Wisdom Comes Suddenly

I Promise…(Courtesy of Celebrate Calm)

April 7th, 2011 · 5 Comments

If you are anything like me, you’ve read every parenting book you could get your hands on.  Let me be more specific: you’ve bought the books, read the first few chapters, realized how little of it applied to your child, and added it to a growing stack of dusty pages full of theories.  OH the theories.  My largest complaint with parenting books are the long-winded sections on theory, and the poverty of chapters on actual techniques.  If I wanted an education on Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages, I would have majored in childhood development.  To the well-meaning and highly-educated authors writing books long on warnings but short on practice strategies, please add this warning on the cover: “This Book Not Intended For Mommies Without A PhD in Parenting”.  I’ve always been uncomfortable with my inability to take the theories and bring them to life.  There is a jump to be made, and I seem to be an expert at falling into the pit.

So you can understand my shock when I walked into a Celebrate Calm seminar, and heard techniques…tried and true THINGS TO SAY AND DO.  If, in those lofty and highly recommended parenting tomes, you got gutsy enough to read the Special Needs and/or Twice Gifted chapters, you were likely left with the same impression I received: these children are delicate, yet intense.  Fragile, but wildly defiant and fiery in their frustration.  They are sensitive to light and sound and touch…as they rip every ounce of linens off their beds while screaming.  I was left with the belief that I’m raising a porcelain egg, filled with lit firecrackers.  And, if I don’t get it right, it will go to hell in a hand basket.  Wait…what?  I’m pretty sure I’m in hell holding that basket already, so does anyone have a map leading me out of here?  I’m not the only Mother who has secretly sat on the edge of her bathtub, late at night, crying silently into a hand towel, fearing the statistics for challenging children are simply a picture of things to come.  We’ve all watched our ADHD/ODD/OCD/Sensory Integration Disorder/Asperger’s/insert a diagnosis children meltdown in the middle of a birthday party, and they know the look on our face is one of absolute fear.  They sense the inner tension in our chest as they cling to our pant legs while staring out at the playground.  They know we’re scared too.  They know we don’t have a map.

The first CD in the “Calm Kids Parenting Program” set is “Understanding Your Child Inside & Out (Become a Proactive Parent)” and it is what we’d typically think of as our “theory chapter”; but rather than theory, this CD is about perspective.  It is a direct discussion about the importance of structure, meeting needs vs. focusing on behavior, and how to think of your parenting as proactive rather than reactive. It’s a loving discourse about intense children.  You will sense an undertone of confidence and genuine love for OUR kids from Kirk Martin, the founder of Celebrate Calm.  You will not sense from Kirk that a full clinical diagnostic manual will be required to achieve parenting success.  You might need it for success in school, but at home, you only need to know that your child has basic needs and goes about meeting them in unconventional ways.  When I finished the first CD, I sensed that while we have been standing in the middle of a dark forest, Kirk had just handed me a lantern.  What I did with it was up to me.

The second CD, “Create A Calm Home” (I sense you wiggling in your chairs…I know…those words made me giddy with excitement too) is where the real techniques begin.  I’d like to share a story of the night I implemented one of the many helpful parenting strategies from this CD.  Kirk addresses the need for consistent discipline (how many times have I heard this?), BUT, rather than say “be consistent”, he follows up with HOW to do it.  Using “I promise” is just one idea of several on the 2nd CD (there are 5 total CDs in this set).  I learned that I should be a woman of my promise.  When I promise the kids ice cream after a day of errands, I get them ice cream.  When I exact a punishment, I am also a woman of my word, but I have not been consistent with my own commitment to that promise (because seriously, who enjoys punishing their kids?).  I just say, “If you don’t do X, then Y will happen.”  When will it happen?  After how much yelling?  After how much nagging?  Will I back out, secretly wishing they would just straighten up?  No more.  Now I start every sentence when I’m trying to redirect bad behavior with the words, “I promise…if you don’t choose to stop/start [insert behavior], then [insert consequence] will happen.”  The longer I’ve done it, the less painful it’s been for me to come up with a consequence.  At first, I struggled to connect the behavior to the consequence, but over time, it became more natural.  Just yesterday, I said, “I promise, if you don’t help me pick up the upstairs, we simply won’t have time to go to Grandma’s for dinner.”  Simple…straightforward…my children turned into cleaning machines.  This afternoon, I promised if we could muscle through Sara’s Visual Therapy (no one wanted to go today after staying late at Grandma’s house), I would take them to a new bakery for a cupcake.  I PROMISED, and I kept my promise.  I gently reminded them as we pulled up the Vanilla Bean Bakery (YUM), that I’m a woman who keeps her promises…all of them.

So here’s how it happens at first…the kids will CHALLENGE you.  The first night I started, Sara was on a wild tear.  A Sara-tear is nothing you’d like to witness first-hand.  Sara can take defiant to a new level, as can many kids like her.  She hit her sister on the way home.  Because we have a zero tolerance policy for hitting in our house, there are no warnings.  I promised her she would have to throw away a Junie B. Jones book (can’t stand them…didn’t know what they were when I bought the set…horribly disrespectful main character who has taught Sara terrible habits…trying to get rid of them).  Let’s just say Sara tested me on that promise and she ended up throwing away 3 Junie B. Jones books that night.  I used a 2nd technique called “The Choice Ball”, handed her a ball, and told her that her actions were her CHOICE, not mine.  She threw the ball several times (as Kirk Martin warned might happen), but she GOT IT.  She calmed down very quickly, and quietly asked me if she would lose a reward she had earned earlier in the day.  I told her “of course you don’t lose your reward!”, and I reinforced my pride for her and her earlier efforts.  Suddenly, a motor turned on in her mouth, and she started spilling long stories about her day.  REAL conversations about her day.  She needed to talk about her day, even if her behavior didn’t match her needs.  Then she hugged me tightly, and asked if she could play quietly near me while I made dinner.  After I picked my chin up off the floor, I said “of course”, and there she played, contentedly and quietly.  She was fine for the remainder of the evening.

