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The Blind Leading the Blind: Read at your own risk, my friends.

Candace and StepBlog made a great point in the comments of my last post. I wrote all this detail about how horribly things went on the bad night, and then said life got back to something approximating normal the next night, but did I give detail, or provide any of the tips and tricks I referenced in helping us achieve said normalcy? No! I didn't! And that is not helpful. Why am I writing in a public forum if not to offer something helpful every once in while, for the love of God?!

Well, because I'm a selfish, narcissistic jerk, you guys. And also because I feel like such a complete parenting failure so much of the time, it seems a little like a sham for me to be saying, "Do what I do and you'll be successful!" BUT, I also happen to be a big Knowledge is Power person (me and Foucault go way, way back -- long live the panopticon, baby!), so after accepting the below disclaimer*, feel free to use any of these ideas in your household with your intense, challenging, dictator-like children.

Tip # 1: Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Tell the kids, even if you think they already know, what the routine (dinner, playtime, whatever) is going to entail. It might feel like overkill to say, "We're going to sit at the table and use our forks to eat our green beans and noodles, and we're all going to use quiet, peaceful voices when we talk, and we'll take turns so everyone gets a chance to tell their stories," but if you don't say this up front, and then sit down to kids using their fingers as spaghetti shovels, screaming over each other's loudness, telling them the expectation becomes a confrontation right off the bat. Avoid that scenario AT ALL COSTS. It gets ugly after that, and at our house, we never really recover. If you've told them from the start that something is going to be a certain way, when you see their behavior go awry, you have a way to address it, which gets me to my next tip.

Tip # 2: Be Positive. No, really.
One of the quickest ways to attract kids' attention to the fact that they can press your buttons is to say things like, "stop that!" or "don't touch your brother!" At our house, a statement like this is followed by a repeat of the forbidden action, a rise in my blood pressure and aneurysm likelihood, and utter and complete terror is likely to ensue. Using the above example about setting dinner expectations, The Unnamed Experts recommend using "positive language" to get your point across. That is, rather than telling them NOT to do something (usually in an annoyed, if not angry, tone of voice), tell them what they should be doing, what the expectation is. This is where Tip #1 and Tip #2 converge: if you've already talked about expectations, this directive will sound familiar. Beautiful! So, "stop playing with your food!! GROWL!" becomes, "Quinn, we're eating with our forks, remember?" or something sickeningly sweet along those lines. Try it. You'll be surprised how often this actually works. Now, with intense kids like Bryce, who are often out to establish control, things don't stop with Tip #2. Read on.

Tip # 3: Stay Calm. (And then drink.)
Tips # 1 and #2 seem really logical and easy, don't they? "That's no effort at all, and it'll never work on my kid anyway!" Oh yes, dear brethren and sistren (it's a word; I checked), I too have uttered this phrase many a time. (I mean, you've heard about Bryce, right? So you're with me.) But Tip # 3 doesn't really work very well if you haven't implemented Tip # 1 and Tip # 2 FIRST. Because if you haven't, then you've probably already started losing your temper, and therefore if your kid is blatantly doing something s/he knows s/he's not supposed to be doing, and you've told her/him to stop and s/he has continued for the sole purpose of watching you blow your top, staying calm at this point is improbable. If, however, you calmly explained the expectations, and then calmly used your nifty positive language to re-direct the negative behavior, you're much better poised to CALMLY follow through on whatever established consequence exists. The consequence depends on the situation and the family, obviously. In our case, negative behavior like throwing food, yelling, or having a tantrum at the dinner table meets with the consequence of one time out away from the family during which time the child is expected to bring things down a notch. After that, they may return to the table and try again. This time, if the negative behavior returns, they don't get to finish dinner, and -- horror of horrors -- don't eat until breakfast the next morning. "So this is just a time out?" you ask. Well, yes. In our case it is. But more specifically, it's the CALM follow-through to the time out. In fact, maybe it's not a time out for you; maybe it's the removal of a certain privilege. If you've already established a specific consequence for your kid related to a specific behavior, you can stick with it. The main point of Tip # 3 is to stay completely calm, composed, and logical while administering whatever consequential steps need to be taken, EVEN IF THE KID IS ACTING LIKE A RAVING MAD LUNATIC. This is the step I forget most often, and I have resorted too many times to lecturing loudly while I take a kid to time out. Don't make that mistake. In our house, this just creates more strife, and kid ends up winning, because I'm drawn into more negotiations and arguments (then I get more angry and frustrated, then the kid's tension level rises, you see the cycle).

Tip # 4: Where possible, re-evaluate the routine.
John and I realized that the kids were in some ways set up to fail at dinner time, which led to failures at bath time and bed time. They like to watch Dragon Tales on PBS Kids every day at 4:00; John has no problem with this because it's the one show that actually affords him more than five minutes to catch up on minor projects or brief business correspondence. However, as soon as he's ready to start the dinner preparations, the kids are rested, bored, and undirected. The other night, the hypnotically smooth night, we pulled a fast one on them by recording Dragon Tales and letting them watch it when John was ready to start dinner (he kept them engaged in activities until then). The result was quiet, peaceful kids during meal prep, only mildly excitable (and therefore manageable) by the time we were ready to sit down at the table. Ta Daa!

Tip # 5: Start over at Tip #1. Every day.
Recognize that this magical combination loses its potency if left untended. Each transition to a new activity requires the willingness and patience to begin again. Yes, it seems tedious, but much less dysfunctional than the self-flagellation that you'll inevitably bring upon yourself if you end the day in shrieks and slammed doors.

*The information contained herein is presented to you by a half-insane, inconsistent, and impatient shrew. Therefore, no guarantees can be made for its veracity, effectiveness, or timeliness. Godspeed. Also: All kids are different. Your results may vary as a result of that fact alone. (Nothin' I can do about that one, people. I've got two polar opposite kids driving me insane: I'm in the trenches with you -- woops! look out for that grenade, by the way.)