Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Your Kids Push Your Buttons. Guest Post By Katie Hurley

This summer I've asked a few of my fellow bloggers and parenting experts to chime in on some reader questions that I felt were pretty universal in their subject matter. I thought this would not only allow you, my dear readers, to see that we all struggle with similar issues, but it would also introduce you to some really amazing people who in my online circle of friends.

Today's guest blogger is Katie Hurley. Katie is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist, Parenting Expert and the author of not one, but two blogs. In her first blog, Practical Parenting, Katie shares her beautifully written stories and straightforward advice for being the best parent you can be. She recently launched Clomid and Cabernet which is an advice and support blog for anyone dealing with the struggle of infertility. In addition to all of this, Katie is a married mom of two and writes weekly parenting columns for and Mommy Moment

I've had the pleasure of meeting Katie in person and she's as lovely and real as she comes across in her blogs. She pours all of herself into helping families so they can raise happy, joyous children and I am truly honored to have her guest posting here today. 

"I'm at my wit's end and need some advice. My twins are almost 2.9 and we've had our ups and downs. I really want to parent positively but sometimes feel like I just hit a brick wall. Today as we were driving home from daycare the kids started yelling. They were having fun and singing, but not using their "quiet voices" (loud voices are for outdoors only). So I asked them/told them in a "quiet voice" to use theirs. And I asked them again. They continued, so I told them I needed to take away their loveys, which usually works, but this time they just handed over and laughed. I was still keeping calm but racking my brain for what to do. Then they started taking shoes off and just doing everything that was "against" what we normally do. This is where I failed and what I am completely embarrassed to admit; I was so angry, so I just pulled the car over, yelled at them and popped their legs. Not hard, but enough to get their attention. It doesn't even matter, I did it and I am beyond mad at myself.

Basically, I don't know what to do. Maybe taking things they love away was never the right thing to do but it used to work. What do I do now? I try to talk to them and redirect, but it seems as though nothing I do works. Losing my temper, yelling and hitting are far from me being the best mom I can be to them and it breaks my heart when I do that." 
~  Tired Mommy

Dear Tired Mommy,

Nothing makes me crazier than my kids fighting in the car.
(Image source)
Let's start by stating the obvious:  Few things are more difficult than trying to drive a car with screaming toddlers in the back, happy or sad. At least that's true when it comes to parenting, anyway. Truly, it is nearly impossible to drive when you can't catch your breath from all of the screaming behind you. Believe me, we've all been there.  

Did you know that studies show that the sleep deprivation that moms of young children experience can put them at risk of car accidents? It's true. Research shows that exhausted moms are not much better on the road than adults driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Add screaming children to mom exhaustion and it's only natural that you hit your limit.

I also want to point out a positive: modeling a quiet voice for your children shows them exactly what you expect of them. Children learn by watching those around them, and you started by modeling what you needed from them. I would suggest doing some role plays at home (which kids just call pretend) in a calm moment to really get the point across. Pack for a pretend road trip and line up your kitchen table chairs to create a car.  Use quiet voices while "traveling", and maybe even throw in some car friendly games (looking for letters, colors, etc), and stop at "rest stops" to let the energy out. Sounds silly, I know, but never underestimate the power of play when it comes to learning appropriate behavior.

It seems as if you already know that yelling and physical punishment are not healthy. But please, don't let this incident eat you up. The fact is that we all have our breaking points, and yelling happens when we feel a complete loss of control. And it seems clear that you are aware of the ramifications of hitting or "popping" them in some way. You don't want to model behaviors that you don't want them to repeat, and studies show that children who are spanked tend to end up with anxiety, depression, and/or problems with drugs and alcohol.  

Above all, forgive yourself for one small moment of frustration and commend yourself for reaching out for help.

What to do:

To a young child, a "lovey" is more than just a toy.
1. Loveys. A lovey is meant to be a special blanket/animal/object that helps children feel safe during times of stress, when they feel sad or lonely, and when they sleep. I do not recommend using a lovey as a punishment. While I understand that it worked in the past, it can be very upsetting to have your safety mechanism taken because you made a bad choice (imagine if someone took something very important to you every time you said a bad word or drove too fast?). 

If you want to use removal as a strategy, I would caution you to choose something that fits the incident (although I know this is difficult in a car). If my three-year old throws a car, he loses that car for three minutes. The removal should make sense to the situation, otherwise they will become immune to it and fail to understand the meaning of the consequence.

2. Pull over the car immediately. In a very calm and boring voice repeat the following, "I can't drive the car until we all use our quiet voices. It's too loud in the car for mommy to drive." They will probably call your bluff for a little while, but they will want to get home (or wherever you're going), and eventually they will get it.

3. Pick your battles. The screaming is stressful and makes for dangerous driving...but the shoe removal? As long as they're not throwing them at you or each other...maybe that's not worth fighting in the moment.  

4. Rules. Create a list of car rules and tape it to the seat in front of them.  Use visual cues and go over the rules each time they get in, until the behavior is extinguished.  

5. 1-2-3. I don't often recommend specific parenting books, with one exception. Particularly with toddler twins, you need an easy system that doesn't require endless stickers, checks, and rewards. Pick up 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan, read it, and use as directed. When you use a counting system for toddlers and you use a very boring works. They like to get reactions, good or bad. They will repeat behaviors for the sake of the reaction...even if they do lose a lovey for a moment.

6. Remember developmental considerations. Sometimes we expect kids to remember and abide by rules the minute they hit 2-3, but they are still very young. Added to that, they probably hold it together fairly well in daycare for an extended period of time each day. So you have toddlers with pent up energy who are excited to see mom and a tired mom who really just needs to get home. Consider a quick walk around the daycare neighborhood before the ride to get some energy out or a few minutes of check-in time before you start driving. Keep it simple when it comes to rules. Create a list of house rules and keep it in the kitchen. Review it daily. But no more than 4-5 rules...they can only remember so much at this stage.

7. Use stickers. Sticker charts are great, when used correctly. For a 2-3 year old child, you want to work on one behavior at a time and reward intermittently so that you don't end up with performances for rewards. I repeat, one behavior. If car behavior is the most difficult right now, then stickers are earned for using quiet voices in the car. After every 3-4 stickers, award a small prize. Keep a prize box in the house with very inexpensive prizes in it (super ball, squishy frogs, etc). Try to avoid food as prizes. The party aisle at Target is great for  stocking a prize box...also I recycle the prizes at times ( many bouncy balls does one kid need??).

8. Take care of you. Sleep, hydration, and exercise will help fight off the frustration that you're experiencing in response to these triggers.  And me time: a book, a bath, a cup of tea....make time for you so that you can remain present for them.

Hope this helps. And again, remember to pat yourself on the back for reaching out to Gina for help. It only gets better when we seek the help that we need...

Katie Hurley and her son, Liam.

Katie Hurley is a child, adolescent and family therapist in Los Angeles, CA.  She is mom to Riley (5) and Liam (3) and wife to Sean.  In addition to writing her two blogs, Katie also runs a successful private practice and teaches parenting classes. If you have any questions or would like to talk to her further, please contact Katie at You can also find Katie on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!


Thank you to "Tired Mommy" for your honesty and trust, and to Katie for taking the time to give your thoughts on how parents can approach situations like this. If you have any questions for Katie (or me) or comments about the ideas expressed here, please leave them below. As always, we appreciate your responses!
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