When I was a kid, my friend across the street had a babysitter — her aunt — who would always say, “Hello, walls.” Vividly, I remember wondering why in the world this woman talked to walls. Then one day I realized she only said that after she asked us to do something two or three times and we hadn’t listened.
Fast forward 20-30 years and here I am now — a wall-talking woman. I mean, with the amount of requests I have thrown out that only the walls hear, my 8-year-old self wants to go buy matching best friends forever necklaces to declare our relationship.
What is it with kids and the need to tell them 246 times to do something? When the girls get home, their shoes are to go in the same spot. Every day. I don’t change this. Yet, I am constantly reminding them to put their shoes away.
When they are finished eating, they are to throw away their plates. This is not new. Eat, then clean up. By the way, yes, we are classy and use paper plates at every meal. This Mama hates doing dishes and Dad would rather have a tooth pulled than fill up the dish washer. Hey, they still have to put their spoons in the sink. Ha!
And how many times do I have to tell them to put on pajamas? If you did a tally on my daily most-used phrases, topping the chart would be: “Go get your jammies on,” “Brush your teeth” and “Go potty.” Typically, there is a “please” before all those requests, at least for the first three times I tell them. After that, this calm and kind mama becomes quite annoyed.
A few weeks ago, I had enough of them not listening to me until the umpteenth time I told them to do something. Unleashing my serious mom voice, I advised them to follow me. It was a tone that clearly caught their attention. Frantically, I halfway scrubbed clean our dry-erase calendar — that may or may not have still had the month of May on it — and wrote two words: “Good” and “Bad.”
Under those words, I gave each of them a square. If they listened to me and did what I asked the first time I asked them to do it, they would get a star under “good.” If I had to ask multiple times, they would get a point under “bad.” Collect ten stars and pick out a new toy, collect 10 points and TV, videos and candy were gone for a week.
After the first night, I was sure that I should have thought those consequences through a little more. Within an hour, Miss Maylie had figured out how to win the game and had three stars. All I could think was that this could get very expensive. But I had to give them to her as she actually did what I asked the first time.
Despite my fear of going broke over this new method I was trying out, it was actually extremely relieving to finally be heard. And it wasn’t surprising that Maylie caught on quickly, as she has always been one to please. On the other hand, Reagan spent all evening dodging points and somehow managed to squeak out one star. Barely.
Completely throwing this together on a whim, I was unprepared for all the questions Maylie had about our new format. “So, is this every day? Or should we take a couple of days off during the week? How about Tuesdays and Thursdays? What if we are sick? What if is it close to our birthday — we should get a break then!”
What I wanted to respond was, “Listen kid, I have no idea. I just made this up!” Instead, I calmed her mind by letting her know that we would play it by ear.
As the days have passed, I have slowly quit giving rewards for expected things — like putting on pajamas. Yet (Maylie at least), usually only has to be told once to do that. I have explained expected actions — shoes going in the same spot every day — versus requested actions — time for friends to go home and get ready for bed.
What’s better, I can constantly make up new rules. For instance, in order to not break the bank, I have allowed the girls to pay for things using stars (like cheese dip at the Mexican restaurant).
Because of this, neither girl has hit 10 stars yet. Surprisingly, they haven’t hit 10 points either. Communication and listening have seemed to start clicking at the Shrader house.
And this Mama couldn’t be happier as I am finally being heard by someone other than just the walls.
Sarah (Pitson) Shrader was born and raised in Lima. She is a Lima Central Catholic and Tiffin University graduate. Sarah is a full-time working mama who enjoys writing about her somewhat crazy, always adventurous life as a mother. She lives in Bath Township with her husband, Paul, and their daughters, her writing inspirations, Maylie and Reagan.