At this week’s parenting class for kids with special needs, we got solid advice on setting and enforcing rules.
I often fall into the trap of explaining rules at the moment I’m trying to enforce one, which is really rather silly on my part, a huge time-waster, and a tactic that usually just ends in screaming and yelling by me, OlderTwin, or both us.
Me (from across the room): Please go brush your teeth.
Me: You have to brush your teeth.
OlderTwin: Go away, Daddy!
Me: You don’t want to get zombie teeth. And, that’s what will happen if you don’t brush.
OlderTwin: I hate you and I’m not listening. (He even covers up his ears at this point, for full effect.)
Me (voice reflecting my agitation): Look. You’re going to brush your teeth because I’m your father and I f*cking said so.
OlderTwin (screaming at the top of his lungs): GO AWAY!!!! I WANT PAPA!!!!
Me (now yelling, too): Go brush your teeth now or I will throw out every toy you own.
OlderTwin: I just want to watch 10 more minutes of TV and then I will.
Me (because I feel guilty about yelling): Fine. Then we brush teeth. Ok?
Ugh. So many problems, besides me explaining the rule which allows him to eventually negotiate and me agreeing to his stall tactic, with that scenario. I’m yelling which only ratchets up a child’s resistance. I’m making a threat (throwing out the toys) I’ll never actually carry-out. And, at the very end, I’m asking him to do something by saying, “Ok?” This gives him the option to say, “No”, a classic parenting misstep.
That scenario is gone from our lives, never to return. Now, the rule is stated no more than twice with the second time including the word always and is followed by guiding the child through the activity.
Me (walking over to OlderTwin and offering him my hand): Time to go brush your teeth. Shall we use your bathroom or mine? (Notice I’m giving him a choice but the end result is brushing his teeth.)
OlderTwin: No. Go away.
Me (perfectly calm): We always brush our teeth before bed.
I’m now picking him up and guiding his feet across the floor to the bathroom.
Once in the bathroom:
Me: Blueberry or orange toothpaste?
OlderTwin: I’m not brushing my teeth.
Me: Then, I’ll wait.
I now calmly plop down on the bathroom floor, blocking his exit, and wait. The first night he screamed and yelled for 30 minutes, but then finally accepted that I said it was time to brush his teeth and I meant it and we weren’t moving on to something else until he did.
Was it hard sitting there for 30 minutes? Sure. Remaining calm during that time is a challenge. To help me stay focused & calm, I kept telling myself, “Everything is copy. You will get a funny blog story out of this one day.”
All in all, the new method is easier and much calmer, especially for me, than our nightly screaming match. After several days, he still initially refuses but the duration of time he screams while lying on the bathroom floor has dropped to 7 minutes. And I’m still repeating in my head, “Everything is copy. You will think this is funny one day and blog about it.” (Thank Gawd for Nora Ephron’s famous line.)
He seems to be learning that I will not engage in an argument. I stated the rule - brushing his teeth - and will calmly wait it out because we’re not moving on to other activities until teeth are brushed.
Parenting kids is hard work. Parenting special needs kids is exponentially more difficult. But there are some tactics that work and improve the quality of your parenting experience. Victory!