Friday, January 20, 2012

We've Got Spirit, How 'Bout You?!

I am currently reading a book entitled, "How to Raise Your Spirited Child," by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. I bought this book because I assumed that my middle child was indeed 'spirited' and I needed suggestions. This is a term coined by the author in an attempt to find a positive spin for words like: headstrong, stubborn, emotional, finicky, persistent, argumentative, volatile, etc. She describes that not all 'spirited' children have all of these qualities but will definitely express several. Basically, a spirited child is a regular kid who is "more" of all those things than a typical kid.

After taking her quiz (which is not exactly scientifically based - it's a variation of an actual assessment used in the social sciences), answering for each of my three children, I discovered that I have not one but THREE spirited children. I can't say I was terribly surprised after reading her descriptions. I have friends who have very quiet, reserved children who will eat anything and it's a little bizarre to me, if I'm being honest. I am not accustomed to children who do not balk at new foods or run, yell, jump, and generally act like a human pinball machine. What was surprising is that both my husband and I fell in the Spunky range on her parent scale of spiritedness. That explains all the loudness in my house...

I LOVE that she distinguished being "spirited" from ADHD, since they are absolutely NOT the same thing. I love that it suggests accepting your children for who they were born to be instead of longing for the child you wish you had. I like that it points out that persistence = tenaciousness, which is an excellent quality in adults. That being finicky really demonstrates that your child knows what he wants. Also good. All of the qualities of the children she describes could be very useful, even if exceptionally annoying when we want/need our children to do something our way. My goal in buying this book was to learn new methods of discipline that would work with my spirited babies without damaging those qualities that make them uniquely, well, them.

And that's where we get to the parts of the book I don't like. I absolutely agree with the author in that traditional parenting advice DOES NOT WORK with spirited kids. The old adage "ignore the tantrum and they'll stop" - on the contrary. I have seen my son rage for so long that he vomited or passed out. Neither are good options, in my opinion. So when she said that a spirited child will continue and even get worse in the face of apathy, I was like, Right On Lady! She also says distraction doesn't work because spirited kids don't get distracted from what they want. Yep, too true. I live with it daily. She even cautions that their spiritedness is not an excuse for bad behavior. So far, so good. BUT the problem that I have is, so far, she's given me nothing useful. Just touchy, feely, 'embrace who they are' junk. And as much as I love them for who they are, I do want them to act appropriately. In her defense, I haven't finished the book yet. So if my opinion changes, I will be sure to let you know.

I tell you all of this, not to entice you to buy the book, but to preface my latest and greatest behavioral modification system. I got tired of waiting for this expert in parenting classes to give me something useful. It's a pretty long book and I only get to read for 30 minutes or so a day. And I needed something NOW before I ripped all my hair out or lost my voice screaming at the kids. Thus, the Tips and Fines jars were born:

It's pretty simple: the kids each have a list of 3 or 4 infractions (the ones that make me the craziest: whining, arguing, not following directions, not staying in bed, etc.) and a "fine" associated with said infraction. For example, if my oldest argues, she must pay the 'Fines' jar 25 cents. If she continues to argue after being charged the fine, the fine increases in multiples of 25 cents. (She's pretty tenacious, so we got up to a dollar fairly quickly in the beginning.) If my son commits an infraction, his penalty is 10 cents. The youngest just grabs whatever coin she sees first since she doesn't yet distinguish between them. I selected only a few behaviors to work on so that they would be able to remember them. The fines are based on the child's age (older child = larger fine.) I get fined as well. For yelling. (Side note: in almost 2 weeks, I have not had to pay the jar. Oh yeah.)

The 'Tip' jar is my attempt to balance our attention. I didn't want to only focus on the behaviors that I wanted eliminated; I also wanted to highlight the behaviors that are expected. When a child has followed directions or stayed in bed or acted in a loving manner to a sibling or eaten all his dinner - basically anything that we would like to see more often - they get what my son calls a "jewel." When the tip jar is full, we have promised to go to Orange Leaf.

