Friday, April 22, 2011

A Parenting Challenge--for YOU!

Hello dear Readers!

I've missed not podcasting during this break that Kelly and I have been on. She's in grad school and is swamped with work for that, and we're both working hard like peopleguys on ATLOS and ATLOSCon stuff, too. I'm hoping that we'll get tons of podcasts recorded and produced this summer.

So, in not podcasting, I've missed doing our Situation of the Week. And I have a Situation of the Week (that I haven't even mentioned to Kelly just yet). In addition to my usual steps which include: trying to solve it myself, discussing it with Brendan, discussing it with Kelly, discussing it with the kids, coming up with a plan and working on it, I thought I'd ask for YOUR advice!

One of the exercises we do in our Positive Discipline workshops is something called Parents Helping Parents, where one person describes a real-life parenting challenge in detail to the rest of the group of parents who then brainstorm some solutions. The exercise is really valuable, even for the parents who are in the audience. It results in so many different ideas and good discussion about the merits of each and how to apply them to that unique situation.

PHP is by far more valuable in person, but I thought I could possibly adapt it for a blog setting. We'll give it a try and if it doesn't work, then Yippee Mistakes! We'll learn something and make a change for the future. :)

Here are the rules:

  • I'll describe my problem below, making it as clear and specific as I can. 
  • Then I want you to brainstorm--give me any and all of your ideas for how to handle this! Put your ideas in the comments of this post. Go ahead and suggest punishments and rewards if you want to, but I am looking for non-punitive/non-rewarding ways to handle this problem.
  • During the brainstorm, feel free to discuss the pros and cons of the suggestions if you want, but I will probably stay out of that type of discussion, at least until I've picked the suggestion I plan to try.
  • I will provide some clarification and answer questions during the brainstorm if needed.
  • After I get some suggestions, I'll choose the one I think might help me the best, and I'll explain what I like about it (and other likely options). Then I'll try it for a week or so and then get back to you.

What do you think?

Okay, so here's my problem: My kids (mainly Morgan) get into my stuff without asking and it's making me crazy.

A bit of context will help. I don't mind sharing my things, such as scissors and tape, but I very much prefer the courtesy of being asked. In part I prefer this, because if I'm asked, then I am aware of who has the items and can make sure that they are returned or a mess is cleaned up (a corollary problem here).

The other thing they do is open up new things and take them out of the packages even if I've asked them not to. Examples:

  • taking every single roll of toilet paper out of the package and strewing them about (I go to the wholesale club to buy toilet paper and other items in bulk and this is a huge problem); 
  • (Morgan-specific) opening up items such as nail polish because she couldn't wait 30 more minutes for us to do it together as I'd promised; 
  • playing with or taking known "special" items (such as heirloom things) out of their packaging or display without asking;
  • taking toys or craft projects I was saving for special occasions out of their packaging and using them up without permission.

The principle I'm trying to teach them (and why I get so annoyed) is that they need to respect other people's property. It's at the point where I am explicitly telling them "Don't open such-and-such." because I know they want to--and they are still doing it!

I've told them all that I would often be ready to say "yes" to their requests--if only they'd ASK.

I'm ready to climb out of my skin, because in addition to the messes and logistical issues and not having certain items when I want them (such as a craft project I'd intended to bring for Sean to work on at homeschool co-op), I am feeling like they don't think they need to respect my right to my stuff. As if anything I might own or have plans for in this house doesn't count because I'm "just Mom." I realize that might not be what they actually think--it's just how I feel.

What I've done so far is not working, which is immediately put a stop to the activity and have them clean up any associated messes. Oh yeah, and expressing my honest emotions about this directly (and sometimes vehemently). It's at the point where I feel like I need to have a sticky note on everything in the house that says "ASK MOM FIRST" on it. :/

So...thoughts? HELP!!!!


Miranda Barzey said...

Hmm. I'm trying to imagine what I might say to a grown-up who was behaving similarly. What would be the natural consequences of someone constantly getting into my stuff without my permission?
- Buy your own
- You're not allowed to use this anymore
- I'm locking up my possessions
- Talk about how I feel

This reminds me a lot of college and roommate disagreements. Obviously you can't move out or evict the kids, but maybe thinking of it along those lines will give you a fresh perspective on the situation.

