Learning to Think: “What’s More Important?”

My kids often do things that are expectedly unexpected (if that even makes sense).  If I tell my kids to do something and they have a reaction that I didn’t anticipate, it is unexpected… but since it happens every single day a bajillion times a day… really… how unexpected can it be?  Expectedly unexpected.

Expectedly unexpect this, kids:  MY reaction to above situation.  I get annoyed.  Punish.  Yell.  Throw a Mommy hissy fit if it is the umpteenth time I have told them to turn off the TV.  Put the kids in timeout.  Take away the TV for the day.  Talk talk talk talk talk about how they disobeyed.  Seriously, you’d think they’d learn.  You think, I’d learn.

Well, I had this re-epiphany the other day.  A re-epiphany is that ‘aha’ moment that has been tucked away in our heads.  Sometimes we just need a little reminder.  And here is my re-epiphany… I need to teach my kids HOW TO THINK!


Me:  “It’s time to get dressed…”

Yet they continued to play with toys.

Me:  “C’mon boys, let’s get dressed.”


Me:  “Stop playing with toys and get dressed!”

Yeah, I’m not proud of those moments when I snap.  So, I have recently started turning the conversation around by verbally thinking about and questioning the situation to give them a chance to make the correct decision about what is the important thing to do to accomplish a task.


Me:  “It’s time to get dressed.”

They continue to play with toys.

Me:  “We need to get to school on time, so which is more important right now:  playing with toys or getting dressed?

Boys:  “Getting dressed.”

Me:  “What happens if we play with toys instead of getting dressed?”

Boys: “Then we are going to be late for school…”

and my little one added: “Then Mommy will be maaaaad.”

Yup… I guess I needed this little epiphany to get myself to chill out because fussing at my kids apparently sticks in their little minds.

I have been focusing my conversations with the kids on using guiding questions to help them discern how to behave.  The things that you and I as adults do automatically in our heads do not come naturally to young kids, but we can teach them the thought process that needs to be going through their minds.  We can verbally model that for them so they start doing it as well:

Is this the right thing to do?

Which is more important?

What would happen if I didn’t listen?

This type of teaching will help your kids learn how to think things through.  If you notice, I talked about our goal:  to get to school on time.  Then I narrowed down the field of all of the possible things they could be doing right now to two things:  playing with toys (the action they are doing) and getting dressed (the action I need them to be doing.

I then ask “What is more important right now?”  The right now is important because we do not want them to think that the things that matter most to them aren’t important, but at that exact moment, which is the MOST important.  With my 3-year-old, I sometimes also have to say, “We can play with our toys after homework today when it is play time,” to remind him that his own personal goal (to play with toys) will also be fulfilled, but at a later point today.

We have used this approach for many things this week – most of them have been in the format of prioritizing which activity will best help us to reach our goal.

Teaching how to think is cross-curricular.  You already teach foreshadowing (what’s going to happen next) in reading and math (sequencing) and cause and effect in science.  This is just taking the same conversational approach and applying it to behavior.

I recommend also having these conversations during regular play, not just when you need them to do something.  Expect the unexpected.  Try to anticipate how they might do something that you will have to fuss them for and start a conversation about it before it happens…

Mommy Teacher: “If we are going to play in your room which is next to your sleeping sister’s room, is it more important to talk loudly or quietly?”

Child:  “Quietly.”

Mommy Teacher:  “Why do we need to talk quietly?”

Child:  “Because we do not want to wake Sister up.”

And if you’re like me and have a little lawyer or politician on your hands who will try to argue his decision to choose to do something besides what you need him to do, just remind him to think about what is MOST important to accomplish the end goal.

Code Word

I have taken graduate level courses in child psychology and behavior management.  I have spent countless hours in classes, seminars and meetings about how to set rules, boundaries, and expectations  and how to discipline effectively using positive reinforcements – and had a few years in the classroom using those practices that I was taught.  I have read books and manuals and blogs and magazines and read and read and read and studied about how to get my students to do what I need them to do, when I need them to do it.

And my expert, degreed self had a vision of how I would teach and discipline my own kids one day (as if MY kids would ever need it).    Here’s how my perfect mommy self would “handle” (for lack of a better word – where’s my thesaurus???) my kids.

1.  I would always explain why I needed them to do something. “The reason I need you to be quiet right now is because Mommy needs to make a phone call and I can’t hear the person on the other line when you are also talking.”

2.  I would always use positive speak (i.e. “Walk”  instead of “Don’t run.”)

3.  “Because I said so” would NEVER be a spoken from my mouth.  Instead I would always do #1.

(Ok.  You can stop laughing at me now.  We are always better parents before we are actually parents, right?)

