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Pick your battles

Discipline... Perhaps with our oldest we focused too much on discipline. Sometimes, I really feel that way. That we expected too much, that we wanted him to behave more than was age appropriate, that we were too strict. I think that dads have a tendency to do that, but I really think I put a lot of expectations on him as well. The past couple weeks, I remembered a few specific times where I wish I had cut him a break. And then there are other times where I see his behavior now and I think, "Man, all that hard work has paid off." He is respectful; he is working on his table manners. He follows instructions (for the most part). And he knows that we are serious when we tell him yes or no.

I feel that with the toddlers, we let a lot of things go. The other night O was throwing a tennis ball in our living room. I cannot stand things being thrown in the house. It absolutely drives me crazy. I especially do not want things thrown near our television or lamps or other various electronics. No, no, no, no. My husband and I were distracted with the other boys when O started this, so we didn't notice until he had been throwing for a few minutes. I tell him, "We don't throw. Put it away!" He picks the ball up, smiles, and throws it again. Hubby, who was sitting on the floor, reaches over and points to the dog toy basket. "Can you put the ball away, O?" O shakes his head no and throws the ball again. I count, "Put it away, O. 1... 2... 3..." While I count, he stands with a goofy smile on his face, waits until I get to three, then throws the ball. I stand up and reach to take the ball from him. He dashes to the ball and runs out of my reach. He races over to a resuable handle bag that has for some reason taken residence by the side of our couch and tosses the ball in. I want to take the ball from him (you disobey, you don't get fun things), but Hubby says, "Good job, O." Case closed. Hubby leaves the room to take care of C, who is having difficulties, while O drapes the handle bag over his arm, takes the ball out, and resumes throwing. I take the ball from him and set it up high on a bookcase. O chases after me and starts holding his breath. Later I tell Hubby that we probably should have taken the ball from O in the first place and he agrees, adding, "I heard C screaming in the other room and wasn't really thinking about what to do with O." Exactly my problem.

The other night I was giving O his nebulizer treatment. D was watching his Super Hero Squad on Netflix, snuggled up under a blanket in the corner of the couch. C saunters in as only C can saunter in, surveys the room and decides he wants to curl up next to D, harmless enough. No, he turns his body and starts kicking his toddler legs as hard as he can on his unsuspecting older brother. D tells C to stop and scoots away from him. C follows. I, of course, am telling C to stop. I really think he knew I was tethered down with this nebulizer treatment and thought he could get away with it. I tell D to come sit next to me. C then jumps down from the couch, picks up one of the dog toys, and starts hitting D with it while D is sitting next to me. Why? I don't know. I reach for C and tell him sternly, "No, sir!" He lunges out of my reach and takes off giggling across the room. I turn off the nebulizer and do a time out with C.

Grrrr. Sometimes with them, I really feel like I have some things down. I take these logistic challenges and make it work. But figuring out how to enforce our house rules is quickly getting out of control. I am consistent with some things (do not play in the Tupperware cabinet) and confusing on others (don't do that...except when I'm too busy to come stop you). And giving toddlers time outs is so time consuming! They don't understand the process and completely forget why you are even giving them a time out. They don't connect sitting on the steps with throwing the train at his brother's head, which makes me feel like that it is totally pointless. We do a lot of distraction tactics ("Can you find the ball?") and taking away problematic toys ("If you can't play with trains without throwing them, then you don't get to play with trains"). Sometimes I feel like these really work and let them know that we do not continue with bad behavior. Other times I feel like we are glossing over the problem.

I recently read Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and one of the points in the book was building a "frame." You have a frame of behavior that doesn't change, rules that don't bend, behavior that you expect, but within that frame you are lenient. I do feel like we have a frame of behavior we expect from the boys and that we are lenient on the other things. As my mom always tells me, I need to pick my battles. But it feels like that middle stuff is just getting crazy! What is the frame of behavior for two toddlers screaming bloody murder over one locomotive at the train table? Take the locomotive away? And when they move on from the train table to arguing over who goes down the slide first? And then their older brother starts playing blocks that they immediately go to throw and knock over? And then one of the toddlers throws himself on the floor in a temper tantrum and the other takes off running? And their older brother is mad because his brothers took his blocks?

I don't want to regulate their play every time they play. I don't want to sit on the sunroom floor every time they play out there. I think they are old enough to start listening. I think they need to learn not to climb on the kitchen table and not to hit each other with toys. Sometimes it feels like they spend all their time banging against the frame of behavior we have set for them instead of enjoying the freedom they have inside the frame.


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