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Tools for the angry preschooler

Let me preface this post by emphatically declaring that I’ve messed up more times than I can count in my parenting. I’d rather not blog about those. Positive discipline teaches us that mistakes help children grow and learn. It works for mommies, too.

My first step was to figure out Norah’s mistaken goal. Positive discipline (PD) says that children have four “mistaken goals” which drive most misbehavior. The easiest way to figure out which mistaken goal the child is using? Look at how the parent feels or reacts when the child misbehaves. When Norah gets angry, I feel defeated. Her mistaken goal is POWER. In order to belong, she tries to be the boss. Her mistaken belief is “I belong only when I’m boss, in control, or proving no one can boss me. You can’t make me.”

A common phrase I’ve heard this year: You’re not the boss of me.

Also, “You’re not the boss of my toys.” “You’re not the boss of my brain.” “You’re not the boss of my food.” You’re not the boss of my behavior.” “You’re not the boss of my [fill in the blank].”

Interestingly, she’s taught me so much with this phrasing. How much do we control another person? Even our children. I don’t control her choices. I control the consequences and that is my responsibility. But she gets to make a choice to misbehave. Such an important thing to learn.

My PD handbook has some amazing ideas for redirecting her power in positive ways. Mostly, she needs to contribute to the family, have limited choices, routines, and engage in deciding consequences.

I needed to get a handle on my own anger. Anger is not my typical response.

Until Norah turned 5.

It is as if I had a tiny spark inside and she pours a gallon of gasoline on it. A few things that have helped: eating protein every few hours, using mommy time-outs, and giving Norah permission to call me on it. She tells me if I’m “flipping my lid.” I also apologized for my past angry reactions. I cried when she told me that my words were all fuzzy to her ears when I yelled.

I helped Norah make an Anger Wheel of Choice. When she flipped her lid, we could use the wheel to decide on a way to diffuse her emotion. Her choices: run a race, use playdough, read a book, snuggle, draw, or eat candy (it is her wheel…her choice!). We kept the wheel in a bag with all the necessary tools to implement. If we went to the park or a playdate, the bag went with us. Honestly, we only used the wheel maybe 6 times. A few times we should have used it, but I was too angry and just packed everyone up and went home. Learn from mistakes, learn from mistakes. She doesn’t have those awful tantrums anymore (knock on wood) so we’ve unpacked the bag.

Another tool that we’ve lately used is the yellow bracelet. Super creative title, I realize. It was one of those spur of the moment tools. I almost always have a ponytail holder on my wrist for Cedar’s unruly hair. One day, it was yellow. Norah’s emotions were intensifying and I took the yellow ponytail holder off my wrist and put it on hers. I explained that just like yellow traffic lights tell us to slow down, when I put the yellow bracelet on her wrist, she needs to slow down her big feelings. Breathe deeply, find a quiet place, whatever it takes. The strangest part was that when she calmed down, she returned the bracelet to my wrist without a word. Her choice to return to “green light” mode. I love this tool because Norah is sensitive to public shame (aren’t we all?) and I can use this tool without a word. It is a code language for us. And she always returns it to me (sometimes long after I’ve forgotten about the whole ordeal).

The glitter ball was another spontaneous tool though I’ve since seen a similar tool on pinterest. The girls have these bouncy balls filled with glitter. We only use this one at home. I hand her the glitter ball and ask her to settle her big feelings until the ball is clear. Sometimes she gives it a few new shakes.

Positive time-out. We once used a comfort corner and I probably need to make one for Cedar. For Norah, I ask her to go to her room until she can calm herself. Usually this one is reserved for times that her behavior hurts someone else either physically or verbally. She is not forced to remain. She knows she can rejoin the family at any point. Her crazy self-discipline skills come in handy here. She really does pull it together before coming out.

Mommy time-out. Norah knows that I cannot allow her to hurt my heart or my ears. When this happens, mommy must step away. I have explained to her that I will never leave her in an unsafe place, I will always come back, and she continues to have access to me. If I must withdraw in a public place (say, the zoo), I will simply walk a few steps away while continuing to supervise her. If we are at home, I may go into my room and shut the door.

Of course, the best tool is connection. To remind her that she automatically belongs without feeling the need to use a mistaken goal.

P.S. While admittedly, I do not have all the answers, I will soon be offering a Positive Discipline for Toddlers workshop in Greenville. We’ll learn from each other’s mistakes, yes?

Year of the Five Year Old

You’ve read about my challenges with Norah, the five year old, this year. I really had few troubles with her until Cedar was born. She didn’t even have terrible twos or tantrums that could not be quickly calmed.

I was so proud of my mad parenting skills.

But since no one chose to clue me in that five years old kids have tantrums, I was quite unprepared for the big feelings in both of us.

