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Eight days a week: disciplining three

Picture taken by TwinBug Photography at twinbugphotography@yahoo.com

What a morning we have had! The boys woke up a little before 6:30 in foul little moods. I heard one of them screaming like a banshee and the other two arguing. Dragging myself out of bed I was settling he-touched-my-toy and he-hit-me disputes before even brewing my first cup of coffee-- definitely not my favorite way to wake up. From there it just went downhill. I put all the boys back to bed and hoped they would wake up with sunnier dispositions (and mine too). Sadly, breakfast without whining just wasn't in the cards for us this morning.

So how do you do it? How do you discipline three kids, including two-year old twins? I think this becomes a big question for parents around this age. I know I see it a lot on parenting boards and on twin groups. It is overwhelming to figure out the logistics of time outs when one two-year old is causing mayhem here and the other there and you aren't sure who started what in the first place.

In my last blog post, I mentioned our war on whining.
Now that our twins are almost two and a half, we have outlawed whining. We don't take it. No whining following along after me. No whining for more. No whining at your brother. No whining for a toy or because you're bored or because you don't know the word. They can say "please" or "help, please" or "Momma help, please" or any word they can think of instead of whining. I want to hear, "More milk, please" or "No, thank you" or "Foot hurt" or "Cup empty" or "Hungry." Whatever it is, I don't want to hear: "Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom....."

And we are enforcing this. It has been an uphill battle, but we are fighting it. It is worth it. I love when I say, "No whining, sir. You need to use words," and he says, "Cup empty." I love when I send them to their room for whining and say, "You can come out when you are ready to stop whining and use words," and he marches his little self out five minutes later with a big smile on his face, ready to use words. Those small victories are progress. They make up for the times that we put a toddler in his room over and over for whining or when we are putting two toddlers in their room over and over again for whining-- long, endless afternoons.
Three kids whining at the kitchen table is like nails on the chalkboard. At those moments, I need to remind myself of the reasons why I love motherhood: toddler hugs and kisses, story time on the couch, the first I love you's, watching the three of them play together. There is nothing endearing about whining. The whining has gotten world's better since we approached it with a firm hand. I think the war on whining will just take time and consistency.

For other behaviors, it has been trial and error. What works for one boy might not work for another; what is really effective for one boy is less effective on another. For instance, time outs are heartbreaking for one of our toddlers and a hilarious joke for the other; our oldest, if we put him in time out, immediately pretends that he is a baby, doing baby talk and the whole shtick. And some things just don't work for me as the mother who is enforcing these things, even if they work for my friends and their kids. Like one of my friends says that when her oldest starts pretending to be a baby, they run with it, really making her live the life of a baby and all that comes with it. While this did teach their oldest that she did not want to be a baby anymore, but rather the big sister, I'm much our about swift punishment and moving on from the offending behavior immediately.

I've really been enforcing that bad behavior means losing privileges, good behavior means gaining privileges. This morning when the boys were being so badly behaved, they all lost privileges even though only one of them was being exceedingly naughty (the other two were goading him).  So after breakfast when they all ran to the gate, one screaming on the top of this lungs, the others clamoring next to him, "Momma! Momma!" I sent them all to their beds. No more. I had been going in their room every five minutes for the past twenty minutes and was accomplishing nothing: the kitchen was still a mess and I was no closer to being ready for church. I told them that I would not settle every one of their petty disputes-- they need to work it out. And there they sat, each one on his own bed, no talking, no getting off their beds, no hollering for mom. I made them stay on their beds until I finished my to-do list. I got ready and I finished cleaning up the kitchen. The toddlers had a hard time staying on their beds. They would spot a toy across the room and try to run to grab it. When I heard them, I came in, took the toy away, and sent them back to their beds. They only got up twice during their loss of privileges. Our oldest knew better than to get out of bed and was sadly watching his wallet resting at the bottom of his ladder. It had fallen off his bed, the top bunk, when he was settling in and he wished he had it up there with him.

Consistency. It is exhausting. It is exhausting the days that they don't want to listen and exhausting breaking habits they formed during our transition period from moving. We allowed a lot of things during the madness of this past move (read "Asthma, STA-21, commissioning, and PCSing-- yikes!"). Some days I am so glad that we have chosen the battles that we have. I love when I see them using the problem solving skills we've taught them. I'm sitting outside with them right now and one of the toddlers knocked a ball into the gutter. Instead of screaming loudly like he did the whole first week we moved here (our new driveway has a slight slant), he said, "Help please, brother," and our oldest came over and got it for him. Or when one of the boys accidentally runs into one of his brothers and immediately says, "I'm sorry! Are you okay?" (or "Sorry! Okay?" as the toddlers say), instead of rushing to me, "I didn't mean to! I didn't do anything!" Other days I just wish they would all get along. I really dislike settling these knock down drag out petty disputes first thing in the morning. Maybe I should work on a rule: no fighting until Momma has had a cup or two of coffee? :)

The hardest thing about discipline or working out unseemly behaviors is the temptation to compare yourself or your kids to other families. It is so hard not to wonder what "she's doing different" when you see a mom at the grocery store with kids happily riding in the grocery cart. It is hard not to wonder why your kids won't share when you see brothers stacking blocks together on a playdate. You see a mom tell her kids to knock it off, without counting to three or dishing out threats, and you think, "How does she get them to listen to her??" I don't know. I try not to compare. I love the times that my boys are the well-behaved boys, the few and far between times. We went to Target yesterday and all three of them walked like gentlemen the whole trip including waiting at the check-out counter; all the customers kept complimenting their sweet faces and good manners. This is in stark contrast to the trip my mom and I took the other day when she was in town visiting. Our oldest burst into tears in the parking lot because she veered away from us as we were walking to the store, "Where is Momma going?!" Our toddlers refused to ride in the shopping cart seats and we instead spent the entire trip telling them to "sit down!" in the shopping cart baskets. One of the toddlers ended having a full-blown temper tantrum and my mom had to leave the store with him. We cut our errands short and came home for early lunch and early nap; we never did end up going on the second half our shopping outing. Those two trips were so vastly different, yet they were the same kids, same time of day. I feel like I spin the Wheel of Fortune every time I leave the house, "Will this be a good trip or a bad trip?"

The other struggle is not wanting to be "that mom." Oh, you know, "that mom." That mom you saw before you had kids, deafly pushing a shopping cart of screaming kids through the romance novel section in Target. That mom at the park vacantly texting as her kids rub dirt in each other's hair. That mom caving at the check out counter and buying a candy bar for a grubby child already holding a sippy cup of juice and a packet of gummy fruits. And here I am, sitting out front with my boys as they shovel dirt onto our basketball goal while I write a blog post. I wonder what people would think of this snapshot of my life. That really is what those moments are when you see these mothers that you don't know: a snapshot. I've bribed my kids at the grocery store the day before, for various reasons. My husband and I recently bribed our kids when we made a Costco run the evening our HHG's were delivered. We needed to get mattresses for our boys' room. I wonder what people thought of us there as we pushed these big carts with three mattresses piled on, our boys eating bag after bag of applesauce. Not every battle at every moment is worth fighting; I get that. Consistency will win the war, but kids can win a battle every now and then.

This was shared a lot the other week by my mommy friends on Facebook: The Matt Walsh Blog, "Dear Parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents."

This is my blog post encouraging moms to be supportive of each other: "We are moms"

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