“Oh my gosh I just can’t take it anymore!!”
Have you ever thought (or yelled) those words when your kids were out of control – screaming, yelling, tantruming, throwing a fit, or even just playing too rambunctiously? I know I have. When my three kids are too loud and I’m trying to have a phone conversation, I can feel my cortisol levels rising and all I can think to myself is “Please God, help me not fistfight these children” (kidding……………………kind of.) shortly followed by, “I’m a terrible parent. They are just being kids!”
There are so many situations when I need them to be quiet or to stop doing an activity or to simply listen closely to what I’m about to say. And up until I discovered this concept, those situations often lead to either them or I or all of us feeling pretty sad. Or as we say in my house, “sadballs.” That’s when your eyeballs are sad. We’re weird.
My initial inclination was to write this just for dads because we’re the only ones with a temper problem and a disdain for loud children………. Bahahahahaha! Clearly, that’s not true, so this is definitely for you too Mama. And you’re gonna want to teach this to the grandparents and anyone else who keeps your kids for more than about 4 hours at a time. What I’m about to show you has completely changed our house and our environment, whether we’re at home or out in public or even in church.
“Lock it up!”
This phrase echoes through our house multiple times per day. I’m guessing somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 times per day. Sometimes it’s playful. Sometimes it’s imperative. Sometimes it’s juuuuust before one of us gets frustrated or angry. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is just slightly AFTER one of us gets frustrated or angry. FULL DISCLOSURE: I get frustrated more than she does.
I can think of 3 families I know off the top of my head where the mom is the one who gets angry quickest; and I can think of 9 where it’s Dad. I don’t know if that sample size is enough to make any type of judgment about whether moms or dads are the main offenders; but what I do know is that this “lock it up” tool is a great equalizer in our home, and I know it can work for you too.
Whatever the scenario, using this phrase creates the platform of calm, structured, clear thinking for all my children and for my wife and me. I will give you some scenarios in which we use it that make it invaluable, first. Then, I’ll show you how to use it.
WHAT IS IT?
I say, “lock it up” and they all come running and lock it up in front of me. They put their feet together and their hands clenched in a fist down at their sides of the thighs. They put their shoulders back and their chest out with their head held up and they confidently and loudly pronounce, “YES SIR!”
That’s right. It’s got a very military feel to it. In fact, that’s where I learned it. My training instructors would say to us in a very loud, staccato tone, “ATTENTION!”. Except the way they said it, it sounded like, “TENCH-HUT!”
Anyone who has been in the military will recognize that sound immediately. There is no replacement for the satisfaction of coming to the position of military attention to receive commands and instructions or to pay respect to the flag or the national anthem. In a group setting such as basic training, this not only gives great respect to the authority in charge, but it brings calmness to the individual and the group.
Getting ready for church – Everyone is playing and snuggling and running a living-room-sectional-obstacle-course that brings all goers within an inch of death as they approach the bricks near the fireplace. We need to leave in 14 minutes. I yell moderately loudly, “Lock it up!” and they all come running to wherever I am and stand in front of me in that rigid position and shout “Yes sir!”. Yes, even my 1-year-old. He has a little more difficulty standing perfectly still, but he gives it his best and I respect that.
It’s okay if they aren’t perfect, but they do have to try. Now, I simply give them one instruction: “Go put on your clothes for church. Not your shoes though. Just your clothes. Raise your hand if you understand.” They raise their hands and I say, “Very good. As soon as you have your clothes on, come back and lock it up again. GO!” They scurry off and get their clothes on and 5-8 minutes later, they find me somewhere in the house, lock it up, and wait.
When they’re arguing – Hopefully this is not happening too much in your house. But with a 6 and 3 year old, both of whom are strong-willed, it’s inevitable. Like, several times a day. When you yell “lock it up” with this one, it’s important to note that they will probably be fighting tears, sniffling, wiping snot, making faces, crying, being generally angry, or even just flat-out sobbing and can’t lock it up. That last one deserves its own blog post and I’ll cover that later. As long as they’re capable of standing there, the details are fairly irrelevant.
