Sometimes the most stressful, pulling-your-hair-out moments with kids can be quickly mitigated through strategies that are a little outside the box. When we are out as a family and we meet people and have the obligatory conversation about how we have so many kids who look so close in age, we hear 2 things the most often: 1. "Boy, you have your hands full." 2. "How do you guys do it?" Well, my wife and I both have our own ways and the kids need both approaches. Here are a few strategies that work for me (most of the time).
1. Incorporate music into mundane activities:
I've been a music lover since I can remember. Early on in my childhood we used to spin 45's of "Walk Like an Egyptian" by the bangles and "Lean on Me" by Club Nuveau over and over and over and over, as loud as it would play. Both of my parents were musical and all of us played an instrument through Jr. High so having some sort noise echoing through the house was standard. When CD's came on the scene, it was a huge deal to get my first boom box. As I grew into Jr. High, I played alot of Elvis, Michael Jackson and MC Hammer. I also got my hands on some of my older brothers' music as well; I'd be ripping Bel Biv DeVoe, Young MC and Sir Mix A Lot when my parents weren't home. I played music in my room in the morning, in the bathroom when I was showering, while I was completing chores and I especially loved bumping tunes outside while we spent countless hours playing home run derby, football or hoops. We played all the time and I always brought my boombox.
I haven't changed much into adulthood, music accompanied my life through college, professional baseball and my offseason job on the construction site. I still play music all day long. If you follow me on instagram you can always hear it during my stories, I play it while I cook, exercise, get ready in the morning and also whenever I'm doing something with the kids. Music is a powerful tool! It has the ability to create atmosphere, change moods and divert attention. When I want my kids to feel positive about something, like distracting them with play when they're tired but we have an hour until bed time, or when they're cleaning their rooms, picking up toys, fetching eggs or working outside. "Let's get some music going and get to it!" Once those tunes start coming out of my Bose wireless speaker the kids perk up immediately, they can't deny the groove!
For a kid, there is a huge difference between making your bed alone in silence and making your bed, at the same time as your siblings with your dad and "Black or White" by Michael Jackson. You can either segregate your crying, whiny kid by putting them in time out or you can carry them into another room and console them to the soulful sounds of Kenny G. Do not underestimate the power of music in your kid's lives, it has the ability to change their moods, get them moving, inspire them to create and get things done. Keep a wireless speaker on hand, download playlists from their favorite movies and go with less TV and more music, less Ipad and more Steely Dan, less sitting on the couch and more dancing as a family!
2. Use your timer on your phone/watch:
As a parent, it sometimes feel like you spend alot of your time shouting requirements and threats, tasks and time frames. "You've got 10 seconds," "Two more minutes then it's bed time!" "I want you out of the bath in 5 minutes." Kids will push the limits constantly, to see if you remember, if you're keeping track, if you mean what you say and it's easy to forget what you said wanted done and how quickly you wanted it completed!
It takes youngsters years to understand the concept of time – this is why they say things like "will that take a million hours?" That relationship between numbers, minutes and hours is very difficult to grasp.
One strategy I use that works consistently is the setting of timers. When the kids know the clock is literally ticking, they comply much more effectively when the buzzer goes off. If you have a phone or a smart watch you have a timer. Next time you need to set a parameter on something, just ask Siri or Alexa do it for you and see how the kids react when the time goes off. There is something about knowing the timer has it handled that kids understand, it is finite, black and white, when the timer goes off its time do what dad asked. It also works for time outs or quiet time and it allows you to tell more truth, to be more dependable and consitent. When you say quiet time is going to be 30 minutes and they see you ask Siri to set your timer for that same frame, it becomes set in stone, no need to debate about it. If you want to take some of the variability out of the demand and compliance ratio with your kids, try using the timer you have in your pocket 90% of the time.
