A few weeks back I published a post featuring some insightful lessons on positive parenting that I was desperately clinging to after a tough few weeks with our two year olds behaviour. Our five year old also had developed a new found attitude at school that was making me feel like the child, not the parent.
The parenting guidance I wrote about wasn’t the brainchild of MMT, it was the learning outcome from a free five week parenting course held at or local children’s centre. Sadly, due to a sickness bug that raged through our family, I missed two of the sessions, however what I did learn in the remaining three, has, I feel changed my entire outlook as a Mum.
Before I joined onto the course, our house was descending into chaos. My default response to challenging behaviour from both the girls was yelling, and in turn I had noticed a huge increase in the kids shouting at each other, at me, me back at them…it wasn’t good but I never really stopped to think about or question where we were going wrong, or where we were going. We just kept on with the shouty shouty and gave each other permanent headaches.
The opportunity to take time out to think about your parenting is invaluable, and I cannot recommend one of these courses enough; if you have the opportunity, grab it with both hands.
If that just isn’t an option for you, here are my major take home pointers that I want to write down as much for my own reinforcement as to share with you. I’ve attended the course so you don’t have to, and I really hope it helps someone else as much as it’s helped me.
- Words to avoid; I’m not going to re-write what I wrote in my previous post, but in a nutshell, try your hardest to be positive. Avoid using the words ‘NO’, ‘STOP’, ‘NAUGHTY’ and anything along those lines, unless you’re in the caveat danger scenario. Most of us, children included will immediately feel the emotions associated with a conflict situation when we hear the word ‘No’, so using alternative language which means exactly the same in context can prevent an eruption. It is removing the trigger in the behaviour cycle: TRIGGER–>ESCALATION–>CRISIS–>RECOVERY.
- Be a role model; Be mindful that kids will mirror the behaviour they observe. If you are fed up with them shouting, or hitting each other, consider your own actions and be what you want them to be.
- Explain why; Take the time to expand on why you have made a decision that they don’t like. My current favourite is amidst the easter eggs we are still drowning in “I’m your Mummy, and it’s my job to look after you. You can’t have any more chocolate because it’s not healthy to have too much. What healthy foods do you know that we could have instead?”. Amazingly, this has gone down a dream and means the sugar demands have subsided…a little anyway.
- Label your jam jars, not your kids; One of the most surprising lessons, and easiest to implement is to avoid labelling your children. Don’t constantly tell them they are naughty, bad, silly, lazy or any other negative connotation. For the record, this includes the ‘Naughty step / corner / chair’. There’s nothing wrong with time out but be careful in your language – redefine it as a place to think about actions. Address the behaviour, not the person, so go for it when you need to about the action they are doing, rather than the person that they are. Avoid ‘you messages’ and instead try using…
- ‘I statements’; Fill in the blanks…”I feel [upset] when [you bite me] because [it really hurts]. What I’d like is [for you to tell me what is wrong so I can help put it right]”. Sometimes, although it may sound cheese central, a structure really helps to guide what to say instead of something a lot less, erm PC. You could even pin it on the fridge until you really cement it into your vocab.
- Offer a sandwich; No not, a cheese spread sandwich, a positivity sandwich. Because there will always be negative behaviours you need to talk about you can try the good old buttering up approach. For example; You girls were such good fun at the park today. I’d like for you to hold my hand on the way home when I ask though. Let’s go again at the weekend and take a picnic!”. Deliver the conversation about the challenging behaviour between some praise and positive talk related to the same topic.
- Consistency; It’s a bit of a no brainer but worth revisiting. Be consistent in your expectations; I’m terrible for this (“No more milk, no more milk, no more milk. FINE! Last top up – go to sleep!”). If you’re gonna crack then you may as well reign in the battle and just accept today’s not the day to fight, otherwise those kids will have you sussed and know to never give up till they break you down. They need to know when you mean it. No means No, although of course not using the word no (see point one). This also means being a joint force as a couple and discuss how to deal with situations on the horizon before they happen.
