How Do I Get The Naughty Wax Out Of My Kid’s Ears?

“Etani, bring your lunchbox into the kitchen,” I call when my 8-year-old son comes home from school.

He throws his backpack on the ground, flings off his coat, and goes to play with Legos.

“Lunchbox. Kitchen.” I say again. I’m emptying the dishwasher and feeding the baby some yogurt in said kitchen, so I hesitate to go get him.

“Just one minute Mom, I’m busy.”

Why does this happen every day after school?

Were my kids born with naughty wax in their ears or am I doing something wrong?

How hard is it for my son to take the [expletive deleted] lunchbox out of the [expletive deleted] backpack and bring it to me so I can put it in the machine before I run it?

I know from years of babysitting, watching other (better, calmer, more effective) parents, reading scores of books on parenting, and bringing up four children of my own, that the key to effective discipline is calmness and consistency.

But I get so frustrated with my son when he ignores my words.

Instead of being calm and firm, I get loud.

“I NEED YOU TO LISTEN TO ME NOW!” I shout, red in the face. “PUT YOUR LUNCHBOX IN THE KITCHEN.” Then I feel so guilty for losing my temper that I add lamely, “PLEASE.”

“You don’t have to yell at me,” Etani mutters, tears starting in his eyes as he angrily stomps towards the kitchen.

“I asked you three times nicely. Then I got mad.” I still feel angry at him but now I also feel ashamed.

“Mom, I didn’t hear you. I was playing with my Legos.”

The next day when Etani comes home from school I do exactly what I know I should not: I wrestle his lunchbox out of his backpack and bring it to the kitchen myself.

No fighting. No yelling. No nagging. It’s so much easier. But so wrong.

Wise readers, I clearly need your guidance and advice. How do you enforce discipline in your house? What do you do to avoid The Great Lunchbox Dispute?

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  1. Still laughing about the naughty wax. Great advice? It happens. Some days we’re better parents than others. Some days our kids are better kids than others. Today instead of nagging my teen about making her bed I made it for her. I agree with you consistency is key and it’s much easier when they’re smaller. That said, some battles are more important than others. My younger kids love to play with a neighbor after school so that’s often all the motivation they need to do something I’ve asked them to do. Does Etani have a favorite thing after school he might have to wait on if he doesn’t bring the lunch bag?

  2. julie akins

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with just getting the lunchbox yourself and avoiding a fight. I doubt strongly when he is 35 and coming home from work he will have this fight with his spouse. Some things just fade away, some things are children’s dynamics with their moms that don’t translate to other relationships. If he’s not doing it to be mean to you–then does it really matter? On the other hand letting his imagination travel with Legos is something that will work for him the whole of his life. Maybe he has his priorities straight..and maybe your heart understands that too.

    • Natalie

      “I doubt strongly when he is 35 and coming home from work he will have this fight with his spouse.”
      I don’t know about that 🙂 I’m the type of person who likes to complete all of my obligations before relaxing, and my husband would like to sit down and relax for a few minutes before putting his things away. So I come home and unpack my lunch box and breast pump, put my briefcase away and hang up my coat, let the dogs out and put the mail away. Then I sit down and have a snack. He comes home, sets his stuff down and starts snacking with his coat on. I of course bristle and complain. He resents my intrusion into a moment of peace after a long day. Whose needs/desires here are more important? Are Jennifer’s needs/desires in this scenario more important, or are her son’s? I can see both sides of my disagreement with my husband and I can see both sides in the situation described here. How does a family decide whose priorities become the family priorities? I don’t have an answer for that.

  3. Gretchen

    Jennifer: first give yourself a break! That you asking about this shows what a loving great momma you are. I yell too, and then yes I too feel sorry for everyone, me and my son! We are humans.

    The real issue is how this feels to you….behind the anger is what? Sit with that thought, best in the moment when you’re feeling it, seconde best later when you don’t have a zillion things in your mind/on your plate. Anger, exasperation, frustration are all layers on top of typically sadness or fear. So go there first. Because, it is ALL about us, i.e. you, not your kid. I know you know this. Just a reminder.

    Second I’ve been reading Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, with a mind to hearing the second part of that title. The author talks about having an expectation that our children do not HAVE to help us! They don’t. And they are MORE APT to help us when they feel empowered to do it if they want to. They will join in and be more of a team player when they feel their autonomy. They really will. These were really hard words for me to read! I can hear you saying “but I need that lunchbox like NOW to put it in the dishwasher, etc.!!!” Because I feel that too!!! The longterm goal is where we need to focus…an autonomous empowered kid WANTS to help out with the family, wants to be a team player, wants to do what the bigger social world is doing. That is being human. But when we require that they MUST do it, (and if they don’t they get the grumpy pissed-off momma), then more than likely we are not building bridges but building walls, on both sides. So, it seems counter-intuitive, but allowing him to NOT help will lead to him helping. REALLY. I have tried this (sometimes with my jaw set and my teeth clenched) and it is working with an almost-five year old.

