If you look at parenting in its entirety, it can quickly overwhelm you. During my boys’ lengthy ‘terrible twos’ that started at 15 months and lasted until kindergarten, I never would have believed it would get easier. When I started each day with them, I would mentally prepare for the seemingly endless battles that lay ahead. It was tough to keep positive and lots of times, positivity quickly took a backseat to simply surviving the day.
Though my boys were blessed with incredible tenacity, some part of me knew that if I didn’t get a handle on it and them at a young age, I was going to be in big trouble. When I looked at the whole of what I wanted to change with them, I automatically wanted to throw in the towel. The list went on and on: diaper changes that weren’t wrestling matches, getting them to eat healthy foods, potty training, getting them buckled without getting kicked in the face, navigating public outings without outbursts (mine and theirs), preventing epic sibling battles, managing tantrums (again, mine and theirs) and finally, teaching them some manners. I wanted to do all this and more.
One day when decidedly everything I attempted to do with my boys backfired, I kind of just gave up. Okay, I gave up a lot of days. Still, I knew that I needed to do something, anything, to let them know that I was in fact, in charge. But what to do?
That’s when I implemented the ‘change one thing’ plan of attack. I decided to dedicate all my focus and energy on alleviating the most pressing behavior challenge I was facing. This didn’t mean I let everything else go, but if I failed at the other things, I wouldn’t dwell on it and quickly would move on. However, if it was the behavior I intended to focus on, I didn’t give up until it changed. Sometimes, it took a few weeks for something to take hold, but I made space in our lives for whatever it took.
One of the first things I decided to work on, because for whatever reason, this one really irked me, was to teach my older son, who was about three years old at the time, to put his shoes away. There was something about finding muddy shoe tracks and random, dirty shoes all over my house that I wasn’t a huge fan of. At the time, the closet we put shoes in was about two steps from our door and it was very simple for him to reach the shelf where his shoes belonged. Mostly, he would flat-out refuse when asked to put them away, and throw himself backwards while screaming. I didn’t budge. I let him scream and cry, but basically I made our whole world stop until he put them away. At first, it took a long time for him to catch on and do it. Once he realized that I truly meant business, he would put the shoes away. It took a few weeks, but eventually, he did it without the tantrum. Over time, I noticed as I got very serious about specific behaviors and worked on them, my boys began to respect my authority more in all of their behaviors.
So, on a day when your kid is showing you a million behaviors that frustrate you, start with one and don’t back down. Change one thing and see where it takes you. You’ve got this.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent