For the past few months, a perfect storm of circumstances has resulted in an overall increase in whining from my six and three-year-old kids. Lately, they seem extra sensitive, overreacting to disappointments and taking longer than usual to move past emotional moments. But I think I’ve figured out how to interrupt this exhausting pattern of behavior.
It’s really not their fault. We are all adjusting to a new baby. Each of my babies were three years apart, which has had several advantages like giving my body some time to recover, not having two littles in diapers at the same time, and getting to give each baby plenty of attention through the baby stage. But that last factor may be what makes the adjustment a little harder on the older kids.
It’s hard to share that much of mama when for as long as you can remember, she’s been pretty much available to you. Now that I have two older kiddos waiting for my attention when I’m also tending to a high-needs newbie is a serious challenge for all of us.
The new baby arrived just before the holidays, so for several weeks, our routine has been off. Throw in the fact that both of my kiddos had birthdays during that same time and were showered with gifts from sweet friends and family members, and top it off with Christmas gifts and extra sweets and company and late nights, things have been more unpredictable. As we started to get back into a routine, there was some pushback. Even though my kids normally thrive when they know what to expect, they weren’t thrilled about the “party” being over.
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Aside from that, the colder weather has us all a little stir crazy. My kids do so much better when they can burn off some energy outside. But on days that are too cold or too wet to really soak up some sunshine, the indoors get a little stifling and in their words “boring.”
Recognizing the factors is helpful. I know I should be giving them a predictable schedule, offering some good indoor activities and making use of all the sunny hours we can to be outside. But there is one thing I figured out actually seems to be the best preventative measure:
I need to offer my attention before they ask for it.
I noticed a lot of the whining comes after they’ve asked for my help, after they’ve asked to show me something or to be included, after they’ve heard me say: “Hold on.” “In just a minute.” “Maybe later.” “I have to do this, that and the other before I can do that with you.” And it frustrates them. Especially if that’s the only response they hear in a day.
If I can give some attention before they are begging for it, I will actually have more time to take care of other responsibilities because no one will be holding on to my ankles (literally and figuratively).
When my first baby was little, I realized he would rather have ten minutes of my undivided attention than thirty minutes of me trying to multitask while I spent time with him. That still rings true now that I have older kids. So I’ve made a few changes that keep all of us from getting frustrated and emotional.
In the mornings when they wake up, I am usually either in the kitchen making or cleaning up breakfast, or I’m sitting in a chair reading or praying. Whenever they come out, I try to put down what I’m doing and ask them to come sit and snuggle with me for just a few minutes. We might read a book or talk about our plans for the day or just sit and hug for a few minutes. It doesn’t work out every day, especially if I’m also tending to the baby or we are needing to get out the door, but when we do have time to connect first thing in the morning, the whole day goes more smoothly.
Each kiddo has activities that are the most fun and fulfilling to them. I know because those are the things they want me to watch or participate in with them. My girl loves to pretend to cook and serve food, and even more she loves to actually help me with real food in the kitchen. She’ll ask, but if I ask her to play kitchen or to help me get lunch or dinner ready, she lights up. She doesn’t even seem to mind when I say I need to go do something else after a while. I can tell it really fills her cup.
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My boy is a Lego fanatic. He often asks me to help him find or design specific pieces for a new creation. A lot of those times, I am bouncing a baby on one hip, walking back and forth to the kitchen to stir a pot on the stove or talking on my phone. But if I say, “Hey, while your sisters nap today, let’s build something new out of your Legos,” he has something to look forward to all day and those moments, even if short, are very valuable to him.
I think the point is to not make myself seem like such a precious commodity. Even though I am busier now and some things cannot be put off, there are moments we can share without interruption. And if they know I want to spend those moments with them, they don’t spend so much time and effort begging for them. While we count down to warmer days and more options for independent play, I’ll just work on my own patience and take it as a compliment that in my house, time with mama is so valuable.