My husband and I used to sit down to a quiet dinner, just the two of us. We used to be able to eat the same thing every week. We used to be able to hold hands when we wanted and pack up leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
Kids changed all that.
Now we sit down to a dinner with more words than you’ll read in a George R.R. Martin novel. We have to have something different every night of the month. We use our hands to dish out food, and there are never any leftovers.
Over the years of eating dinners together, which, in spite of the mayhem six boys can rouse, we still find important, my boys have emerged with very different eating personalities.
There is The Picky Eater.
This is the kid who asks what’s for dinner, and, before you even get “chicken noodle soup” out, he’s already looking in the pot and saying, “I want something else.”
“If you can cook it,” I say. (He can’t. He’s 4.)
“But I HATE that.”
“Do you even know what it is?” I say, because I’m a cook, not a chef, kid.
I have to give him credit. He gives it a chance. In fact, he gives it three chances, in three separate helpings, all the while saying how much he wishes he could have something else for dinner.
We also have The Player.
This is the kid who will take a string of spaghetti and swing it around like a rope. He’ll set up a forest with his broccoli. He will wear his pizza like a triangle hat.
“Stop playing with your food,” I’ll say.
“I not playing,” he’ll say. “I eating. See?” He puts the broccoli in his mouth, shouting, “I eat tree! Oh no!”
Well, at least he’s eating broccoli.
And we have his twin brother, The Wanderer.
This is the kid who cannot put one bite in his mouth without moving from the table to pick up the book he wanted to show his brothers. He’ll take another bite and remember he forgot to show Mama the toy he found under the couch today. It was gone for so long. Another bite, and he’s up again, using the bathroom or putting his shoes where they go or remembering he left his Thermos in the refrigerator.
“The rule is you stay at the table and ask to be excused,” I say.
“I am staying at the table,” he’ll say.
“No. That’s not staying. See? You just got up from the table.”
“No! I staying.”
Ever argue with a 2-year-old? Not only does it not make sense, YOU WILL NOT WIN.
So we strapped him into a booster seat. The Wanderer wanders no more.
One of our boys is The Talker.
This is the kid who will take so excruciatingly long to eat his dinner he’s the last one at the table and we’ve all fallen asleep.
It’s not that he isn’t hungry, because he’ll always ask for more, even if dinner has already been cleaned up.
It’s just that he has to tell us every single second of his day, and he forgets that there is food to eat. The loud rumbling in his belly will not make him shovel that food any faster.
“You should eat,” I’ll say, after he’s told me in finite detail what went on today in his Sage class.
“But I want to tell you about my day.”
Twenty-five minutes of every person he came across at school today and what he did in math class and who he played with at recess and I’m getting a nervous tick in my leg, because dinner is almost over and he’s only taken two bites.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad he talks. It’s just…Eat.
Then there is The Inhaler.
This kid is the opposite of The Talker. He will start eating at the exact same time as everyone else but will finish when everyone else is on their second bite.
“May I have some more please?” he’ll say.
“You’re already done?” I’ll say.
“I’m really hungry,” he’ll say.
These are the only words The Inhaler will say during dinner, except for a quick one-word answer when asked what his thankful is for the day. He’s too busy shoveling to talk.
“Chew your food,” I’ll say. “Take your time.”
He’ll shoot me that you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about look.
“My stomach hurts,” he’ll say after dinner.
“Do you think it’s because you ate too much?” I’ll say. “Too fast?”
“No. I think it’s just gas.”
I’ll wait a while before I tell him that eating too fast causes gas.
All I know is mealtime sure has gotten interesting.
And, if I’m being honest, a whole lot better.
This is an excerpt from Parenthood: Has Anyone Seen My Sanity?, the first book in the Crash Test Parents humor series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.
Book review: No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Status: Highly recommended.
This is the second release from Drs. Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and I often tell people it’s one of three books I will read every year I’m a parent. And then again when I’m a grandparent.
Siegel and Bryson first joined together to write The Whole-Brain Child, another of the three re-read-every-year books, and both books have pages and pages where words are underlined and passages are double starred and margins have my own personal notes. Both are really fantastic reads.
In the first few pages, Bryson and Siegel remind parents of what discipline really means—disciple and lead and instruct—and they lament that so many parents equate the word discipline with punishment when there are so many better ways to discipline a child that don’t involve disconnection between parent and child.
The book includes helpful cartoon-like illustrations and real-life scenarios from Siegel’s and Bryson’s parenting experience (Siegel has grown children, and Bryson is still raising her three children), giving parents practical advice for everyday battles and discipline opportunities.
Siegel and Bryson also communicate a gentle philosophy that does not judge parents for the ways they have, to date, discipline their children, but they provide an encouraging invitation: when we know better, we do better. They acknowledge that brain science is beginning to help us know better, especially when it comes to the ways we have disciplined, and now we are invited to use that information to do better.
Bryson and Siegel are always kind and understanding and intentional with their words so that parents, when finished with the book, feel empowered to put their teachings into practice instead of too discouraged to try changing their default ways.
