "shake the wiggles out" outside, they will tear your house apart. I'm assuming that certain girls can be the same way, but my boys will get wild. They love to read and watch TV, but otherwise they have to be moving. They will literally run back and forth in the living room for hours if we are stuck inside. Needless to say, another benefit of playing hard outside is that they both took a great nap! So I was actually able to get more done during the day than I did on Monday, despite the direct investment of time in my kids with active play and outdoor supervision.
On a side note, while I was tempted on Monday to send my oldest to school next year rather than homeschool, Tuesday showed me that I was actually wrong. If they were stuck in school for 6 or 7 hours a day (or more) and then had homework and after school activities, all I would get would be the negative (do your homework, calm down, eat your dinner) because they wouldn't have gotten what they needed at school. I'm never going to tell someone that they should or shouldn't go back to work or be with their kids (I've seen plenty of "at home" parents whose kids would have been better off emotionally if they were in daycare full-time) but it does make me sad when I hear of kids who never get to go outside or spend that quality time with a parent rather than just a caregiver. So, whether you spend 1 hour or 12 hours a day with your kids, try to invest a portion of that time in preventing bad behavior rather than just reacting to it. There will be days that are out of your control, but remember to look for the silver lining even in the hard days. And if you can't see a silver lining, think back to the days when you were just praying and waiting and hoping to see what your child would turn out to be before they arrived (but remember you can't send them back where they came from).
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