I am not an “expert”. Okay, I mean I have my degree in education and worked for a handful of years teaching in various schools, at various grades, with quite a variety in student population. I grew up the oldest of four kids (eeked out 12 minutes sooner than my brother). Through middle school I babysat, through high school I worked as a summer camp counselor and through college I was a preschool aid. Now I am a mother of a four and one year old and another one on the way. So I may not have a fancy acronym after my name, but I still have a few tips I feel like I can pass on about kids. Particularly about enjoying your own children and your time with them.
I know I am cut from a different cloth than most. The one thing I always knew I wanted to do when I grew up, was stay at home with my children. I wanted to be there for everything. I wanted to be that mom doing arts and crafts and awesome projects and enjoying an awesome after school snack while chatting about our day. We do have some days that look like this. Mostly though, the fridge is empty, everyone is whiny and hungry and the house is a mess. Okay, well not mostly, but it is a far cry from the “Martha Stewart-esque” motherhood I had imagined.
But this is real. This is life. And it rocks. I truly, truly love my job. I quite literally have the best job in the world. Whether you are a stay-at-home-mom, or just trying to get the most out of your evenings and weekends with your kiddos (I know how that goes. I was a full-time working mom too) there are some tricks to making it rock. I, in no way mean this to be condescending. Some of this stuff might be plain common sense to you. I find that even reading something I know helps me to re-focus and serves as a reminder of what kind of mom, wife, person, etc. I want to be. I for one, after my first year of teaching, found so many of my frustrations were me. They were things I needed to change. It is so easy to blame the kids, the circumstances, etc., but at the end of the day all we can really change is ourselves.
1. Adjust your expectations.
This is a big one. If you expect perfection you will ALWAYS be disappointed. You may not even realize that you are doing this. I remember my first year of teaching I would get so frustrated when students would talk. Then I had this light bulb moment and realized there was no way that 30 children were going to sit for 8 hours and never talk. It just wasn’t going to happen. Heck, I couldn’t do it. And then it wasn’t such a big deal. By controlling my own reaction to the situation, I changed the tone of the classroom and ultimately made their behavior a non-issue.
Truth be told, attitude is everything. If I can stay positive and cheery, even a grocery store trip can seem like an adventure to the kiddos. I swear. Attitude is everything.
Realistically, young children cannot sit and focus on a task for a long period of time, or hold still or be silent. They just cannot. Adjusting your expectations allows you to have a positive relationship with your child. Focus on the positive, on the successes. When we take the kids out to eat, I expect them to have good manners. I expect them to stay in their chairs, say please and thank you and talk nice. Sometimes service is slow or things just aren’t in our favor. I don’t get mad at them. They are just being kids. I try to find ways to focus their attention. Heck, I will even give them my phone. It isn’t like I don’t believe in conversation and family time, but how long can I expect a toddler to sit at a table full of adults and hold a conversation? If you aren’t sure what realistic expectations are for your child try going to Babycenter and filling out your kid’s ages. I get weekly emails about what developmental milestones my kids are at and tips and tricks.
2. Pick and Choose Your Battles
I know you have heard this a million times, but it is true. Especially for young children. They have someone deciding when they go, where they go, what they wear, what they eat, when they sleep, when they get out of this poopy diaper, and just about every detail of their day. Eventually, they want to have some say. That is normal and important. So give your child a say and let them take a stand every once in a while. It isn’t about showing them who is “in control”. I always give my kids a warning when we are going to be leaving. Nothing creates panic and frustration like the sudden end to the best afternoon ever at the park. I try to always listen to my children. If Quinn tells me he isn’t ready to go and we don’t really need to skadaddle, I try to work out a plan with him. One of the reasons I try to ALWAYS listen to my children is I want them to believe their words work. If they believe their words work they will use them to solve problems with me and others. I absolutely will not give into temper tantrums, but words I will listen to.
3. Model behavior.
I don’t just mean this in the sense that you should be someone you want your children to be, which you should. They are always listening. ALWAYS. I try to solve problems with my husband in a way I would want my kids to solve problems. I also believe we should directly model the behavior we wish to see. When Quinn was young and would want something another child would have I would tell him to ask if he can have a turn when they are all done. And vice versa if a child wanted something he was playing with. Tell them they can have a turn when you are all done. These words, these phrases, that I put in his head over and over and over throughout the last four years worked. I hear him say them all the time. When Eleanor would hit or pull Quinn’s hair it would have been easy to just tell her no. After all, she was a baby. But I would take her hand and pet Quinn’s head with it and say, “Nice”. Guess who no longer hits and pulls Quinn’s hair? Any guesses as to what she does? Yup, she pets his head and says, “nice”. Kids need to know what to do and too often all we leave them with is what NOT to do.
4. Be Besties
Okay, you are mom and dad. There is no doubt that you need to be a parent. But if you really want to enjoy your child and know them as a whole person, you’re gonna have to be friends. Play with your kids, talk with them, be goofy with them, dance with them, explore with them, join in on their imaginary game. It is easy to get annoyed by them as you try to clean, work, do laundry, get dinner done, have a phone conversation ,etc. Stop! Seriously, your clean house or perfect dinner aren’t as important as you think. We ate oatmeal for dinner today, no joke. You do not need to play with your child every second of every day, but make sure you make time to play. Time for just them. Do a puzzle, wrestle, color, bake, read books. Just make sure you are making time to have fun with your kids.
5. Create Experiences
I would go absolutely insane if I was home all day with my kiddos. Today we went to the public library for story time and then to open gym. Places we hit up often are: open gym, library, Barnes & Nobles story time, zoo, beach, and park. If we are home I try to offer some guidance. Hey guys, wanna paint? Wanna play with play-doh? Should we get the blocks out? Even if I am not doing these activities with them, I am directing their attention somewhere and filling their time with an activity. I also strongly believe in all sorts of traditions: parades, cookie baking, tree decorating, pumpkin carving, pumpkin farms, etc. I think these kinds of things create strong family bonds and positive associations, which makes it that much easier to parent.
6. You Need Routine
You don’t have to be a drill sergeant, but you need a routine. I can honestly say that any time my children’s behavior has been atrocious and I think I am going to lose it, it comes down to routine. We have skipped naps, we are shopping during nap time, we are eating lunch late, kids went to bed late, etc. We were particularly bad about routines this summer and we paid the price. Exhausted, hungry or sick kids are the worse. Having a routine or enforcing one might seem so daunting in the beginning, but in the long run it is a miracle worker. The kiddos know after lunch we nap. We don’t have to fight it, we just do it. Quinn is getting older and sometimes he honestly just isn’t tired for a nap so I don’t make him. As long as he laid down and tried, we’re cool. We try to have a morning outing or activity. Lunch is in the 11:30 to noon range. We nap somewhere in the 12:30-1:30 range, wake up somewhere between 3 and 4 (usually) and bed time is some time around 8. Me and infants do not do routines well, but once they are one we are golden.
So there you have it, six parenting tips. Technically, a few of them are multiple tips categorized under one, but oh well. Like I said, nothing too genius over here, just the things I have found that make my time with my kids better and make my kids better people. What do you all think? Any tips you would add to the list?
I’m sharing these ideas at: Thrifty Decor Chick: November Before and After Party