“For our love to serve our children, we must learn how to break things down into words that can help them – moment by moment – as when milk spills, or when a drawing is offered for approval. And even when we are angry, we can still use the kind of words that do not damage or destroy the people we care about”
From "Between Parent & Child" by Dr Haim Ginott
1. Be kind to yourself.
The saying, "We can be our own worst enemy” I believe certainly rings true when it comes to parenting our children. It is not helpful to waste any time berating your self for not doing enough with or for your children, not being patient enough, not having energy to take them to more activities or play dates, the list goes on and on. Continually asking "Why? and "How?" questions like “Why does my child say "No" to me all the time?" "Why won't he stay in his bed?", "How many times should I have to tell her to sit down while she eats?" - we can all fall into the trap of destructive cycles that do not work.
Here are some of the things you can do to be kind and take care of yourself as a parent
Spend the first 15 minutes of your day (even if it means setting an alarm before the earliest waker in the household) doing something for yourself - meditate; have a cup of tea; go for a walk; watch the sunrise .....
Acknowledge yourself for 1 thing that you are doing that works.
Write a short list for your partner of ways they could help reduce the stress.
Have a mentor that is older and wiser because they have been there and done that.
Schedule "me" time and time with your partner.
2. Acknowledge feelings, acknowledge feelings, acknowledge feelings and when you don’t know what to do…acknowledge feelings.
Psychologists will tell you that we "feel before we act!" Is this true? Think about the last time you decided to stay in bed instead of go to the gym or chose that pie instead of a healthy salad to eat, certainly the way you were feeling determined your choice. So, why is that we often demand that our child stop crying, calm down or not be angry? Expressing empathy requires that we view ALL feelings as acceptable and only put limits on the actions that result - this might sound counter intuitive but the truth is that acknowledged feelings result in improved behaviour.
When practising the art of acknowledging feelings, you will see little miracles occur in your interactions with others and especially with your children.
Here are some ways to practice acknowledge feelings:
Get down to your child’s level, make eye contact and connect:
Then do what every one of us do when listening to a friend,
Acknowledge with nods OR “Oh ..., or Mmmmm... or I see...
Listen and be present without comment or opinion makes a child feel heard and accepted.
Name the feeling. Here are some examples to try:
Instead of: “You’re Ok!’
Try: “Ow, falling over can hurt!”
Instead of: “Just try again, you can do it!”
Try: “It’s so frustrating when your foot won’t go in your shoe! That happens to me too sometimes.”
Give in fantasy what they can’t have in reality.
Appealing to the imagination really works well with children between 3 -5 yrs. You will find when their imagination is engaged they are able to accept the reality of the situation and you are also expressing acceptance of how hard it is to have to wait for something they want right now.
Instead of: “There are no Corn Flakes left only Rice Bubbles, Mummy will buy them next time at the shops!” - which usually brings on an even louder demand.
Try: “No Corn Flakes! That's so disappointing, you wish that a big box could fly from the supermarket right now and land on the table!! Wouldn’t that be incredible!!!
3. Use emphatic positive language.
We have all had the experiences of feeling like all we say is “No or Don’t or Stop” – and the more we say it the worse the behaviour seems to get. Like us, children respond much better to what they can do and what options are available to them, than being commanded to do/not to do something.
The powerful trio:
“It’s time to...,"
Here are some examples:
Instead of:: “No, you are not dressed yet.”
Use “Yes, when your clothes are on!”
Instead of: “Do you need the toilet?”
Use: “It’s time to go to the toilet.”
Instead of: “Stop standing in the trolley.”
Use: “When you sit down, then we can keep moving.”
4. Turn threats and bribes into Choices.
What are some of the ways we usually get our kids to listen? We may demand something and get louder each time we repeat ourselves then threaten the removal of their favourite toy or activity or promise them a reward for complying with our wishes. I know I did with mine and wherever I go I hear parents doing the same.
The good news is that there are better ways to get cooperation, especially with toddlers and pre-schoolers. The Emphatic, Positive Language examples shared above will work even more when accompanied by OFFERING LIMITED AND CLEAR choices.
Instead of: “If you don’t come to get dressed now we won’t go to the park after daycare!'
Offer a choice: “I know it's hard to stop playing! Time to get dressed pants or shirt first?”
Instead of: “ Get in your chair now, or there’ll be no TV shows today!”
Offer a choice: “You hate the rush, rush in the mornings. It's time to go now. Climb in yourself or I will put you in!”
5. Use fewer words.
Children really loathe lectures and tend to stop listening as soon as our tone indicates our displeasure with what they are doing.
