As I walked to the front door, I could hear hysterical crying going on in the house. A few moments later, the door swung wide open, the wreath on the door rocking back and forth with the strong pull. Looking down, a young child stood holding the door open. Rushing up behind her was Karol, the mom I was meeting with this morning.
“Come in, Sheila! Please ignore the crying. Alexa has been in a MOOD all morning. I can’t seem to do anything right by her.”
After walking into the house, I asked if I could meet Alexa. Karol and I walked to the playroom. Surrounded by mountains of toys, a bright-eyed toddler sat sobbing in the middle of the room.
“She is almost 3. I just hope she outgrows these issues.”
Looking around the room, I became overwhelmed. Toys were everywhere. The kid-size kitchen cabinets couldn’t be closed as dishes and plastic food flowed out of them. A disorganized bookshelf sat in a corner with books haphazardly placed in it, completely full. Every square inch of the playroom had toys.
“Please don’t judge me on the mess. I try to get my two kids to clean it every day. But, that also turns into a screaming and fighting match. Last night my five-year-old was given four hours to clean up, and she just couldn’t do it.” Karol, embarrassed, rushed her words to provide an explanation.
Frankly, I don’t think I could have cleaned that playroom in 5 hours.
When Alexa and her older sister settled with a snack at the kitchen table, Karol and I had a chance to talk about her goals to teach her kids to be kind.
First things first, though. I realized that the girls did not have a consistent schedule. Nap times fluctuated wildly based on when Karol decided to run errands. Mealtimes seemed to suffer the same plight. I considered the fact that her girls might be sleep deprived and hungry and that might lead to the undesired behavior of tantrums and fighting. With more discussion, we put a plan in place for Karol and her girls.
Step One: Consistent meal and nap times. There is a reason “hangry” is a phrase. No one can function if they are hungry or tired.
Step Two: We put a plan in place for simplifying the playroom. Karol’s parents were doting grandparents, but the excess collecting in the house overwhelmed the girls and space. The playroom would be simplified, reducing the number of toys and books. This would allow for the girls to play without becoming overwhelmed and to have a real chance to pick up the toys before bedtime.
Steps One and Two need to be completed. Then we would talk about routines we can put in place to foster kindness and compassion in her home.
Two weeks later, I found myself at the same front door, without hearing any crying. Karol greeted me and the front door and excitedly showed me the hard work that the whole family had accomplished.
The playroom looked amazing. Three-fourths of the toys were gone. What was left was organized! She had used my suggested and labeled the shelves and bins with words and pictures to guide the girls when cleaning up.
The new meal and naptime schedules were improving the tone in the home. Things like illness and teething still caused disruptions, but those stressors were better managed. This was an exciting development because Karol was feeling more in control in her home and less frustrated with her girls.
We sat down together to go over her goals:
“Sheila, things are better. But Alexa still tantrums and doesn’t share. I don’t know why. Her older sister never did this,” Karol’s main goal came up very quickly.
“I know that Alexa is not talking very much yet. How does she communicate with you? How can she tell you she is hungry, tired, or sad?”
Karol answered, “I don’t know. But, she doesn’t have to tantrum EVERY time.”
I get the frustration. After further conversation, Karol articulated two goals.
- Curtail the tantrums
- Teach her girls how to be kind to each other
Luckily, the two goals can be addressed at the same time.
- Label emotions and help identify with them so that they better understand what they are feeling. (Emotional recognition is a KEY step to building kindness skills.)
- Model what can be done with big emotions. (This decreases the tantrums and starts showing children how to respond to the needs of others.)
- Help them learn the language needed to communicate what they want. (Communication skills are integral to developing empathy and kindness.)
Karol implemented ideas and activities to help start this with her kids (see links below for more details).
Just three weeks after implementing these ideas, we received a message from Alexa’s mom.
“Sheila, we are doing it! I feel like our home is happier and I don’t feel like a loser mom or that my youngest is spoiled anymore. And, the idea that each day is a new day to do a small focus on kindness truly helps me avoid feeling overwhelmed. I will keep you posted on how things are going. By the way, you were right. Alexa loves the book How Kind.”
Want more details on how to get this going?
Check out the theory and tips: