You know running errands takes it’s toll on the kids, but it had to be done.
Now, it’s that awkward hour when it’s too early to eat dinner and too late for a snack. The kids are restless and irritable. Tension is in the air.
Then it hits you — the ice cream shop.
You will pass it in a few minutes and the kids ALWAYS beg to stop. Always. And when you say “no” there is no shortage of wailing, arguments, and pouting.
You get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. You wish you could turn the car around and avoid the argument altogether. You do not have the energy to fight this today.
What do you do?
Check the Reserves
Let’s imagine that each person has a limited amount of energy and ability to deal with stressful or unpleasant things throughout the day. Most of the time, you and your kids have enough to get through the day-to-day interactions fairly well. But, when you reach your limit, it’s really, really hard (maybe impossible?) to handle the next situation peacefully.
People have lots of ways to talk about this, bank accounts, buckets, reserves. Whatever you want to call it, once it’s gone, it’s gone, and more than likely the next interaction is not going to go well.
Take a second to check in with yourself. How full is your reserve?
- Has it been a long day?
- How did you sleep last night?
- Are you distracted by something at work?
- Are you feeling stressed or pressured?
- Maybe you’re being impacted by one of these 10 things.
Now, take a second to check in with your child or children. How full is their reserve?
- Has it been a long day?
- How did they sleep last night?
- Did they skip a nap or is it past nap time?
- Have they had a snack lately?
- Was school challenging today?
- Has your family been especially busy lately?
Explore Your Options
Now that you have accessed your reserves, you can make a parenting decision based on your observations. Here are some options:
- You may find that you and your child have plenty of reserves. You can make a decision, and your kids will probably just roll with it. “No ice cream today. Let’s plan to go on Saturday.”
- You may find that you have plenty of reserves, but your kids are running a little low. You decide to set a limit, knowing that you’ll probably get some resistance. You have the ability to stay calm and empathetic, and help them work through their big feelings, “I can hear how disappointed you are. You really wanted ice cream.”
- You may find that your kids seem to have plenty of reserves, but you’re running low. They probably won’t ask about ice cream, but if they do, you can respond honestly. “I’m feeling pretty worn out today. If I can finish my project on Saturday, I’d be happy to take you!”
- You may find that neither you or your kids have enough reserves. This is when the conflict boils over and everyone is screaming at one another. Knowing that everyone is running low on reserves is a great first step. Avoiding the conflict may be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
What to do when you’re both running low.
- Squeeze in some self-care. If you have to stay firm with a boundary, take care of your own needs first. I know you think it’s impossible, but there are some simple things you can do to get a small boost of reserves to make it through. Take a deep breath or try one of these quick self-care ideas.
- Lower the standards. Cooking an intense meal that requires a lot of patience and attention may not be the best choice on a low reserve night. Know your limits. Scrap the dinner plan and throw some chicken nuggets on a pan and slice an apple. Ta-da! Dinner is served.
- Let them off the hook. You know your kids. Trust your gut. If neither of you have the reserves, change the game plan. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, give them a homework pass for the night, snuggle in their bed instead of fighting the bedtime battle, or let them stay home from basketball practice.
- Beat them to the punch. If you can see the conflict coming, dodge it by deciding in advance to give in to their request! Instead of waiting for your child to beg for “5 more minutes,” say, “Just wanted to let you know, this is ‘5 more minutes night!’ What are you going to do with your extra-special-extra time?”
You can keep your parental authority – and your sanity – intact by knowing your reserve and making a choice that fits the situation.
The ice cream shop is in view now. Your kids are strangely quiet. They see it too.
One brave child speaks up, “Hey mom, there’s the ice cream shop.”
You respond, “Yep! It’s been a super-long day. I think this calls for ice cream before dinner!”
Cheers fill the back seat. The kids are happy. And besides, mint chocolate chip sounded pretty good to you too.
Comments have been turned off to retain the privacy of all families. If you have a question or comment on the topic, you're always welcome to contact me.