So, then I became a real parent, and you know what I learned when my first born was a toddler?  “Because I said so” sometimes IS the reason I need them to stop what they are doing.  Maybe because they wouldn’t understand the real reason, or maybe because I just don’t feel like giving a reason (I’m not alone here!), or maybe because there isn’t any time to explain.  For example…

When my oldest son was a little over two, I took him and his baby brother to the park with some friends.  Up to this point, I believe I had stuck to my ideal vision that I stated above – pretty easy to do when they are in the baby and new-toddler phases.

I was sitting on the picnic blanket nursing the baby who was still in “blob mode”(around 2 months old) and my two-year-old was running in the open field between me and the parking lot.  At one point, he decided to chase some older kids who were closer to the parking lot.

Realizing I was a little tied up at the moment (bare breasts under the nursing cover), I decided to raise my voice (not yell… no, never yell) at my son to come play closer to me…

“James, come back!”

Haha, yeah, like that worked.  The two-year-old ran a little farther away.

“Jaaaames!  Come back over here, please!”

And to my naive astonishment, the kid didn’t even slow down.  In fact, I believe he sped up!

Then, it hit me.  I had always been close enough to him to be able to explain to him WHY he shouldn’t be doing something.  This insta-command thing was new.  He had never heard it before.  So just as he was nearing the parking lot, I yelled,


Or something to that effect.

That moment right there, the first time my son completely ignored me.  It wasn’t until I gave him that explanation of WHY he shouldn’t do something, completely changed my ideal vision of parenting.  Why did he do that?  Because up until that day I had explained every.little.thing to him… and don’t get me wrong!  That’s how they learn best how to not just DO, but understand right versus wrong.

But in an emergency… when they truly truly need to stop what they are doing.  They need to STOP.  NOW.  There is no time for an explanation.  They need to understand that you mean business.

That’s when I invented the “code word.”  I needed a shortcut to get my child to listen without question.


We went home and practiced it.  FREEZE.  When Mommy says that word, it does not matter what you are doing, what you WANT to be doing or what you were ABOUT to do; you are going to stop, put your hands on your head, and turn to look at me.

Now, the “put your hands on your head” part may seem a bit extreme, but trust me, when they are playing with a toy, the only way to get their undivided attention is to make sure their hands are empty.

I recently noticed my 3-year-old doing the same thing as my older son had done years before.  This week, I brought back our old friend, FREEZE.

The kids have a great time playing our FREEZE game where they get to cut up and act crazy, then Mommy yells “FREEZE” and they immediately stop with their hands on their head.  They also like playing Mommy’s role and telling me when to FREEZE.

With some short reminders in the car when we are about to go into the store or play at the park, the kids remember to respond immediately when I yell the code word.  It’s also a great way to get both of their attention when I need them to switch activities.  It gives me time to explain how we are going to transition into the next activity.

Do you have a code word?  What do you use?  Comment below to share!!!



Who is causing the Problem… my preschool boy or the coveted toy? Or Both?

Sean Patrick started his new school year today, and being the procrastinator that I am, I stayed up last night making a Toy Time Out Box for his teacher:

Toy Time Out Box Label

How To Make This Toy Time Out Box:

1) I printed the following labels onto regular computer paper (you can use card stock) using the print option “Multiple” to print them the size that I needed.

[purchase_link id=”3975″ style=”button” color=”green” text=”Toy Time Out Box Labels”]

2) I laminated them with my cheap laminator  Scotch Thermal Laminator Combo Pack, Includes 20 Letter-Size Laminating Pouches, Holds Sheets up to 8.5" x 11(TL902VP)  that I love and use for everything!

3) I cut them out and then hot glued them onto my $12 crate from Hobby Lobby that I found on the “Wood” Aisle in the craft section.

Assembling  Toy Time Out Labels

Why I Made This Toy Time Out Box:

I got the inspiration to make the labels for this toy time out box from Casey (who co-writes here at TMT) because she has one that her son helped her paint:

Toy Time Out Box

How I Use A Toy Time Out:

When my kids (or their friends) are fighting over a toy:

1) I walk CALMLY over to them, get on their level, look them in the eyes, say their names, and then calmly say “There is a problem so stop just a minute so we can figure it out.  This toy is causing y’all to fight – each take a turn to tell me why.”  (wait and listen)

2) Okay Well ___ was playing with it so you can either wait and find a new toy while you wait, or you can see if your friend wants to find a way to play WITH you with the toy.

3) And to the Friend who had the toy, can you find a way to share the toy or do you need me to set a timer and he can play with it when the timer goes off?

4) I warn them that if neither child is willing to wait or to share then I tell them the toy will have to go to time out until they can come up with a solution to play with it together or to take turns.

5) I try to follow through.  If they are both willing to make it work then I take it back out.  If not, the toy stays there.  It is that simple.

However, you can also use this box as a place where toys are held until a chore is done or a certain change of attitude takes place.  It can be used in more ways than just the example I provided.

