How Do You Deal With Challenging Behavior? (An Attitude Check for Moms)

How Do You Deal With Challenging Behavior? (An Attitude Check for Moms)

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There was one morning early in my third pregnancy when I was still exhausted and I was attempting to sleep just a little more after my kids got up. I would leave my bedroom door open so I could hear them, and they would go get a snack. Most of the time this worked out fine — they’d sit in their playroom, or come back and sit next to me in bed and have a snack, and I’d hear them if they needed me. Within 30 minutes I’d get up and we’d start our day.

But on this memorable morning, they didn’t come back upstairs right away. I kept hearing what I thought was the vacuum downstairs. I wondered how they could have even turned it on (we don’t keep it plugged in, of course), and I kept telling my 3-year-old to go turn it off. She said it was off. I finally got up and went downstairs. This morning they’d chosen to play in the kitchen. They’d dragged their “learning tower” (a safe wooden structure for kids to stand in so they can help in the kitchen) over to the sink area, apparently to get bananas. The sink was plugged and on and overflowing all over the kitchen. The blender was on (the base alone, not the canister), which was the sound I’d thought was the vacuum. And the grains I’d had sitting out to sprout had been thrown all over the floor.

My eyes went wide, and I remember screaming, “CLEAN THIS UP, RIGHT NOW!”  Oh, the things children do….

Kids are Creative

They cried. I screamed a lot. And we cleaned it up. Well, I cleaned it up. They were overwhelmed by the mess and didn’t know where to start or what to do. It wasn’t a good start to our morning, for any of us. They had just been trying to get a snack and I had just been trying to catch a little extra sleep. I was still feeling exhausted and frustrated.

I can laugh about it now. And about many of the other ridiculous things they’ve done. Here’s the message I’ve taken from all of it: kids are creative. If you don’t entertain them, they will find a way to entertain themselves!

That morning they thought using plastic cups and entire bottle of soap to make bubbles in the sink was good entertainment. They thought adding some grains to the mix was even better. And the blender? They may have hit that by accident because the bananas were behind it. I wasn’t awake to supervise and help them find appropriate entertainment, so they found a way to stay busy and happy!

Realistically this was my fault.

Bekah silly

Changing Our View

It’s so easy to look at kids’ behavior and just feel frustrated and angry. Why do they do these things? Why do they have to make a mess or be destructive? One of my children will rip any book or item that she doesn’t like. Another likes to push and hit people and scream “No!”  (he’s very, very “two” right now. Although I’m told he actually is nice to the other children in church, he is apparently just mean to his sister! It’s a sibling thing.)

But if we are going to survive having young children and the creativity that they have, we need to change our mindset. When my children spill water in their playroom because they are pouring it from cup to cup, I do ask them to help clean up — but I see how they’ve created an awesome game. If they get magazine bits all over the floor because they’ve been cutting out their favorite pictures, I see that they’re doing an art project. No matter what they’ve done, I feel happy that they are never bored and that they are able to entertain themselves with anything. They’ve used their shoes as “people” arguing and playing, and their current favorite “toy” is a set of felt squares!

I’m proud of their creativity. Sometimes that comes with mess, and I accept that. I would rather see the situation positively and enjoy and appreciate the games they come up with, rather than get frustrated with the mess they’ve made.

Children Need Us

There have been times when my husband and I have wished our kids would take naps, or play quietly, or otherwise “leave us alone” just for a few minutes so we could finish making dinner or folding the laundry. This just results in a lot of frustration and repeated pleas on our part, “Please go play already!” while they cry and beg us to talk to them or play with them.

It’s not always possible, of course; sometimes we have to get dinner on the table! But as much as possible we try to include them in what we are doing, or talk to them while we are doing things. And we try to remember how much they love us and need us, instead of being frustrated that they always need us, or need us right now when we are busy taking care of other things. To push them away constantly is truly to show them and their needs disrespect.

Attitude is Important

All this boils down to, attitude is so important. I’ve been convicted in the last several months that my attitude isn’t so great sometimes, and that I need to change that. If I look at situations negatively, then I get angry and yell at my children and treat them unfairly. I spread my misery around.

If, instead, I take a minute to take a deep breath and remember how creative and awesome they are, then I can handle the situation calmly and be happy. I can praise them for their creativity and then direct any necessary clean up calmly. I can invite them to help me instead of asking them to leave me alone. I can talk and listen to them. I can spread joy, at least most of the time!

That’s my new goal: to watch my own attitude and try to spread joy instead of being frustrating. My children sure aren’t perfect, but neither am I (boy do I need grace!). And they are truly amazing little people who do make me very happy most of the time. I feel joy more often now and I think they do too.