    A similar but DIfFERENT thing works for when my kid wants to do something and I don’t want them to…..He wants to bring a pointy stick to pre-school, instead of the automatic quick NO! response, I first sway “wow that would be fun wouldn’t it, what would you do with it, Oh bang the snow! how fun!, but we can’t bring pointy sticks around the other kids” And then let him be sad or angry, in my loving arms. The anger, the sadness moves through, and he gets to the other side of the emotions, moves through it.

    The BEST PART. Oh this is good! The best part is that me, the momma, who wants everyone to just do the right thing, (i.e. fights with reality and gets mad!), gets a chance to CONNECT with my kid, and feel a connection instead of “oh GOD another conflict that wears me down!” I find myself all sweet and mushy inside. It feels so good. One less time of feeling blood boiling/conflict rising, and another sweet time of getting to be a loving, caring momma who feels her kids heart connected to mine.

    Need I say more?
    yeah for yo9 Jennifer, keep it up!

  4. Marni Koopman

    I bribed my way out of arguing. Maile got $20 for going a whole week without arguing. Every time she argued with me, she was docked a dollar (we were on vacation, so she got to use that money to buy something at the end of the trip). One reason it was good was that we both started to recognize the beginning of an argument. There were times when she had no idea she was arguing. And times that I became aware of things I said to begin an argument that didn’t need to start. If we were to do it at home, it would make sense to have it work both ways – to keep the parents AND kids from arguing!

    Maile and her dad argue like two children – it drives me nuts – and she always wins. I end up getting really upset and yelling “stop arguing both of you!” She has learned that arguing gets her what she wants. So now she is learning that it gets her what she wants with her dad, but it gets the opposite with her mom. Its very confusing for her.

    Also, maybe the lunch box isn’t specifically important, but I am married to someone whose mom didn’t give him any chores or responsibilities and didn’t follow through on anything, and I think it was very harmful to his sense of responsibility as an adult (he learned that if he didn’t do it, someone else would, and that someone is now me instead of his mother). If Etani does’t bring you his lunchbox, maybe it should sit there in his backpack. And maybe it will get yucky and stinky. And maybe his lunch won’t be as good the next day as it would be otherwise. I think its important for kids to learn some level of responsibility and experience the consequences of not following through.

  5. Yes, similar things happen at my house, and no, you’re not the only mom who struggles with this issue. IMO, the key issue is what your son told you: ““Mom, I didn’t hear you. I was playing with my Legos.”

    I’m sure your voice was reasonably loud and that your son has perfectly adequate hearing. But kids — and boys especially — have a knack for tuning into their own activities. Your son first told you, ““Just one minute Mom, I’m busy.” Your need, at that moment, was for him to hand you the lunch box so you could finish cleaning up the [expletive deleted] kitchen. His need was to relax and unwind after school. When he came home, that was his focus, so he really didn’t “hear” anything else, until you yelled. And at that point, your need won out over his.

    Is there a way you can re-structure your afternoons together to better meet both of your needs? Maybe he really needs a half hour of so of serious downtime immediately upon returning home; maybe, for him, it’s easier to put away stuff after having had that time to relax. Could he bring his lunchbox to the kitchen at 4? When he comes to supper? Could you finish up the kitchen, fill the dishwasher with soap, and have him add the lunchbox and press Run when he’s ready?

    For the record, I don’t think this is a biggie either way. I don’t think you’re going to harm your son, yourselef, or your relationship by insisting that the lunchbox come into the kitchen immediately after school every day, or by yelling at him occassionally or by doing it yourself.
    Jennifer Fink recently posted…Guest Blog: Healthy Eating Habits in the Real WorldMy Profile

  6. Hi Jennifer
    My first thought goes to how great it is when I come home to welcoming attention. I love that feeling! I wonder how it would be to stop and be present for your son, for just a few minutes, when he comes home? Sit down, have a little tea and a snack together; just a little moment for him to unwind and connect. It does not need to be a big thing, just a sweet little after-school ritual.
    Being met at the door with a hug and a squeeze; a real place to hang his coat, then the “let’s have tea in the kitchen – you may bring your lunch box” with a smiling voice. Knowing that there is a nice little something awaiting him, I am sure would be inviting to him.
    Doing things the same way each day will build the rhythm into his own body.
    Having that time to re-establish the deeper connection goes a long way in creating a peaceful home. When we are in harmony with the significant people in our lives, things just flow so much more smoothly. I recall learning, with my oldest daughter, who is now 29, that if I stopped everything and gave her my undivided attention for just a few minutes, she felt good, I felt good, and then we could get on with our individual tasks with love in our hearts.
    We all want to be helpful and be a useful part of our family. Children also. They love having their jobs – if the whole “chore thing” is handled with respect. No one likes to be barked at or bossed around.
    Remembering that the repetition of doing the same thing each day, at the same general time, strengthens the will to take on the task of one’s own accord.
    Taking those few moments to remember that there is no other job more important than parenting and creating healthy family. That is what the future of our world is built on. This is so much easier when we are present, breathe and are well-nourished ourselves, isn’t it?
    I know none of this is new – you do a fantastic job! Your family is fortunate to have your open heart, mothering gifts and interest.
    Love to you!