As much as I would love to claim complete brilliance for this, it is all basic learning theory stuff. Like Pavlov did with his dogs. Stuff I have known since I was 20 and an undergrad in Psychology. Why it took me so long to apply it to everyday behaviors, I don't know. We used this method, a year ago and using only jewels, to get my son to stop sucking his thumb and it took one week.

So after two weeks of using this method, I am happy to report a dramatic change in my children. The 'Tips' jar had an unforseen side effect: They are working together better and holding each other accountable. They are passing out random hugs and "I love you's." They even complete chores without being asked, which earns them double tips. And my favorite example: I took the two little ones to TWO grocery stores yesterday. I was following the sales, which normally I would never, ever do. I'd rather pay more money than have to drag those two into multiple grocery stores. The first store was supposed to be a 15 minute, in-and-out, grab 6 items trip. Guess what?! It took 15 minutes. Crazy of all craziness. That has NEVER happened before. The second store was the bigger trip with the longer list and more time allotted. They were fantastic. I can't even describe it. They each held a reusable shopping bag, filling it with items as we shopped. We even got our free bakery cookie at the end of the trip instead of the beginning - with no complaining. They each got 5 jewels for this lovely behavior. So I have to say, I LOVE THE TIP JAR.

I am not ready to retire these jars, as our days are not anywhere near peaceful 100% (or even 80%) of the time. But I will say, we have had less yelling and more cooperation for almost 2 whole weeks. A good, healthy start. If you would like to implement this type of token system in your home, this method is easily modified to use what your kids value most or for when you need it most. Mine like money, so fines work for us.  But some kids don't care about money. When I implemented this last year for the thumb sucking habit, we had only one jar. My son received jewels any time I looked and he wasn't sucking his thumb and lost jewels if he was. When the jar was full, he got a new hot wheels car. For this one, I had to carry jewels in a baggie in the car and he took his jar EVERYWHERE we went since his thumb-sucking habit was worse when he was bored, like in the car. But like any successful behavior modification technique, in the beginning, you need to "notice" the desired behaviors a lot and reward them accordingly. If it takes too long to fill that jar, they will get bored and give up.

Happy parenting!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Appearance of Clean

I debated for a long time about what to write today. Would you want my latest parenting adventure in behavior modification, a yummy sure-to-impress cupcake recipe, or the best of my secrets to a clean house? While sitting in my kitchen looking at the various piles in stages of doneness, I have opted with door #3.

While many of you may exclaim in full shock mode, "piles of stuff?! In YOUR kitchen?!" I must confess that I too, accumulate piles of c-r-a-p, crap. Now, they don't usually hang out for very long as both my husband and I are anti-clutter. We regularly walk through the house picking up stray objects on our way to some other destination. But I fully realize that some people are far more comfortable with the once a week clean sweep (pardon the pun) of the entire house. To each his own, I say. But if you are one of the people who would love to know how to keep your house clean and ready for guests at a moment's notice, read on.

I don't know if I coined the phrase "appearance of clean" or if it was passed down by my mom, but the concept is most definitely hers. I remember she once told me, if your kitchen and bathroom are clean, people will assume your house is clean. And as the master of all stay-at-home-moms, she knows everything. So even if you don't trust me, trust her. She is oh so right about this one. Most people who visit your home will not look at the floor or the dust on the blinds. But if there are dishes piled in the sink, food on the counter, or toothpaste on the mirror, that's a bit hard to ignore.

Now, I don't have a single friend who would judge me if I had toothpaste on my mirror, nor would I think any less of a friend who decided soaking the pots the night before was a better use of her time. As a matter of fact, I had a friend drop by at 9am the other day with 30 minutes notice and my only preparation was to take a quick shower. I didn't even check the other bathroom. It's possible that the kids had made a mess since the last cleaning and I assure you, she said nothing.

