How to hold kids accountable for their choices

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This past weekend, my husband, toddler and I came home from the rose garden close to nap time. Once home, we offered him two choices: “Do you feel like napping now, or do you want to nap in half an hour?” We weren’t surprised when he chose to nap later, expecting him to want to settle in at home first before conking out in bed.

When half an hour elapsed and we announced that nap time was here, he protested: “Want to stay in the living room.”

We then reminded him about the choice he made, and how it was him who decided when to nap. Miraculously, that simple reminder helped him understand (or at least believe there was some logic to this napping business) that his very own choices determined his nap time. Maybe he felt that since he made the decision to nap at a certain time, that the idea must be a good one.

He was held accountable for the choices he made.

We’ve since applied this same accountability to other circumstances, including giving him options on which food to eat or what activity he wants to do next. And so far he has accepted responsibility for what he chose. In addition to a higher likelihood of following through with the choices that they make, children also benefits from accountability in other ways:

  • They learn that consequences follow choices and actions. Assuming that parents follow through with consequences, kids will realize that their choices have a direct relation to what comes next.
  • They are more likely to think through and be deliberate with their choices knowing that each one bears different consequences, rather than spouting off impulsive actions.
  • They feel like a contributing member of the family. When we take their choices into consideration and especially when we follow through with consequences, they’ll learn that they too can be decision-makers in the family and that their choices bear weight. If we’re fickle with the consequences to their choices, they might learn instead that we may not always take them so seriously.

Keep in mind, however, that kids can’t be held accountable for everything. For one thing, kids don’t have a choice all the time—if it’s cold, they should wear a jacket, regardless of whether they would choose to or not. They’re also too young to bear the responsibility of being 100% accountable for their choices and shouldn’t be burdened with choice-making for every possible action—that’s a job for parents, not kids. And sometimes you just have to pick your battles.

Lastly, too many choices can inundate everyone, even adults. According to psychologist and author Barry Schwarz’s The Paradox of Choice, offering people a bazillion choices isn’t freeing; in fact too many choices often stump people into not making any at all, whereas offering a few choices helps make clearer decisions. That may be why I much prefer shorter menus at restaurants than the ones with hundreds of fine-print size options.

As our toddler grows up, he’ll be held more accountable for his choices as he begins to assume more responsibilities and is given new privileges. With consistent consequences, he’ll hopefully learn to weigh his choices and follow through on the ones he makes.

How has the opportunity to choose affected your kids? What accountability do you enforce in your home?


I am officially one of “those” moms

I am officially one of "those" moms
My toddler has blessed us with yet another episode of defiance. 
In the morning, he insisted on staying home instead of heading out the door, and no amount of coercing or encouraging was making him budge. Even though I managed to get him out into the hallway, he was determined to stay put and literally plopped himself down on the floor. Now, I normally lug this heavy tote bag with all his books, clothes, our lunches and my purse, and was in no mood to carry a moody kid down to the car as well. The clock was ticking, my patience dwindling, and the tote bag wasn’t getting any lighter.

So, being the amazing mom that I am, I became the scene I never thought I would find myself in: I half-dragged my toddler on the floor for a few steps before acceding to carrying him (and the heavy bag) on to the elevator.

I am officially one of “those” moms. You know, the moms with loud and hysterical kids that you can’t help but tsk tsk about in your head. The kind where you assume that they spoil their kids rotten, and if that were my kid there’s no way in hell I would allow that sort of delinquency. I became the drag-the-crying-kid mom.

Now, I could place the blame on so many circumstances. I could point the finger at his emerging teeth and how teething has been bothering him. I could say that lack of sleep on my part made me one tired mama. I could also blame it on our temperaments, and just how confounding it is that two, laid-back parents could produce one heck of a fireball (ask my family and they’ll tell you I was so quiet, compliant, and—I’m not sure if this is a compliment or not—“Just there, like a plant.”). All of the apply.

