Question: I’ve recently stopped working and am now staying at home fulltime. I have a 3-year-old and an 8-year-old. My oldest child doesn’t listen to me when I tell him what to do. He ignores me when I say it’s his bath time or homework time. The only time he responds is when I get really angry and lose control, which I regret later. When I’ve cooled down, he repeats all the things that set me off. I’ve tried talking to him gently, patiently but he just seem to push me to my limits. I’m beginning to burn out and am feeling very helpless with two active boys, at the moment. Can you help?
Answer: You have had quite a few changes in your household lately that have caught your family unprepared. Everyone’s routines have changed, including yours, leaving everyone more unsettled and more experimental with pushing the limits.
First, create a schedule that works for you. Your obligations, from work to school to full time “housewife”, have changed dramatically. Work and school probably added interesting structure to your day while being home full time can seem monotonous and routine. Find ways to do the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and errands that are less tedious. That might mean grouping as much as possible in one long day and getting it over with or it might mean doing the “chores” a little each day. Balance the chores with other times in your day doing things you enjoy alone and with your children. Try to get to new places like the museums, parks, and local events. This is your holiday too!
Second, create a viable routine for the children. Set clear expectations for children’s responsibilities. For example, the 3 year old might need to cleanup his room before going to bed. Feel free to give the children one or two non-judgmental reminders to help with absent-mindedness. Discuss the “schedule” together. Will it be better for everyone to do the chores right after breakfast? Then you will have more control over their completion. You can remind them “no TV or books until after the chores are done”. Ask them what they like to do in a day and use those ideas as the incentive to get the chores done. Try to remove the drudgery for them. They should respond well to “getting what they want” and still contributing to the family.
Plan in advance of consequences. Irresponsibility, laziness and absent-mindedness are not acceptable behavior, even for your 3 year old. The consequences just need to be age appropriate for the different ages. In the beginning, you may have to join the children while they do their chores to set the new routine in a positive light. Start with the expectation that this will be fun and successful. If the children start to “test” your seriousness, plan to set reasonable consequences. If your 3 year old does not pick up his toys before bedtime, they get put in a box out of the way for the rest of the week. If your 8 year old does not do his homework, he loses a privilege. Plan in advance how you will keep calm – leave the room, count to 100, flap your arms like a chicken (better warn the children if you pick the last one!). Let the children know you will all work together to make things better.
Give the children ways to release those bothersome emotions like grouchiness and moodiness. They aren’t use to having you home. They may be confused by your anger. Talk about feelings and what they CAN do when they are mad or grouchy.
Build in family time. Be sure to find time together to really enjoy one another’s company again. Turn off the TV. If you older son enjoys reading, grab your book and read in the same room. Bake a cake or make a pizza with anything they want on top! Being a family isn’t easy these days – sometimes you just have to play at it!
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.