It’s Monday morning. You are frantic running around the house, trying to get ready for another week of work. Also, you have to get the kids ready for school or daycare. You will brush your hair and take a sip of the much-needed coffee in the car. First, you have to serve breakfast to your little rascals. But your toddler is having none of it. He is taking all the time he needs, but not to eat. No, no, no. He plays with his cereals, splashes the milk everywhere, and so on. You already told him thrice “The food is for eating, not for play!”, “Honey, you need to eat your breakfast, we’re running late!”, “Have you finished eating?”
All have fallen on deaf ears! You feel it building and bubbling your trout: the rage of “Can you not do this to me right now?”
I think this scenario is all too familiar to many parents. In many of my previous articles, I talked extensively about using natural consequences to discipline kids. But how does it apply in your day-to-day life as a parent? In some situations, the natural consequences are much easier to see. In other situations, however, you might feel confused. For example, if your kid is throwing his toy cars around the house, what would be the natural consequences? Are you supposed to wait until he destroys his toys, or sometimes more than that? Ultimately, you would have to buy him other toys and replace the things he smashed around the house.
Natural consequences versus logical consequences
If a child decides to stay up late on a school night, the natural consequence is that they will be tired the next day. Or, if a child chooses not to use a raincoat, they will get wet. Natural consequences are outcomes that occur in response to behavior without parental influence.
The realm of positive discipline also includes setting boundaries or limits to your child’s behaviors; also known as logical consequences. If we go back to the example with throwing toys, the logical consequence would be to stop the kid and set a limit: “Cars are not for throwing.” Instruct your kid on what he can do with a car: “ You can play with the car on its wheels or you can make it go on a slide.” When your kid insists to throw something, teach him what (a softball, for example) or where he can do it (‘You can throw a ball outside”). When he insists to throw his toys around, you may very well take them from him. Calmly set the limit: “Toys are not for throwing inside. You could hurt yourself or somebody else. I am going to put the cars away now. You can try again later.”
Set limits boundaries to behaviors, not to emotions.
Say no to behaviors, not to emotions. This means no threats: “Keep it up and I will give you a reason to be upset.” Also, do not downplay your kid’s feelings: “Oh, there is no reason to be upset.” Most importantly do not censor them: “Stop crying!” or “That’s enough!”
All feelings are ok. Emotions are natural, temporary, and fleeting. I get that it’s difficult to juggle your kid’s emotions, your own emotional reaction to your kids’ feelings, what you need to get done at that moment, and so on.
Especially when it comes to negative emotions, you should take more time to acknowledge, validate, and understand your kid’s emotions. It’s far more difficult for your kid to learn how to manage his anger than it is to manage his boredom.
Please answer one question:
Think about it carefully!
Well, I asked around too and the quality that always was named first was patience. I couldn’t agree more. Patience is essentially the ability to inhibit our first negative reactions to something unpleasant and try again.
The first step in the direction of managing your kid’s emotions is to get a good grip on your feelings. Get comfortable managing the emotional thunderstorm inside yourself. What opens up the pandora’s box is our emotional reaction to the emotions of our kids. If your kid throws and breaks his toys, your first reaction could very well be: “How dare you break something you don’t know the cost of. I slave to give you a good life and you have no respect for it…” Do you honestly think that your kid’s only goal for the day is to piss you off and make your day as miserable as possible? Let’s remember that kids are kids. They need to be taught and guided to better behaviors, choices, manners, and so on.
Yes, I agree. It’s all good and well in theory, but the practice is what kills us. Why?
Because every parent is on the brink of a total meltdown of his own. Have you ever noticed, when you are rested and calm, your kid is also calmer and more cooperative? Even if he is not, you can easily manage and move past a situation that would have caused otherwise a huge drama.
Don’t ever feel guilty for taking it slow to give your poor mental health a breather. If you can, let your kids with another trustworthy adult, and take a break: go drink a coffee with your friends, do some shopping, go sit on a bench in the park alone.
