"Have kids" they said, "it's easy" they said.
From that first day they are born until, well, I'm not sure when it ends, we have questions, lots of questions. Why do they always cry, or sleep, or eat? Why aren't they talking or walking or growing like my friend's kids? Why are they biting, fighting, pushing, punching other kids? Why won't they look at me, listen to me, talk to me? Why do they lie, hide, steal? Why can't they clean up after themselves, take care of their bodies, or do their homework, without a reminder? Why are they always late, always tired, always on their phones? And the list goes on and on and OMG, on.
Each of us wants the best for our kids, goals for them to grow into, life skills for them to learn. We want them to be responsible, thoughtful, caring, kind, self-advocating, empowered, compassionate, dependable, respectful, the list goes on. What do you want for your children?
Now that you've identified what you want for your child, how do you instill these life skills? It all starts with you. As a parent, we need to model the behavior we want for our kids. It's not do as a say, it's do as I do. How often have you heard your child say something and thought?, "Oh crap, that's totally me." Then you call your mom and apologize for everything you did as a kid. Are you leading by example?
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you are talking the talk and walking the walk. And some suggestions that may help if you aren't.
About talking the talk...How do you talk to your child? So many parents I work with feel that they are barking orders all the time, spending to much time yelling at their child, "They don't listen so I need to yell" Does your day sound like this, "wake up, get to the bus, do your homework, stop hitting your brother, get to bed?" Maybe they make the bus, this time, maybe they stop hitting, for now, maybe they go to bed, but don't sleep? How do you feel when you have to yell at them? Guilty, mean, nagging, useless? What behaviors are you modeling? What are you teaching them?
What about taking a different approach? Try asking instead of telling them what to do. How would it feel for you and your kid, if you said "how can you get to the bus on time? What else can you do instead of hitting your brother? What do you need to do to get to bed?" I will add that if there is danger or a safety issue, YELL, safety first, always. But when it's not a safety issue, try asking.
When kids are asked they feel like they have options, they feel like problem solvers, they feel responsible, they feel respected, and they are more likely to act accordingly. Does this support some of the life skills you want for your child? I bet you said yes.
Let's look at how you are walking the walk. Do you follow through with what you commit to? When you set consequences for your children, are there often exceptions made? In my home, we are committed to no false promises and no false consequences. They know that if we promise to get ice cream on a Tuesday, then that's what's going to happen, barring a really good reason of course, like 4 feet of snow or illness. And they know that if we commit to a consequence, you better be darn sure we are keeping that commitment too. We discuss this together, ahead of time. Once a child acts out, you can discuss how it's going to be handled next time. Ask them what consequence would help them remember NOT to do that again (who knows they may be harder on themselves than you would be). Now if they act out again, you can say, "remember what we agreed on, yep, no TV for the rest of the day." And stick to it.
When children know what to expect, they feel safe, secure and informed. They feel the empowerment of making their own decisions, it's their choice on how to act. Do you see the life skills emerging? I bet you do.
What if you've tried all this and it still hits the fan? Stay tuned for my next blog.
Let me know if you need more tools, I have hundreds.
Ref: Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott.