The reality that job requirements, skills and abilities change with each new stage of development makes it even more interesting and perplexing. Add in multiple children and the need to tweak or learn new skills because each child is unique and it can become daunting!
I often felt that just when I got a handle on one thing, something changed or the next kid was totally different and I was floundering again!!
A really helpful lesson I learned as a mom was that there was “lag time” between when I would tell my kids to do or not do something and their choice of obedience, compliance or not. I learned that immediate obedience isn’t so immediate- as the message has to enter our kiddos brain, be processed and then decided on – all before they can respond.
One thing I did to help manage this was count to 3-5 to give our children time to engage, process and decide. For example: One morning, our 4 year old, mild mannered and relatively compliant eldest daughter was running through the front yard and closing in on the street! Seeing her and worrying, I yelled: STOP! -clearly urgent, loud and commanding. While I know she heard me, she took 2-3 more steps before she stopped.
This was Not disobedience- it was her processing time or “lag time.” She needed time to hear my words, choose to listen/obey and then tell her feet to stop moving. So especially with hard to handle kids, it is important to give them some room to deal with the information/ request we make- first at a developmental level and then relationally in response to us. These two different mechanisms play into their decisions and subsequent actions.
Example: suppose you tell your son to pick up and put away the Legos he is playing with because, its time to get ready to go.. and he puts a few more pieces together before he looks up and registers your words.
He pauses and then decides if he will actually comply. (this may also be while putting a few more pieces of Legos together)
This happened with our son, Zack, many times!
In this interim- I would count aloud and slowly 1….2….3…4…and by the count of 5, he was fully aware of the fact that this was a decision to obey or not. Doing this eliminated a lot of conflicts when he didn’t act immediately to obey or jump into action, as I was able to give him time and highlight that this was a moment of choice.
Sometimes impulsivity and/ responsiveness is developmentally driven and our job is to slow down time and highlight choices for them. As our kids got older, I shortened it to a count of 3 and this became an effective strategy for us as they realized when I began counting -I was serious! They were about to cross a line and/or really needed to pay attention and choose to obey. This was an extremely helpful tactic during their tween/teen years and rebellion is part of the developmental process.
Once when Zack had returned home during college break… taller than me, almost a man, but still a dependent, he was really testing me and challenging the boundaries and new rules that come with college age kids retuning home… and I looked at him, paused, raised my eyebrows, put on the mom tone and started counting, and we both laughed, as Zack realized I was serious– Okay mom, he replied. and in just a few words I communicated that this was not the time to push any further but choose to comply out of respect and honoring us and our requests as his parents even though he was living on his own at college.
This is where the journey becomes part of the story of your relationship with your son and believe me there are more treasured moments and memories than you may know!!
There are so many good resources and books – but these few are more unique in their approach and really helped both me and my clients through the years.
One of the best resources I used as both a mom and a Marriage & Family Therapist are the Ilg, Ames & Bates- child development books. They have a Comprehensive book, but I highly recommend getting the specific age book from their “Your # -year old” series which really help with understanding the developmental processes in our kids and how they impact behavior, emotions, and relationships. While they may dated in some of their examples, their general principles – behavior and developmental insights – are timeless!
A Few Other resources I used and recommend to my clients:
and Parenting Adolescents: is a must read in my opinion for any parents of tweens and teens —
So… I hope this both helps and encourages all the Moms as you live and love on the front lines of raising the next generation!