I like to peruse the parenting blogs I see on Facebook. This way I can know what flavor of parenting shame my clients have been faced with today. And while I agree wholeheartedly with the vast majority of the positive parenting/peaceful parenting/attachment style blogs I am just SO VERY OVER the way the writers approach this topic. Parenting experts seem to forget the barrier that most parents have to implementing these ideas. IT FEELS LIKE MORE WORK! We are asking parents who are already completely maxed out to do things that they believe will take more time, will add more to their to-do list and will be totally ineffective at disciplining their kids. This is no good.
So I would like to write about some of these positive parenting/peaceful parenting/attachment oriented strategies and show you how they will save you time, improve behavioral compliance, and make it all more fun.
This is the one we keep hearing about so I’ll start here. The idea has been sold to you as “what your kids deserve” or “what your kids need”. You’re told that your kids will be emotionally intelligent and empathetic and feel safe and secure in their attachment if you connect more. But to a parent who’s trying to do the dishes, wash clothes, make dinner, vacuum, get a work out in, organize bath time, write thank you cards, remember someone’s birthday and teach the kids that they can’t demand everything under the sun and just get it, it’s hard to know how to implement this without giving up some of those things. I don’t think you have to.
How It Saves You:
Believe it or not, connecting with your child when they come to you for connection will save you a TON of time overall. How many times have you said “no not now, love, I’m busy doing dishes” and found that within 5 minutes you’re having to drop your chores to deal with a misbehaving child? How long does it take to de-escalate, re-direct and give consequences for the misbehavior? I’m going to take a guess that it’s at least twice as long (probably much more than that) as it would have taken to get down on their level and hear what they have to say. I also believe that a good portion of sibling rivalry comes from kids not getting their connection "tank" filled by their parents. This leads them to feel that their sibling is the enemy-- the one stealing all of the attention. Being present decreases sibling rivalry significantly.
HOW DO I DO IT?
I approach this skill by imagining myself as a Launchpad. I start the day sitting on the floor with my toddlers and not doing any chores or activities at all. Most often I pick one spot (bean bags are great for this) to be and let them come to me if they need connection or help. For little ones, being present often means being down on their level. I do this also when I return home from work at the end of the day. Transition times are important moments for this. I sit in one place and let them flit away to their own activity. I trust that they will come back to their Launchpad as they need to re-fuel with connection. Typically after 20-30 minutes when they are busy entertaining themselves I get up and go to do a chore. If they come to interrupt, I give them a bit of fuel by getting down on their level, showing genuine interest in whatever it is that they want and sometimes even putting my chores down to go play for a minute. When they flit away again, I go back to my chore. As they are getting older, I add, “Oh, my love, that looks like fun! I have to finish the dishes, would you like to help me finish up faster?” This provides for the connection need without “giving in” to their demands of me. So the chores still get done, but I do them when I know the kids have re-fueled. And anytime I start to think “I’m never going to get anything done”, I remind myself that correcting behavior takes way more time than preventing it ever will.
Again, this is sold to you in terms of how good it is for kids. But this is AWESOME for you.
How It Saves You:
One thing to know is that when the human brain hears “no” it tends to go into resistance mode. We know what resistance looks like—tantrums and defiance. And we know that we hate tantrums and defiance and we know that they take up an enormous amount of time. So, in fact, I suggest saying it differently. If we find clever ways to say “no” without saying “no” we save ourselves a ton of time and emotional struggle.
The other thing is that we often say “no” and then realize that we aren’t really willing to stick through with the “no” or that it didn’t make sense to say it in the first place and we back track. This means “no” is the sign that it’s time to start negotiating. Negotiating takes a lot of time. And, it takes a very long time to convince a kid that “no” means “no” when it doesn’t always mean “no”. Plus, don’t forget how frustrating it all is.
HOW DO I DO IT?
One of my favorite ways to get around “no” is to say “Yes, when”. “Mommy can I have a cookie?” “Yes, after you eat some veggies.” “Dad, can I go to my friend’s house?” “Yes, as soon as you’ve cleaned your room” “Mom can I go to the beach unsupervised with my friends and also get a tattoo?” “Yes, when you’re 18”. It may seem a bit sarcastic, but it actually works when you attempt to avoid the sarcasm. They hear “yes” first and that leaves their brain open to hear about how to get to yes.
It’s also helpful to give yourself a pause before giving an answer. In that pause, ask yourself four questions:
1. Why am I saying “no” and how important is that reason to me?
2. Is the natural consequence (what will happen if I do nothing) safe?
3. Will the natural consequence teach them better than saying “no” will?
4. Am I ready to weather the storm of their strong emotions if I say “no”.
Some other great phrases are
· “Hmmm, what do you think of that idea?”
· “Wow, I bet that will really hurt your brother’s feelings.”
· “I wonder what might happen if you do that.”
