In my recent return to the interwebs I left off with a teaser promising some Hoff. I’m not going to drag it out and make you all wait – it might take a minute to travel down this journey that leads to David Hasselhoff, but we’ll get there. So buckle your seatbelts, grab a snack, and come along with me.
I’ll start this little trip with a quick explanation. My background (genetically) is Irish, English, Scottish, and a smidgeon of Native American. If stereotypes are to be believed I am predisposed to drinking, a quick temper, and bad teeth; I happy to report that only two of those apply, (hat tip to modern dentistry). My temper is what I’ll be talking about today. I’ve always had one, and always will. I’ll probably always be working on controlling it. If you are a parent you know that kids will bring out a temper in even the most mellow person sometimes, so if you are already primed like me, it can be challenging.
Second part of the explanation: Our son who is now six has given us some pretty challenging behavior issues over the past few years. He is a very sweet, smart, empathetic, good little boy, but he has moments where I almost don’t recognize him because his behavior changes so much. I’m trying to be polite about this, but the truth is that he has brought out my temper like I never thought possible. Tantrums, backtalk, hitting, out of control stuff – things that go way beyond ‘just being a little boy’ behavior. It has impacted the entire family at times. We have been ‘dealing’ with this for a really long time and have tried a number of things, but it would work for a little while, and then fall off and we would be back to square one. If you have a ‘challenging’ child you will understand how hard it can be, how draining – emotionally and physically – to deal with that all the time.
My husband and I have had more conversations than I can count about his behavior, what we could try next, what article we read or book we saw about child development and behavior modification techniques… and then I started really looking and really listening from a different perspective.
I knew something had to change. It had to because I hated how our home felt some times. I hated how I sounded, how my husband sounded at times. I hated the fact that I knew I loved my child more than I could bear, but my behavior was not reflecting that. And that’s when it clicked and I said these words to my husband:
Now, I won’t go into too much detail, but the basic rundown is that we realized that while our son’s behavior wasn’t great, our response to it was making it all so much worse. We would be consistent with rules and discipline, but how we delivered it was immediately more angry and frustrated than we should have been.
Adults carry things over; we remember that our kids refused to pick up in the morning, threw food at lunch, and hit a sibling in the afternoon, so when they sass us later in the day we carry all of that over. Our response that might have been more evenly toned or consistent with our ideal reaction becomes loud/shrill, angrier, or even just plain nasty. The kids don’t remember anything from earlier, so all they see is Mom or Dad overreacting to a small infraction.
This is what we were doing, all the time. Our son’s behavior challenges had been going on for so long it was like our disciplinary engine was always in 2nd or 3rd gear; we were just waiting for him to screw up or act out – and then ZOOM!, off we went in overdrive. It had become so part of our parenting we didn’t even realize we were doing it.
Still with me? I know this is a long one, and it’s not even really funny, but hang in there!
We started trying to change our responses, to be calmer with all the children. It took a few starts and stops, and we realized that we needed to change one key aspect – how we reminded each other to chill out. Shockingly enough, neither of us responded well to the other person telling them to “Chill out” when their temper was up. Strong eye contact also did not work. Neither did hand gestures.
So here’s how it all went down.
One night the hubs and I were talking about the behavior crap again, and I was saying again that a lot of the fault lay with us, and we needed to calm down (again). We needed a way to remind the other person of our parenting goal, but it needed to be done in a way that didn’t make the other person feel defensive, and it also had to be done in a way that the children didn’t know what we were talking about. We needed a code.
Now, at this point it’s been a looong day and I’ve had 2-3 glasses of wine – keep this in mind as it factors heavily into the flow of this whole thing – and I say:
“It’ll be like a science experiment! We’ll try for the rest of the summer to chill out, and see if there is a correlating response with his behavior!”
Husband: “OK – let’s give it a try. What’s the code going to be?”
Me: (remember – lots of wine already in my tummy) “OK – well, it’s a science experiment…and the first thing I think of when I think of science is Bill Nye the Science Guy! Aaannnd my favorite episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy had this segment about magnets, and the voice over guy went through all sorts of household items going ‘Magnetic or Not?!?’, and then at the end, they showed this picture of DAVID HASSELHOFF and the voice over guy goes something like ‘MAGNETIC PERSONALITY! You be the judge!’ That has made me laugh for like 20 years!!”
At this point my husband is just staring at me.
Me: “We can use Hasselhoff as our code word!! So when one of us is overreacting, the other can say “You’re Hasselhoffing” Or, “Don’t Hoff things up” and the kids won’t have a clue!
Husband: “You want to turn Hasselhoff into a verb.”
Me: “And an adverb!”
So we did. The really crazy thing is that it has worked. As reminders, I have taped up some pictures of The Hoff around the kitchen/family room area. There is even one directly behind my son’s chair in the dining room. The pictures are so wonderfully ridiculous that they make me smile, and right off the bat I am calmer. Not only am I calmer, but my husband is, too. And most importantly we are parenting better with all of our children, and we can see that reflected in their behavior.
There’s ‘Stern Hoff’ giving me the eyeball when I was dishes, telling me to chill out.
‘Puppy Hoff’ and ‘Knight Rider Hoff’ adorn two cabinets in the kitchen and remind me of the important things, like snuggles, love, and of course, puppies.
Finally, ‘Cowboy Hoff’ is taped up directly behind my son’s chair in the dining room, telling me not to ‘Hoff things up’.
It’s great. Really, really great. I do have to explain why there are pictures of David Hasselhoff all over when people visit, but again, it makes me laugh. It sometimes starts a conversation with our guests – how they have a challenging child, how they wish they could change how they responded or how their homes feel. It is so helpful to hear that others are feeling this way. It can be hard to admit as a parent that you are making mistakes, and you don’t know how to make it right, but trust me, you are not alone.
So that is how the Hoff came to join our family. Maybe he’ll join yours, too!
I know that this is a long one already, but if you made it this far you are either my Mom or someone who has also had issues like ours. If you are my Mom, (Hi! Love you!) If you are working on being a calmer parent, then here are some resources I have found helpful:
*The Orange Rhino (http://theorangerhino.com/) Great online resource. Good for tips on staying calm and for helping remove/move past some of the crappy feelings that come with yelling/anger. (That’s where I got the ‘reminder’ idea)
*This article and ‘method’ Super great. I might need this tattooed somewhere.
*Personal awareness: (courtesy of my Mom) Making sure that I have eaten enough, had enough to drink (water…sad trombone), as much sleep as is possible to get when parents of young children. For me eating is huge. I get hungry easily, and when I am hungry, I am a jerk. My mom knows this, my husband knows this, friends from college know this. Somehow, I didn’t know this, or at least wasn’t aware enough to realize how much it really affects me. I travel with snacks all the time and if I start feeling crabby I try to remember to check in with the tummy and see if I need to appease the beast. I am also trying to make sure that if I am cranky about something else that I don’t take it out on the kids inadvertently.
That’s it for now! Whew! Talk to you soon!