In my last podcast I had a wonderful time talking to my two sons but one of my dear friends said she wondered about the “Energy Drains” we talked about. It sounded like it was effective in getting my sons’ attention and got them to consider how their behavior might impact their lives but I didn’t really explain the full concept. All parents find themselves in situations where our kids do stuff that really takes energy out of us, yet we don’t know how to respond. This episode is dedicated to figuring that out so we don’t get caught off guard and can effectively get our energy back in loving ways.
First off, I’ve been a facilitator of Love and Logic® parenting classes for over 10 years now. It’s such a wealth of great parenting advice presented in really logical ways that are, for the most part, easy to understand. Things like choices, setting boundaries and allowing for natural consequences are part of just about every solid parenting curriculum no matter what. There is one term that Love and Logic® coined that has been the hardest to get parents to understand what it means and how they can have it work lovingly in their homes. It’s Energy Drain.
The basic premise is that when kids do things that drain energy out of us, we don’t have any energy left to help them with other things in life. As a result, they need to put energy back. Let’s break it down into four parts:
1.What might drain our energy
2.How do you let your kids know they’ve drained you
3.How might kids replenish the energy we lost
4.What do you do when kids choose not to replace your energy
So, let’s go!
1 - What might drain our energy
This list is pretty easy to come up with for most parents but here are some things that come to mind:
- Disrespect and talking back
- Not doing chores
- Not doing homework
- Forgetting stuff at home and causing parents to go get things – homework, sports equipment, musical instruments, lunch boxes, water bottles
- Sibling fighting
- Screen time limits being ignored
I think you get the idea. Most of these issues have no natural consequences that can put a stop to poor behavior. When a kid whines or talks back, we’re stumped and often times react to the negative behavior in a negative manner with yelling or punishing. We usually come up with “Go to your room!” Or: “You’ve just lost your screen time with that attitude!”. Right? Doesn’t that sound familiar?
However, sometimes we helicopter a natural consequence like bringing a lunchbox or homework to school when our kids forget instead of allowing them to deal with missing that item themselves. When we rescue like that, we rob them of learning opportunities but, here’s the key for this episode, we rob ourselves of our time and energy that we don’t get back. We give and they take. Not a good formula for the long term. I now have to take MY time to correct a mistake that was not mine. Not fair one bit. However, lots of parents just take it in the gut, suck it up and run to school. It all becomes very draining and possibly infuriating when it happens over and over.
Let’s move on.
2 - How do you let your kids know they’ve drained you
When your energy is drained you have choices, don’t we love choices? You can be dramatic or matter of fact, it’ll depend on you and your kids. For kids 8 and under I think dramatic can work really well. “Wow, all those toys all over the floor really drain my energy. Oh man, I’ve got to just sit on the couch and recover… Ugh… I don’t even think I can get up for a long time… Soooo sorry.” You can have drama but make sure you have empathy too! This isn’t a punishment, and you need to be really careful it doesn’t morph into that, and empathy will really help.
“Gee, this is sooo sad. I had to do all the dishes you said you’d do and now I’m really drained.” You might also use: “This is so sad. It took so long to brush your teeth and get ready for bed that I’m too drained to read you a book. I hope I can get some energy back tomorrow so we can read stories again.” Yes, this might result in a meltdown or tantrum, but you need to hang tight to get the result you want. Tomorrow night will go more smoothly as will the night after that. Every time you give in it sends a signal that your words don’t mean anything. It basically keeps allowing your child to have a free pass to manipulate you.
For teens and tweens, you might be much more casual and make a statement like: “Gosh, you’re talking back really drained my energy today.” No drama needed and we need to be careful not to get upset when they roll their eyes or give snarky comments when you say this. Just let that roll off for now. I do want to recommend you have a Family Meeting with your family, especially with older kids, so that they understand what happens when mom and dad have energy drains.
We’re getting more clear on what drains our energy and how use empathy and possibly drama to let your kids know about it, so let’s move on again.
3 - How might kids replenish the energy we lost
We need to make sure both your child and you are even emotionally. This is only going to work if everyone is calm. If your child is crying or yelling back or resentful, you’ll just have to wait. If you’re upset that they just called you awful names, you need to wait until you have a clear head.
