When out in public, it’s not uncommon for onlookers to ask a barrage of questions regarding our quadruplets. I’ve become relatively accustomed to the range of questions, and stock answers generally roll off my tongue without much conscious thought on my part.
One hot summer day, I schlepped all four kids to Costco myself and strategically placed them into one cart. By the time we had every item (and then some) from our list, I heaved the cart to the check stand. Just before rolling out, I caught the stare of the woman at the next check stand over. In a baffled tone, she asked, “How DO you get them to behave?!?!?”
In the past, I soaked in any compliment about the kid’s behavior, but no one ever asked how it happened. Unprepared to answer, I sheepishly mumbled “I’m just lucky.” I wasn’t even to the parking lot before I started wondering why on earth I said that. Their behavior was not perfect in Costco. During the trip they occasionally bickered and pestered each other, but were well behaved overall. I had four two-year-olds that remained seated in the cart and were relatively quiet. It was typical behavior for them and a win for me. Getting that kind of behavior takes A LOT of behind the scenes effort.
A few weeks later, the quad squad received a similar compliment at the dentist’s office, but this time, I had a better explanation: My all-time favorite parenting book, Love & Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay, Ph.D. The basis of this book is that we love our kids enough to set and enforce limits with compassion, while also allowing our children to make mistakes and experience natural or logical consequences.
With our kids, we establish clear cut boundaries. Some of our boundaries are basic household rules (e.g. keep hands and feet to ourselves, follow directions, clean up after ourselves). Other times, boundaries are set on demand, and we attempt to make them as tangible as possible. For instance, whenever we go shopping, during the van ride we review rules for being in a store. If we will use a cart, we discuss that staying seated is expected to prevent accidents. If we will not use a cart, we review staying within arm’s reach of parents, holding hands when crossing the street, and looking at items rather than touching. It’s critical that our kids understand what is expected of them and understand that consequences follow if they disobey.
The quads are typical kids who disobey and throw tantrums. When this happens, we attempt to choose logical consequences that are age appropriate. We first show our dissatisfaction with the behavior by saying something such as, “That’s so sad,” “That makes me sad,” “Uh oh,” or “What a bummer.” Then, depending on the offense, we determine a logical consequence. Sometimes, thinking of a consequence is clear cut; other times, it’s murky, and if we get lucky, a natural consequence occurs.
Here are a few scenarios that actually happened at our house.
1. At breakfast, one of the girls painted her arms in yogurt, then flung the remaining bits of yogurt all over the kitchen. Internally, I was irate. Our kitchen floors are never immaculate, but yogurt smear was not appreciated. Her mealtime immediately ended since she was clearly not hungry. Then, she was given paper towels to wipe her mess. Of course, her clean up chore was merely to teach the lesson. At two-years-old, she wasn’t fully capable of a full kitchen mop job.
2. During nap one day, the girls decided they didn’t need to sleep. Instead, they quietly entertained themselves by emptying their ENTIRE dresser and making piles all over their room. At the end of naptime, I stumbled upon probably several hundred articles of clothes. It was a disaster. While the boys enjoyed an afternoon television show, the girls had to spend their time helping me sort and fold clothes. They really love screen time, and they were unhappy with their lot.
3. Before the kids go to bed, we often take a walk in the neighborhood. Some nights, they are uncooperative with their bedtime routine (e.g. running away when asked to brush their teeth or use the restroom), which wastes time. If they waste too much time, they lose the privilege of taking a walk.
4. After the boys had been in bed about an hour, we heard a crash and a few screeches. When we went in to investigate, we discovered two partially dressed boys, mattresses moved to the floor, beds relocated, and various bits of clothing littering the floor. After proclaiming our displeasure, we needed time to regain composure before doling consequences. Though they made the mess, it was hard for the boys to put everything back to normal. They ended up losing their beloved teddy bears that night. I’m not sure that one made an impact because they repeated this antic a few times before we called uncle on it and bought twin beds instead of flimsy toddler beds.
Expectations are uniform for each of our children, but consequences are tailored. Though our children are identical in age, they are four unique people with individual temperaments and preferences. When choosing a consequence, we have to consider this fact. A consequence won’t be effective if the child doesn’t care. For example, missing dessert doesn’t bother my child who dislikes sweets, but taking screen time away is a tragedy to her. In situations where we are particularly upset by a behavior, it’s important for us to take a break before giving a consequence. I find that when we as parents are too angry ourselves, consequences may be too harsh or inappropriate, and therefore ineffective. My husband and I use the “just walk away” rule in which we step out of the room and take a few breaths before coming back. This simple trick works wonders for gaining perspective.
At its core, Love and Logic is a simple parenting style: set boundaries and empathically implement consequences when boundaries are broken. It doesn’t always feel simple during implementation. Sometimes it takes tremendous effort, requiring far more energy than we haggard parents want to give. When we have an opportunity to reap the benefits of our effort (e.g. a compliment to my kid’s behavior), we are reminded why we take the time to put in the work. After all, we only have a short time to teach our children appropriate behavior before they are adults navigating the world independently. A little effort now isn’t too much in the grand scheme of things.
Amber Shawver resides in Fort Worth with her husband, George, and their three-year-old quadruplets, Rylin, Harper, Sydney, and Mason. In an effort to maintain professional skills and a stitch of sanity, Amber continues to practice school psychology part-time. She finds that her professional training and experience are often handy managing the quads at home. In her spare time, Amber chronicles life raising quadruplets on her blog, Four to Adore. You’ll also find Four to Adore on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!