Our Story Begins:
The Breakdown Moment
“Your kids are so polite!”
That line gets said a lot. My oldest daughter, Abbi, even got it from her boss when she brought one of my twin boys, Noah, to work one day. “Your brother is so polite!” She got the very common response all of us parents use when we see children behave: “I wish mine acted that way.”
Let’s face it, we all go out into public and wonder not if, but when one of those kids wandering the Target with you or playing at the park will melt down. I know you’ve seen that “look.” You know which one I’m talking about: that devilish, angry calm just before the meltdown in the toy aisle at Target. It’s the “but I don’t care if it’s my cousin’s birthday, I WANT A BARBIE, TOO!!!” moment. We’ve all noticed that point in our kid’s life that our kids realize that we can’t react in public the way we do at home.
I don’t mean spanking or action or punishment or screaming at them. That said, I never say anything to a parent with a melting down kid in the store . . . unless they hit them, and I mean hit them. You can tell the difference. Why? Because I’ve been there. We all have. None of us want to – nor can we react the way our parents did in public. If I’d acted the way my kids did when testing the limits the same way my parents did things would be vastly different.
But I also dealt with parents who were creative in their punishment. I also dealt with a mom who didn’t give two cents how it looked to have me sitting in a shopping cart screaming at the top of my lungs. She never gave in, not once.
So what do you do? How did I get to the point where I hear “your kids are so polite?!”
I always thought it was persistence and creativity. I once took my daughter, Abbi, outside a craft store when she had a meltdown and wouldn’t let her go to the car. We stood outside the store, her in my arms, my ignoring her, and she screaming – over and over and over. At one point a mom came up and I was waiting for the berating and instead got a smile and “hang in there, Dad!”
When one child screamed “I want privacy!” at a young age and slammed their door shut I took the door off the hinges…leaning it on the wall across from the bed so they saw it. Every night.
But my daughter informed me what really did it after her boss complimented my son, Noah.
“You always reinforced our good behavior,” Abbi said, sounding very psychological. “When we did what we should you told us ‘good job.’ When we didn’t, we got into trouble. That was enough.”
I thought about that, and it was second nature to me because my folks did it. “Say thank you,” was the line, when we were given something. “Good job,” and a rub on the head or pat on the back followed when we did it. If we didn’t; well let’s just say we didn’t leave until we did. I do it myself, without even thinking.
The point is this: we all worry how our kids will act when we go out of the home. It’s been the hardest thing in the world for me to see that my kids have become far better behaved since losing their mom. The kids have had to grow fast, true, but even they admitted to me something far more powerful.
“Mom always caved in,” my sons told me. She did, too. I never did, and that made parenting them and meaning it very, very hard. They knew, from day one, that I would make good on my promises and my punishments. None of us liked the fact that we excelled after she was gone.
But one thing is certain: we all know she’d have been proud.
And she’d tell them they were so polite.
What about you? Do you worry how your kids will act? Do you think about the punishments or act rashly? Do you enforce the rules or give positive reinforcement?
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer, journalist and musician based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.