Join Me in a Challenge

In October I’m issuing a challenge to everyone: work hard on your attitude, to be happy and spread joy no matter what is going on around you. I’ll be posting a linky every Friday so that bloggers can join me if they like. Each week I will share all the reasons I’ve found to be happy each day, and all the ways I’ve specifically set out to spread joy — no matter what else has happened. There is always a reason to be happy, even if some days it is only because you have God’s promise of salvation! And that tomorrow will be another day and another chance. Will you join me in striving for a positive attitude?

How do you strive to be a purposeful, joyful mother even when it’s tough?

Top image by Franklin Park Library

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  1. Love your words –> changing your view <– it's ALL about perspective, right? We need to look for the good in everything. As mommas {especially overwhelmed and tired ones} it's so easy to see all the work in the "messes" they create, thank you for this reminder to see what they are creating instead of the mess.

    Great idea for the challenge — set out to SPREAD JOY! My desire and prayer each morning when I'm having my quiet time is this…how can I be a light today? The only way this happens for me is if I'm intentional about it. Love your initiative! =)

    Keeping it Personal,
    Teri Johnson

  2. Wow….Thank you for posting this. I think I really needed to hear this. I have a 2 and a half year old little boy and a 11 month old little boy and some days lets just say it are a real dusey. :0 I too, am guilty of acting poorly. You said what was in my heart and I really want to change what kind of parent I am. I am going to take your challenge and see the brighter side of life. i think it will do us all some good. Thank you again …:) Ashley

  3. great post. i can so relate and this is something that has been heavy on my heart for a while now. i can see a direct effect from my attitude to the attitude of my children. if i can remain calm and in good spirits then they typically do to. but if i am stressed and exhausted they quickly begin to melt down and respond accordingly. i just read 1000 gifts which totally changed my perspective and i am daily counting gifts. ann voskamp says to fight feelings with feelings. so when i am overwhelmed i step back and open my heart to be thankful…great diffuser for me!!

  4. I needed to hear that this morning! My little guy is very two right now too. His big brother is an awesome kid, but has always been a challenge to parent. It is so easy to let MY crappy attitude steer the day in a very negative direction.

    To answer your quesiton, I have been spending more consistant time with God, I pray that I may enjoy my children daily, I am (working on) waking up early to prepare for the day, and I read lots of parenting books that support this mindset.

  5. Kate, I absolutely love this post–I can SO relate! Thanks for the challenge to positivity! I will have to say–life has seemed a little “easier” since removing some food allergens from my daughter’s diet (who knew it was affecting her behavior so much?!). And the good news is I may be able to add stuff back if I follow your advice and try more grain-free, GAPS. 🙂 And that’s something to be positive about! 🙂

  6. I so needed this post today. It’s been a struggle lately (especially since adding our third child a couple of months ago) to be joyful. I love my children and I think we would all benefit more if I would have this perspective instead of a selfish one. Thank you so much!!

  7. The old saying “If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy” is SO true. As mothers, we set the tone for the atmosphere in our home. I have found it to be a necessity to spend time nourishing my spirit in the Word of God at the start of every day in order to be able to get through the day without a bad attitude creeping in. I certainly can’t do it alone…I have to ask the Lord every day to carry me through.

  8. You are so right! I loved that you said, “Realistically this was my fault.” I have felt the same way. I often try to remind myself not to get overly cranky with my kids because of some undesirable behavior that I have yet to train them out of. It is not all their fault! They have to be taught.

    It has become apparent to me over the years that leaving young kids to themselves for extended periods of time, is usually a recipe for disaster! It sure takes a lot of effort (and energy) to keep them with us and involved in activity. But it pays off. Big time.

    The challenge you are issuing is great!

  9. This brings back memories. I am a grandmother, but I remember when I had three active little ones, two in diapers. My husband frequently worked evenings or traveled with his job and the only time I could find to catch up on cleaning, washing, and ironing (yes, we did a lot of ironing in those days) was after they were in bed. Sometimes, it would be two in the morning and I was still ironing, but I have to admit, I was somewhat of a perfectionist. I agree about attitude being one of the most important ingredients in family life and life in general. When we focus on the blessings of motherhood and minimize the trials that inevitably come, we allow ourselves to enjoy some of the most precious years of our lives and those of our children. At the same time, they are raised in a positive atmosphere and allowed to be the creative little people God designed them to be.

  10. Thank you so much, I needed this in the worst way this morning!!!! The Holy Spirit spoke right to me through this post. Thank you!!!

  11. thank you for this! God so patiently reminds us over and over…..