First, let me remind you of the cool, amazing traits Norah possesses.

She knows what she wants. In detail. Like her birthday cake. She described it to the caterer in exact detail. And you should hear her talk with the pedicure person (“now will this color show up on this color?”). Last time we got a pedicure, I was shocked when she asked the lady for a bottled water. Then the lady asked if I wanted a glass of wine. I had no idea they served complimentary drinks! Norah doesn’t miss a thing. Here she is designing the bird house she built.

She has incredible self-discipline. She will not, under any circumstance, drink her hot chocolate or eat her popcorn until the movie begins. It doesn’t matter how long the previews are. And because I told her we don’t drink soda, she applies it to every occasion. Even when I’m not there. Even if it is a birthday party and all the other kids are drinking it. I never meant for my rule to be, well, a rule at all.

She notices everything. What type of cars people drive, if portions are not equally distributed, clothing her friends wear, facial expressions, verbal nuances, when the grass needs to be cut, the dust on the ceiling fans, the neighbors’ comings and goings. The exact details of a yellow jacket.

She isn’t afraid of anyone. Imaginary lions hiding in the house, yes. Possible tornadoes brewing, absolutely. Vomiting, terrified. But people? No. No one has told her about age limitations either. Here she is at the children’s museum where she donned a hard hat and called herself the “factory director.” She had a crew of four older kids (11-ish?) rushing to make quota. Cedar was the only one who didn’t obey her.

You can probably already see that these amazing traits are easily linked to our challenges. Precocious and spirited child (who flat out told me she was smarter than me) with unbendable rules and high expectations for what she wants. And who doesn’t let anything slide.

It manifests as anger. Big ole giant pot of anger bubbling over. Yelling and slamming and stomping and (yes) spitting and (once) kicking.

Have I ever mentioned that before I had kids, I taught Anger Management to adults as part of my job? Bwaa-haa-haa. Yeah. How is that working out for me?

So what has helped? In my next post, I’ll share the tools that worked this year. I’m sure they won’t next year…

Free Parenting Classes

I’m late posting this note.  One of the classes was last night.  But someone might be interested in attending some of the others.  These classes are taught by my friend, Kelly.  She teaches positive discipline.

PRIDE (Promoting Resources in Developmental Education) promotes its Parenting Toolbox series for upstate residents of South Carolina: Six Tuesday evenings of Positive Discipline parenting workshops will be offered and all parents are welcome. Each two hour class will be held from 6:30-8:30pm.

Six Tuesday Evenings of Parent Workshops in Greenville County

Come to one or come to all six, the only requirement is that you register in advance by calling the PRIDE office at 864-454-2102. All workshops will be held at the Mauldin Cultural Center in the Veteran’s Room and start promptly at 6:30 pm.

Power Struggle Prevention Tools: Creating Structure and Balance in Parenting – Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Parenting Style Profile: Laying a Foundation for Discipline Success – Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Your Child’s Emotional Brain: Building Blocks for Self-Discipline, Empathy and Problem Solving – Tuesday, February 1

Reframing Discipline: Using Misbehavior and Mistakes as Teaching Tools – Tuesday, February 8, 2011

“But I’ve told you 100 times!”: Breaking the Building Code for Misbehavior – Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Behavior Boost Blueprints: The Link Between Self-Esteem and Self-Discipline – Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Mauldin Cultural Center is located in the old Mauldin Elementary school buliding at 101 East Butler Road, Mauldin, SC, 29662. The workshops will be based on the nationally recognized Positive Discipline curriculum. Call the PRIDE office at 864-454-2102 for more information or to register.

Positive Discipline Classes Scheduled

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Positive discipline has been a huge resource for my family.  And one of my favorite resources in the upstate is PD Educator, Kelly Pfeiffer.  Kelly teaches classes to families for a ridiculously low price through PRIDE.  Childcare is even available!  All classes last for 4 weeks and meet for 2 hours each week.  They meet at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville.  However, the classes are not affiliated with Brookwood and do not have a religious component.  Here is the fall line-up:

Teaching Your Children to “Fish” – Essential Life Skills for Teaching Independence
Tuesdays, September 1 – September 22, 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Click here to register for this class.

