Have you ever had to stifle a laugh or snicker, when your little one said something profound? At the last get-together of some Dallas moms, I recall a friend enlightening us about her “gutsy” two-year old daughter, who seems to have a mind of her own. When her daughter didn’t get her way at breakfast one morning, Mom reported that she had to look away to keep from bursting out in laughter. It seems her daughter looked and sounded too cute, expressing her feelings of dissatisfaction for the decision made by her mother.
As my friend told her family story, I went back to yesteryear, remembering when my daughter did the same thing. I never wanted to laugh at her, even when she was so cute with her little curls bouncing in time to her defiance. I also remembered not to laugh when she expressed her views, but sounded so much like us – her mom and dad.
As I thought about how our children inspire laughter in us, I also thought about how we can use play, humor and laughter to help our children do their chores, display appropriate behavior and encourage family peace and happiness. After all, aren’t we supposed to teach our children and not punish them as though they were criminals? Who said we couldn’t laugh and have fun when doing chores, etc.? I can tell you that I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning toilets or mopping floors. Neither do I like being yelled at, or nagged. So, if I don’t enjoy these things, I don’t think children would enjoy them, either!
When children tell me about their favorite teacher and why they like that person so much, the answer I ALWAYS receive is that the teacher is funny and helps the child to feel good about him or herself. DUH!!!!! Who doesn’t respond well to positive reinforcement? Isn’t there a famous saying about “catching more flies with honey?!”
Why can’t we, as parents (or grandparents) use play, humor and laughter in parenting? We know children are going to be curious and “get into things.” Just ask another firend whose triplets found permanent markers and decided to re-decorate the walls, the furniture and themselves! Yes, we will initially express horrified reactions as we recover from the shock of reality! However, after recovering, a parent should get into discipline mode. More can be accomplished through having a child experience consequence, rather than experience fear from screaming, yelling and intimidation.
If a child is old enough, we can have them help us clean up and do a race to see who can remove the offensive milk off of the floor in a safe and effective (clean) manner. Milky streaks on the floor do not constitute clean. Permanent marker may require scrubbing off in the tub, and no play with bubbles or bath toys. We know accidents are going to happen. There is a difference between deliberate and accidental. I just spilled water on the floor, while I was watering the houseplants. Guess what? I just cleaned it up!
If a child is older and hasn’t cleaned their room in a year, it may be time to ask for the mold-growing plates and glasses to be returned to the kitchen for sterilization so that the rest of the family can stop using paper plates and plastic cups. Hmmmm, maybe the child needs to use paper plates or cups to eat those late night snacks, instead of being allowed to use the dishes?!
When a person has a precocious, imaginative daughter who likes to tape pennies to her hair (Jennifer still believes this didn’t happen, but she doesn’t remember the other things I had to get out of her curls, like chewing gum, rubber bands, and sticky candy!), the parent has to “stay on top of his/her game.” There is no slacking off. Creative imagination has to be in full gear! Never mind that she is smart and asks a million questions. Dad and I had to be ready!
To get her going in the morning, Dad would sing Reveille. Jen was not a morning person, but she never seemed to mind Dad singing Reveille. She couldn’t stand my happy, Mary Sunshine attitude in the morning. However, I soon got her laughing by playing a game with her as I helped her get dressed, when she was a little girl. She LOVED to jump on the bed in the morning and into her tights, jumping to get them up (hey that might be a solution for the problem of putting on Spanx!), before she put on her jumper to go to kindergarten.
Dad left for work earlier, but always had a pop tart in the toaster for her, with a bite taken out of it – a private joke they shared with one another. Of course, we have now learned to eat in a healthier manner as we have all become older. However, Pop Tarts, milk or fruit juice and Flintstone Vitamins were the initial forms of nutrition in the morning for Jen, a very picky eater, and probably the only way to get something of food value into her, without argument.
I always put little notes in the lunches I packed for Jen, so she had something to laugh about during the day. She knew mom was thinking about her and that her lunch was packed with love. This type of gift to your kids helps busy parents stay connected with their children, throughout the week.
When Jen was a teen-ager, NOT cleaning her room became a trade-off for her excellent grades. I got tired of nagging, asked her to keep her door closed and let behavioral consequence take over. When she couldn’t find her drill team items (she was fastidious about her drill team uniform and accessories) I suggested she look under the piles on her floor. If she left a wet towel on her bed, oh well…I guess she was going to have to sleep in a wet bed.
As a result of having to deal with consequence, Jen soon learned what was appropriate. I still don’t think she has forgiven me and Dad for getting her to the stadium five minutes late, when she was going to perform with her drill team at half-time for her high school football game. She received a detention and had to run the bleachers, which was the consequence of OUR behavior. I don’t think a little exercise hurt her actually, but I do have a little regret (I’ve learned to use the word “regret,” rather than “guilt”) over that matter!
Of course, as a teen-ager, Jen thought she knew more that me and Dad. I usually countered with “you aren’t talking to me that way, are you? I know you aren’t talking to me. You don’t even talk to your friends that way.” This usually sufficed as a warning to not go any further, and to cease and desist or else! It definitely worked as a way to preserve family peace, personal dignity, and the avoidance of “grounding.” No teenager wants to lose the telephone that is glued to his/her ear or anything else that is his or her “Achilles tendon!”
To prevent sudden strokes, heart attacks or nervous breakdowns, I think it’s okay to give a time limit to a child for cleaning his or her room, doing laundry or any other chore. This works especially well when the room hasn’t been cleaned or the chore hasn’t been completed. It doesn’t hurt to have a checklist either, as long as parent and child both review the list. “Oh darn, guess you can’t go to the party this weekend” or “sleep over at your friend’s house,” or “go shopping, etc.” Consequence is an amazing thing!
For exercise and as a way to work out frustration, parents and children can make a game out of “getting the clothes off the floor and into the hamper,” by shooting “hoops” with dirty clothes into the clothes hamper. Whoever misses after two attempts has to get up and put the offending item in the hamper – no points.
Of course, the best influence for helping a child to maintain a clean room is an older, college dorm-mate who teaches your son or daughter to maintain hygiene, followed by a dirty, college roommate. Yes, this really did happen and it helped my daughter to move toward the discovery of organization and cleanliness, as well as developing a penchant for “no clutter!” Ahhh…you’ve got to love that kind of peer pressure!!!
When Jen seemed to be suffering from a pity-party, Dad and I would break-out into the worm song. “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me. I’m going to go eat worms!” We probably laughed at the words, but mostly at our lousy singing voices. Later, when Jen was in college and away from home, I would break into song over the phone, like an actor in a Broadway musical. I did that for Charlie as well, when I called to touch base, while he was working on the street. Yes, I was the one to make up crazy names and songs. My goal was to laugh as much as possible and bring smiles to unhappy faces! Although, I must admit that I probably drove my husband and daughter nuts at times! They are clearly not morning people!
.As a child growing up in a “walk on eggshells” household, I quickly learned what I wasn’t going to do should I be blessed to be a parent. Never mind what my mother said about “wait until you have a child.” To me, a child or children are blessings and not accessories to the house in suburbia, with a white picket fence. There is nothing wrong with using understanding, creativity, laughter and humor, to create an atmosphere of love and learning. That’s what makes a house, a home.