- Respect; By being open and honest, encourage an environment of mutual respect. Treating the children as people and showing them your own imperfections will allow them to grow and occasionally fail too. Give them small pieces of age appropriate responsibility to allow them to feel helpful and valued, and take pride in their contribution to the daily tasks in your home.
- Give clear choices and consequences; Give a little freedom for them to make decisions; Offer a choice of positive behaviour and positive consequence or negative behaviour and negative consequence. Be clear and specific, and relate the consequences to the behaviour. Give them a moment to think about it. Avoid using threats or threatening tone; and be realistic… don’t go suggesting Christmas is cancelled. But, in the same way, some things are non negotiable and that needs to be clear too; especially things concerning safety.
- Communicate effectively
- Remember that 55% of what you say is in body language so engage wholly with your child. Is it that their behaviour is a cry for your full attention?
- Do some active listening – face your child, get on their level and remove any distractions. Let them talk to you and ask them open questions about their day, how they’re feeling and anything they want to chat about.
- Show you are listening; nod, smile, react openly.
- Praise; Kids love the glow of being praised. Do it sincerely by getting to their level and keeping eye contact. Tell them specifically what they have done that you liked and smile and look pleased. Tell them you are proud and encourage them to feel proud of themselves – it’s such an important thing for kids to be able to do.
- Set boundaries; Make the limits you put around your child safe, fair, stable and with plenty of room to explore and grow. Avoid boundaries that are too constricting, absent or inconsistent as they can have detrimental effects on a child; feeling stifled creatively, or conversely lost and unsupported. Build in a level of expectation and trust to establish a mutual respect between you, with age appropriate boundaries.
- Other tactics to pull out of the bag; There’s nothing wrong with a good old bit of distraction or humour to diffuse an angry situation. Young kids can be sometimes be tickled back into line, or even forget about that tantrum to end all tantrums because you just pointed out an aeroplane flying overhead.
- Take time to recharge; A little break to feel like yourself again is going to leave you feel you rejuvenated and ready to face the ring again. When your energy is on the floor, the smallest of things can be the straw to break the camel’s back, and there will definitely be tears over spilt milk. Yours not theirs. Look after yourself , so in turn you can do your best at looking after them.
- A whole lot of love; The simplest but clearest message of all. Tell your kids you love them, but more than that show them you love them by giving your time and attention. Play with them, read to them, laugh with them and enjoy each other’s company. Let them know you believe in them and make them your highest priority. Be loving in your actions to each other and to the people around you. Let them see you helping your neighbours and doing kind deeds; don’t let them see you having a good old moan about so-and-so. In a stand-off situation, be calm, and don’t fight fire with fire; walk away (provided they are safe) if you need to; don’t retaliate and don’t inject more anger into the situation. This is really hard when you’re under a pressure yourself, but it’s the nirvana state of parenting!
Implementing these techniques isn’t going to change the household overnight, and believe me I have not been morphed into the perfect parent. Old habits die hard, and frankly, sometimes it’s easier said than done. But, I am trying, I’m trying really hard and I honestly believe something in me has already changed.
Just this week, I caught the Mouse emptying handfuls of soil from a plant all over the upstairs landing carpet. When I explained to her we needed to hoover it up she adorably went and found her toy hoover and gave it a shot. Then, after successfully (with the real hoover) clearing away her handy work she proceeded to repeat this great game. I explained to her the mud needed to stay in the pot so the plant could grow; A novel approach and one I know weeks ago would have been a cross telling off, if I’m totally honest. I was busy and I could have done without it. This refreshing new approach gave rise to a different child; “Oh, sorry Mummy. I didn’t know”. It was quite the revelation how a different stance can have such a dramatic effect.
Another total 180º turnaround has been with the pushchair battle on the school run – too far to her work we have negotiated a halfway (ish) point at which it’s safe and close to the school where she can get out and walk, without me ending up lugging her and two scooters and bags all the way there and back.
I’m starting to see that by bringing the emotion in the house back to a happy place, I can bring the kids there with me. I also have had time to reflect on the kind of Mum I want to be, and how I want to influence my children; the way they will remember their childhood and their Mummy, and the people that they will end up being.