· “Ouch, that really hurt.”
When folks sell you on this one, they forget to explain the difference between punishment and consequences. Of course we need to give consequences—life is full of them and our kids need to learn how to deal with them. But Punishment is something we truly want to avoid as parents. Punishment is an attempt to pair an unpleasant experience with an unwanted behavior. The goal is truly to make your kid feel awful so that they won’t do the terrible thing again. A consequence is something that happens as a natural result of the behavior. Sometimes consequences are natural (you climbed too high and fell and now your body hurts) and sometimes they are logical (you stayed out past your curfew, we can’t trust you to be home on time so you aren’t able to go out this week until you’ve regained trust). Your goal is to teach with a consequence, while your goal is to inflict emotional or physical pain with a punishment. Sometimes a consequence can be quite enjoyable—as long as it teaches something (Because you and your brother are struggling to get along, you two are on the same team for game night tonight).
How It Saves You:
The problem with punishment is that the worse our kids feel about themselves and their relationship with us (and inflicting pain on our kids is a sure fire way for them to feel crappy about our relationship) the more they act up and resist our teaching. Research is finally getting around to proving that punishment increases defiance and poor behavior. So all the effort and pain of punishing actually moves you in the opposite direction. Dealing with defiance can be incredibly time consuming. It’s also emotionally draining.
How Do I Do It?
· First, you must internalize this concept: PARENTS DO NOT CONTROL THEIR CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOR. There has never been a time in human history when one person has effectively controlled all of the behavior of another human being without creating a great deal of damage to that person’s psyche (think torture). We humans are built for independent thought and action and we fight against anything that tries to keep us down. Parents DO control the environment and the consequences. This is where you have power—not in the immediate ability to control the behavior, but in the long-term ability to shape, teach to and prevent unwanted behaviors.
· Give yourself space before reacting and responding. In that space ask yourself these questions:
1. What behavior do I want to see instead?
2. Is there a natural consequence that will teach this to my child better than anything I can implement?
3. If a natural consequence is not forthcoming, what are typical life consequences of this type of behavior?
4. How can I connect the consequence I’m giving to consequences that would be realistic in the real world?
· Understand what is developmentally normal. It is developmentally normal for my two year olds to push each other out of the way when they are on a mission. It’s also developmentally abnormal for my 2 year olds to have impulse control. So I don’t do time out, I just gently remind them “We don’t push” and “I bet your brother is angry that you just pushed him”. I don’t expect them to be consistently non-violent until they have more impulse control so, right now, it’s just about teaching what I expect and beginning to bring awareness to others and their space. (And, in case you’re wondering, my boys rarely push, hit or bite each other or us anymore and that’s been achieved without any consequences) It’s completely ineffective to punish a child for something when they are developmentally unable to do the desired behavior.
· Make a rule to only deliver consequences when you’re not angry. Once kids get to be 3 or 4 they don’t need an immediate consequence for the consequence to be helpful (contrary to popular belief). You’re better off waiting until you know what you want to do first.
· Get input from the parent who’s less emotional when possible. They’ll have a clearer head about the logical consequence that fits.
· Get input from your child when developing consequences. They’ll usually be harder on themselves than you will be.
· When possible, create consequences that help them re-build or fix their mistake. So, crayons on the wall= cleaning crayon marks-- not time out. Hitting brother = doing something nice for brother-- not getting your cartoons taken away.
Limiting Technology/Getting Outside More
Okay, we all know that technology can rot our children’s brains and turn them into monsters, right? I’ll be the first to tell you that we let our kids watch TV while Dad is making dinner because Mom isn’t home yet and two 2 year olds make it hard to make dinner. We used cartoons on our drive to the beach. I even use TV when my kids are super cranky after a nap so that I can get them changed and out the door without so much drama. Please don’t take my TV away!!! But, it's absolutely true that it's not great for kids in large doses. It's also true that kids behave better when we limit tech time.
How It Saves You:
While limiting technology and getting outside may seem like it’s only going to make your life harder, it will likely do the opposite. Kids tend to struggle more with other activities when they watch too much TV because the other activities don’t feel as stimulating and take more work. So, while the time with the TV may be a blessing, the time away from it may be harder on you. And because kids’ brains do so much better with activity and sunshine, keeping them inside is going to increase tantrum behavior and destructive behavior. It’s also good to have your hands strongly on the reins of technology because there will come a time when it’s one of the only things you have control over that will actually motivate them. Don’t start giving up your special super power so soon—you’ll want it.
