Over the last few weeks, my bright eyed and beautiful 10 and 12 year old children seem to have figured out a few tricks. When I ask them if they’ve, for example, put their clean clothes away, finished their homework, cleaned up their room, they each respond with a very quick “yes”. This, for the moment, gets me off their backs and gets them on their way to heading outside, playing on the computer, watching tv, etc. For many parents, including myself, a “yes” means it’s been done. Imagine my horror when on many different occasions, I have discovered that – GASP – it’s not done! My kind, thoughtful, funny, loving children – LIED TO ME. My responses to this have involved yelling, banning iPods, tv, computer, and playing with friends. I’ve sent them to bed earlier, looked for apologies, and expressed my anger (like a crazy person I might add) on many occasions.
Now, as a clinician, I know this to be normal behavior for kids around this age. They are testing limits, and getting more creative with it. As a mom, it’s heartbreaking. This behavior does not exemplify who my kids are – or who I expect them to be. Yet, I was allowing it to continue. My responses were as out of control as their behaviors were.
Fast forward to this week, where I am pulling my hair out trying to get my house under control. I am running around in the morning getting everyone out the door, barking directions – “get everything off your floor”, “get all your clothes hung up and put away”, “put this in the basement storage”… everyone gets on their merry way. I head upstairs to their rooms to make sure everything got done. In one room, I find shoes and clothes on the floor – plus my pet peeve – dresser drawers hanging open. In another room I walk in and everything looks good. Bed made, no clothes on the floor. But then, I take a closer look. Hidden behind the 20 different varieties of pillows, stuffed, animals, and pillow pets are stacks of folded clean clothes. Shoved into the side pockets of his closet behind his dress shoe boxes – folded clean clothes.
Are. You. Kidding. Me?!!!! *&@# this!
Now pay attention people: The only way to change the behavior of someone else is to change the way you react to it. This is one of the very best things I learned early on in my family therapy training. You have the power always. You are the parent. No matter how crazy things get, you are the one with the power. You are the one able to facilitate change in your child. I had just forgotten that for a bit. Obviously, the way I was addressing it was not working. I needed to shift the power in the household.
At that point I made the call that this crap is going to stop. I repoed their rooms. Yep. I spent the next half hour emptying each of their rooms of all of their precious belongings. I took out blankets, stuffed animals, legos, trophies and pictures. I took down photos and items hung on their walls. I took out their clock radios and replaced them with a simple alarm clock. I wiped them out. I left only two pillows each, a lamp, an alarm, and their books – because Lord knows they aren’t dying to read. I was secretly hoping they’d become desperate enough to pick up a book:)
Then I went downstairs and wrote this for them:
It’s a funny thing, but just like that, the clothes got put away, the dishes and kitchen were cleaned after dinner, and there was a little less fighting last night. I changed my behavior, shifted the power, and created a culture (at least for the time being – nobody’s perfect) of focusing on what they are doing right, rather than what’s going wrong. They also knew I was serious because it was a calm, planned, and organized response – a completely different reaction from the yelling, screaming, and “I’m disappointed in you” speeches on which I’d been relying.
The change in my behavior also helped the boys to relax as well. I have realized that much of the lying was probably a defense they used to avoid hearing me go off about what hasn’t been done – as well as a way to avoid consequences. Now, there’s no discussion. Either it’s done or it’s not. They also know that if they don’t put the effort in, they are not going to reap any benefits. Just like in the real world. I’m not saying that this is going to make everything better, but it certainly has helped all of us to get back on track.