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

Written by Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer

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.

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

About Kate Tietje

Kate is a work-at-home mom to (almost) 4 kids -- Bekah, age 4.5; Daniel, age 3; Jacob, 1; and baby #4, due mid-March 2013. She is married to Ben, a wonderfully supportive husband! She blogs at Modern Alternative Mama, where she writes about natural health, real food, parenting, and all things “green.” She also recently launched Modern Alternative Kitchen, a site about traditional cooking, and is about to launch Modern Alternative Pregnancy. In her “free” time, she enjoys sewing, crafting, cooking, and playing with her children. Follow her on Facebook!

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

    • @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.

      • @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.

  9. 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!

  10. Emily @Random Recycling says:

    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.

  11. Attitudes are difficult to change, but I know that with God, anything is possible! :)

  12. 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!


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