If you come up with a use for it then please share your thoughts in a comment 🙂

House Rules


I recently wrote a post about a Routine Change for our after school schedule that I posted on our chalkboard door.

I also posted our house rules on that same door, in plain view to remind us how to behave throughout the day.

1. Be Respectful
2. Be Obedient
3. Be Honest
4.  Be Kind
5.  Be Positive

I once visited a classroom that had just two rules:  be respectful and be obedient.  Brilliant!  I mean, you really don’t need much more than that because those are two rules that any type of disobedience can fall under.  I call them “umbrella” rules.

I decided to use that in my house.  Once your kids get a full understanding of respect and obedience, they are extremely effective for toddlers.  However,  those are BIG words for little kids, so don’t expect them to immediately understand them.  However, if you use the same language a few times while modeling each of the behaviors, then your 2 year old will start telling you all about the appropriate behaviors he or she just displayed.  (They also may start questioning you about your appropriate or inappropriate behaviors – but that’s all a part of the learning process).

How to teach your kids about respect and obedience:

-Define the new vocabulary

Respect means you are being nice and talking nice to your mommy, daddy, siblings, friends and other adults.  “

Obedience means you listen the first time and always remember the appropriate behaviors you should be showing at all times.

-Model the new vocabulary

“‘Mommy, may I please have some milk?’ is a very respectful way to ask for something.  Can you say that?  ::wait::  Great!  I love how you used your manners and talked to me in a sweet tone.  I appreciate you showing me respect.  That was a very respectful way to ask me for something.”

“If I tell you to please pick up your clothes, a respectful response should be, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and then you show your obedience by picking up your clothes right away.   Listening the first time every time is a great way to be obedient.”

-Show the opposite behaviors and define them

“If I tell you, ‘Gimme some milk!’ Is that showing respect?  No.  That is called disrespect and it is not allowed.  How can we rephrase or say it again in a respectful tone?  ::wait::  That’s right!  You say, ‘May I please have some milk?’  I love how respectful that sounds.”

“If I ask you to pick up your clothes and you don’t look at me, don’t listen to me, or tell me, ‘no,’ that is called disobedience and it is not allowed.  Instead, what should we do?  ::wait:: You’re right!  Be obedient!  We do the task right away!  The VERY first time you are asked to do it!  But first, how do we show respect when asked to do something?  ::wait::  You’re right.  We say, ‘Yes, ma’am.'”

-Model different scenarios of respect, disrespect, obedience and disobedience and have your child label each

“Is this respect or disrespect:  ‘Moooooom I wanted to play with that toy!’  ::wait::  “Right.  Disrespect.  Do we allow disrespect?  No.”

“Can you please throw this away?  Yes, ma’am! ::throw trash away:: Was that obedience or disobedience?  Right!  Say, ‘great job, Mommy!  Thank you for being obedient!'”

-Have your child generate responses from cues

“How can we show respect to our friends?  ::wait:: You’re right… share our toys!  Great idea!”

“If I ask you to clean up your spilled milk, what would you do to be obedient?”

-Praise and repeat language

“Thank you for being respectful!”

“I love how you were being obedient!  You listened the very first time!”

-Frequent Reminders

“The way you said that was disrespectful, can you please change your behavior and use a respectful tone?”

“I have already told you once to do _____.  You have not done ____.  Is that being obedient?”

Sure, kids slip up from time to time, but by effectively setting your expectations for behavior and being consistent with praising and correcting, your child will likely choose to meet those expectations.

Now after having these rules for a while, I began to notice a few behaviors that my child was displaying that I still wanted to change.  It was necessary for me to set aside a few more rules to clarify which behaviors I did not like, even though these rules can also fall under the first two big umbrell


a rules.

3. Be Honest
4.  Be Kind
5.  Be Positive

My kindergartner, bless his little imagination, can get himself into a lot of trouble with the stories he tells.  He is definitely the “dog-ate-my-homework” kid, so we instated the “be honest” rule.

He and his toddler brother were also starting to pick on each other around the same time.  Sure, they were both being respectful and obedient toward Mom and Dad, but were they showing the same courtesy to each other?  No.  So we instituted the “be kind” rule.

Our last rule is to “be positive.”  Sure, we can all have bad days (even Mommies and Daddies), but our newest rule is to take a few minutes to yourself to reflect, and then when you return to be with the rest of the family, you must come with a new and improved new attitude.  And it must be positive.

After all is said and done, I have been rewarding my kids with tally marks when


they follow the rules.  We set a goal for our family:  100 tally marks = a trip to Kart Ranch (similar to Chuck-E-Cheese).  It’s been way more positive than punishments for not following the rules and they have been more obedient all around, knowing that there is a reward – a positive consequence – at the end.  Just a little encouragement for them.

What kinds of rules do you have in your home?  Which behaviors do you want your kids to change?  What new rules would you like to add to your list of expectations for your kids to follow?

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