Instead of: “Jimmy! How many times must I tell you shoes off before coming into the house, can’t you see how grubby the floor gets? Where are your ears? Take yours shoes off now or there won’t be any television for you today!”
Try: “Jimmy (friendly tone) Your shoes (emphatic tone)
Instead of: “I’ve told you 10 times to get dressed and you’re still playing. Don’t you care I’m going to be late for work and your teacher won’t like it either? Please show me how helpful you are by getting dressed now. We are all waiting. Look how quickly your sister got ready!
Try: “We’re leaving in 5 minutes! Dressed or undressed, those are your choices.”
This may sound radical or unreasonable for a small child and the first time I suggested it to a parent to try with a 2.5yr with whom she had been in a power struggle for weeks every day she was also skeptical, but, it worked. The following day she announced that his clothes were going into his bag and he would have to get dressed at Ferne’s school. She walked in later that morning with him behind her still in his pyjamas. I took the bag placed it on the floor and said, "When you are dressed you can choose some work!" Minutes later he was dressed and choosing work to do without a second glance at either his Mum or I. This story illustrates the power of the next tip.
6. Be prepared to follow through on what you say.
This is so much easier said than done as I'm sure you have experienced. Although none of us want to threaten or bribe our children it can become our go to method to get them to listen.
How many times a day do you find yourself saying:
“if you don’t do …. then we won’t..." or “Stop that now or there will be no…" or “I’m warning you…" or “I’m not coming in again..." and an hour later you are still coaxing them to do what was asked or you’re still driving and speaking sweetly (all the while fuming inside) as the back of your chair continues to be kicked.
To be taken seriously we need to be committed to and consistent about following through on whatever we say, because when we don’t, our children stop responding. Why? Because they know exactly how it goes.
Does this sound familiar for what your child’s thought process might look like? “Mum will say it at least 3 more times before anything will happen, she’ll count to ten before she gets angry or I can keep on playing until her voice is really really loud.”
7. Praise helpfully.
Words that DESCRIBE are more helpful than words that EVALUATE – Dr Ginott, in “Between Parent and Child”. When we evaluate, we limit the learning opportunity by ending it with a statement. Words like “Well done”, “Good”, “Fantastic”, “Clever” or “Wonderful” are evaluative words that are some of the most common used by us as parents and educators to praise a child.
Rather, by using description, we can set a child free to be and to act - he becomes intrinsically motivated because his focus is not on how to please the adult, it is on his own thoughts and feelings about his work - to reflect on something further with fresh knowledge. So how then do we encourage differently and more helpfully? Describe what you see or what you feel or think they are feeling? (Yes, this does touch on acknowledging feelings too.)
Instead of: “What a good boy for eating all your dinner."
Try: “I see an empty bowl, and a very satisfied smile on your face."
8. Say sorry when you blow it.
A heartfelt genuine “Sorry I...” is necessary to put into practise from when our children are little. I love the notion that Adele Faber and Adele Mazlish (“How to Talk so Kids will Listen”) share with us that works in situations when tempers have flared and you’ve shouted or handled things inappropriately:
We can say or even act out - "Let's rewind, and start again!”
"Woah, I think this has gone to far, I'm sorry."
9. Be an attorney for the defence. – Be their biggest fan.
When a child's behaviour is less than desirable, especially when we are out and about with people, disappointment is not easily masked. It’s important to remember that often our children also feel disappointed in themselves, especially when they have behaved badly.
The concept of being their biggest fan, their "attorney" is about being aware of the roles we cast our children in. Unwitting repeated comments like "He’s shy.", "She hates vegetables.", "You always leave your lunch box at school.", "You never sit still.", soon become the lens through which we see them and therefore how they view themselves.
Rather, they need to know that we believe in their unique, responsible, well behaved self. To be their advocate, we can keep a store of their finest achievements or character strengths at hand in our minds and allow them to overhear us telling others about them. "Last night she ate...", "Yesterday he remembered to bring all his things home.", etc.
It's also important at times just to remind them directly of their praiseworthy moments . "I saw this morning you helped your sister by getting her a drink", "When Sam came over you took out your favourite toys for her to play with", etc.
10. Help MORE by helping & saying LESS.
When our children face challenges our tendency is generally to help too much and to step to in too quickly to fix their problem for them. By helping less we show respect for their struggle to do things for themselves and develop autonomy. For instance a child who is complaining about needing to switch on the light could be offered a stool to climb on to reach it themselves. The child who is struggling to open a jar could be told it helps to tap along the edge with a spoon.