 Preparing children for real life means teaching them how to do laundry, cook, clean, maintain a car and more. Children who feel capable and genuinely needed misbehave less than children who are pampered. This active learning workshop explores the Significant Seven Perceptions and Skills that promote self-reliance in children and teens, teaches family tools for assigning age appropriate chores and helps parents practice follow-through techniques. Two class hours per week. Materials fee of $10.00 required (per family).
Don’t Flip Your Lid – Conflict Resolution for Families
Tuesdays, September 29 – October 20, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Click here to register for this class.
Holding on to your thinking cap isn’t always easy when parenting. In this interactive class, learn about the brain’s emotional hard wiring so you can decrease personal stress overloads. Equip the whole family with de-escalation tools that push the reset button and teach healthy communication habits and self- calming skills. Two class hours per week.  Materials fee of $10.00 required.
Offered by PRIDE Parenting a service of Greenville Hospital System
Misbehavior Detectives – Understanding Beliefs Behind Your Child’s Misbehavior
Tuesdays, October 27 – November 17, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Click here to register for this class.
Use your emotions as clues to reveal the main reasons for most misbehavior. This problem solving workshop will help parents take a closer look at misbehavior to develop new long term strategies for teaching children problem solving skills, responsibility and recovery skills. Two class hours per week.  Materials fee of $10.00 required.
Offered by PRIDE Parenting a service of Greenville Hospital System

If you have questions about the classes, please contact the PRIDE office by calling (864) 454-2102.



“We make fun of what used to be called ‘yes-men’ at the office, those deferential employees who never disagree with the boss, so what makes us think that ‘yes-children’ would be ideal?”  —Alfie Kohn Unconditional Parenting

It is my annual re-reading of my parenting manifesto.  I’ve been thinking about my long-term goals for Norah.  What characteristics are most important to shape?  And are my day-to-day actions mirroring these long-term goals?  Or am I simply trying to get by and create a child most convenient for the moment? 

My long-term goal is not obedience.  Nope.  Not at all.  I want an independent thinker.  One day, she’s going to be a teenager (excuse me while I scream!) and she’ll have all sorts of authoritative voices around her.  I certainly don’t want her obeying her creepy karate instructor when he asks her to stay after class and I definitely don’t want her obeying her peers when they ask her to try some new chemical candy.  I don’t want her to absorb everything her college professors tell her.  I want to teach my child to discern, to question, to weigh, and to decide for herself.  Ultimately, I pray she makes good decisions but it is important to me that she understands why she is making them.  And that is something I cannot force. 

So what does that look like in the day-to-day raising of an almost three year old?  Wooo.  Tricky.  And frustrating.  And time-consuming.  And hard.  And rewarding. 

And the icing on the cake–most of the research (both recent and dating all the way back to the 1950’s) shows me that the happy side-effect of this type of parenting is obedience.  By not punishing, rewarding, or controlling, I get a child who both thinks for herself and is more likely to obey me.  Score!

The Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale

I went to the GLA annual book sale yesterday.  Even dragging my tired tot along, I found some great books! 

For the gentle parenting lending library, I picked up Positive Discipline, Positive Discipline A-Z, and Punished by Rewards.  I squealed triumphantly when I found the Alfie Kohn book.  I startled the pregnant mom beside me.

For the UCEDS library, I grabbed The Premature Baby Book, A Child is Born, Mamatoto:  A Celebration of Birth, and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

For my husband, I snagged A Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Blue Ridge Front, South Pole 900 Miles on Foot, Alaska Wilderness:  Exploring the Central Brooks Range, and Still Waters, White Waters.  He asked me if I was intentially trying to drive him away.

For CareyFootprints by Denise Levertov.  I finally found a bosom friend, kindred spirit who quotes poetry to me by email; not nearly as romantic as hand-written perfumed letters but who keeps stamps these days?     

For Norah:  only a tiny goblin book she sneaked into our bag.  I’m a children’s book snob and the pickings were slim. 

For me, I didn’t have much time.  I mentioned the tired tot, right?  I tangled with a football-playeresque guy over The Unicorn & Other Poems.  Go figure.  And, walking to the check-out, I reached back and grabbed Midwives

Final bill:  25.00  Not bad.  Until they announced that the “fill-a-bag-for-10.00” sale was starting in 15 minutes as I’m handed my receipt.

Meet Kelly

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If you’ve been around my blog much, you know I try to practice positive discipline.  It has been difficult finding mommy mentors.  I began with online friends and now I’m steadily building my real life community of families who practice pd. 

Then I discovered Kelly!  Turns out Kelly has been doing this positive discipline thing for years (her kiddos are teens now) and she even teaches pd…in Upstate SC!  So I roped her into meeting me one day.  I had planned our meeting on a morning I wouldn’t have Norah with me; I didn’t want to, um, mess up.  And of course…that backfired and I found myself with Norah in tow.  I remember Norah was carrying some star stickers and one of the first things I blurted to Kelly:  “The stars are not for a reward chart.”  But I needn’t have worried!  Kelly was so inviting, complimentary, and well, positive! 

Go check out her blog and her website.  Take one of her classes.  The ones I saw posted were only 10.00/person!  For those of you waiting for the rumored Positive Discipline group to form, Kelly has promised to be available to hold our hands.