A Story About Kind and Firm Follow Through

Okay, I have a story to tell...  And of course, this happened the day that we covered "follow through" during my parenting class.  We do lots of role playing in the parenting with PD classes, and there is always someone who is moved to say, "yeah but, what about when that doesn't work?"  The answer is that you need to follow through with kindness and firmness.  It is easier said than done - check it out...

So this is a story that happened last week...  One of the systems we have set up for Ian (my nearly seven year old) is a basket in his room for all the clothes he takes off throughout the day.  Once a week he is expected to empty and sort the clothes in the basket, putting clothes away or in the laundry.  He has figured out, because he's smart, that it is easier and quicker to just skip the sorting and dump all the clothes from the basket into the laundry.  Then I end up washing tons of things (robes, dress up clothes, etc.) that don't really need to be cleaned.

This has happened two weeks in a row now.  Ben's solution was to talk to Ian about helping to fold the load of laundry from his basket.  There was no timeline set or anything, so of course, it didn't happen.  Then, at the Family Meeting, Ian agreed he would fold this huge basket of clothes the following Thursday after school.  I reminded him that this was one of the only days of the week with nothing to do after school, but that is the day he chose.

So Thursday rolls around...  And Ian is going potty and I gently remind him that this is the day that he agreed to get his laundry folded.  He FREAKED out!!!  He said, "No!  I'm NOT going to do it!!"

And I calmly said, "What was our agreement?"

"No, I'm NOT going to do it!"

"What was our agreement?"

"I'll do it on Saturday!!"

And I continued with , "What was the agreement?"  And he would not restate the agreement.  He was PISSED and completely refusing to recognize his agreement.  So I said, "Well, I can go get the Family Meeting book and we can be reminded of what you agreed to do."  And he just continued to carry on with howling and growling about how he wasn't going to do his folding (still perched on the toilet...)

So I'm thinking to myself, well, I'll just head downstairs and he'll cool off, and it'll be fine.  But I could hear him upstairs just screaming about it, really beginning to head to that out of control madness place...    Then I heard him stomping around and I went up to check in.

As I got to the top of the stairs, he was leaving my room and stomping into his.  His face was bright red, his eyes were puffy and unfocused, and his whole body was tense.  He went into his room and slammed his door.  Dang, I thought, he is really flipped.  I had not seen him this far gone in a looooong time...

I went into Ian's room and curled up next to him on the bottom bunk.  He immediately yelled, "GET OUT!"  I just laid there without talking.  I wanted to be present with him and his anger, silently supporting him.  "Get out! Get out! Get out!" he yelled, with his fingers in his ears.  I just sat there, unsure of what to do, not really wanting to leave him.  Finally he said, "Mom, get out, or I might hit you."  Well,  I thought, at least he has enough control to let me know he may lash out, instead of just doing it.

As I left his room, I said, "Ian, I just want to remind you that you know how to calm down.  And when you're ready, you can look at a book or listen to music.  You know what to do.  I love you."  And then I left and went back downstairs.

I could have gotten mad at him, been triggered by his emotional meltdown.  I could have let him know that it wasn't okay for him to act the way he was acting, slamming doors and screaming and yelling.  I could have told him to just stay in his room for the rest of the afternoon.  I could have done these things, but I didn't.

Downstairs I thought about what follow through looks like, and how sometimes it means giving space for your child to carry on about how they feel about responsibility.  I wasn't sure how the afternoon would play out, but I was ready to support Ian with kindness and firmness.  The expectation of him keeping his agreement never went away...

So then Ian begins to head down the stairs.  He is still clearly flipped, but in more control of himself.  Ben had already asked him about eating a snack and he was mad and refused.  I then let him know that I would be making myself something to eat and I would leave something out for him.  I put a bowl of goldfish, a Z Bar and an apple on the counter. Ian sat down quietly and ate everything I put in front of him.

I noticed how his energy had changed.  He was truly calm, still fragile, but calm.  It had been about 45 minutes since the fall apart had begun.  Kind and firm follow through was about to be tested.

"Hey Ian?" I said, "I have an idea.  I have to do some juicing and I was thinking that I could bring down that basket of clothes and you could fold them near me and we could listen to a story."  He looked at me, interested in the story idea.  "I'll go get the basket and you could get it done right here."  Before he could answer, I went up and got the basket of clothes.

I set him up near the kitchen table.  I found a halloween story online that was just creepy enough to keep his attention, and I started cutting up vegetables.

A few minutes in, he said, "Wait, I need you to help me."

"Well, I need to move on and get this juicing done.  This story is 15 minutes long, I know you can finish before the end.  We won't talk to each other, just fold and listen."

He folded that whole tub of laundry.  More clothes than I have EVER seen him fold before.  The story was engaging and he just charged right through it.  It was amazing!!!

So this is what kind and firm follow through looks like.  Kindness is respecting your child - I gave him space for freaking out then calming down, then I set him up close to me and put the story on.  Firmness is respecting yourself and the situation - my time was no longer available for helping, I needed to get some other stuff done, and the agreement needed to be met.  There was no yelling, threatening, or coercing - just kindness and firmness.

He was SO PROUD of the work he did!!!  Later on we talked about the meltdown.  I asked him about how his body felt and what helped him to calm down.  I shared about how my body feels when I freak out.  I complimented him on how he was able to maintain enough control to let me know he felt like hitting me.  I reminded him that not so long ago he would have just lashed out and hurt whoever was around him when he felt like that...

What did he learn?  He learned that he can freak out and calm down.  He is capable of self regulation.  He learned that when an agreement is made, it is expected to be kept.  He learned that folding a mountain of laundry isn't the hardest thing in the world, and that he can do it.  He learned that a good story makes family work a lot easier to do.  He learned that my love and support is unconditional.

What did I learn?  I learned that I don't need to be involved in my kids emotional meltdowns, or take them personally.  I learned that staying calm and firm feels better than flipping my own lid and meeting my child's behavior with anger.  I was reminded that following through isn't as difficult as it sometimes seems....

So there you have it.  No, my kids don't just skip along, easy and cooperative.  They don't love responsibility or helping out.  Sometimes the parenting tools I use don't work beautifully.   But I am so grateful that my kids don't just blindly obey, because then neither of us would learn anything.  And learning allows us to grow, and that is what life is all about!