Dear Mrs. Radcliffe,
At times I feel so inadequate. My three boys (ages 3, 5 and 8) are very wild. I know I have trouble being consistent with discipline but I try my best. Still, I always feel embarrassed when people come over because my kids run around, don't listen, don't sit still and basically don't make a very good impression. I know that others are judging me and even though my husband obviously has a role in this too as their father, I feel that I'm the one everyone blames. My own siblings have said things out loud like, "You shouldn't let them get away with this," implying that I'm not even trying to remedy the situation. I don't even want people coming over anymore because I feel too stressed from it. Is there anything I can do to get my kids to act more normally?
The world always seems to blame mothers, doesn't it? It puts so much pressure on women. Children's good behavior and misbehavior is caused by so many factors -- mothering is actually only a part of the equation. Some other factors that might be affecting your own situation are the fact that your kids are healthy little boys (boys tend to be quite physically active when they are healthy) and the fact that they are quite young (kids under 10 run around a lot more than older kids do).
If your boys are even more active than other kids their age, then other factors might also be at play. For instance, they might have a genetic tendency to be more active. Or it's possible you've given them a bit more freedom than other parents' tend to give, tending to favor the "free spirit" in your youngsters. It's also possible that these little guys need more structure, guidance or discipline than is natural for you to offer.
Be your own best friend by acknowledging and praising effort, not results.
Whatever the cause, the first order of events is to support yourself. You say you've been trying to get your children to calm down. That's great! It takes 20 years to raise a child so we don't tend to expect immediate results from any particular intervention! Keep trying to help them, but do acknowledge your own efforts. Unlike your siblings who don't know what you've been doing, you know exactly how hard you've been working at this -- so praise yourself!
Talking nicely to ourselves is more important than anything we hear from anyone else. Be your own best friend by acknowledging and praising effort, not results. In order to see which strategies are working and which can be discarded, you might keep a little notebook. Put the date, the name of the problem ("wild," "running," "not listening" etc.) and your current strategy. Give each strategy a fair trial -- a couple of weeks minimum, a month if it looks promising. Note any improvement or worsening of the behaviors in question.
Get strategies from books, parenting classes, friends, and professionals. Pick everybody's brain! Remember, you've got plenty of time to work on this. Many "wild" little guys turn out to be amazing adults, no worse for wear. The only one that suffers is the one who suffered through it all -- poor, old Mom!
Don't let that happen. A sense of perspective and a sense of humor are mandatory tools of the parenting trade. No one has total control over another person -- parents can't "make" children behavior in certain ways. They can only encourage and discourage behaviors. Some kids are perfectly behaved due to their inborn natures. Some are, well, "wild."
Meanwhile, there are a few strategies I can suggest to you. Try them and see if anything makes a positive difference. The first is the CLeaR Method. This techniques involves noticing NORMAL, non-wild behavior and giving it three types of positive attention: a positive comment ("I see how nicely you're playing."), a positive label ("You're so CALM right now.") and a small reward ("When you play so nicely like this I think you deserve a big hug/special treat/extra privilege."). The reward can be given the first few times you are attending to NORMAL behavior and then gradually "thinned out."
A second strategy that is sometimes helpful is called The Two Times Rule (2X Rule). When your kids are running around inappropriately, ask them to settle down (sit down, play quietly or whatever). If they don't comply, ask them again, this time adding a warning of a negative consequence. Maybe it would sound like this, "If you don't settle down, I'll have to ask you to leave the room and return when you can stay here quietly." If they still don't get it, quietly escort them out of the room.
A calming diet can also be helpful for "wild" kids. More grains, protein and vegetables with less sugar, white flour products and junk food has been shown to reduce hyper behavior in some kids. It's worth a try! Also, the Bach Flower Remedy called Vervain (a harmless, water-based "vibrational" remedy) can sometimes help balance a child's system to reduce excess activity and intensity, helping the child to be his best self rather than his most frenetic self.
Finally, providing more structure -- although not always possible for a busy mom -- can sometimes prevent or reduce wild behavior. Give the kids a puzzle to work on or a craft to do. Or get a slew of books for them to read. If possible, let them "get the crazies out" by having a good run around at a park or other outdoor venue or, if your house has the space, restricting all running behavior to a play room in the basement or out in the yard.
Whether or not that technique works, praise yourself for trying it out. Acknowledge that being the mother of three very active little boys is really a hard job. Never compare yourself to other moms and don't compare your kids to other kids -- every situation is completely unique. Just continue to do the best you can in your own situation with your own resources. Remember -- the Almighty loves you and your kids, and is there to help you every inch of the way on your parenting journey.