The last chapter recognizes that sometimes everyone walks away from a disciplinary interaction feeling angry, confused and frustrated. They offer four messages of hope for parents, which I found encouraging, because what parent can always, every day, be on top of her game?
In fact, in the “Further Resources” section of the book, Siegel and Bryson included a piece called “When a Parenting Expert Loses it: You’re Not the Only One,” where they both share about a parenting failure moment, acknowledging that it’s difficult to parent in a calm, whole-brain way all the time, and that sometimes we all fail.
One of the most valuable pieces I took away from the book is a note we can give to our caregivers. The note explains our discipline approach in a nutshell (which I find easier to use than to explain), including points like “discipline is essential” and “effective discipline depends on a loving, respectful relationship between adult and child” and “the first step in discipline is to pay attention to kids’ emotions.” This is a helpful resource that can be used for all the people who care for our children. I’ve given it to grandparents and babysitters.
Overall, the book was highly encouraging and valuable for parents who are done with the philosophy that discipline equals punishment. My only regret is that this book was not around when my oldest (the 8-year-old) was a baby. Some of the not-so-great parenting patterns we formed then, the defaults we developed, might have been avoided.
But I will read this book again and again and again, until those healthy practices overshadow the default, not-so-healthy ones.
If you are a parent or a grandparent or a teacher or a Sunday school teacher or an aunt or an uncle or a childcare provider or you have ANY exposure at all to children, you should read this book.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Essentially, we want caregivers to begin to think of discipline as one of the most loving and nurturing things we can do for kids. Our children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big angry feelings, and considering the impact of their behavior on others. Learning these essentials of life and relationships is what they need, and if you can provide it for them, you’ll be offering a significant gift not only to your children, but to your whole family and even the rest of the world.”
“Effective discipline means that we’re not only stopping a bad behavior or promoting a good one, but also teaching skills and nurturing the connections in our children’s brains that will help them make better decisions and handle themselves well in the future.”
“When we discipline we want to join with our kids in a deep way that demonstrates how much we love them. In fact, when our children are misbehaving, that’s often when they most need connection with us…However, connection isn’t the same thing as permissiveness. Connecting with our kids during discipline doesn’t mean letting them do whatever they want. In fact, just the opposite. Part of truly loving our kids, and giving them what they need, means offering them clear and consistent boundaries, creating predictable structure in their lives, as well as having high expectations for them. Children need to understand the way the world works: what’s permissible and what’s not. A well-defined understanding of rules and boundaries helps them achieve success in relationships and other areas of their lives.”
“The research is really clear on this point. Kids who achieve the best outcomes in life—emotionally, relationally, and even educationally—have parents who raise them with a high degree of connection and nurturing, while also communicating and maintaining clear limits and high expectations. Their parents remain consistent while still interacting with them in a way that communicates love, respect and compassion. As a result, the kids are happier, do better in school, get into less trouble, and enjoy more meaningful relationships.”
“Instead of being reactive, we want to be responsive to our kids. We want to be intentional and make conscious decisions based on principles we’ve thought about and agreed on beforehand. Being intentional means considering various options and then choosing the one that engages a thoughtful approach toward our intended outcomes. For No-Drama Discipline, this means the short-term external outcome of behavioral boundaries and structure and the long-term internal outcome of teaching life skills.”
“Our kids don’t usually lash out at us because they’re simply rude, or because we’re failures as parents. They usually lash out because they don’t yet have the capacity to regulate their emotional states and control their impulses. And they feel safe enough with us to know that they won’t lose our love, even when they’re at their worst. In fact, when a four-year-old doesn’t hit and acts ‘perfect’ all the time, we have concerns about the child’s bond with his parent. When children are securely attached to their parents, they feel safe enough to test that relationship. In other words, your child’s misbehavior is often a sign of his trust and safety with you.”
“Sometimes there’s just nothing we can do to ‘fix’ things when our kids are having a hard time. We can work to stay calm and loving. We can be fully present. We can access the full measure of our creativity. And still, we may not be able to make things better right away. Sometimes all we have to offer is our presence as our children move through the emotions. When kids clearly communicate that they want to be alone, we can respect what they feel they need in order to calm down.”
“Our messy, human, parental responses give kids opportunities to deal with difficult situations and therefore develop new skills. They have to learn to control themselves even though their parent isn’t doing such a great job of controlling herself. Then they get to see you model how to apologize and make things right. They experience that when there is conflict and argument, there can be repair, and things become good again. This helps them feel safe and not so afraid in future relationships; they learn to trust, and even expect that calm and connection will follow conflict. Plus, they learn that their actions affect other people’s emotions and behavior. Finally, they see that you’re not perfect, so they won’t expect themselves to be, either. That’s a lot of important lessons to learn from one parent’s loud, impulsive declaration that he’s sending back all the presents because his kids complained about having to help put up the holiday decorations.”
“Ruptures without repair leave both parent and child feeling disconnected. And if that disconnection is prolonged—and especially if it’s associated with your anger, hostility or rage—then toxic shame and humiliation can grow in the child, damaging her emerging sense of self and her state of mind about how relationships work. It’s therefore vital that we make a timely reconnection with our kids after there’s been a rupture.”