    I think it is beneficial for us to all have ou

  7. Lucy

    My brother and I both had the exact same problem, of dealing with our lunchboxes. My mom yelled at us just as much as you did. She told us each two times nicely, and one time not so nicely to deal with it ourselves, and then she stopped. She did not take it out herself, and it started to mold, and smell really bad. The next morning, when my brother and I went to get our lunches from the kitchen, we took them in plastic bags because neither of us wanted to deal with the foul smelling mess in our backpacks. Somehow we thought that if we just kept putting it off, she would eventually deal with it. This was not true, and then after about a month of the stench of rotting food sitting in there, my mom finally forced us to both clean it out, and wash out the mold and mildew growing in there. She told us if we didn’t, we had to make our own lunches the next day.

    This may seem a little harsh right now, but I swear, I have never missed a single day of taking my lunch leftovers or any food remains from the day, into the kitchen as soon as I get home.

  8. Sometimes I find that if I explain WHY it is important for him to do this, it sinks in more. If I explain I need you to bring it to the kitchen because it’s going to mold overnight and your lunch will not get packed in the morning otherwise, then it makes sense why I care. I also find if I remind him about the same thing every day at the same time, it also sinks in through repetition.

    • Natalie

      And by that I mean the above two comments, not the post itself. Just hope that was clear. (I really hate the internet sometimes.)

  9. First, forgive yourself for getting angry. No one is perfect.

    We have found after years and years of trial that “the heated lunchbox moment” is not the time to discuss it.

    At another time, when everyone is calm, when you can talk to him one on one, ….this script usually works for us. No judgements, just

    I feel…
    When you…
    I would like for you to…


    I feel upset
    When you ignore my request
    Because I am so busy trying to do everything for everyone and ensure your lunchbox is clean for tomorrow so you can have a nice lunch
    I would like for you to listen to me and help me by putting your lunchbox where it needs to go when you get home from school.

    Try to make him part of a team working together, rather than against you.

    “I love you and I don’t like getting upset with you and I want us all to have a nice afternoon and this is how you can help make that happen.”

    Or humor,

    My kids respond with laughter to, “Don’t make go all mommy dearest.”
    Michelle O’Neil recently posted…All I Wanted Was a DishwasherMy Profile

  10. Your blog is inspiring because many parents deal with the same issues. My daughter will be 10 next week and I got so fed up with the constant arguing and badgering to get what she wants, that I actually bribed her yesterday…and it worked. This is certainly not the regular route that I would take, or recommend, but what did come out of the process that was pleasantly surprising was an awareness of the repeated argumentative behavior. I offered my daughter the rest of my key lime tart (a treat from a sharing picnic we just had), if she could not argue or badger for the rest of the day. She said, “Well a lot of times I don’t realize I’m doing it.” Ah, I just realized that it is a habit that she has formed so I’ve decided to go back to what I did with her as a young child; if she badgers even once then the answer is no to whatever she wants. The arguing, well, I’m still looking for an answer with that one. In regards to having her getting a job done (like the lunchbox), I think that it is important to stay strong and tell her that the job needs to get done before she goes off to have fun. I’ve also gotten creative too though; we have been doing chore swaps that she came up with (ie. I clean her room and she does the dishes). We both like our new jobs better anyhow. Even if there is anger on the parents’ part when the child acts out…it’s always important to repeat often to the child, “I love you”. It’s a learning process & I’m obviously still in school. Good luck parents.

  11. Miss Friendship

    Here is my advice. When you ask your child to do something once, when they walk in the door, they put down their things and walk off, and you ask them again, then they start doing whatever they want to do, and you ask them again, each time your voice getting louder, and you growing more impatient with them, then they know that Mama’s going to be very upset with me, then they will do it. In a lot of instances kids have their parents figured out more than the parents have the kids figured out. They know how many times you can tell them to do something before you actually mean it, therefore they have no desire to do it, until you have repeated yourself, and repeated yourself. The next time your child does it, you ask them nicely, and politely, and tell them, if you don’t be prompt about bringing your lunch pail into the kitchen, then it is going to stay in your backpack until you bring it into the kitchen. This may seem a little mean, it is not. It is loving your child, and it will pay off, now and down the road. I am not saying this is the only way to raise your kids, this is not like the one and only proven method. No, by no means. This is what I found that works. Hope it helps.

  12. As a follow-up in regards to the post I wrote last week. I asked my daughter if she would like to read what I wrote here. At first she said no, then yes; she read it and cried a little. Since this time, as she is very aware now that she will not get anything through badgering (it’s written online so that gives it more credence for her I think), that now she rarely even tries to badger…and actually her arguing has improved considerably too. She is even writing down her feelings as a result of this too. It has been very cathartic! Still working on putting away stuff after school and the like…but it’ll happen. Good luck mamas!

    • Wow Cinders. Thanks for letting us know… As a follow up from what I wrote here (sad face), my book is due in seven days and I have barely had time to breathe, let alone gently encourage the kids to unpack their own lunch boxes. Our house looks like a hurricane struck. I have been trying to follow the advice here and spend more time with the kids, not nagging them. As soon as I don’t have to work 12+ hour days, I plan to do better. Or try anyway!

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