I've had my share of discipline victories and disasters, and I bring what I've learned at home to my work as a parenting educator. But I'm getting an ongoing education too—from my own kids.
I've got four little ones 7 and under—and while I love them more than anything, I'm the first to admit we've been through our share of heated moments and meltdowns. Setting limits and sticking to them is a must—for my sanity and my children's. That said, it can be hard to not let my emotions get in the way when I have to say no or dole out consequences. Here are four true stories about when my kids tested my patience and how I handled each incident. To be sure I'm on the right track, I checked in with Parents advisor Robin Berman, M.D., a psychiatrist, parent educator, and author of Permission to Parent.
1. Sometimes Mom Needs a Time-Out
One day I came home from work to find my eldest, 3 at the time, alone in his room and drawing all over his new bedroom furniture with permanent markers. I felt many things at once, but mostly I wanted to scream. First, I would have to have a serious conversation with my babysitter. Second, how had he gotten his hands on permanent markers? Finally, I was furious that I'd spent so much time and money setting up the perfect "big boy" room for my son—only to see it completely ruined. I barely knew what to think, let alone say, so I took a deep breath and walked away. Removing myself from the situation helped me to calm down and to realize that my son wasn't defying me on purpose. He was just an artistic little kid, and I'd never explained to him that it's not okay to draw on furniture or walls. He couldn't know that it was against the rules—I'd never told him exactly what the rules were! When I returned after about ten minutes, I explained that if he ever wants to draw on something that isn't paper or a canvas, he needs to ask an adult for permission first so we can keep the rest of the house nice. We also realized that permanent markers and young kids don't belong under the same roof; we only have the washable kind now! We haven't had a single graffiti incident since, even though three more toddlers came after him!
2. Backing Down Solves Nothing
Not giving in to my little ones' puppy-dog eyes can be hard, as I learned on a memorable occasion with my younger son. I'd just returned from a business trip and had missed my kids so much—I couldn't wait to get some playtime in with them before bed. About a minute into dinner, though, my son, then 2, grabbed a handful of his spaghetti (with red sauce, naturally), and flung it onto the rug. He'd never done anything like that, but it was past his witching hour. I asked if he wanted to go to sleep, since it seemed like he was too sleepy to control himself. When he said no, I said okay, but that if he did it again I'd know for sure that he was overtired and I would take him straight to bed. You can guess what happened next: He picked up his bowl of pasta, and dumped its contents on the floor. Was I mad that my son straight up defied me? Um, yes. But I also knew that he was exhausted. It wasn't easy to keep myself together as he was kicking and screaming on the way to his room, and I very nearly caved when he promised to behave. But I'm glad I didn't: He was asleep two minutes after I shut the door, and the next morning, he woke up happy and refreshed. It was a sacrifice for me to not spend the evening with my son, but I knew it was what I had to do.
3. Bad Behavior Doesn't = Bad Kid
You know those moments when you're sure you've failed as a parent? I had one of those when my then 2 1/2-year-old destroyed my older son's art project that he'd just brought home from school. We're talking Ripped. To. Shreds. I couldn't comprehend why my boy had done something so destructive and mean-spirited. I raise my children to love and respect each other—not to be jealous and competitive! Did he hate his brother?! What had I done wrong? Then it hit me—the child who'd done this "dastardly deed" was just a toddler and probably wasn't thinking any of those nasty things at all. In fact, he'd likely accidentally ripped a corner, thought the paper tearing sounded cool, and continued ripping. Or maybe he'd torn a bit off by accident and then tried to fix it—but ended up destroying the whole thing in the process. The point is, I had no idea how it had happened, but the chances of my toddler being a vindictive mastermind were slim to none. In the end, I explained to my older son that there had been an accident (next time, we hung his art projects high so the younger kids couldn't reach), and then I calmly told my little one that we need to respect other people's things.
4. Even the Best Parent Will Make Mistakes
My kids and I were preparing decorations for a school holiday party when my older son started making this clicking noise with his tongue, over and over and over. We had been talking and laughing and having so much fun, but he wouldn't stop clicking. I'd asked him a few times to stop and had tried to get him to sing a song or do basically anything else, but it wasn't working. After nearly half an hour of this, I lost it and growled, "Why are you being so annoying?!" The minute the words came out of my mouth and I saw the horrified look on my son's face, I regretted it. What he'd been doing wasn't even that big a deal—I'd just had a rough day and was at the end of my rope. When he'd calmed down a little, he said: "Mommy, you scared me so much!" I felt awful. I didn't know what else to do but apologize and explain myself. I'd had a stressful day, I was overtired, I lost control—and I would do my absolute best to not shout at him again, no matter how upset I was. I think he understood where I was coming from and, even more, that I felt bad about how I'd acted. In the end, we hugged and thankfully we were able to go back to the holiday fun.
ABOUT ROSIE Rosie Pope is the creator of Rosie Pope Maternity and Rosie Pope Baby. Besides being a mompreneur and a designer of maternity clothes, she leads parenting workshops and classes in New York City.