Mother can't get her kids to play nice at the breakfast table.
I recently worked with a mom of a 3-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy who said that her daughter is a bit grumpy in the morning, and her son seems to enjoy causing trouble with his sister.
We talked about them both getting enough sleep for their age (10-12 hours), bedtime routines, sleeping through the night and their morning routine. Any one of those factors can affect a child’s behavior, and therefore change the dynamics of the morning for the entire family. Everything seemed to be in place.
When I asked about specific behaviors that cause concern, Mom said that when her daughter sits at the counter to eat her breakfast, and her brother climbs on his stool to sit next to her, she whines and cries because she doesn’t want him sitting there.
When I asked what usually happens next, Mom said she tells her son to move, to eat at the kitchen table, because his sister wants to be left alone. She said he usually eats at the table for a while, but then heads back to the counter, bothering his sister, asking questions, attempting to sit with her. The sister then screams for him to get away, and Mom said she ends up yelling at him for taunting her. Soon, everyone is in a bad mood first thing in the morning. She said it is a vicious cycle, and it’s been going on for a while. It’s becoming a habit.
I used a favorite quote, “Nothing changes if nothing changes,” explaining that if she looks closely at what is happening, she can see what she can do differently to change the dynamics. I also offered the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
The real problem
I asked the mom why she was directing her son to the table instead of serving them both at the counter for breakfast. She thought I was kidding, since her daughter screams and absolutely carries on. She said it’s just easier to send him elsewhere since she gets so upset, but then he just keeps coming back to cause trouble.
I wondered if she realized that she is allowing, and actually training, her daughter to have a tantrum in the mornings.
Previously, she referred to her son as the troublemaker, when actually it is her sweet little 3-year-old daughter who needs to be removed and retrained, to learn to eat breakfast at the counter, calmly with her brother.
So often we ask the well-behaved sibling to “give in, give it up or get out of the way,” simply because it is easier than confronting an out-of-control child.
However, by giving in to that out-of-control child, we are reinforcing her behavior and empowering her, telling her it is acceptable to behave that way.
In this case, the 3-year-old was determining who sits at the counter. It also is important to note that the 7-year-old was identified as being the troublemaker, when he was set up for failure from the beginning. It isn’t fair or reasonable to have one child constantly make concessions for another child’s bad behavior.
Although Mom had never viewed the situation from that perspective, she felt she could address the problem with a “say less, do more” strategy.
“Say less and do more” means don’t talk about what you are going to do, just do it. In this case, Mom was prompted to invite her son to the counter for breakfast, and when her daughter began screaming, to remove her from her stool, telling her she is invited back for breakfast when she can join her brother quietly. I reminded Mom that her daughter’s inappropriate behavior has been going on “for quite a while,” warning that retraining may take two to three days before everyone sits together successfully. I urged her not to give in, and to be consistent in what she said and did each morning.
Happy endings: Within a few days, a new environment was successfully created by that mom, the family sat together at the counter for breakfast and pancakes were enjoyed by all!
The moral: If you’re having a problem with your child, take a step back, pull it apart, develop a strategy and determine a game plan where everyone wins.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702.