    One thing I have found that helps is to have a schedule, in my day, in prayer time, in all that I do. I asked God wks ago to give me ideas to make my days go better , so that I wasn’t merely surviving, but able to enjoy the days. One of the first thing he dealt with me about was having a schedule! I have always despised the word, having a “free” spirti, seemed fun and a good excuse to do whatever…..well it was time to grow-up! So I have heeded to his direction and this alone has been a great help adding joy to our home! Another thing is something you mentioned above, to change the way we think! Prayer helps me refocus in this area! God has been faithful to me as he is for us all. Again, thanks for the “refresher” Our God is so good to us!

    PS We have also had great success in eliminating foods that my children had allergies too…just eating healthy makes everyone happier!

  12. This was a very well written post and was such a great remainder to me that attitude is everything. I do all of those things with my children too. Thank you for such an important reminder that they need us and our attention! I am looking forward to participating in the challenge!

  13. Great post and yes, one that we can all relate to!
    We have six kids, all but two (our 14 yr. old son and 12 yr. old daughter) are grown and off on their own, and I can tell you we had plenty of days like the one you described.
    I know when mine we little, they did pretty good if I needed to lay down briefly, but I always slept with one eye and one ear open. Sometimes they got into things and made a mess, and yes…..I did get angry when I shouldn’t have because it was my fault it happened. I learned real quick that it didn’t matter how tired I was or if I didn’t feel good, I just took future naps with them and that worked just fine.
    I always hated when things in the house were the result of, “When mama ain’t happy, no one’s happy”, and tried very hard to not let that happen too much because it DOES set the tone for the whole family. It’s all a learning process and when we realize kids aren’t going to rationalize things as an adult, we much better parents for it!
    I look back and I know I could have/should have, but my kids always told me they loved me even when mama wasn’t happy! 🙂

  14. This one hit me right where I needed it today…. in my bed, frustrated that my darlings were being creative again. I’m facing some significant health issues, and this is my caretaker’s week off. Thank you for the reminder that even in this, I can be intentional and joyful.

  15. I just had to drop a comment to thank you for this. Really apt as I’ve been doing some thinking abt the son’s behaviour and you’re right, perhaps all is needed is a change of perspective (and counting to 10).

  16. Wow. Thank you so much for this post. I really needed it. I try to do my best and my attitude has gotten a lot better recently, but I like your take on the “creativity.” They really aren’t doing it to be mean most of the time. They’re just playing.
    I like Michelle Duggar’s viewpoint of “When I want to yell, that’s when I know I need to speak in a soft voice.” Amen to that.

  17. Yep. Hard to keep the balance sometimes between letting them be creative and entertain themselves, and wanting them to just leave your stuff alone.

  18. This is a perfect example of why kids that young shouldn’t be left unsupervised. It’s sad that the kids get up alone and attempt to feed themselves at such a young age. Of COURSE they made a mess. You’re lucky one of them didn’t get hurt playing with the blender.

    1. @Rachel, This is not something that happens very often. It does not happen anymore, now that I am out of that phase. You must remember this is a small snapshot from an unusually bad day, not the norm in our home. Motherhood is about doing the best we can to serve everyone’s needs. I’m very sorry that you missed the actual purpose of this post and are focusing on the anecdote at the beginning. Life is not perfect, and one way that we can spread joy is by supporting other mothers who are in a difficult phase and can’t always do what is ideal.

  19. Wow, what an awesome post. I think that this is getting bookmarked and going in my folder of “inspirational/good reads” that I read when I’m feeling challenged, down, or otherwise like a useless lump of humanity. Changing my view…one baby (or preschooler!) mess at a time!

  20. Oh, how I needed this in this season of my life! I have 3 kiddos (ages 6,5,3) and baby due in November. Between home educating and trying to make more healthful changes to our diet…not to mention housecleaning and laundry…I know I am a tired, stressed mommy most of the time. Thank you for the challenge to watch my attitude and spread JOY!

  21. Boy did I need to hear this right now. I have had a struggle with one of my children lately and I admit, it has robbed me of my joy. Today was a terrible day. The Lord has been greatly convicting me lately of my attitude and I know I need to change it. Thank you for the honesty of your post!

  22. I have learned that when I don’t give my children my full attention, they start squawking. When I put the iPhone down and stay in the moment with them, everything runs smoother. I can fold laundry and play peek-a-boo at the same time, or bake in the kitchen while I have my two year old help. There are still challenging moments, but I try to remind myself to be a good role model and stay calm and fair.

  23. I have been saving this in my inbox till I had time to read it and this morning I did. Thank you! I too am pregnant with number three. I have a 4 yo and 2yo both boys. I have found my tolerance level and patience has gone way down since being pregnant and I am constantly forgetting to have grace. My tendency is to feel like a failure mom. Thank you for the new perspective and encouragement! I am going to spread joy today and I have a new resolve to try harder to keep them included. God bless you!

