It was 6am and the boys had already been up for an hour. They were excited about the "Pirate Ship" they had built the night before out of blankets, bungee cords, cushions and blocks. It was huge and took up almost the whole living room. Having been up with the baby until midnight, I had sent them out to play on their ship at 5:15. At 5:30, I got out of bed and got down the cereal and milk and started a video for them. At 6am I was woken up by a carrot battle waging in and out of my room that almost trampled the baby. I emerged to find broken carrots strewn about the floor. As I cleaned up the carrots, I heard the water in the bathtub running. I went in to see all the quilts that had been "sails" being washed in the bathtub.
What did I do? I started nattering. "Its only 6 am and you've gotten me out of bed. I am tired. You are making disasters everywhere. Why can't you just sit and watch the video (ironic, since usually I hate it when they just sit and watch a video)? Why must you rampage around the house? Can't you use the play swords if you're going to sword fight?"
And then I stopped. I realized I needed to re-focus. Our day was quickly going downhill and it wasn't even seven o'clock. I went into the kitchen and took some breaths. I started the kettle for tea. I started water for oatmeal. I ate a cookie and drank some water. I breathed some more. And then I re-focused the boys. We read a book, and ate some breakfast.
Several times a day around here, we come close to a breaking point. I like to call it the "communal meltdown". If we're lucky, I manage to abstain from melting down myself. If I'm in a mood for dark humour I will mutter to myself, "Let the communal meltdown begin!". If I'm in a better head space, I can often sense the change in the wind and bypass the meltdown all together.
How? By remembering that I set the tone for our household, not my children. If I am setting the tone for our day, I will respond to my children rather than re-acting. I will notice the level of activity getting more frantic and out of control and think, "What do we need to do to re-focus?". Often this is the moment where I realize that it is snack time, or that someone needs to go to the bathroom. It might be time to go outside for a while or, in bad weather, pull out the legos or go throw balls in the basement. We might just need a break and a drink, or it might be time to declare it quiet time, and enforce our everyone-sit-on-the-couch-and-snuggle-under-a-blanket policy.
If I remember that I am setting the tone, I can anticipate some of my children's behaviors, and get them involved in something else before things get out of hand. At the very least, I can keep myself cool headed and focused so that I don't get caught in a power struggle.
In the past, when I could see that it was time for something new to happen, I would suggest a hundred things to my kids. "You should go outside or to your room or have a snack." or "You could play with stickers or get out your legos or play trains or . . . " This never seems to work when they are near the end of their rope. What does work is just getting out the sketchbooks and stickers and crayons and putting them on the table. Then re-focusing the children by taking them by the shoulder and leading them to their chair. Or pulling out the picnic blanket and laying it one the step and sitting down. Or putting them on separate ends of the couch and laying a blanket over them. Sometimes they take the blanket off and go get their legos, but the change in energy has still taken place.
This re-focusing comes from a reminder to myself. I am the adult. I know what they need, and it is my job to redirect them when they are unraveling.