We’ve almost made it! One more day until Daddy comes home. (Okay, thirty-six hours to be exact, but who’s counting…
These past weeks of hanging on a single Mom have given me some down-and-dirty insight to my parenting skills, both good and bad. As a result, I’ve come up with a list of top ten parenting tricks that have proven useful with my girls.
The truth is that the name is a misnomer—there is no single “trick” to parenting, except for perhaps a whole lot of prayer and a whole lot of patience. Every child is different, and what works well with one child may not mesh with another child’s unique personality. I’m also slightly leery of even posting such a list because a) it’s not really original—just a hodge podge of ideas I’ve collected from different sources over the years, and b) it might appear like I’m some sort of expert that’s got this whole parenting thing down pat. Ha! This is a work in progress. These ideas remain aspirations, often imperfectly applied. But, when I do use them, it helps.
My hope is that you may find some tidbit useful in your own parenting endeavors, whether with your youngsters, grandkids, nieces, nephews, neighbors, friends, etc. After all, it takes a village to raise a child! (And having Dad helps…)
1. Get enough sleep. I can’t overstate the importance of this for me. An overtired parent is a grouchy parent, and grumpy parents create grumpy children. As much as I cherish my “alone” time after the kids have gone to bed, in the end, it’s more helpful to get the rest my body needs. It’s been more difficult lately given my pregnancy-induced insomnia (aka I’m-too-big-and-round-to-get-comfortable), but I’m still trying.
2. Basic needs first. Just like I can’t function when my basic needs (such as adequate sleep) aren’t met, my kids cease to act humanely when I haven’t met theirs. When they turn into monsters, I ask myself if they’ve had enough rest and good nutrition. If the answer is “no,” then the fault is mine. I become a little more lenient, overlooking and forgiving their bad behavior until these basic needs have been met. Once these have been taken care of, we can then move up Maslow’s hierarchy and focus on becoming happy, polite, and cooperative social beings.
3. Take advantage of imagination. One of the most fabulous things about parenting a four year-old pretend is that I can use her imagination to accomplish just about anything. A creative game of “let’s-pretend” can work wonders. At the end of a long day, trudging home from the park can last forever, but we get there zippy quick when Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson are racing.
4. Find more ways to say “yes.” As a parent, it’s easy to feel like all you ever do is say “no.” No, you may not have marshmallows for breakfast. No, you may not stand on the shed and pretend it’s a diving board. No, you can’t pour sugar down the vent to see what will happen. It’s easy to become so negative, saying “no” before you’ve even really listened to the question. Lately, I’ve made an effort to find more ways to say “yes,” particularly with the little things. So my daughter wants to wear a frilly pink tutu to the grocery store? While that might not be preference, my answer is: sure, why not. As long as you’re not hurting yourself, anyone, or anything else, yes, you may.
5. When you have to say "no", take the time to explain why. My girls are much more understanding of “no” when given a reasonable explanation. Instead of “No, you can’t have any ice cream,” try “You can’t have any ice cream because you already had some pudding and eating that much sugar isn’t healthy for your body.”
6. Be clear about expectations in advance. Before walking into a public place, I try to take time in the car to remind the girls about my expectations for their behavior: We’re going into the library now—let’s remember to walk, stay close to Mom, and use our quiet voices. The girls forget quickly, but it helps for at least a little while.
7. When making requests, be specific and break big tasks up. My kids aren’t to the point where I can tell them to “clean their room” with any degree of success. If I specifically ask them to pick up the blocks underneath the bed, however, they are usually pretty cooperative. It becomes a bit of a game where they go from one small specific task to the next until the whole job is done.
8. Don’t let yourself get sucked into negative power struggles. Maybe it’s just our family, but my daughters periodically test the limits of outright defiance with a sassy “NO!”, “I’m NOT going!”, “or “I WON’T!” I don’t know about you, but these moments drive me absolutely batty. My deepest inclination is to show them who’s boss with an “Oh, yes you WILL, missy! Now listen here…” The problem is that at least for me, this response doesn’t work. The defiance spirals out of control, escalating with the anger that I feed into the situation, until both my daughter and I deserve a sound spanking.
A better response, I’ve learned, is humor. Removing myself from the heat of the situation, I find it helps to step back, smile, and joke about how the grumpy monster has come to visit and needs to be tickled away. If humor fails, I try to calmly and quietly give a matter-of-fact analysis of the inappropriate behavior and the consequence: “When you tell Mom “no”, that’s being sassy. The consequence for being sassy is a time-out.”
9. Take a time-out. Speaking of time-outs, I’ve learned that it’s okay for grown-ups to take a time-out too. Sometimes I need a little space and time to figure out a parenting problem. I’ll tell my kids, “that was a poor choice and we need to figure out an appropriate consequence. Let’s give Mom some time to think about what we should do.” This lets the anger dissipate and models an appropriate method for dealing with a tough situation.
10. Listen, listen, listen. Why should our kids care what we have to say if we don’t listen to what they are telling us? When you have constant chatterboxes like mine, it’s really easy to filter them out, but a true sign of love is choosing to tune in.