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Burpees for Sanity

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​A rut. We were in one, and in one deep.

My daughter (age 2) remained convinced that yelling at me and my husband was the best way to get what she wanted, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. It didn’t help matters that what she wanted often changed in the few minutes between when she asked for something and when she received it. My oldest son (age 4), was going through a particularly defiant stage, with nearly every request being met with a hearty and surprisingly belligerent “No!”

I tried all my usual tricks to stem the behavior, and solicited other parents for more. Nothing worked. And with a third child under the age of one in the house throwing a wrench in sleep patterns, my energy and patience reserves were dangerously low. We were getting into a loop where my children’s misbehavior made me snappish, and my snappishness made my children misbehave. Try as I might, I couldn’t break us out of it.

Then, driving home from an early morning exercise class, it came to me: Burpees.

Burpees may sound innocent – even cute! - but in fact they are one of the most fiendish of all exercises. In its simplest form, the exercise involves going from a standing position to a pushup position, and then standing back up and jumping into the air. On a recent trip, my children had seen my husband doing burpees after a run. They thought it was hilarious. I thought I might be onto something.

When I came home, I laid out the ground rules. I decided to keep it simple by targeting only the behaviors that were causing me and my husband the most grief. If my son said “no” to us when he was told to do something, he had to do three burpees. If my daughter yelled at us, she had to do one burpee. And if I felt myself getting frustrated, I had to stop everything and do five burpees. We were all going to be either very well-behaved or very fit. Win-win!

And you know what? It totally worked. That first day, the kids each had to do their fair share of burpees. (Confession: I may have done a few as well.) But the burpee challenge changed the dynamic of the misbehavior. When I heard the inevitable “no,” or got yelled at for some terrible transgression like providing the wrong color cup, it no longer sent me into that aggravation loop. Instead we all delighted in getting to yell “BURPEE!” and then cheer on the performance. And incidentally, there is not much cuter than seeing a two-year-old do a burpee. Seriously, try to stay mad after seeing that.

Requiring myself to do burpees when feeling frustrated was also surprisingly cathartic. Something about the physical act of it immediately takes you out of that negative mental place and diffuses the situation. Plus it’s hard to take yourself too seriously knowing that you look like a complete goofball. Not to mention my kids thought it was pretty funny.

While we don’t need to use the burpee challenge as often as we once did, I love having this tool in my parenting toolbox. It’s a great way to break out of that rut, and break out of it quickly. And an unexpected benefit is that it showed my kids that exercise can be both fun and centering.

Tip: It’s totally okay to modify the exercise to your preferences. We sometimes do high knees or jumping jacks – anything active that turns the negative energy into positive. 

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