Once that happens then you’ll say something like: “You know how I did the dishes for you earlier. That really drained my energy. How do you think you’re going to put energy back in mommy?” Or: “You know how you and your brother were fighting so much yesterday, that really drained my energy. What would you like to do to put energy back in mommy?”
You might also wait until after school and say in a loving and empathetic voice: “Wow, so glad I was able to run your homework to school today. That was pretty important, I could tell but, gosh, it really drained my energy. I was in the middle of writing my lecture and it took an hour out of my day to find your homework, drive to and from school and get restarted. I’m wondering how you’ll be putting energy back in mommy today. Would you like some ideas or would you like to choose something from the Energy Drain list on the fridge?”
Believe it or not, most kids actually pick up on this concept really quickly especially when a parent had a solid relationship with their child and uses this in a loving manner and doesn’t turn it into a punishment.
A good friend who’d been using Energy Drains on his two little boys had been forgetting the empathy part and so they sounded like punishments. “Nick, you hit your brother. That really drained my energy so go pick something off the list on the fridge.” That sounds so different than “Wow, Nick, that’s so sad you decided to hit your brother. It really drains my energy. We use our words in this house when we have conflicts. What would you like to do to put energy back in daddy?”
I have a handy list nearby on my fridge or in my head of things they can do to replace the energy drained by their poor decisions. It might be making dinner or sweeping the floor. It could be dusting or putting lotion on my hands. It is something your child does for you that they don’t normally do, possibly one of your regular jobs and it should be age appropriate. If you talk about this whole concept as a family and have them help put together an energy replacement list, they’ll even buy into the program faster.
The whole idea of getting them to replace your energy is to get their brains to recognize the impact their behavior has on other people. When we let them get away with bad behavior sometimes it’s just because they have no idea how they impact others. It creates entitlement when we put up with it, doesn’t it? Your kids think it’s fine to fight with each other because they’ve never known anything could happen except you get mad and make kids go to their room or lose screen time. They know every time what will happen, but it doesn’t motivate them stop fighting and learn other methods of getting along. If they fight and all the sudden after they’ve cooled down in their room, they have to pull weeds in the backyard or clean the bathroom, they might get the hint that there could be a better way.
It’s our job as parents to have them take a pause. They might not be happy about any of this but, over time, they will start to see that their behavior does impact others thanks to your loving and empathetic interventions. If you haven’t heard my boys in Podcast #50 take a listen and hear what they have to say about the long-term impact of Energy Drains. Here’s a hint: it mattered and it didn’t make them hate me. Whew!
Here's a link to the ENERGY DRAIN IDEAS list on my website to help you with some energy replacement ideas. Feel free to download the spreadsheet to edit and print your own if you’re so inclined. My goal is to make energy replacement easy for you, so have at it!
Now, on to the last part.
4 - What do you do when kids choose not to replace your energy
This is where things get a little harder. You’ll have to have something happen, a consequence, when they fail to put your energy back. You need to know what your child’s currency is, what lever you have over things you do for them, that they want you to keep doing. Here are some ideas:
- I drive kids to school who’ve put my energy back.
- I read books at bedtime to kids who’ve put my energy back.
- I drive kids to the store to shop who’ve put my energy back.
- I serve dinner to kids who’ve put my energy back.
- I make dinner when I have enough energy to do so.
- I wash clothes for kids who put my energy back.
I’m going to offer one other solution for getting energy drain replacements going when it comes to kids not doing chores. This one worked great for my own boys in their middle and high school years. I never yelled or nagged about doing chores, I know, it’s hard to imagine. I let it be known that I’d be happy to do any chore for them and I posted a list of charges on my kitchen bulletin board. They each had weekly and daily chores, not an overwhelming number but a few. It was only $20 for me to take the garbage bins to the street, $5 to refill TP and $10 to comb the cat. Everything had a price and I used prices that would get their attention. I collected my charges once a month from the pink note cards that went on the bulletin board to track when I did a job for them. It allowed me to be a happy mom and they got to be responsible since they didn’t like giving me their money. I was also willing to bargain with them if they did one of my jobs so they didn’t have to pay me. I was flexible!
If you talk to your family in a Family Meeting about what drains your energy, they can be prepared to help balance the scales in your home away from the take-take-take that happens way too often. I’ve seen parents with kids as young as two make energy drains work and as old as high school. It helps build respect for others which is a necessary life skill we all need to become thoughtful, successful adults.