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Crabby Hat Communication Curtails Constant Conflicts

This week I began a much needed deep clean of our kitchen, as I prepared for guests to visit our home, and found a communication piece, a symbol, that I thought was long gone. It is a floppy hat that served me well for many years. A communication piece you ask? Well yes. This isn’t any normal floppy hat. It is a red hat with crabs on it. Yes, I said crabs on it.

As an at-home parent, there are those times during the day which I call the "witching hours," the times when it appears our kids' energies have been taken over by monsters and the like, full of mischievousness, hangriness (anger driven by hunger), and scariness when the whining won't stop and I am about to blow my top.

Contrary to belief, I don't sit around eating bonbons all day while the kids are at school. My days are filled with laundry, cleaning, dinner planning and preparing, paying bills, running errands, grocery shopping and lots more. By the time the kids get home from school, my energy and adrenaline already have been pressed to the limit. Thank goodness for Diet Mountain Dew to help manage my days. Let's face it -- there isn’t enough caffeine to help when four demanding children arrive home from school, hungry, demanding and in need of attention, all at the same time.

For a while, I tried to lock myself in my bathroom and stay silent, hoping they wouldn’t find me. That never worked. Each child would take his/her turn knocking on the bathroom door, asking questions or complaining about a sibling. Yet, I kept trying that technique, hopeful the kids would grow out of their ways and respect my privacy; of course this didn’t happen. I did not get "bathroom attacked" every day, and by no means did I ignore their needs. Some days, however, I just needed some time -- a few minutes -- to transition, recover, and fight off any foul mood that was developing.

One day when my wife and I were shopping at our favorite store, I saw it. It was hanging on a clearance rack, which if I have to shop, is my favorite place to look. There is it was, a red floppy hat with blue outlines of crabs on it.

I threw it in our cart, and was so excited to get home and test my plan. My wife didn’t get it until I explained my reason for the purchase. I shared with her details from the days when she was away at work, and the phenomenon of the witching hour that led to my stress and bad mood. I also told her this would be my new symbol for the kids -- Daddy is not happy right now. It wasn’t just a floppy hat, it was my crabby hat!

This did became a communication symbol for the kids -- "Watch out, Dad has the crabby hat on, proceed slowly, whine with caution." I rarely had the hat on when the kids came home from school, but when the witching hour started, I knew the hat was right there, sitting on top of the refrigerator, waiting for me to put it on my head .

Once it is was there, the kids quickly learned to stay clear of me. Oh, at first they tried to whine and fight and drag me into their black cauldron of issues, but then I gave the dad face with the pursed lips and glaring eyes. This expression, supported by a hat, with crabs, clearly communicated that I was not a dad to be messed with, at the moment. Eventually, they learned I would not wear the hat forever, just long enough to regain my composure to get me through the rest of the day. It was my time out hat.

It then became an institution as a universal family warning sign. Once they could reach the top of the fridge, the kids wore the hat themselves when they were feeling the "crabbies" coming on. We all respected the hat, a clear communication symbol that the person wearing it needed to be left alone for a bit, until they could regain some composure, and rejoin the family activity happening at that moment.

The hat also took on new life in the family; when one of us was not self-aware enough to put the hat on ourselves, another might say, "you need to put the crabby hat on for a while, " and actually grab it for the person who was on the edge of an emotional explosion.

It worked. The hat that was on the clearance rack, with blue crabs outlined on it, became a valuable tool in our house. It communicated a tone, feeling, expression to the rest of the tribe, and let us avoid the yelling or inadvertent hurt feelings that could have ensued had the person blown up and lost it.

Don't get me wrong, It did not completely stop those from happening. Just ask my wife or any family member about the red chair incident. That story is in the book, ZagZig Parenting, and you can pre-order it or on Amazon.

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