Blurring Behavioural Boundaries

I may have mentioned (once or twice ;)) that Monkey has been poorly over the last few weeks. When your little one is poorly and just not themself it is impossible to be as firm about some issues as you would normally be. When they are irrationally upset about everything because they don’t feel well, there are some things that just aren’t worth pushing.

WP_20150224_11_23_51_ProYou see their forlorn little face and you would do anything to make them happy and you certainly don’t want them to be more upset, so you relax some of the boundaries a little. You want to eat on the sofa? Ok darling. You want to wear your PJs all day? Ok sweet pea. You want to drink more milk (the 10th cup that day)? Of course my darling. You got loads of toys out but now want to cuddle back on the sofa as you don’t feel well? Don’t worry. You don’t want to have a bath tonight? Ok my love.

It makes sense, obviously there are some things that are never ok, but then there are things that aren’t that important. That aren’t worth causing any more upset. There are some things they are only doing because they are poorly and so little and don’t understand what is wrong with them. Your nurturing instincts kick in and you snuggle and coddle and reassure our little darlings until they feel better…

The problem is though, strengthening those boundaries again when they are well. Or rather when to start again. Where do you draw the line? How do you know they are 100% better? Or, more to the point, how do you know whether they are still poorly, or whether they are trying to pull a fast one? Toddlers are clever little mites and if you give them an inch they will take a mile and once they recognise they can get away with a little more because they are poorly they are bound to take advantage.

We have the same struggle with discipline whenever Monkey has been poorly and we have been a bit softer with him. Because he is a fussy eater and we struggle with food with him at times, food is one area where we do soften the rules when he is poorly. We still try to keep him eating healthily and keep up with his faves such as veggie burgers, but with a reduced appetite you can’t help being pleased that they are eating anything. So there has been many more occasions where he has eaten cheese on toast, or peanut butter on crackerbread (he loves the stuff) instead of something more substantial. Because he needs to keep his strength up and is just not in the right frame of mind to be persuaded to eat things he is less sure of.

But we are all too aware that we can’t let this go on for long, otherwise it undoes all of our hard work to keep mealtimes happy and we end with battlegrounds over food again. Like I say though, the trouble is knowing when to start enforcing the normal rules again. While he has been poorly we haven’t always enforced the rule aboout eating at the table, or the rule about not drinking milk right before dinner time (as he will happily survive on milk in the evening and won’t touch dinner if he has milk) as we know he needs something inside him to avoid meltdowns and keep his strength up. But there comes a time when we have to enforce these rules again.

No use crying over a cup of milk...

No use crying over a cup of milk…

We decided to enforce them one day last week, and in hindsight it was a day too early. I won’t go into details but it descended into carnage with our boy wailing and crying so much and both hubs and I eating cold dinners by the time we had calmed him down and done what we never do – we backed down and gave up on the naughty spot (for the first time ever it just didn’t work and was chaos) and gave him what he wanted. A cup of milk. He didn’t eat his dinner and we felt thoroughly dejected and miserable  that
a) we had enforced the rules too early and he had overreacted massively which meant that
b) we had to go back on what we said and give in, which feels totally wrong. We felt like terrible parents just getting it so wrong.

I remember watching supernanny before I had kids and scoffing, thinking the mistakes of the parents were so obvious and avoidable. Little did I know how hard the reality actually was! But sometimes I think to myself “what would supernanny say?” because I can see in us the parents I had happily scoffed at back in the day. Sometimes though I don’t know what she would say. Would she say  “Well of course it didn’t work, he’s not very well” or would she say “You should have persisted, you can’t give up!”

The less we enforce discipline in general, the worse Monkey’s behaviour gets. We aren’t massively strict or anything but he actually reacts really well to boundaries in general and is for the most part a good boy, but a bit of laxity from us and his behaviour can descend quite rapidly.

The day after the cup of milk incident we saw the evidence of our mistake. Monkey hit me. Not hard, but in our house, hitting is not acceptable, under any circumstances. Not by accident, not in jest, just not acceptable. I told him off, explained that hitting is wrong and threatened the naughty spot if he did it again. We are very much in the “Why” zone with him at the moment and he said “Why not?” and hit me again. I had to be firm on this so put him on the naughty spot and after only a couple of tries he did stay put and it did work. The difference a day makes as he was definitely feeling more himself again and it showed. He cried and kicked off but accepted the naughty spot and apologised afterwards.

It was a turning point and he has been a lot better behaved since. Not all the time, obviously, and we have our moments but although we have threatened the naughty spot a few times we haven’t had to use it again. So I guess our relaxing of the rules, and our mistake and failed naughty spot attempt haven’t caused any problems long term. He is back to himself and the boundaries have been restored. Will he test them again? Of course. Will we go through all of this again next time he is poorly? Without a doubt. We will keep learning at this parenting lark and maybe one day we will know what we are doing without everything being a bit trial and error!

Do you relax the boundaries when your little one is ill? Do they ever try and take advantage?

And then the fun began...

