Lately it seems my personal Facebook feed is blowing up with parents desperate for solutions and advice to various parenting woes. Conversations with friends have revolved around the kids and as we head into summer, I’m sure a lot of parents are beginning to brace themselves.
I have spent my entire life working with children. I’m the oldest of four, began babysitting for neighbors in middle school, worked as a camp counselor over the summers, was a teacher assistant in a preschool class in college where I studied elementary education and eventually became a teacher. I am now a stay-at-home-mom to three (5, 3, 1) and obviously, a blogger. I’m pretty in love with what I do and while I am no expert, I feel confident in my ability to work with children.
Please do not confuse this confidence with perfection. I’m far from it. I suffer from guilt and make mistakes with the best of them. Parenting and talking about your children gets tricky, because it can quickly sound like bragging–which I’m not. When I’m struggling with something, I turn to someone who isn’t. We do this all the time for various aspects of our life without hesitation, but parenting feels so very personal and we quickly begin to judge and/or feel attacked. While I don’t have it all figured out, I do generally really enjoy my children. Sometimes I wonder how long I can stay in the bathroom before my husband realizes I cannot possibly actually be going to the bathroom.
There are various things that go into making family dynamics. These are things that I have found work for my family. Truthfully, they work for people–in general.
1. I set the tone.
It is me, not you. Take a deep breath. I set the mood and tone for my family. How I approach the world is how they approach the world. How I react to a situation determines a lot. Am I escalating the situation or defusing it? How I talk to my kids is how I want them to talk to me and the rest of the world. This takes patience and time. This doesn’t come naturally always. Sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I have to apologize to my children. The goal isn’t to hurt, punish, win or “make a point”. The goal is to coexist with love and respect. To teach your children how to handle conflict and work well with others. I try hard to keep things positive. This is kind of a general tip, but the next time you find yourself in the thick of it about to pull out your hair, put a smile on your face and move on to something positive. They will follow.
I constantly tell my children every day is a gift. We have today– right here, right now! Quinn said, “what about the time I was throwing up? That day wasn’t a gift”.
Did you feel loved that day? Did you see your family? Did you get hugs and kisses?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
“What about the day Grandpa died?”
That day was hard. That day did hurt, but you know what I remember? I remember family, hugs, kisses, love, funny stories about grandpa and a celebration of his life. That day hurt, but it was a gift too.
I try hard to frame things in a positive way. We can have fun doing anything, because we are together.
2. Give them the words.
I give my children the words to love, to share, to apologize, to solve problems. I literally give them the words! And it works, because I hear them using my words all of the time.
Eleanor takes a car Quinn is playing with. Quinn snatches it back while whining, Eleanor starts to cry because she wants it. What would you do?
Our instinct is most likely to yell, to send children to their rooms, to punish—to make.it.go.away.
This approach might work short-term, but it does nothing to teach our children what they should do. If anything, it reinforces yelling and negativity.
“Eleanor, I know you want to play with the car, but it isn’t okay to take things from people. You need to use your words and ask Quinn for a turn. Say, Quinn, can I have a turn when you are finished playing.”
Eleanor uses her words. I recognize this and praise her. “Good job using your words Eleanor!”
I now make sure Quinn acknowledges Eleanor. I might need to give him the words, “Yes, you can have a turn as soon as I am done.”
Children crave attention and praise. They really do want to please you and once they know what will please you and how to make you happy, they become kind of addicted to it. Would you believe me if I told you within 30 seconds Quinn has given Eleanor the car? This usually happens because Quinn wants to be caught being good. He wants praise for sharing. He wants to see my face light up with pride.
This is one example of giving our children words. They need the words to express themselves, because when they don’t have the words–they resort to other things.
3. Catch them being good!
This is a huge shift–but instead of telling them what they cannot do, tell them what they can. If you see them sharing, using their words, solving problems, taking turns, playing nicely, expressing love–doing the things you WANT them to do. Tell them!
“I love how you are sharing! That makes my heart so happy.”
“Good job using your words! I’m so proud of you.”
“Aww! That is so sweet.” (giving her brother a hug)
My kids love this. In fact, Eleanor will give Quinn a hug and say, “Mom, doesn’t this make your heart happy?”
Children crave attention and when that attention is positive and reinforcing behavior you want to see, you spend a lot less time yelling and punishing. This makes you feel better and creates a much better family dynamic.
4. Fill them with love.
Literally fill them to the brink with love. Even when I am angry, even when I am frustrated–I look at their sweet faces and remember how dearly I love them. I can be firm and still show compassion. Love bonds us. It makes them want to please me, make me proud. My expectations are high and clear. They know what will and will not be tolerated and how they are expected to act. We rarely have to yell or punish our children, because they know when they mess up and they want to do better.
I tell my kids constantly how much I love them, I hug them, I kiss them. Every night I tuck them in. It might seem odd or awkward to put some things into words, but children need to hear it. “I loved watching you play today. Thank you for sharing your day with me. I’m so lucky to have you as a leader. You are such a good big brother. Thank you for helping me. You shared so nicely today and that helps mommy teach your little brother and sister how to share.”
When a child hears these things constantly, and they see your pride and your love—the bar is set high, but they will meet your there.
5. Tired, hungry people are crabby.
When you are a parent to young children, one of the most important things you can do is make sure they are sleeping and eating. My kids are napping right now. It isn’t a time they normally nap, but for whatever reason they were clearly exhausted. I can not tell you how many times I have ran to Target after the kids are in bed and there is a parent there with a child who isn’t behaving. I’m not judging, because sometimes we don’t have anyone to leave our kids with or whatever it may be, but I get it. I know that child is just plain tired.
Aside from being fed and well rested, Sometimes kids just need a place to put their energy. Sit them down with some watercolors, put a laundry basket in the center of the room and have them try to get a ball in it, take them outside, play follow the leader or Simon says. Put the energy into something positive before they drive you absolutely insane!
6. Progress, not perfection.
I am not perfect, my children aren’t perfect. We have meltdowns, I lose my temper, they bicker. Like any human relationships, it ebbs and flows. Mostly, we work. Mostly, we get a long. We laugh more then we cry, we smile more then we pout, we love more then we argue. I see us growing and changing constantly. Working to be better–better children, better siblings, better parents, better spouses. Learning to be more considerate, learning to use our words, learning to work together, learning to enjoy this beautiful life and the family we have been given to do it with.
We have taken bad mornings and crumpled them up and thrown them away. We have taken deep breaths and started over.
Sometimes I feel like I am just looking for a new way to look at things, a little bit of perspective and strength. Nobody has all the answers, but knowing how others take on things I am struggling with gives me hope and a renewed energy to keep chugging along. That is all this post is meant to do.