Maybe it would help to have box where you put all the things to save for later? Then it would be clear that the contents are off limits until you say so?

It might also be worth it to make a Big Announcement when you have something that you do not want opened/touched until later. I noticed M rationalizing the craft thing by saying it was for everyone/she didn't know.

I know that doesn't solve all the problems, but maybe inspiration will strike later on. :P

Kelly Elmore said...

Have you brought it up at your family meeting and gotten the kids to brainstorm it with you?

Hanah said...

I'm wondering if this is sort of a "dark side of independence" thing. In most situations, you want your kids to be proactive and not ask your permission or help with every little thing. So, essentially, you've trained them well ... too well.

Perhaps a talk along the lines of, it's great that you can do things by yourself and be independent. But people who are independent also have to use self-control to avoid doing things that will hurt or inconvenience other people.

And making sure the boundaries are very clear of stuff you don't want them to mess with. Things in a particular box or drawer or area, or specific items like in the display items situation.

Maybe also ask them if there are things that belong to them that you shouldn't mess with.

Jennifer Snow said...

I don't think there's any one strategy that will address this particular problem, because there are too many different kinds of "don't mess with that right now" situations, as you yourself list. There are things the kids are unequivocally not supposed to mess with (because they're dangerous/extremely fragile/not toys), there are things that are just messy, there are things that are annoying to have scattered around when you need them, etc. etc. etc.

The kids I babysit for are a bit too young for this kind of thing (they haven't even reached the developmental stage where they realize that other people can SEE things and THINK ON THEIR OWN yet), but I have some ideas on what to do about it later.

1. for stuff that's just annoying to have relocated all over the place, I refuse, categorically, to help them find it when THEY want it. You left it all over the house, you go find it. I don't care if it's stuff I told them to leave alone or not.

2. For the *messy* stuff, I usually put it up where they can't reach it. I realize this may be annoying for you as well, but this is the best strategy I've come up with so far.

3. For the stuff that's just plain dangerous, I adopt a strategy that's halfway between #2 and acting like an angry attack dog. If I truly can't relocate it for some reason but I need them not to mess with it, I will basically sit in front of it for a while when they've first been introduced to it and (essentially) growl when they get near it. This is how I've gotten them to stay away from the lightsockets and to stop trying to turn over furniture on themselves. It works okay (at this age) although it looks pretty ridiculous.

4. For the stupid crap, I just learn to live with it. Yes, they open the footrests on the sectional EVERY SINGLE DAY. And they can't put them back down. I've tried everything, and they still do it. So I've learned to live with it. And, when they fall off because they can't get into the chairs properly with the feet up and bump their heads on the floor, I just give them a snide look and say "told you so".

Carly said...

Do your older children earn pocket money? If so, you could require them to reimburse you for anything they use up without permission...not as a punishment, but as way of teaching them personal responsibility.

Kelly Elmore said...

Knowing Morgan, I think this behavior is probably thoughtless, rather than any kind of intent. It seems primarily rude and inconsiderate, and it seems like maybe she isn't in the habit of thinking about what she should do or what you would want her to do about your stuff.

Could you guys make her a chart to help her remember? You could make copies and post it over the areas where most of your stuff is: in your bedroom, on the door of your dragons, over the drawer with tape and scissors, etc.

The chart could list the steps you would like her to think through. Such as:

1. Does this belong to mom?
2. Would she want you to take it without asking?
3. Could it be broken?
4. Could it get lost easily?

With a chart like this, you aren't just teaching her the rules to memorize, but teaching her to think considerately and kindly. These are the kinds of questions that we ask ourselves about other people's things, and perhaps she needs practice thinking about them.

Also, thinking this way every time she wants to take something out might make it routine, and since she is a sweet child who doesn't want to upset people, I think that if she got into a routine of being considerate about your things, she wouldn't mind it at all.

Chris L said...

Borrow her elbow. Because you need it to push down a stamp or something. If she objects: "Oh does this elbow belong to you? You mean I can't just use it anytime I want? Not even if I really just want to? Maybe I should ask you before I borrow it."