25 thoughts on “Blurring Behavioural Boundaries

  1. Just saw this pop up on Facebook…I worry about this with an 18 month old! She’s like Monkey and would have milk at all hours. When’s she ill she may wake in the night and ask for milk; she gets sooo upset if we don’t give in. But now where do you draw the line? She’s been waking now she’s better and still wanting milk. We were up for 90 mins last night! Not sure if she’s teething either. I’m sorry Monkey hit you but sounds like you definitely had it sorted! xxx

    • Ooh this sounds tough and nighttimes are definitely the hardest to reinforce and the most important. We got really cross with Monkey in the night last week because he was getting better and we thought he was trying it on, then his chicken pox spots appeared and we realised he must still have been poorly and felt like awful parents! So difficult to know what is right sometimes! The funny thing is he has not been bothered about milk until he started playgroup and because they have milk there is now obsessed with it and wants it all the time! xx

  2. Even when you feel like you’re floundering and not sure of yourselves I see parenting that I could learn a lesson from. My trouble is that I am too soft and EJ in particular gets away with a lot that I’m sure you or another parent wouldn’t put up with. To be fair though I’m finding it much easier to parent a slightly older child as, at five, JJ is a lot easier to reason with. Which is not to say that he doesn’t have naughty moments but he kind of comes through it and realises that he was wrong without me having to tell him again. The boundary shifting around illness is a bit less defined for me as my disciplining isn’t the greatest anyway but it seems like it does just have to be trial and error.. Thanks for linking up with #thetruthabout Hon Xx

    • Thanks Sam, i think you have more confidence in my parenting than I do but I have to say I am looking forward to the kids getting that bit older as I am hoping they will be a bit less irrational and easier to deal with? is this just wishful thinking? xx

  3. We definitely relax the boundaries when the girls are poorly and it can be hard to things re-established sometimes as a result. I also have a tendency to give in a little when hubby is away if I’m exhausted and need to make life a bit easier for myself. Classic example recently was Sophie teething and waking in the night wanting to feed which is the quickest and easiest way to get her back to sleep. After a couple of nights of this Sophie started waking every three hours wanting to feed and it then became an effort to settle her without feeding her. We’re mostly getting back to settling her again without it thankfully. Glad that Monkey is getting better and being better behaved too.

    • Oh I can totally understand that lovely but what is easier in the short term often makes life harder in the long term doesn’t it? Glad things are improving though! xx

  4. The boundaries always get relaxed a lot when sickness arrives here and z will try to live off milk too. His main little trick is to stay up really late and we relent on the days he’s really ill but that usually sets up back a week afterwards. At least! Yet we do it repeatedly 🙂

  5. Awww this sounds horrible Caroline! There are days when rules are definitely relaxed here too! It’s hard to know when is right and I’m sure we’ve all got it wrong at times!!
    When did you start doing the naughty spot? I feel like we are approaching time to need to start doing something like this!! Xx

    • Thanks lovely it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t that long ago in the scheme of things, I just had to look it up on here lol but it was July so he was just over 2 and we are lucky that we rarely have to actually use it, most of the time just the threat is enough thankfully! xx

  6. We have had a lot of sickness in this house recently too and the rules just fly out the window don’t they! The worst bit has been the poorly youngest waking for milk at 4am – she hasn’t done that for month! #sharewithme

  7. It’s so hard when they are poorly, I am definitely more lenient! My little one was poorly recently and all he wanted to eat was jam sandwiches! We’ve been lucky so far with the resetting of the boundaries but he is clever so I know it won’t be long before he is playing the game! Great post! #sharewithme

  8. Argh! We have been going through the exact same thing and finally through the other side. The second worse bit about being ill, is the aftermath! So hard…but you just have to stick yo your guns, use your best judgement and then you get there in the end. And then when they finally turn a corner, focus on the good stuff and do lots of behaviour shaping!

  9. This is a tricky one – mine definitely know that illness = special treatment. I think the true test is if they don’t eat anything apart from their milk. If they’re asking for sweets when they refused their dinner, it’s a bit dodgy, I reckon! But as you say, you want to be kind to them if they’re not feeling 100%. x #sharewithme

  10. Oh it is difficult when they are poorly, We had not long got Boo off night time feeds at 11 months old when she was poorly and we ended up in hospital over night and we went back to night feeds for about a month. It’s awful when they are not well, you literally will do anything to make them feel a little better.

  11. Oooh yes that is a tricky one isn’t it. Fortunately (touch wood), the only real time we’ve done this is when they all had chicken pox and my life became a living hell for 6 weeks, so basically they all had what the hell they wanted!! Getting back to normal was hard but I just had to be really harsh in the end. I also find this with coming home from a holiday, they’re awful for a week afterwards as they want to go swimming/eat ice cream etc all day. By the way I totally do that too – I ask myself what Supernanny would say/do when I’m struggling!!!

    • Oh god I don’t blme you at all! Hmm I can imagie the post holiday challenges as I guess anytime the rules are relaxed it is hard to get back to normal again! Glad I am not the only one channelling Supernanny! xx

  12. I feel exactly like you. Iused to watch programmes like Supernanny and definitely had a pre-conceived idea about what I would do as a Mum. I always felt that for a small period of time after Lucas was poorly that we were really being challenged by him. I think you’re doing a great job and a lot of us so identify with this. #sharewithme #brilliantblogposts

    • Thanks lovely I do find it tricky and am just glad we do get back on track, even if it is a bit trial and error sometimes! xx

  13. The Mothers say – What a honest post. I think most of us have been through this and we really admire your honesty in writing this as it’s never easy to admit when we’ve made mummy mistakes. Glad Monkey is feeling better. #sharewithme #brilliantblogposts

  14. Oh bless it is hard to not give in when they are sick and I too let the little things go when they are poorly but always a few days into it start getting strict and routines down again so they never get too stray. Like you said give an inch they will definitely take the mile and the one after that if we let them. I always think that too, what would supernanny say? It should be a parent quote. hahaha Great post we all are in the same boat together and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer as each child is different. I know my kids respond to discipline, structure, and routines way better than not. Thank you ever so much for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

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