Q: I am a mother of 3 children, 9, 7, and 3. My concerns are that my 9 yr old and 7 yr old fight constantly! Neither of them know how to communicate with me or each other without whining. My second concern is with my 3 yr old. I can't take him anywhere. He does not listen at all! He screams, yells, hits, and won't sit still, not even to eat a meal. And eating is another issue. He doesn't like to eat anything! I am feeling like I lost all control with my children and I have no idea how to bring peace and order to my home. I am frustrated and clueless at this point. I would love some useful advise!
A: Well, good gravy - it sounds like you're in one heck of a spotl!! I'm so sorry about the difficulties - and I totally understand. My children are spaced out in age almost exactly the same and it is so hard to juggle all their needs.
Okay, here's the deal. The buck stops and starts with you, so whatever it is you are doing to handle things, let's step back and reset. I'm sure you're about to pull all of your hair out, but until YOU start changing, they won't! So - here's what you need to do to start turning things around:
1. Stay calm. No yelling, no threatening, no spanking...don't do anything that gives them negative attention.
2. Make sure they are each getting positive attention - if they are not, they will do anything and everything to get your attention - even if it means you yelling.
3. Do not tolerate any whining. When they whine, stop them immediately. Calmly say, "We do not whine. You may ask/say..." then procede to SHOW them exactly what you want. Say the exact words in the exact tone you are looking for. Model for them!! They do not know until you show them. Just saying "no whining" gives them no guidance on what you DO want. Calmly show them. When they fight, always give guidance on how to handle the situation and what they should say to each other. Act it out if you have to - "Kara, I want you to say to your brother, 'I don't like it when you take my books.' And John, you say, 'Alright, I'm sorry.'" It's daily, nonstop, and horribly tiresome, but they have to have constant guidance and modeling on what you want to see.
4. They must learn to respect each other and you. Model, show, guide! All the time.
5. Everyone needs a good dose of my Five Basics: Structure, Communication, Limits, Consistency, and Guidance. It is detailed in my book and creates an environment of trust, security and control. You, as mom, have to provide them with these Five Basics to set up a complete positive environment.
For your 3 year old:
First of all...the Five Basics again. He absolutely needs a structured environment (a set schedule so he knows what comes next and what to expect), an appropriate method of communication so he can let you know how he feels, limits so he feels secure, consistency so he feels safe and in control, and guidance on how to do ALL this. Guidance on how to act, what you want, what he is supposed to say and do. It sounds like he does not have this structure and he is begging for your attention. It can easily spiral into "Don't do this!, Don't do that!, Stop it!, Cut it out!..." and so on. This gives him A) negative attention - which we absolutely do NOT want and B) no idea how you DO want him to act. You need to show him...eighty million times a day. And he has to have consequences to his negative behavior that DENY him what he is looking for (your negative attention). That means time outs (the how-to's are in my book - it needs to be done correctly or it won't work). Time outs simply let him know that he can't act that way, and if he does, it doesn't work to get him what he wants. Once you start changing YOUR reaction to his behavior, the behavior will change. He is doing it based on what he knows you will do, and based on the simple fact that he doesn't know how else to act. He is constantly being reinforced for this behavior, so he keeps it up. So if you stop reinforcing, and CONSISTENTLY show him a different way to go about getting what he wants, the behavior will change for the better. All of this is detailed in the book, following the TAG method (Toddler ABC Guide). It teaches you how to stop reinforcing the behavior. We do it all the time and don't even realize it!!
Girl, I know you are hurting, angry, and confused and I am so, so sorry. But you CAN do this - absolutely, without a doubt, I'm sure you can. You just need some guidance on how. And you have to stay consistent, firm, and loving. It is SO hard with all the other nonsense we have to deal with just living life, but your kids need you - and we have to honor that gift we've been given!!
You hang in there and do your best to turn things around in your house. Start showing everyone how they SHOULD act - remember: model, show, guide. All the time!
Michelle Smith, M.S., SLP