I think we turned a corner this weekend. Lately it has felt as if my oldest son and I (and my husband) have been on opposing teams. We’ve been going head to head on everything from his homework to his behavior with his brother. I knew a family meeting was necessary, but it’s been really these past few weeks and the timing never felt right.

Last night we were invited out for dinner and since Shabbat is so early, we brought the boys. He didn’t sleep well Thursday night and my intentions were to have him rest in the afternoon before dinner, but with the pre-Shabbat rush that idea went out the window. During dinner the host gave each kid a dreidel filled with chocolate gelt, with the intention to eat a few there and then to get to take it home. I had brought donuts as a dessert for the kids. After he had some chocolate, a donut and some cookies, I told him that was more than enough dessert and I’d put the dreidel away so we can take it home.

I was met with a loud “NO!!” and he pushed his hands out at me. I was very surprised at this reaction, not because he always listens but because it felt aggressive and disrespectful. It escalated from there. I tried to stay calm but before I knew it I was threatening left and right – no going out tomorrow night, no birthday party on Sunday etc if he didn’t stop yelling and give me the chocolate. It didn’t feel good to be threatening but I just wanted him to stop. His disrespectful behavior didn’t feel good plus it’s embarrassing when it happens in public.

He ended up giving me the chocolate but crying, and from there he couldn’t truly recover. If it was the middle of dinner, I would have taken him home but it was the end so we were leaving anyway.

On the way home my husband and I explained to them that it really wasn’t enjoyable having them with us and we asked if he thought he behaved well and he said no. I also told him that he’s not allowed to go out Saturday night because of it.

When we got home, I was putting the coats away and he came up to me, “Mommy, I’m really sorry for how I behaved.” I really appreciated his apology and told him so, I reminded him I love him no matter what but it didn’t feel good to be treated like that. I then heard him go an apologize to my husband too.

That non-requested apology felt like a win, but I still felt crappy – punishing him for something for the next night was not a logical consequence, it was a pure punishment.

I started thinking about how every time he cried that night it was about candy (chocolate, donuts etc just going to use the word candy). We try to encourage healthy eating and we by no means completely restrict candy but the way he acts is as though we do. Every time we go somewhere it becomes about the dessert, every activity we go to it becomes about what sweet can I get from the vending machine or snack bar. When did just enjoying the activity become not enough? Why did it become that the only way they were truly happy is with sweets attached? Shabbat is usually the day where we let them eat what they want, but there ends up being so many ‘special occasions’ that it’s much more often.

This morning I talked with my mom who taught parenting classes for over 20 years, and I told her what happened and how I felt. She reminded me that now I can take time for teaching. It’s never the right time to start teaching during a meltdown/argument, but at a calm time when they can really listen and absorb it’s very worth it. She suggested my favorite, a family meeting. She also reminded me that he was exhausted and once he started he just couldn’t catch himself. It’s easy to forget that they are not mini adults but rather children still maturing.

This morning didn’t go to well either, my husband takes the boys to synagogue and they are supposed to go to “groups” organized activities per age. They didn’t go (because my older son refused) and they gave him a hard time in shul. Needless to say, my husband came home unhappy. I told them all, family meeting later!!

In the afternoon, we saw a good opportunity for a family meeting. We gathered in our son’s room and I started the discussion.

I said, “there’s a few things we need to discuss. The first thing I want to figure out is what we should do about the candy situation because it feels out of hand.” I reviewed the events of the night before and I pointed out that each thing was centered around candy. Then I brought up other times we are out and if the host puts out candy, they will go and just take and take, even when we say enough. To avoid a big conflict we don’t really push it, but it’s a problem that they are ignoring us. I said that some people might say, “NO CANDY EVER,” do you want that to be the plan? Obvious “no”s were said.

I explained that I wouldn’t want that either, but was at a loss because when we say take a few and that’s it they don’t listen to that.

I also brought up that whenever we go somewhere it becomes about the treat and not about enjoying the activity.

They very cutely started raising their hand and contributing to the conversation. The older one suggested, “how about one Shabbat is a candy Shabbat and the next one is a NO candy Shabbat?” We went around with a few ideas until we settled on:

When we go places, we will enjoy the activity, regardless of the sweets. If it’s a time we don’t get, and one of them starts complaining and crying about wanting something, a parent will leave with them and go home while the other can stay and finish. Same thing at a friend’s house, if the candy comes out, we will allow an amount, but once we say that’s it, if they start to cry and complain, they will have to go home.

We will do this as a trial and see how it goes. If someone can’t handle it and needs to go home each time, then in the future they won’t be able to come. We expressed we would much rather have them come with us and we hope and know they can handle this, but if not they will need to miss out.

We reviewed it and all agreed. I also explained that I shouldn’t have threatened about not being allowed to go out the next night because that didn’t have anything to do with what was wrong.

Then my husband took the floor, he expressed that it’s not working with synagogue. He asked for suggestions. My older son has been struggling with anxiety (we are working on it) and he suggested “remind me to do my deep breaths and remind me what time you will pick me up.” Similar to our first conversation, we came up with a solution that we will try.

Then we role played. They were mommy and daddy and we were them. First we acted like they did the night before and asked them how it felt, and then we acted out our new ideas. Towards the end the room was filled with laughter and I felt a tide turn.

It ended with my son saying, “I feel good about the plans.” He asked for a chore chart. I asked him what that meant – he said they get checks for doing chores like cleaning their room, cleaning up toys and good behavior and then at the end they get to pick a fun activity to do together.

As he said this I was realizing that in the summer every Sunday we did a family activity, but once school started, so did Sunday hockey lessons, and we haven’t really done a full family activity in a while. I suggested that we go bowling tonight as a family and their faces lit up. It felt like we were all on the same team.

We went and had a great time. I know it won’t be smooth sailing and it’s not all just going to work because we talked about it, but I feel more prepared if we do end up in a situation like last night and I am glad we took time today to teach and review.