There is no structure when an active, inquisitive kid is on the loose. One of ours belonged in the circus. This kid was in constant motion. I was frazzled from my attempts to keep him safe. I cannot tell you how many times he slipped outside or disappeared inside the house, eluding my frantic search.
Not only did he try to elude me and get into things he shouldn’t have, he also put things in places they should never have been. There was the tall, slender heater with a barrier across the front; he found a way to wedge his toy blocks behind that barrier. I discovered it when I smelled something beginning to burn. Another day I pre-heated the oven to bake something. When my nostrils detected the scent of plastic burning, I opened the oven door. Yep. The toy cows were resting on the oven rack. I still find myself checking my oven before I turn the dial.
One evening Dave sat in the living room reading the paper while I went upstairs to put laundry into the proper drawers. When my back was turned, my eighteen-month old scooped up the clean laundry and threw it across the banister from the landing upstairs. That was the day I told my hubby I’d be glad to read the paper while he took care of the laundry, because I was tired of dealing with this mess!
As a parent, I believed in saying yes when I could. Yet it seemed I spent most of my day saying “NO!”
Fixing a meal in the kitchen became disastrous. This little guy decided now was the best time to get into things in other rooms or even in the kitchen, because I was focused on something besides watching him every second. I spent as much time trying to keep him corralled as I did fixing supper – and if the meal wasn’t burned, my temper was by the time we sat down to eat.
Dave is great at putting his finger on the problem and then finding a solution. That evening he went up to the attic and brought down a dilapidated playpen. He set the playpen in the corner of the dining room next to the kitchen door.
“From now on,” he told me, “when you are fixing a meal, put him in the playpen. Pick a few toys that stay in the playpen. That will be his safe place when you are busy. He has no reason to fuss. He can see you working and he has things to play with.”
Here is my confession. It seemed harsh to ban this child to the playpen; he should be “allowed” to express himself and “be who he is”, I thought. “He will feel rejected and unloved if I restrict him when he just wants to be with me!” Yet, I knew I had to give it a try.
The first few times, the little guy pitched a fit. I remembered what Dave told me.
“No matter how upset he gets, he stays in that playpen. Plus, it’s tall enough that he can’t climb out of it. You have no one to blame but yourself if he’s not in that playpen when you’re fixing supper. Don’t complain about being frustrated if you don’t put him there when you’re working.”
The kid stayed in the playpen – before each meal and afterwards while I cleaned up the kitchen. Before long, he quit fussing. He liked the toys and knew he would only get to play with them when he was in the playpen. Even when he begged, I refused to move those treasured toys out of the playpen.
From Frazzled to Secure
Instead of the playpen being a prison, it became a safe, happy place he could play without anyone saying, “NO!”
One day a few weeks later, I forgot to put him in the playpen when I went to the kitchen to begin supper. As he opened drawers and started throwing things on the floor I said, “Do you need to go to your playpen?”
He stretched out arms to me and replied, “Yes, Mama!”
I picked him up and smiled as he lunged for his toys and his safe spot. Here in this playpen he found security and structure.
Life was better all the way around. He became more content, I was less frazzled, and supper was no longer burned.
If you’ve got a kid who frustrates you, I suggest you take these same steps.
- Identify the problem
- Come up with the solution – make it do-able and practical.
- Implement the plan.
- Follow through. Don’t cave or give in even when it’s hard.
- Evaluate how the plan is working. If necessary, tweak it to make it better.
Whatever you do, don’t cry Wolf about its hopelessness. Don’t let your child be in control. Be the parent. Be consistent. It will get better. Ask me how I know!