But like I said the other day, I am a perfectionist, which means I pride myself on being able to manage it all. I also like a clean house; it makes me feel calm and at peace with my universe. But sometimes to accomplish all this perfection, you just have to CHEAT! So here's the secret:

1. Adjust your definition of clean to really mean tidy. We all know there is a difference between a clean house and a tidy house. I have a clean house about once a week and you are exceptionally fortunate if you get to visit that day. It smells of cleaners and brand new Scentsy and everything sparkles. Every other day, I have a tidy house, or what I like to call "everyday clean." To accomplish tidy, pick up out-of-place papers and items as you walk through a room and put them away immediately. I do not recommend a catch-all basket as I have never known anyone who actually cleans it out daily.

2. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, hand wash those you must, and wipe out your sink after every meal. Make Lysol wipes your best friend and wipe your counters often.

3. Wipe out your bathroom sink every day. Again, Lysol wipes are AWESOME!

4. If you have children, teach them to love Lysol wipes and they will handle these tasks will glee.

Now, for the really adventurous, I have two other tips:

5. If you don't have a Scentsy warmer, get one. Or three. We have 5. (Kitchen, basement, master bath, kids' bath, and Kyle's travel warmer). If you have one and don't use it, ARE YOU NUTS?!? We use our sense of smell to help us understand our surroundings. So, if your house smells clean, it is clean. Get it?

6. Make your bed every day. Now, I know this is super controversial which is why I saved it for last. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who make their beds and those who don't. Surprisingly enough, I used to be in the latter group. If you think you don't have time to make your bed, knock it off. It takes 120 seconds AT MOST to make a bed, hospital corners and all. And I have a KING! I fully respect those who just don't care about a made bed. (But please, no excuses. Just say you don't care.) But if you don't make your bed, but also strive to have a clean-feeling house, I challenge you to make your bed every day this week before you leave the house (or before lunch). After one week, see if you don't feel better about your level of clean. It works, I promise.

And that's it! If you do those things every day, your house will look and feel clean. You will be ready for that last-minute dinner guest. And it only takes about 15-20 minutes total. Happy cleaning!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not your typical stay-at-home-mom

I might look like your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill stay at home mom. But secretly, I'm really not. Those who are lucky enough to be part of my inner circle know that I am a perfectionist with a capital PERFECT! When I make up my mind to do something, it's go big or go home. Even when I was in school, if it wasn't an A, it may as well have been an F. Until college when I sort of joined reality just for a bit. Then I graduated and reverted back to, well myself, only cleaner and more organized.

Being this way really isn't as easy as it looks, I assure you. Sometimes it means throwing perfectly fine cupcakes in the trash or realigning vinyl letters four times because the spacing isn't just so. It can be time consuming and downright disappointing when things don't go how I imagine they should. But other things, like the tidiness of my home, the organization of my closet, and the planning of my children's wacky over-the-top ALWAYS at home birthday parties are a complete breeze due largely to the fact that I have a system.

I have a system for EVERYTHING. We even have a system for shoes, that's oh-so-creatively called "The System." I can't even imagine what it must be like to live with me, although I fantasize that my husband and children think their lives are so much better than other people's due to the streamlined efforts of the crazy lady in charge. Perhaps my husband should contribute to the blog on occasion so that you will all know the truth. I don't know that I could read them, however, as I prefer my fantasy reality. Yes, I know, that's an oxymoron.

Anyway, as I jump out in this adventure of sharing my universe on the world wide web, I do have a small confession. I'm not perfect. Shhhh! It's my most heavily guarded secret. I am learning to accept when mornings, volunteer jobs, and even cupcakes don't go as planned. I've come to realize that often, God's illumination of His plan is more like a flashlight than a flood light. I'm slowly finding a balance that will demonstrate in real time to my children that sometimes, what we least expect and never planned for can be our biggest blessing.

So whether you are an Army wife, single mom, stay at home dad, or experienced grandparent, I invite you to join me on my blog journey where I will share tips, tricks, recipes, party ideas, and sometimes detours that make it look like I am just sailing through this Army wife life. No matter where you are in life, I hope you will find something in my jumble of words that you need right now to make your life easier, more organized, or maybe just a little sweeter. Oh, how I do love cupcakes...