The 3 Things I Teach My Kids So I Don’t Lose My Mind

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photo: Daniel Shanahan

While reaching for a sleeve of graham crackers my kids are craving, the bulk tub of coconut oil gets bumped, falling from the pantry and bouncing to the kitchen floor. As I superglue the broken lid back together I notice two gremlins taking off with the graham crackers, munching them into crumbs now covering the living room floor.

I walk away to pull the vacuum from the closet and catch a glimpse of one child glistening from the kitchen, elbow deep in coconut oil. Dashing to the kitchen to wipe an oily mess, I discover bits of dried instant adhesive. I turn on my heels to unhand the glue from my other child, eager to wash his hands with it, deflecting disaster.

Can ya get on board with this kid chaos?  These are the antics that make mama manic. Soft, yet stern, I remind them once again what not to touch, then smack my forehead—because mental note—I know better than to leave anything out they could get into within a matter of minutes.

There’s a reason why the laundry isn’t put away and those crumbs still aren’t vacuumed from the floor. Mothering is a marathon. Constantly chasing behind, cleaning up after and correcting. Instructing through experiences and helping them develop with direction. Peppering in rule reminders, breaking up fights, encouraging kindness and negotiating dinner bites. Circus aside, it’s those meaningful moments that make being mama so worth it. Here’s three easy ways our little ones prove our efforts are appreciated—not just today or on Mother’s Day, but every day.

Remembering Rules

Sure my kids can be out of order. I’ve got two strong-willed children under five years of age learning as they grow—the struggle IS real. To alleviate arguments, I’ve learned to be truly inclusive. Using a happy/sad face system that offers incentives, we sit down together and develop the Dos and Dont’s of safe, kind and helpful behavior. Our list evolves each week—and we refer to it often—consistently implementing reminders to improve their chances of staying on track and making ethical decisions independently.

By going the distance with consistency, there’s proof my kids are actually listening and mama’s hard work is paying off. I get all the good feels when I hear them correct or caution each other. My proudest moments involve rules of safety, when they remind one another to hold hands, look both ways and make sure the coast is clear before crossing the street safely.

They are thanked for recognizing the no-no’s and praised with positive reinforcement to encourage understanding. They’re also held accountable for their actions when they step out of line. Sure it takes some mental muscling, but they’re getting why rules are required and are making mama proud when remembered.

Teaming Up to Help Out

Preschoolers are awesome helpers. I’ve learned to embrace their efforts, allowing them to take on small tasks. When the dish is brought to the counter after snacking or a spill is wiped up all without asking, this kind of help shows that mama’s appreciated. As they continue to contribute they’ll get more responsibilities and be encouraged to offer assistance. One fine day they’ll take out the trash, wash laundry and clean their own rooms. For now, we partner up and tackle tasks like picking up toys together.

Minding Manners

Children don’t come into this world equipped with a moral compass for right versus wrong decisions. These are learned behaviors. We make “please” and “thank you” a priority in conversation, so our kids are more inclined to express thanks and show gratitude. We also teach them to be mindful of how they speak to and treat others, encouraging kindness and respect.

We can all agree “yum, nummy mommy” is an awesome alternative to the scrunched face “disgusting” remark you get when you’ve set a plated meal before your child. Tired of mimicking Yo Gabba Gabba characters begging “try it, you might like it,” I gave in and allowed my kids to start helping me prepare meals. I’m over the moon when they say “Thank you for making dinner”—and then eat it up. They may not finish all the portions dished out, but they at least acknowledge the effort and are thankful.

Bottom line, being “mama” is everything—demanding, challenging and rewarding. We’ve put in the hard work to get them going and have helped them evolve into individuals along the way. Perfected the eye roll, tongue bite, brow furrow and long exhale, and nailed down negotiations to prevent meltdowns.

Before I had kids I didn’t realize the domino effect of an open pantry or know it was possible to destroy an entire house with a graham cracker. The kitchen is clean and they’re now rinsed of oil and stickiness, picking out clothes on their own to put on. It’s little moments like this—when they’re actually listening—that prove they are genuinely learning: evidence I’m meant for all the marvelous, magnificent and manic moments of motherhood. The clothes might not match, but that’s no big deal. They’re being helpers…so I can vacuum.

Featured image: iStock

As managing director of two children—19-months apart in age on purpose—Sara has hands-on experience in human development, specializing in potty pushing, breaking up baby fights and wrestling kids into car seats. When there's a moment to look away, she's writing for the web, blogging and building websites.