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Discipline & Listening Hearts

I had this moment when my first baby was about two-and-a-half – a new big brother, and the sweetest little guy – where I thought, Either we’re nailing this parenting thing, or this kid is the best child ever. We had figured out what made this kid tick, and as luck would have it, the first discipline route we tried worked – counting to 3 followed by a time out on “The Step.”

Michael’s 6-and-a-half now, and I can’t even get to #3 before he obligingly stops whatever “naughty” behavior. Cue the proverbial pat on the back, right? WRONG! My second child does not subscribe to this courtesy.

As soon as Addie turned 3, all hell broke loose. She is so sweet, but damn is she strong-willed. In fairness to her, she is a total rock-star and not one of the children you will ever see screaming in the middle of a grocery store. However, she has been known to sucker punch her older brother in the stomach if she catches him quietly playing with the iPad she left on the table when she went to tend to her Barbies or her chocolate addiction.

By the way, John and I are not parents that would ever cater to grocery store tantrums, so if you ever see Addie wandering an aisle crying all alone, we are likely continuing our shopping completely ignoring the outburst. Apologies patrons, but my commitment to consistency as a parent depends on handling it this way, or I will lose my mind (and I’m stubborn – wonder where Addie gets it?). For my husband and I, the birth order theory applied here with gusto – she had to assert herself as different.

One of the biggest challenges in parenting multiple children is that just when you think you’re doing a moderately good job with one, you realize the same route isn’t going to fly with the next. Whereas counting to 3 and putting my son in a time out was so ridiculously effective that I think he’s probably had 10 timeouts total in the past 4 years, Addie basically gives me the finger when I start counting, happy to sit on the step as many times as I put her there.

This reality boiled over one evening when John beat me home from work and was battling Addie over God knows what. He was sick of the timeouts not working, so he said she had to stay home with mommy during Michael’s tee ball game… Enter Mommy. As this little “stroke of genius” my husband cooked up punished Mommy significantly harder than Addie, it was made abundantly clear to John that any sort of punishment like that was unacceptable moving forward. He immediately agreed and said he had thrown it out there in a panic. Remember how I mentioned above I am committed to consistency in my parenting so as not to lose complete control of my mind on a regular basis? Well, my husband is the same way, and if he said it, then there’s no backing out. We often pass each other in the hallway saying “I have no idea why I picked this battle but I did and now I have to follow through.” *Insert eye-roll emoji here.*

Back to the tee ball story. Fast forward thirty minutes to where John and Michael left the house, and Addie (aka Mt. Vesuvius) erupted during bath time because she was left behind. It was the most ridiculous and frustrating experience with a meltdown I’ve had as a parent. The only thing I could do after a solid 10 minutes of bizarre screaming behavior was restrain her with a huge hug and rock her for about 5 minutes until she calmed down. I was completely drained and my husband was receiving a slew of my most, let’s say, colorful words via text.

This was when it hit me. I realized there was no self-congratulations on how well I was doing; we were failing Kid Two by not digging deep and figuring out a different approach.

In a moment of desperation and panic, I blurted out, “Let’s make listening hearts!” How I found the excitement and pep in my voice after the meltdown or how I came up with this idea is all a blur, but that’s motherhood. And let me tell you listening hearts worked – like a freaking charm! She followed me into our mudroom where the crafts are, and she picked out 10 sheets of construction paper in her favorite colors (If you’re wondering, yes, while she debated if orange was a girl color or a boy color, I was opening a bottle of my favorite color – let’s call it dark red).

Addie and I cut out 10 hearts from construction paper. I told her every time she listened well to the multitude of adults who take care of her – it takes a village, people – she would get a “listening heart.” When she got 10 listening hearts, mommy would take her for a mani/pedi. Holy-clouds-part-ahhhhhhhh moment! Alternately, a listening heart could be taken away if she decided not to listen – timeouts were effed anyways at this point. Now, she moves with the determination of a cardiac surgeon trying to revive a patient whenever a Listening Heart looks like it might come down.

She got her mani/pedi after about two months of building her listening hearts collection. She was insanely better at listening. She lost one here or there which led to epic sob fests, but she relished in the opportunity to re-earn a heart. Don’t get me wrong – John and I were very stingy and forgetful throughout the process, but whenever she started acting a little nutso butso, as we affectionately call it, the incentive to choose a different behavior or the incentive not to lose a heart was enough to cut that shit out, stat.

Moms – if you struggle with a child who does not respond to time outs or what would be perceived as punishment, I insist you try this approach. In the event that it doesn’t work out, you’re going to have to have a come to Jesus moment with yourself after a similar meltdown and share whatever stroke of genius you invent with us here on The Bumpy Road! All kids are different and what they respond to is different. I’m terrified for what is going to make my youngest tick. Something tells me he is going to be the most challenging. He is so damn cute though – those babies of the family; they’re charmers. (… I’m convinced it’s part of their plan…)