You may remember me from such posts as:
(my Mom wrote that one, but it's about me!)
So when Adam from Equipping Catholic Families asked how our family deals with cranky kids . . . I knew he had come to the right place. My family has a system for just about everything. And our policy on crankiness is that it's not allowed. It's not just crankiness, either -- in our family unhappiness is not tolerated. It's against the rules.
My folks agree with this quote by Abraham Lincoln (maybe):
"People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be."And since, in my mom's experience, she's always been able to convince her kids that being happy is a lot more fun than the alternative, it's always worked out great. Of course, that was before she met me . . . but more on that later.
The main parts of the policy, from what I can see are:
1. BE TOUGH
My parents do not want their kids to react to challenges, or difficulties, or unfairness, or even injury, like this:
Ever. (Did they ALL get poked in the eye?) For one, it's un-American. For another, it's not necessary. Yes, as a kid, my first reaction to challenges, or difficulties, or unfairness, or injury, is to f-l-i-p out. And then to get increasingly louder and more upset and more flipped out. And then, in the midst of all the flipping out, to notice something I'd rather be doing, stop flipping out, and go do it.
My mom noticed that. So now it's not allowed. Even if we get hurt. If we do get hurt, we are supposed to make this face:
and say "ouch, ouch, ouch." Then we are reminded that it is hurting less and less, and off we go. (It works so well, that my dad even pointed out to my mom that while he was filling in admit forms, she was pacing the hallway of the hospital in labor saying "ouch, ouch, ouch.")
And now that they're used to doing it that way, my brothers and sisters mostly don't get upset at all by life's little challenges or difficulties or unfairnesses (well, maybe not, they still do have trouble with that one) or injuries. They just grimace and get on with their lives. Not me, I still mostly pitch a fit, but more on me later . . .
For grownups and school-age kids especially, it's really hard to stay cranky when faced with the reality of how good you really have it.
My parents remind us all the time how blessed we are to have our family and our faith and our health and our home and our country and our things. We have been lucky enough to travel to other countries and see how happily (or sometimes unhappily, but mostly happily) other children live with much, much less in the way of opportunity and material goods. We really have no right to be unhappy. Ever. (We also read and listen to great old books about children living happily and making do under difficult circumstances, it helps put things in perspective.)
We are not allowed to complain about what we are given to eat. We are not allowed to appear less than totally thrilled with a gift we are given. My brothers and sisters are not allowed to grumble about helping a sibling. We are not allowed to complain about being hungry or tired or cold or hot -- not because we never are those things, but because complaining about it never ever makes us feel better.
If we forget, my mom likes to ask us, "What does God do to complainers?" And then we have to say, "He sends snakes to bite them."
|because it's true|
We are not allowed to complain or ever forget how blessed we are. It's bound to make us generally happier. Maybe it will even work on me, eventually.
3. DON'T BE PARTICULAR
This one comes more easily to some kids (and grownups) than to others. And my mom will be the first to admit that she struggles with it herself. But kids are a whole lot happier if they can learn to control their emotions. It's not necessary that I behave as if the whole world has come to an end if I get the green one instead of the yellow one. I can learn to just chill, and be happy I got anything at all.
When my brother Jack was in preschool, his teacher used to say:
"You get what you get and you don't get upset."
It still works for us. (My mom does allow pleasant, non-whiny, non-guilt-tripping offers to trade.)
4. LEARN THAT BEING UNHAPPY NEVER ACCOMPLISHES ANYTHING
The more I hear about my brother Jack as a toddler, the more I realize how much he messed it up for the rest of us. Apparently, he was nearly as much of a challenge as I am. My mom learned a lot from parenting him (and watching the other moms and dads around her), but she thinks probably the most important thing she learned is that being swayed by the unhappiness of children is NOT effective in the long OR short-term as a parenting technique.
If my mom says I can't have something, then I throw a fit, then she gives it to me, she's taught me the lesson that being unhappy is an effective way to get things I want. Of course, grownups know that bursting into tears is rarely an effective way to accomplish something. My parents want us to learn that lesson sooner rather than later.
5. CRYIN' BABIES GO TO BED
Sooooo . . . once my mom decided that she can't give me what I want when I'm throwing a fit, she had to figure out what to do with me instead. Especially since sometimes it's just the late afternoon and I don't even know what I want, I just figure I'll hang on mom's leg and wail while she tries to cook dinner. By her third baby mom realized that it wasn't doing anyone (the baby or the mom or the rest of the kids) any good to just let an unhappy-for-no-reason toddler make everyone crazy.
That's when she instituted "Cryin' Babies Go to Bed" (note: cryin' babies go to bed is NOT for babies, it's for toddlers).
It's just what it sounds like. If I'm wandering about the house shrieking and crying and hanging on mom, and my basic needs have been attended to but I am just being a pest . . . I get reminded that "Cryin' Babies Go to Bed." Sometimes that's enough to settle me down. It worked like a charm with my brothers and sisters. As soon as my mom would walk away from my brother Bobby he would start calling down the hall after her, "Happy, Mama, happy!" And he'd get to get out immediately. But I'm pretty obstinate. I like to make my parents suffer a bit before I finally come around on things.
My sister Anita sleep trained in one night. It took me over two months. Two very loud months. I finally got the hang of it. But I feel confident that I extracted my pound of flesh in exchange.
I am, so far, the unhappiest of my siblings. But lucky for me, I have a mom who's even more obstinate than I am. And she'll teach me to be tough and grateful and non-particular and understanding. AND she'll get dinner made every night, even if I means I'm shouting all the worst stuff I can think of at her in baby jibberish from my crib. None of these lessons has worked on me yet, but I'll learn. And then I'll have that one more thing to be grateful about.
p.s. For an update clarifying some concerns some folks have had regarding this post, please check out THIS post.