HOW TO DO IT:
With little ones, I suggest deciding on some clear limits with your partner. Come up with a statement that says “We will only let them have ____ minutes of technology a day and we will allow it at ______ time of day. The exceptions to this rule are _______.” It is more important that there are rules and limits and that they are consistently enforced than the amount of time or time of day is. Allow some flexibility for when a show will come to an end 5 minutes later than planned or a game will be done in 5 minutes. When you allow that flexibility, make sure they know it’s your idea, not theirs. And, give them time to prepare to say goodbye to their beloved technology. “It’s almost time to turn off the TV—we’ll turn it off when this show is over.” When you turn off the technology say something like “It’s time to say goodbye cartoons.” At first, they will likely have a lot of emotion about this and you can cuddle with them and tell them how hard it is to say goodbye to something we like and let them cry and have all of their feels. Over time, they will get it that saying goodbye means saying goodbye no matter what their feelings are about it. My toddlers now join me in saying “goodbye” to their cartoon characters and quickly move on to another activity the majority of the time.
With older kids, it’s important to plan well for any technology gift. So, when they start wanting a tablet, use it as an opportunity to teach them how to negotiate and petition for their wants. Ask for an outline that they present to you about how they’ve shown that they are mature enough for the technology, what they imagine the rules would be and what consequences they understand they will accept if they don’t. Work together with them to develop a technology contract before they get their own shiny new thing. It is far easier to get investment from kids on rules and limitations when they want something than it is to enforce a technology contract as a result of their poor technology behavior.
There are a few things I suggest for every family’s technology contract:
1. You hand in your technology before bedtime (or pick a time)
2. There will be random searches of your technology. We will be looking for any illegal activity or bullying behavior.
3. You only get use of your technology once your chores and homework are done. (I suggest a laminated chore checklist that they hand in to you with dry erase check marks in trade for their technology)
4. Technology goes in the basket for dinner time (of course this includes parent technology)
Avoiding Power Struggles and Yelling
When folks preach this one, they often say “Your child deserves respect” or “You wouldn’t want to be controlled so why are you going to try to control your kid” or “Yelling is abuse too”. While I agree with those statements, that doesn’t tell you how it makes your life way easier. Before we move forward, let’s define a power struggle. A power struggle is when one person is trying to assert their independence (physical, emotional, intellectual, values etc.) and the other person is trying to control that independence.
You know you’re in a power struggle when:
· You could define it as an “argument”.
· You are saying the same thing over and over again and the voice tone and heart rate are escalating.
· The other person is escalating or shutting down.
· You begin to feel like you need to win.
· You wonder how you will win.
How It Saves You To Avoid Power Struggles
I want you to think back and try to remember any time when yelling or having a power struggle actually resulted in your goal. Now I want you to take those few times and then ask if you saw any lasting change in your child’s behavior as a result. And, if you still have some times in mind, I want you to ask if you think your relationship with your child improved as a result. As someone who values efficiency, I pay close attention to what works and what doesn’t. Power struggles take far more time than other options and tend to set us up as the enemy of our kids. When we are the enemy, they pick more battles than they do when we are allies. So from an efficiency standpoint, it’s kind of like trying to tear down a brick wall by throwing cement at it.
HOW TO DO IT:
I would like to illustrate this by using one of my son’s as an example. This boy is very physically active. I like to say that he gets his whole body involved in his emotions. He likes to go for long walks through the neighborhood instead of playing at the park. Unfortunately, he also gets halfway through the walk and wants to be carried. I have twins and they are heavy. This doesn’t often work for me. I often have to say no when he starts pulling at my finger to go on the walk. So, when I say “I’m sorry sweetheart, but we’re playing at the park today” he pulls at me harder. Most parents I see handle this by scolding, raising their voice, demanding and sometimes spanking for defiance. Instead, I remove his hand from mine, say, “I know it’s hard not to get your way, love” and begin walking in the direction of the park (and yes, I’ve had adults and kids give me the stink eye for this).
When I first started doing this, he would throw himself on the ground, scream and cry. Then he would run up to me, grab my hand and start pulling me in the proper direction again. Then we would repeat. He would eventually get it that we were not going his way and most of the time he would join us at the park (there were a few never ending tantrums that likely had more to do with food or teething than the event). When he joined us, I would be happy to see him and say, “I’m so happy you joined us, love”. Now we have gotten to the point where he will sit down and sulk but pretty quickly gets up and joins us. So, let me break down the steps to avoid a power struggle.
1. Set the boundary and make sure it’s one you will stick with AND can enforce. (I knew that I could walk away from him because it was safe and I knew we could go home if he wouldn’t join us)
2. Listen and Empathize with the emotions they have about that boundary. And avoid following up with “but”.
3. Enforce the boundary without shame, blame, condescension or yelling. In this example, I walked away. Or you can turn off the TV or you can give them the food you are willing to have them eat. No need for a lot of talk when enforcing a boundary.
4. Be Present and Re-connect when they calm down from not getting what they wanted. Often parents scold or do an “I told you so” here, but that just re-escalates.
5. Engage Them In Consequence Development if necessary. So if they broke something when you walked away to avoid engaging, let them come up with a good way to make it better.