I’ve waited to write about this until we made it through the process and now I’m so excited to share with you the amazing experience our family has had over the last few months!

Sometime last year I was sharing with another mom the frustrations of raise 3 year-olds. 3 year-olds are amazing beams of light shedding amazing light on your life that can instantly, and rapidly, transform into lasers boring into the depths of your brain, and then back to beams of light illuminating the beauty of the simplest things, then back to death rays, then back to light….you get it.

I don’t think that Elijah was any more challenging than many other 3 year olds. And after describing our situation to a professional she agreed that he fell well within the ‘normal’ range for 3 year old behavior. The rub there is that ‘normal’ includes the whole beam of radiance, death ray, beam of radiance cycle – that is NORMAL behavior. Not comforting.

In any case, we happen to have a few professional child specialists in our circle of close friends and family and one of them mentioned that there was a great program available at Burrell Health Center here in Springfield – a parenting class of sorts for your family. I admit my first gut reaction was, “I don’t need no parenting class.” (My grammar takes a back seat when I feel threatened.) But over the next few weeks/months our spiral of joy and agony continued, and one day having exhausted every good and bad parenting tool I had at my disposal I thought, “You know what? I REALLY need a parenting class!”

Actually – it was the weekend after Christmas and we were on our way to see my family when a tantrum ensued that ended in me threathening to cancel…yes, I did, I threatened to cancel Christmas. Once the entire car got quiet, I got my phone out and dialed Burrell and made our first appointment. It was a relief.

It was a relief because it’s hard to parent and admitting that and asking for help, rather than making me feel like a failure, made me feel like a parent. Like a grown parent who realizes that there are streams of research and case studies available on how to parent and it is not a failure to say, “Yes, please. I’ll take a listen to that.” And so we did.

When we first met our sweet counselor she gave us the standard professional introduction explaining that if she bumps into us at WalMart she won’t really acknowledge that she knows us, you know, so we aren’t embarrassed. To which I replied that she could hug me and yell, “How’s the parenting going? Are the exercises we talked about helping?” Because, in all likelihood, if this works out, I’d be blogging about it. No shame. That’s my mantra. I need help and I’m not afraid to admit it.

And then the work began. It was really easy at first, and it made no difference at all – but that’s how it’s designed. We started out by just intentionally building our relationship with our little ones. We intentionally made time to play, and we stopped giving orders all the time, and it all just felt crazy. At first I thought I had fell down the rabbit hole and was in some toddler wonderland. I felt this way because we started out making sure that Elijah had a lot of control. But a humbling thing happened in this process. We realized that we had lost a bit of our joy over the last year or so. We had gotten so pre-occupied with Parenting that we had lost some of the joys of parenting. It’s kind of hard to explain. We always loved our kids. We have always had lots of snuggles and laughter, but we had also gotten into a habit of expecting misbehavior. That makes me so sad to write, but it’s true. And the first part of the parenting classes was a sweet gentle revealing of that skew in our thinking. Through play and praise, the exercises we were given just broke us all open. It reminded Greg and I what amazing kids we have, and it showed the kids how fun we can be.

And in the midst of this beautiful brokenness and illuminating reminders, we still had the death ray, beam of light, death ray, beam of light thing at play. So it was bad. We had been broken open and fell even more madly in love… with a tyrant. Please, we begged, please tell us there is hope. And there was. There was phase two.

The second phase is where you start teaching the tyrant precious child that life is even better if you do the things you’re asked to do. Now during play time we started giving directions to follow, and then having a praise party with hugs and high fives with each compliant response. You would have been terribly confused to see how much praise was heaped onto our children when they handed us the block we had asked for. We were terribly confused, but we were trusting the process.

After a while of practicing giving direction, we started giving directions that had to be followed in real life, and the praise parties felt more genuine – because it really IS like Christmas when your toddler is asked to put on his shoes and he then PUTS ON HIS SHOES. Christmas, 4th of July, and all the birthdays – so good.

Another beautiful awakening happened to us during this phase of the process. We realized that we were also a bit tyrannical. We learned to taper our demands and to give more choices. We were able to better appreciate how frustrating it is to be three and have so many things dictated to you. So humbling.

Soon after we started the second phase, we introduced the only discipline tool we use now. Time out and the time out room. 3 minutes in time out no matter what. If you can’t stay in time out, you go to the time out room for one minute (a bathroom at our house), then back to time out chair and around that goes round and round until 3 mintues in the chair occurs. And we are ‘always’ zen during this process. No reaction, no emotion. (I’m still working on the zen portion of this.)

It was bad. It was so bad. For like 3 weeks it was horribly bad… and then it was good. Once he realized this was it, he stopped going to the time out room, just did his three minutes and then did whatever he’d been asked to do. Not always – but most of the time. And then after another 3-4 weeks or so – he stopped going to time out. He still goes sometimes and we have a few bad days in a row on occasion, but mostly he does what we ask him to do. And we remember to praise him and then he wants to do more of it. It’s like an anti-vicious cycle of good feelings around here. It’s miraculous.

And tomorrow, we expect we are going to graduate. We will be done, and we will walk out of that office with a load of new tools and techniques. Elijah is so much happier now and has a level of self confidence that he didn’t have before. Greg and I are so much happier and we have a level of self confidence in our parenting that we didn’t have before, and Grace is happier because of all of the above.

I’m so glad we took the time to do this. I’m so thankful. Greg and I have different parenting styles – most people do – and this really helped us get on the same page, use the same language, and have the same expectations. That synchronicity has helped Elijah and Grace know what to expect regardless of which one of us is doing the disciplining and direction giving.

If you find yourself reading this and thinking that you are so glad you never needed anything like this…well, I would have felt that way too if I’d only had Miss Grace. Some kids are just more compliant natured than others – congratulations on the lottery if you have more than one of those :). On the other hand, some kids are a bit more strong willed – still incredibly awesome, but they need a different type of parenting. So if you are reading this and thinking that it sounds interesting and maybe your house could use some of that, I totally recommend you go talk with someone. The methodology we were instructed in is called PCIT – and there is so much more to it than I am qualified to explain, but this is at least a layman’s review of the process.

One final note….if you see me out and about and one or more of my children are having a total meltdown in public – it’s not a commentary on the effectiveness of our help. They’re kids and this isn’t a magic fix – but we are pretty certain it’ll happen less often, and we have some ideas about what to do when it does, and that’s pretty much priceless.

 

 

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