I just stand there and look at them until they calm down. I will encourage them to breathe in deeply through their nose and slowly out through their mouth, and I’ll do it with them so they model me. Oxygen calms the nervous system, plain and simple. I won’t engage any questions or give any directions until I have them calm and steady and in their correct posture. It’s important that this be a chance for them (and you) to regain composure.
Before you leave the house – When I’m about to leave for work or even just the gym, I have them lock it up. I say it quietly and with a smile. They know this tone is different. I’m telling them it’s time for some affection. I will stand in front of them and assess their posture, maybe make a gentle, affirming correction. I look in their eyes, one at a time. I tell them I need to leave, but I need hugs and kisses and to talk to them for a second. We’ve done this for so long, they know what I’m going to say, for the most part, and they’re happy to beat me to it.
“Alright my babies… I gotta go do some work and help some people. Be sure to listen to Mommy. Do what she asks. Take care of each other. Look out for Remy (the 1-year-old). RTO?” They respond, “RTO!” (RTO is a soon-coming blog.) I get down on my knees, open my arms, and whoever gets in there first hugs me and kisses me. I look them in the eyes, touch their face or hold a hand, and say, “I love you. I’m proud of you. Do your best okay?” They look in my eyes and agree with me and tell me they love me. I do this with all 3 of them and then stand up and blow kisses as I walk out.
HOW TO TEACH IT
I don’t recommend starting this in a frustrated moment. Actually, I’ll just tell you that’s a recipe for disaster. It needs to start as a game. The way we did it was kinda like Simon Says. I said, “Hey, let’s play a game!” They, of course, enthusiastically agreed.
“Okay, I’m gonna give you a task like ‘jump up and down in place’. You start doing it and when I say “lock it up”, you have to stand just like this” and I demonstrated the position. After 7 or 8 different tasks and locking it up, they were trained to respond to the command. We played the game for several days before we even used it to get their attention. Once you’ve gotten them to associate it with having fun, it will not be negative when they hear it later. Even when you’re a year into it and you’re using it to break up a fight, they will respond to it well and consistently.
I know that they continue to respond to it because it has a great benefit to it when used consistently and confidently. Actually, it has two great benefits.
One is that it gives them an excuse to be obedient. Often times a kiddo can’t simply stop themselves from playing or fighting or whatever, but they really want to. They just don’t know how. They’re kids! This gives them a safe way to disengage whatever they’re doing and engage with you, the person they look to for guidance.
The other is for you. It’s a no-brainer when it’s fun and you’re playing it as a game, which I encourage you to do at least a couple of times a week so that it maintains its positive beginning. But when you’re frustrated and angry and ready to pop, this gives you a platform to stand on so you can regain your composure. No parent wants to lose their temper. I don’t think any parent ever wants to be frustrated either, but that just comes with having kids and a schedule. It’s basically unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean you have to let it win.
You can lock yourself up when you lock the kids up. And just stand there and remind yourself that you are in charge of them… and yourself. You get to choose how you want to model for them what it means to be gracious and patient and tender. Locking yourself up gives you that moment you need to get everything under control in your house and in your emotional storm that is swirling inside you.
Those chemicals do not get to control you. You get to control you. And you get to control your kids. But you can do it with the kind of emotional regulation and maturity that you so badly want them to have and that you want to be the one from whom they learn it.
Oh, I almost forgot! You don’t have to use the phrase “Lock it up!” I recently talked to a mom who uses the word “Tuck”. She simply had her children tuck themselves into a ball on the floor to accomplish the same thing. You can use any phrase you want, as long as you can teach it as a game and then use it consistently with everyone in your family.
Let me know if you come up with something different and, either way, let me know how this idea works for you and your family! I can’t wait to hear your stories!
P.S. Do not try to use this on your spouse without making it a game. Trust me.