If you don’t have this luxury, find ways you can take a moment for yourself while taking care of your kid. Let your kid play on his iPad for half an hour, while you drink a coffee in peace. Serve your kids those chicken nuggets and spend the time you would have spent cooking to just relax. Take all the naps you can while your kid is napping too. It doesn’t matter that the house is messy, you have piles of clothes, you washed the same laundry load three times because you keep forgetting to take it out. In my experience, the messier the house, the happier the family. The families with a messy house are not lazy or neglectful, they choose to spend their time on activities that matter and bring them together.
Game changer: Focus on using positive language.
I believe our words are our most powerful resource. They shape our minds, perception, wishes…they shape our worlds. Not only when it comes to ourselves, but also when it comes to our children. Be mindful of the words you use to speak to your child. Your words will become their inner self-talk. Be kind, patient, and understanding.
Also, some simple language shifts could save you a lot of headaches. Try to focus on the things you expect your kid to do rather than what they should not do. For example: “Speak with your inside voice please.” rather than “Stop yelling. I can hear you, I am right next to you.”
By focusing on the positive you are instructing your kid on what he should be doing rather than expecting him to figure it out on his own.
Also, formulating something as a threat won’t increase the chances that your kid will listen to you. As I said before, fear is not a good teacher, it is paralyzing. Furthermore, it will guarantee a power struggle. Instead of “If you don’t eat your broccoli, you won’t get dessert.” try “First you eat your meal, then you get dessert.”
It’s the subtle, but powerful switches in language that can make a huge difference.
To sum it up…
1. Set a clear, positive limit. Try to focus on the thing your kid should do, not on what he is not supposed to do. For example, “The water stays in the bathtub.”, “The food is for eating.”, “ The car stays on its wheels.”
2. Instruct your kid on how to use something appropriately or what to do instead. “You can splash the water in the bathtub like this.”, “ You can be mad; you cannot slam the door. Please try again.”
3. Give your kid another try. If your kid insists to do the same thing, you can as matter of fact as possible, repeat the limit, and instate the consequence. Don’t raise your voice and don’t scold. “The food is for eating, not for playing. I see you are still playing with your food. Probably you are no longer hungry. It’s time to wash your hands.”
4. If your kid cries, they will most certainly cry when you start putting limits to his behavior, be open to comfort and smooth them, but hold your ground. Being there for your kid even when they did something wrong, or broke a limit will not spoil your kid as long as you hold the limit you want to establish. You see, your kid isn’t bad. He isn’t trying to make your life harder. He is just trying to navigate this world. You must guide him to better choices and behaviors.
Please note that letting your kid deal alone with things, without any guidance, is not going to make him more independent. An independent kid is firstly a kid who knows that if things get messy he has the strength to pull through a hard situation. Secondly, an independent kid has the secure feeling that when things won’t go as planned, you will be his emotionally safe, non-judging place where he will come to lick his wounds. These wounds can be as small as falling off his bike or as major as a failed business adventure. And that’s what gives independent kids the strength and drive to explore outside their comfort zone.
5. Be consistent. When it comes to setting limits, being consistent is the name of the game. Be thoughtful with the limits you want to set and stick with them. Consistency will establish a habit, a base of behavior that will accompany your kid even when you are not there to supervise him.
6. Reign your own emotions. To be clear, I don’t mean you should become this robot of a person, with no personal feelings. What I mean is, don’t spew your feelings out, with no control whatsoever.
7. Take care of your own mental health. Yes, you are a parent. But you are also a woman/man, you are a spouse, you are a friend, you are a carrier man or carrier woman. It’s when you lose sight of the other facets of yourself that you start to be stressed out, resentful, and unfulfilled. I myself come from a modest background, and I know that many times it is a luxury to have time for yourself as a parent. I get that! But then, stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Your house doesn’t need to be Instagram-worthy all the time; your kids can eat less healthy meals sometimes. Prioritize your mental health!
Adopting a parenting approach focused on emotional intelligence and teaching kids appropriate behaviors rather than punishing them for their bad behavior is not always easy. I often refrain from giving it a label. Call it positive parenting, the Montessori method, or just raising kids. The name is beyond the point. Putting in the self-awareness, emotional control, the mental bandwidth of actually dealing with the hard parts of being a parent is extremely commendable. But let’s be honest, the best part and what makes it worth all the effort is getting to see your kids grow healthy, emotionally intelligent, self-aware, and resilient.
‘Till next time,
Thrive and develop!
This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born.
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