Before Celebrate Calm, the evening would have gone as follows: (1) Sara on a wild tear, (2) Me yelling that she knows better than to hit her sister, (3) More defiance that would have surfaced in irritating and unbelievably defiant ways, (4) More yelling, (5) Daddy would then arrive home to an exasperated Mommy, Sara crying on her bed, and Kelly watching the storm as it rolled through the house, (6) Tense family dinner (7) Tense bathtime, probably followed by an early bedtime and Sara missing out on book reading.  INSTEAD, we got (1) Sara on a wild tear, (2) Me promising her that if she didn’t make a better choice, there would be consequences, (3) Those consequences played out quietly, without yelling, despite Sara spitefully saying, “I don’t care if I throw away these books!!” (which she loves), (4) A sudden turn of events as Sara chose to control herself, discovering her needs could be met with conversation (5) Sara shared some stories about Indian Craft Day that were really bothering her (apparently, she was deeply worried that her clay canoe looked nothing like a canoe, thereby giving me an opportunity to actually parent her, as oppose to just punish her), (6) Quiet and pleasant dinner, (7) Quiet and pleasant bedtime routine, lots of cuddling, Sara got her reward which she had earned earlier in the day. This story was followed hilariously a few days later by Kelly throwing a fit and Sara handing her a ball and telling her to make a better choice, but I can save that tale for another time.

Here’s the thing: you can’t yell while saying “I promise”, you simply can’t.  By starting with a key phrase, it gives me a moment to compose myself.  It gives me a moment to think of a fair and reasonable way to discuss how that behavior will result in a sensible consequence.  Where there was once anger, there is now structure.  My own sudden calm sets a tone for the interaction that will follow. The words “I promise” are an emotional trigger for both them and me, that no matter how many times it’s said, forces us to sit up and take notice. It reinforces the trust with the girls that my words can be trusted on both sides of the coin. BUT, I will say, in the spirit of consistency, it must be used every single last blessed time.  EVERY time, without fail.  It worked so well at first, that I tried to “save it”.  The words were magical!  I didn’t want to wear out my magic bean words. As a result, I was faced with very uneven behavior from the girls.  One day it hit me…use it EVERY time.  So I tried an experiment: if I went back to my old ways of just stating an outcome, I was faced with deaf and defiant children, 100% of the time, without fail.  If I used the words “I promise”, 100% of the time, without fail, they did as I asked.  Their behavior has improved and been remarkably calmer since the day I crunched my gut-based numbers and stuck with “I promise”.

I can prove it: we’ve been home on Spring Break for 13 days, all but 2 of them at home, and no one is dead yet.  It’s a parenting miracle! To my readers with intense children, I say Godspeed, my friends, and I wish for you…CALM.

*The CD set referenced in this post is available to my readers at a 50% discount.  Use the link in the upper right hand margin of the blog for more information.*




Tags: CelebrateCalm

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Auntie Amanda // Apr 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    great blog tonight Lori. and might I say that your legs look great in that picture at the sewing machine…i promise haha. that is my reinforcement of the day :o)

  • 2 Hands Free Mama // Apr 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Lori- this is so helpful…not just to parents with children who present challenging behaviors, but to all parents!

    As a special education teacher specializing in behavior disorders, I agree whole heartedly that follow through when giving a consequence is CRUCIAL to getting children to do what you want them to do. Moreover, I love that the idea you present has a POSITIVE reinforcer instead of a negative one. I always told the parents of my students to notice when they were doing RIGHT, not just when they were doing WRONG. It is much more powerfully motivating!

    I am so excited about this new chapter in your life and in your blog. It is going to touch so many lives.

    Thank YOU!!!

  • 3 Sue // Apr 8, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    You are an amazing mother/parent and I wish there were more like you that would actually take the time themselves to try and help their children. Most just let the school or justice system take care of them and then wonder why things aren’t working out. I am so proud of what you are doing and I know you will do the best you can and will raise wonderful productive children. When I worked with juvenile criminals I always used the promise aspect toward things and I had good results and other staff would ask me why I never really had any issues with the juveniles, well you just be honest and state whats what and they have the choice to follow or not. This is a great system you have found and I wish you all the luck and patience you need. There will be days of challenges but you just keep going because the end result will be fabulous. 🙂

  • 4 The Momma // Apr 9, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Thank you so much to everyone for your kind comments and support. Parenting is so scary: you really don’t know how it’s going until it’s almost too late! I can’t tell you how much your words mean to me.

  • 5 Take a Look In My Closet | Hands Free Mama // Apr 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    […] out her hand providing encouragement along with humor, along with creative ideas like “I Promise” and “Ear Comforters” that work for her child and might work for yours, […]