Let me start by saying that I know nothing I’m going to say is going to be “news” to any parent. I’m not experiencing anything that any of you aren’t, or haven’t over and over again … perhaps to the point that you’re just not sure what to do about it anymore. Parenting, while an unspeakable blessing and life’s greatest gift, is also incredibly challenging, in more ways than any of us can count: the responsibility, the never ending questions you ask yourself at the end of the day, the internal checks and balances, the introspection, the uncharted territory. Being a patient parent can often times feel out of reach.
Boundaries are being tested at my house, day in, and day out: my son asks for things over and over again, insisting on only eating certain foods, not wanting to sit in his car seat, refusing to sit in his high chair … the list goes on. I knew this was coming and that it wouldn’t be easy. To be honest, I actually enjoy it because it’s a challenge (that’s the early childhood teacher in me): what is he really trying to say; what does he really need; what does this say about me as a parent; what is the message I’m really needing to send him; how can I help turn this into a learning opportunity; how can I celebrate his determination while instill that he doesn’t get to be the decision maker? But, in the moment, when the screaming, and the tears, and the tantrums, and the relentless pleading for what he wants are happening … I’m doing everything but loving it. (Don’t get me wrong … I love this little face … but he’s testing my limits!)
We’ve all experienced tantrums. I’m not here to give you a recipe for success, because let’s face it … there isn’t one. We’re all different: what we allow, what we choose to give into, what we identify as poor behavior. I’d venture to guess, though, that we all want our children to be respectful, to use their words articulately, to listen to what we say, and to be kind.
Kids are exploring their world, testing their limits, trying to get a sense of what they can and can not do, and it’s our job to help them figure that out. I’m a firm believer that kids are desperate for boundaries; boundaries make children feel safe, and when they’re acting out the most is when those boundaries need to be crystal clear. This is what I remind myself when the going gets tough, especially when I feel like I’ve been enforcing things all day.
So, what’s the learning here if I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard a million times? While there isn’t any one “key to success,” I figured I’d share some staples that are at the forefront of my parenting brain lately.
1. Set an expectation, and stick to it.
This can’t waiver. Kids are seeking boundaries. So, if for example, you don’t allow your child to watch more than 30 minutes of TV per day, but they keep asking for TV, stay the course. The moment you give in and allow that second show … they expect it moving forward and you’ve made your job 10x harder tomorrow than it is today when you have to say no to the second show. Trust me … tomorrow will be worse.
2. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
This is very similar to #1. If you ask your child to clean up their toys, and they’re not doing it (whether that means creatively leaving the room, asking you to read them a story, saying they really need to go to the bathroom, or simply saying “no”), make sure they clean them up before you move on or go do something else. Cue fit throwing and battling. It doesn’t have to be a negative experience: make it a game, help them if that is something you’re willing to do, or (as I’ve had to do occasionally), literally help your child pick up the toy. Just remember … if you asked them to clean up the toys but ultimately leave without them cleaning up, or by cleaning up for them, you’ve sent a clear message to your child that whatever they just did to avoid the cleanup worked … and your child will remember that. Kids are insanely smart and perceptive … remember that!
3. Eliminate question asking when you don’t genuinely want a response.
Question asking can be deadly. For example, if you say, “Will you please put your shoes on so we can get in the car?” and your child says, “no,” you can’t really be irritated with them, because you ultimately invited that response. Alternately, stating, “Please put your shoes on, because we need to get in the car” incites action. It doesn’t mean your child is going to put their shoes on, but it does state the expectation that you’re needing them to do it. Sure, you may have to battle, but you didn’t invite the battle by asking a question there is only one right answer to.
4. Focus on the positive.
Find a way to celebrate your child. On days when you just want to pull your hair out, this can be hard, but find a way. Instead of focusing on the twelve million times you seem to be correcting them, find something your child is doing well, and be sure to let them know in a big way. Ultimately, you want to be “getting more of what you focus on,” so find the good.
5. Keep the “big picture” in mind and adjust as necessary.
At the end of the day, I try to unwind and replay the day in my head, reflecting on the hardships and also the joys. Lately, there seems to be a lot of challenging behavior, so I try to make a plan to address that positively the next day. We’re never going to get it right all the time, but we can keep trying to do the right thing. If what you’re doing isn’t working, or doesn’t seem to be, try something else. This doesn’t mean giving in; it means re-evaluate how you go about certain things and adjusting. For example, maybe your routine is posing inherent daily challenges for your child; maybe you need to to have more or less structure in your day; maybe you need to find ways for your child to be more independent; maybe you need to carve out a concerted time to be present; maybe you need to simply stay the course and keep those expectations and boundaries clear while being positive. Whatever it is, there’s flexibility, and it’s going to take some time to figure it out.
So, with wine in hand, at the end of a long day … I’m here to tell you YOU’RE DOING A GREAT JOB. Sometimes, that’s really all we need to hear. Hang in there mama … we’re all in it together!