And yet. Perhaps I forget to see the world from my toddler’s perspective:

  • I forget that I have choices and can make them easily (“I feel like eating cereal today”) whereas my toddler doesn’t (He eats what I place in front of him). He doesn’t always get to decide what clothes to wear; nor does he understand why we have to leave at a certain time on certain days.
  • I fail to remember that he may not have reached developmental milestones that enable him to manage his emotions as he sorts through more and more of them every day.
  • With his onslaught of new words and impressive grammar use, I overlook that he still has a long ways to go and can’t always express himself as clearly as I can.
  • And he may possibly be at that age where he is grappling with the realization that the world actually doesn’t revolve around him, and that he is but one person in an abundance of others, pushing him to assert himself all the more.

In the afternoon, I chose to do better. I even mentally skimmed through this blog, calling to mind the posts I’ve written that might help. For instance:

  • I picked my battles. If he wanted to wear his bib all evening long, I let him. I reserved the battles for more important issues like safety and hygiene.
  • However, I also didn’t give in to unreasonable requests. If he demanded to use my slippers even though I needed to wear them to walk around the kitchen, I calmly told him, “I need my slippers to walk around, and when I go back to sitting, then you can play with them.” Similarly, if he kept switching between wants—he wants his hat on, only to want it off a second later—I ignored him. This kind of behavior didn’t seem to warrant attention and perhaps even grew worse because of it.
  • Similarly, I praised his good behavior. When he was in his normally good mood, I praised his actions: “Look at you, coloring your paper!” I gave tons of hugs and kisses and laughed at all his corny jokes.
  • I gave him choices when possible. When it was time to put on his jacket, I held up his white and brown ones and had him decide which one he’d like to wear.
  • I encouraged good manners so that if he shouted “Don’t want that!” I responded with, “You can say, ‘No, thank you’.” And when he did, he said it in a much calmer tone (for the most part).
  • I apologized for my behavior. Toddlers aren’t the only ones who misbehave. I wanted to apologize so he knows I make mistakes too, and that I truly feel terrible for disrespecting him.

This episode reminded me that I’m just as susceptible to reacting immaturely and in ways I wouldn’t be proud of as any other parent. That even after practicing mindful parenting and remaining calm on most days, I too can make mistakes and lose my patience.  And perhaps most importantly, I realized that “those” moms are probably just like me—terrific, caring moms who have bad days once in a while, just like their toddlers.

When have you resorted to acting less-than-stellar with your kids? How did you resolve the situation?

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Why I don’t bother with working mom guilt

I keep hearing about this guilt I’m supposed to feel because I’m a mom who works. Apparently I should beat myself up because I don’t get to see my toddler several hours in the day, that someone else is caring for him while I’m in the office or that I can’t seem to keep my home spotless.

Instead, I’m one of those moms who feel zero guilt when it comes to my toddler and working.

And it’s not because I’m a workaholic—I don’t work crazy hours or check my work email while on vacation. Sure, I enjoy what I do in the office, work hard, excel in my field and get along well with my coworkers, but seriously, if I won a gazillion dollars, I’d probably be outta there in a second (okay, maybe in two weeks). So while having a career is important for many moms, getting paid isn’t at the top of my fulfillment list.

Why then the lack of guilt when it comes to working instead of spending time with my toddler? Because I’m doing the best I can. When I’m with LO, I consciously have my parenting cap on (most of the time). I look for opportunities for him to learn and thrive, whether it’s through reading books, making crafts or exploring our natural surroundings. I make sure he knows he’s loved and cared for, both when it’s easy and when more patience is called for. When I’m not with him, I’m reading parenting books, blogging about parenting, or talking to my husband about how we can improve as parents. Almost everything I do caters to the well-being of my son.

In short, I think I’m a damn good mom.

You may have your own ways of wearing your parenting cap that’s different from mine, but if you’re like most moms I know, we all bust our asses doing what’s best for our kids. (Wow, I just said “damn” and “asses” in one blog post! Apologies to my nine-year-old niece who reads this blog.)

Sometimes guilt is confused with desire: it’s okay that I want to be home with my toddler instead of sitting in an office. As difficult as it felt to return to work after maternity leave, there was still no reason to feel guilty. The desire to spend more time with my baby shouldn’t make me feel guilty because I can’t. Some families have the option for one parent to stay at home; others don’t. I wish I could see my toddler more often, but that would mean a significant pay decrease which wouldn’t be prudent for us at this moment.

