Game Plan: Culture Reset

After my rather mopey post last night and a much-needed day in the grind working from home, I was ready to pull my self-punishing head out of the sand and talk strategy with Papa Bear. 

We read articles, read comments from friends online, and then went back and forth and back and forth for about three hours until we’d settled on, agreed upon, and normed on our suite of strategies and policies. 

Some we’d already been employing with 75% fidelity. Others less. A few others used to be policy, but in the face of changing winds, had dropped to mitigate growth spurts, teething pains, or night awareness. 

That’s how it is with kids. They throw you new curve balls as they develop and change. Like my middle schoolers at work, emerging in their new sense and awareness of injustice and the beginnings of teenage hormones intensifying their reactions. They’re changes require new skills and new levels of self-regulation. They need somewhere to focus that energy, in leader or sports or classes that inspire them. They need adults that listen to their claims of injustice enough to be able to get them to expand their world view. And they need boundaries. Firm ones. Consistent one. Boundaries they can rely on as they learn new tools of self-regulation. Like accepting a teacher’s directions, but asking to talk to her after class so he can explain how the seat she moved him to makes it difficult to concentrate. 

So back to my toddler. Where DH and I landed is what my very astute boss might call a “culture reset.” You make changes, bend policies, and respond inconsistently in the face of difficulty. House or classroom culture goes off the rails. Little corrections won’t fix things. Everyone has to agree on and believe in the rules again. And that means struggle, firmness. It means total alignment of adult wills and strategies. This is how my boss turned the lowest performing elementary school in the district into one of its standard bearers. It’s how she’s kept our other school from going off the rails this year. 

Who knew I’d learn something about parenting like this?

Here’s our suite of policies:


  • No snacks within two hours of dinner
  • Involve Aria in the cooking where possible 
  • Make all eating at the dinner table. Bring food to Aria rather than letting her go to the fridge and demand stuff
  • Distract with activities, not fruit, until meals are ready
  • Set time for dinner where we all stay at the table, even if Aria is done or uninterested in eating
  • Add most of the healthy snacks as part of the dinner menu, so they sit alongside the more meal-like foods and create positive associations 
  • No pushing eating. Our job is to offer good foods, Aria’s job is to decide when she’s ready to eat them
  • Introduce more finger foods for meals
  • Always talk positively about the food
  • Limit fluid consumption in the evening and increase in the morning 

Night Time

  • Use more absorbant night diapers
  • Don’t allow Aria to fall asleep with me in the room
  • Leave when Aria is close, but not all the way to sleep
  • Wait twelve minutes before answering a cry
  • Use a timer (this is excruciating)
  • No food for two rounds of cry answering. Milk and a small snack on the third. 
  • Take turns. Mom first two times. Dad third time. 

3:39. She woke up at 3:01, which is later than most nights in the past few weeks. Been to the room twice to console her. She wrestled and fought for a while before I could calm her down. She even started calling for dad. We went in to see him and when he also didn’t take her downstairs for a snack, she calmed down. 

She melted down after I rocked her for a while, put her down, and then left the room. Monitoring her closely. She’s starting to climb the rails. 

It’s 4:35 now. We’ve been following the night policies since she woke up at 3am. Just offered milk and five goldfish. Crying for us to come. Setting the timer for the fourth time. 
4:40. And Out. 

DH warned me it would be hard. He verified my commitment after we’d agreed on everything. I was a bit offended, but yeah. It was important. 

Hopefully this culture reset doesn’t take too long. I’m tired. But at least I’m tired and hopeful!


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