Saturday, April 4, 2009

Eight Easy Steps to being a More Patient Parent

Kids. They'll drive you nuts. Here are Eight Easy Steps for being a little less nuts-driven.

1) See the innocence in their behavior.

If they were born knowing everything, every action's reaction, every consequence, they wouldn't need us for 18-22 years. Before you blow up over spilled milk, ask yourself if the child was being deliberately bad, or if it was just an innocent accident or an innocent mistake. I'd say that at least seven times out of ten, it was innocent, especially with young kids. And seeing that innocence makes it a lot easier to forgive.

2) Wait and see what they're trying to do before you get angry.

The best example of this, from our lives, was this one time that I took the girls out for ice cream. Claire was just over one, and MG was about 2 and a half. MG took Claire's spoon right out of her hand. I was just about to dress her down for it, when she scooped up a bite of Claire's ice cream, fed it to her, and said, "I help."

I was SO glad that my mouth was full and I didn't jump right down her throat for taking the spoon, because it was one of the sweetest moments. How often do our kids have good, but misunderstood, intentions? If I had yelled at her for taking the spoon, without knowing her intentions, she would've learned NOT to try to help Claire - the exact opposite of what I want her to learn.

3) See the humor in the things your kids do.

Sometimes kids are just being dorks. It's really funny, when you're three, to make a volcano out of mashed potatoes, or to make letters out of French fries. Rather than snapping, "Don't play with your food!!" try just chilling out. After all, it's not like you're dining with the Queen, right?

4) Give your kids the opportunity to do the right thing without being told to do it.

You don't want to be a drill sergeant. Your kids don't want to live with one either. Sometimes if you just let them do their thing, rather than barking constant orders and redirections, they'll do what you want them to do all on their own.

We're learning this with bedtime. Bedtime has been a struggle in this house since the day Mary Grace was born. But we've started changing the routine - we now do bath, potty, jammies, teeth, drinks, two stories, a quick snuggle, then Daddy and I leave the room, and damned if they aren't going to sleep by themselves. Who knew? We've probably been keeping them awake, and preventing them from falling asleep quickly, by lying there and saying, "Be still!" and "Go to sleep!!!" over and over.

5) Give choices.

We've all read this in the parenting magazines a thousand times, but it's true. Think of how frustrating it would be to live with someone who told you what to do all day - when to get up, what to wear, what to eat, where to go, when to sleep - without giving you any say in the matter. Does it really matter if your kid wants to wear a princess costume to the grocery store? Save the battles for the big things. Ask them, "Do you want the blue shirt or the pink shirt today?" "Do you want toast or a bagel?" "Do you want milk or juice?" "Do you want to go to bed now or in 5 minutes?" Giving little choices throughout the day will give kids more of a sense of control over their lives, and will cause you to engage in fewer battles of the wills. And never forget that if you're up against a toddler, you are outmatched in a battle of wills.

6) Give warnings.

Imagine that you're at work, and you're in the middle of a big project, and your boss says, "Stop that right NOW and go to the meeting!" How annoyed would you be? Wouldn't it be better if the boss came by and said, "Hey, the big meeting is in 5 minutes, see you there!" You can do the same thing for your kids, if you simply give a 3 or 5 minute warning, it'll make transitions a LOT easier.

7) Allow down time.

There's a lot of pressure on parents to fill their kids' entire schedule. Don't fall into this trap. Kids learn a lot simply by playing on their own and entertaining themselves. They need a break from their hectic schedules once in a while, just like we grown ups do.

8) Give them tools to deal with their emotions.

This one works for me when my kids fight. When you feel yourself really getting ready to blow, say to your kids, "I am really angry right now." Take a few deep breaths and let them learn how to calm themselves down by watching you calm yourself down. If you need to stall for more time to get perspective, try saying, "Why do you think I'm angry?" If you need even more, walk away for a few minutes. Give yourself a time out (and sit wherever your kids sit for their time outs!). Explain that just like they get angry, sometimes you do too, and sometimes you need to take a minute to settle down, just like they do. Show empathy for them, and at the same time demonstrate the appropriate way to deal with your anger.

And the bonus - if you turn their attention onto you and how you're managing your emotions, they'll probably stop fighting with each other to pay attention.

Mary Grace is high strung, and very emotional. She comes by it naturally. I hold up a finger when she starts spiraling out of control, and tell her to "blow out the candle." In this way, I'm reminding her to take deep breaths, and giving her a tool she can eventually use on her own to manage her emotionality. Right now she's little, and she still needs help. Generally, after the two of us blow out a few "candles" we're calm enough to deal with each other without screaming and yelling.

So begins my new series, Eight Easy Steps. Yes, I stole the title from Alanis, but I mean it less sarcastically. And I needed to read this today, because I have been a total wench lately. We're all works in progress.


Cathie said...

Thanks for the perspective... I needed those reminders.

Cate said...

I like the perspective you have written these from. I feel like I need to look at Esther's behavior from a new perspective -- she's been doing the most frustrating (and scary!) things lately, but I realize I can understand why she is doing them if I take a step back sometimes and look at it from outside the situation. :)

Anonymous said...

I saw something at Marc's daycare that reaffirmed your "Give warnings" rules. The kids were at the end of playtime and the teacher said "Okay, I'm going to count to ten now and when we reach ten it will be time to stop what you're doing and pick up." So the kids continued running/jumping/going crazy while she counted to ten and then they all stopped and help pick up. Magic!

Any tips for biting? Marc nailed me for the first time yesterday and the little bugger brought tears to my eyes--it hurt!

Amy said...

Oh dear, biting is the worst. Remind me how old he is, again. My advice varies depending on the age of the kiddo. I'll dedicate a post to biting for you. :)

I'll tell you what - giving warnings is powerful parenting magic. Just last night I took the kids to McDonald's (too cold and wet for anything else!) and there was a 6 year old there playing with my girls. It was late, and everyone was leaving, and the 6 yo's grandma just said, out of thin air, "Let's go, Chrissy." Chrissy spazzed.

Since we had been interacting all evening, I said, "You know the rule at our house, Chrissy? If you don't leave nicely, you don't come back anytime soon..." Then I called to my girls, "Three minute warning, kiddos, then we're leaving. Play fast!" They ran to do the slides and tubes one more time. Chrissy was still arguing with grandma. Grandma caved and let Chrissy have one more slide (teaching her, in effect, that she doesn't need to listen the first time, and that arguing pays off. That's going to be fun when she's a teenager!! But Grandma gets slack for being Grandma. Grandparents are allowed to be discipline slackers).

"One minute!" I yelled into the tubes, in a silly, deep voice. "One minute before we go out in the soggy rain and get in our car!" My punks came down and started getting their shoes on without being asked, even though I meant that they could play one more minute. I guess they didn't want me to forget their shoes (which I have done) and walk them out into the rain barefooted!

My kids said goodbye to Chrissy, and we left without a hint of a fuss.

Now I'm not saying that I do this right, or that my kids are perfect, all the time. We've had our share of times when I've forgotten to do transitions, or when my kids have flipped right out (particularly when we're around the money-sucking ride-on toys at the mall)... But having just written this, it was fresh in my mind, and it really worked.