I also heard from a few moms who feel guilty for working whenever they come home and realize that they still have to unload the dishwasher, clean the toilet and pay the bills. Especially when everything in the house was spotless before kids, adjusting to a kid-infested house could take some getting used to. But seriously, we have kids. Maybe even a bunch of them. My home is hardly going to look anything like how it used to look, and even less than what I see in magazines or catalogs. I love the fact that I can now pull out the “we have a kid” card whenever I realize I haven’t watered the plants in three weeks or that there are crayon marks on the table. Those are the marks of a family blessed with a kid, not of  an incompetent mom.

Which brings me to my last point: we can’t do it all. We’re quite the conundrum—we’re supposed to be stay-at-home moms so our kids can spend time with us, but be working moms so they know women kick butt in the workforce too. We can’t miss out on any of our baby’s “firsts,” but we have to be the top performer in our department. We have to tend to our crying baby or fussy toddler even though the project is due in two hours. Too many expectations rest on our shoulders and we can’t bear every single one of them.

We’re moms—complete with flaws, ambitions, and the choices we make. So when that guilt starts creeping up again, pull out your “we have a kid” card and remind yourself that you’re doing your best.

Do you feel guilty for being a working mom? How do you handle and appease this guilt? Is there anything you can change about your situation to alleviate the guilt?

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Let the guilt-fest begin

There aren’t many sounds in the world that would rival a baby’s gut-wrenching cry. Especially when you hear it for almost 45 minutes straight.

Last night, he fell asleep while eating and woke up again around 10pm. He wasn’t hungry; he had just eaten, plus he stopped crying once his dad rocked him to sleep. But just as his dad crept back into bed, he was up again, crying. For the second time, his dad goes back to rocking him to sleep. And again, he woke up.

For this third time, I rocked him to sleep and still got the same results as his dad; just a few minutes of laying in his crib, he started wailing again. At this point, I realized that I couldn’t rock him in my arms for the rest of the night. And since he wasn’t crying out of hunger, I didn’t pick him up from his crib. And he cried, and cried, and cried.

I sat by his side, rubbing his back, whispering “It’s okay, baby” and shushing him. His dad meanwhile sat next to me, rubbing my back since I was crying along with the baby. I felt horrible, and was torn between picking him up already but then risk canceling out anything learned from this experience, or continue rubbing his back but then feel like a horrible mom for not picking up her crying baby.

I chose the latter. The crying eventually trickled down to small whimpers, to quiet ruffling while he was trying to get comfortable, and finally to quiet stillness and sleep. He didn’t wake up again until his normal feeding time of 4:30-5am.

So now I’m just dealing with the guilt that comes with not picking up your crying baby. “Is that considered crying it out?” and “Was that even necessary?” keep running through my head. There’s an actual Ferber method of letting your baby cry himself to sleep and I always told myself I wouldn’t resort to that. And while I did stay by his crib and rub his back to let him know I wasn’t abandoning him, I still wonder if I just damaged his trust in me.

I try to remind myself that I didn’t pick him up not out of anger or sleep-deprivation, but to help him get back on his long sleep stretches. I also tell myself that I did soothe him with rubbing his back and with consoling words, the same things I would have done, minus rocking him in my arms. Not picking him up felt like the right thing to do, and I can only assuage my guilt by standing behind my choices.

Why then is the guilt still there? I suppose because there are various schools of thought regarding sleep training and I tended to stay on the side that said to pick up your crying baby. Perhaps because I hadn’t thought it through and acted in the moment. I also wonder if his frequent wakings would have eventually tapered off in a few days and he would have resumed his normal sleeping schedule, especially since he’s taking antibiotics right now. And because I have a nasty habit of second guessing my choices.

I’m not new to guilt; there have been plenty of times already where this feeling has surfaced in my short five months of motherhood. Thankfully babies are some of the most forgiving people in the world. I suppose they would have to be, considering that parenting is often a “learn on the job” type of thing. I will tell you though, that I can’t wait to smother my little boy with lots of hugs and kisses and see him smiling at his mama.