3. Change of scenery:
As our kids grow up they're starting to look more like quadruplets and their energy when they're happy or unhappy is astonishing to witness. Even the best kids get out of control from time to time. They also go through phases where they are all over the place emotionally, they have bad days, rough afternoons and bad mornings. These moments can occur at home, in the car or in a restaurant, you don't dictate when and where. In those times, I've learned that the same old time out strategy or yelling or threatening just doesn't work. Instead, what I do, is change the child's scenery. Whenever possible, I physically remove them from the environment in which they are struggling and change their scenery to an outdoor environment. This allows the child and I to get away and talk about, experience and appreciate natural beauty in the form of trees, stars, wind and water. In my experience, they are capable, right in the middle of their selfish struggle, of quickly switching to an attitude of amazement and gratitude when given the opportunity.
We know how powerful environment is as adults, use it to your advantage with your kids. Next time you're at home or a birthday party or another family's house and you're dealing with a kid who is just having a tough time try removing them to the outdoors and talking to them about the big picture, life on earth, the beauty of creation, the feeling of the breeze. Often times this requires you putting on their coat or their shoes and this may seem like a lot of effort. My question is: how badly do you want that kid's attitude to improve?
The next time you've got a kid who is struggling, change their scenery, get them outside and talk to them about the big picture; you'll discover they can shift their attitude very quickly, they just need you to get them in an environment that helps them do that. Take that little moment outside together and when you re-join the party, dinner or gathering you'll see the difference.
4. Distraction through sensation:
Boy, kids can get worked up. When they're really in it, falling on the floor, screaming, sweating, completely losing it; it can be so stressful because it takes them such a long time to calm down physically and come back to earth. One strategy I use when one of my 4 is off the rails is distraction through sensation. When they are worked up, hot and angry I'll take them into the bathroom, while they're flailing, get their shirt off and just gently wipe them down with a wash rag, that sensation of cool water on their skin helps them pause. In the hot months I use one of my favorite products, osage rub, which is an old school musk/menthol liquid on a rag to help them cool down, the smell and cooling sensation provides a great distraction. The sensation of a parent's hand rubbing their back can do wonders as well. Essential oils are a growing remedy as well.
Try to remember that kids don't understand their own emotions and feelings, when they get down the road of emotional and physical chaos they have a hard time recovering, they forget what they got so worked up about to begin with. Think about what physical sensation you may be able to use to distract them from the chaos and help bring them back. Can you cool them down, warm them up, give them goosebumps or engage their senses in a unique way? This is so much more effective than isolating them or yelling. Be creative, use what you have and try to distract your out of their mind kids with sensation whenever possible.
5. Keep your kids informed and prepared by laying out: "Here's how this is gonna' go."
Whether we are getting ready to head into the grocery store, enter a birthday party or starting a long road trip, I have found that clearly laying out the short-term schedule and your expectations goes a long way in dictating how the event will play out.
One example of how a pre-target-run conversation might go:
"Okay children (yes I talk that way), before we get out of the car I need you to understand that we are only here to pick up a few things for our Super Bowl party. We will give you some time to look at the toy aisle after we've gotten everything we need. We aren't buying you anything but you can have some fun looking. The little twins are riding in the cart, the big twins are walking. DOES EVERYBODY UNDERSTAND?" After I've received eye contact and confirmation that they all heard me loud and clear, I would ask if they have any questions about why we're at Target, how long its going to take or anything else.
I do this constantly, just about every time we are getting ready to get out of the car. It's a habit I've built. When you communicate clearly what your plan is and what your expectations are; draw some lines in the sand and give them a chance to ask questions, you give them a framework to work from for the next part of their day. They have a lot of ideas and unknowns going through their little minds, when you give them some structure and a good solid plan you give them everything they need to have a good attitude, which allows the whole family to enjoy that part of the day. Don't get me wrong, blowups are still going to happen, our kids are as big of a train wreck as anyone else's, but this strategy does help. Just don't forget to hold up your end of the deal by following through on what you said the plan was going to be.
Whether you have 2 sets of twins or an only child, being a parent is tough. It is a mine field of negotiating, debating, behavior management and disaster avoidance. I've been at this for 6 years now and I still have a lot to learn. The strategies above are small things I do make life easier in our house, I hope they'll work for you as well.
Rise. Shine. Crush.