Ah, the beginning of the school year—the time when our kids are finally forced to remember everything they forgot over the summer.
I don’t know about your kids, but I have observed that mine can be professional forgetters when it comes to many of the lessons I try so hard to teach them. If only teaching attitudes and behavior was as straightforward as teaching the multiplication table. As parents, we have to get pretty creative to present our kids with learning opportunities where the message of what we expect from them really sinks in.
Then again, being creative should be fun.
Not too long ago, my two daughters got in a bit of a rut fighting over the silliest things. They fought over who was going to close the bedroom doors when we left for school in the morning. (What?) They even fought over who got the middle seat in the car. (Who fights over the middle seat?)
Now, “not fighting” was a lesson I had been teaching them since they were little. They were very familiar with my go-to tools: “I’m feeling hassled” (Meaning, for every minute I feel hassled you owe me “hassle time,” which I get to redeem however I see fit) and “Do you need a referee?” (Meaning, you now owe me payment for every minute I stand here and watch you fight). I was still getting them to stop fighting when I used these tools, but their truces became shorter and shorter. It started to make me sad that my girls were becoming so disrespectful, nitpicky, rude, and controlling over things that didn’t matter.
One night, we were driving home from a meeting when the girls started bickering over nothing. In no time, that fifteen-minute trip began to feel like the longest car ride ever.
I really didn’t want to have to launch into another round of “Hey, you guys need a referee?” or “I’m feeling hassled.” What I really wanted was to find a way to send a message to them about the bigger issues at stake here—how their fighting was affecting their parents and their connection with each other.
Thankfully, we had to stop for gas!
My husband, Ben, got out of the car, and I decided to follow him. I turned to the girls and said, “This car is full of ‘no fun’ kids. I need a break. Stay in your seats until we get back.”
They gave me an irritated look and then resumed their ridiculous argument.
I got out, closed the car door, and, on a whim, asked Ben, “You want an ice cream?”
“Sure,” he laughed.
I went into the convenience store, bought an ice cream, and came back out the car. As Ben pumped gas, we shared the ice cream and began to discuss strategies for helping our girls stop fighting and start moving toward connection.
In the middle of this conversation, I snuck a sideways glance through the car windows and saw the girls watching us eat ice cream in front of them. The look on their faces was priceless!
To be clear, I wasn’t trying to be mean or punishing to them. My goal in this moment was twofold:
First, I needed a break—to take care of me!
Second, I wanted to send them message:
I am not a victim of your “no fun-ness.” I require the people around me to be fun. Only fun people get to do fun things with me. Tonight, the fun people are getting to enjoy ice cream, while the no-fun people are not. If you are not going to manage your attitudes, then I will move away from you until you are ready to start doing so.
Ben and I finished our ice cream, opened the car door, and asked, “You guys ready to be fun?”
“Yes!” they yelled.
We hopped back in the car and drove home—in total silence and peace. It was blissful. However, I could almost hear the gears of my kids’ brains grinding behind me: I cannot believe they ate an ice cream without us! What are these people going to do next?
I was sure that some very important thinking was going on back there, and I wasn’t about to interrupt it.
When we got home, we sat the girls down and talked with them about the car ride home. We emphasized that they are powerful people who have a powerful effect on the people around them, and how important it was to us that they choose to protect their relationship and be responsible for the impact they’re having.
Was that the end of their fights? Not exactly. But they have decreased, and the girls have displayed a greater awareness of our expectations and are quicker to adjust when we give them a reminder.
Here’s what I want you to take away:
1) Take good care of yourself. Don’t let crazy kids rob you of your joy and ability to maintain your goal of connection and creating a safe place.
2) Taking care of yourself sometimes means setting a boundary. Despite what your kids might think, boundaries are not you being rude, unfair, mean, or even cruel. Boundaries communicate value. You are teaching them that you have a value for your peace and joy, and a value for managing yourself. Creating a temporary space that communicates, “I need to be over here until you are ready to control yourself,” demonstrates these values and invites them to adopt them for themselves!
3) Be creative! It’s easy for parents who know the LOP material to get in a flow and never branch out. There are hundreds of different and effective ways for you to present your children with wonderful learning opportunities—and to have fun in the process!
Parents, how do you want to have fun in this new school year?