  24. I have three kids and know it is difficult to get enough sleep, but I cannot imagine letting them get up alone at 1.5 and 3 let alone get their own food! I think it’s nice that you realize your neglect caused the problem, and you had the “revelation” that you should think positively about what they did, especially since you were wrong – not them. I’m actually shocked that only one person commented on you wanting to sleep and leaving your really young children to fend for themselves. I didn’t think such haphazard parenting was so commonplace.

    1. @Jane, Parenting works better if we women don’t spend time chastising one another into being more like us. Taking a small break is hardly fending for themselves.

      1. @Gabriela, I disagree. Letting kids who are 1.5and 3 get up alone and make food is irresponsible and does constitute them fending for themselves. Parents, even pregnant women who feel they should be able to indulge themselves, are often sleep deprived. You may choose to see my comment as a chastisement, but I see the admiring comments as hypocritical. Do people really think it’s okay for small children to be left alone while mom sleeps through a blender running? What if they had turned on the stove and burned themselves? How would you feel if you left your kids with a babysitter who slept while the kids tried to get their own food?

        I don’t think anyone has to be more like me, but I do think brushing off careless parenting because the mom learned to be more “joyful” is cause for positive reinforcement and celebration.

  25. This is very timely. Since I had my 2nd baby in January, I have been very tired, full-time student. I was spreading my stress to my family and started to feel like Mr. Hyde. I recently sought council from a friend and have worked to change my attitude around the house. It has helped my kids and husband relax a lot more. My husband is still in that mode but he’s getting better .I want to enjoy my baby and 5 year old and not just worry about a mess. Mess means love for right now and I will get to it when they go to bed, hahaha. Thanks for the article as it makes me feel less alone on this issue!

  26. Thank you! I’m very behind in my emails and just got to this today. I’ve been working on adding more joy in my life and while I’m making small progress, I want to make more. I will be taking up this challenge in my life as well.

  27. I just want to add a funny story from a grandma, my DD too was& is so sleep deprived her now 4yr old DD has unending energy, if she can get her to bed before midnight most night’s that’s rare & she wont take nap’s, My DD will have TV on in morning’s in bed & GD alway’s watche’s 4 hr’s, Well, 1 morning DD was half asleep wondering why some 1 was nibbling her face ear’s & thought i must be dreaming, then realized she was’nt she jumped up & there was GD with 6 baby duck’s in bed too, & of course being duck’s did their duty every where, DD was about to yell & have a break down seeing the mess, Then she saw her DD’s face, she thought she did something good for Mom & she’d be happy having them in bed too, she realized too what could of happened as DD had to go out to garage off kitchen & open cage & carry all them in, (Thank goodness 2 door’s to outside were bolted) , She just started giggling & said You & the duck’s need a bath & she cleaned up the mess & duck’s were moved to barn pretty fast after. she wondered why after not having DD ever leave room why?, My answer, Kid’s are kid’s & don’t alway’s have a reason , to stay the same day by day, mind’s can be raring to go & explore & like GD make mom happy with what make’s her happy. My DD has found way’s to rest more let some chore’s go til Dad’s home to helpw/kid’s & nap’s . She said i am remembering how i was at a young age & thought i wanna do what mom does, & some thing’s she did !, even if I was in another room she found thing’s to imitate all kid’s are excellent doing that, I at 57 can recall some thing’s i did when mom was’nt looking, yike’s . don’t feel bad Mom (S), we do our best & they do messes it’s their best.

  28. I don’t know how I ended up here reading this post, but it is definitely the Holy Spirit whom led me here because this is the very topic I have been dealing with lately. I had a baby almost 5 weeks ago, have a very disruptive 2 year old, and a stressed out 9 year old. I am very sleep deprived, of course, because of the newborn and most days, if not all, are extremely challenging with my 2 year old. I am at my whit’s end! This post was encouraging and I know that I definitely need to change MY attitude. Will do!

  29. Oh I am ALL OVER THIS. Spent good devo time this morning to help combat my selfish and impatient attitude and then had THE WORST DAY in recent history! Ijsut felt grateful my life is so comfortable I have the energy to get bent about little things. I’m reading “Working in the Shadows” right now about super hard or repetitive menial labor and feel SOOOO BLESSED I get to be with my kids, we live under our means and do not worry about money. I do my best to CHOOSE PEACE in situations where it sure ain’t coming naturally! Thanks for the share.

  30. Thank you! Thank you so much for your honesty and your challenge. I am going to try my best to take this challenge to heart.

  31. Oh gosh. I can so relate to EVERYTHING you talked about. Thanks for sharing this. I’m a bit late to join in the challenge, but it’s still a good reminder.

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