1. SET LIMITS AND BE CONSISTENT
What is a limit?
It is a rule, a guideline, an expectation.
Limits make children feel safe, they provide structure in the home and to relationships.
They are necessary and critical for well being.
Set limits and maintain them on a consistent basis.
What are the rules in your home?
What is expected of the child in terms of responsibility for themselves, for the home, for their work?
Does everyone know what the rules are?
Are they age appropriate?
Do parents both know and agree on them and work together to enforce them?
Children should be expected and allowed to help with the running of the home (i.e. have chores). This teaches them responsibility and makes them feel useful and important. For little ones, this is largely symbolic in nature, but it is an important message for them. Picking up toys after playing is an example.
2. BE CLEAR AND CONSISTENT
Know what you want and what you think and convey this clearly to your child. Don’t have different rules on different days or under different circumstances. (With certain exceptions for sickness, travel, etc.)
DON’T SAY IT IF YOU DON’T MEAN IT – EVER.
Don’t make empty threats, they are confusing, undermine your authority and magnify your child’s negative reaction. They guarantee an even bigger and longer negative reaction next time; The child is waiting for you to back off of your threat as you have done in the past. False threats have the unintended effect of communicating to your child that you don’t mean what you say and that you feel desperate. So, don’t say we are not going to Disney if you don’t finish your veggies – no one in the room believes you.
3. HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Instead of thinking in terms of punishments, consequences seem more linked to the child’s decision in choosing a behavior. If they choose one that is unacceptable then they will have a consequence. i.e. If they hit or scream or are disrespectful, they have made a choice and there is a natural consequence for this.
Consequences should be small. The child should be told immediately that they have broken a rule and will have a consequence. If you can think of an appropriate one on the spot you should tell the child what it will be and give the consequence as soon as possible after the offence. Be mindful not to give consequences that punish you more than your child, you’ll resent them for it.
Having a consequence allows your child to “pay their price” and be clean again. When they have fulfilled their obligation, they should be free of your anger. If this is not possible, tell them when you are done being upset. Children who feel bad act bad. Don’t make them feel worse than necessary.
4. KEEP IT POSITIVE
Avoid making any negative statements about character (i.e. You are being a bad boy). Always explain negative behavior as an anomaly. For instance, you could say, this time you made a poor choice, but you have good judgement and you are smart, next time you will make a better choice.
PREDICT FUTURE SUCCESS – Explain to your child that this time was a learning experience, kids are supposed to make mistakes and learn (grown-ups too). Use the phrase: Live and Learn.
5. BEWARE OF SPLITTING
All children try to play one parent against the other, they are trying to assess if you are a unified front. (They are looking to know the limits.) It is up to you and your partner to ensure that you are not split. It is also your job to let your child know that this is an unacceptable and ineffective strategy.
Check in with one another before giving your child an answer to a request of any significance. If you get split, hold the child accountable. Be aware that you do not have to have an answer on the spot and can get back to your child with your decision. i.e. I’ll discuss it with your father and then let you know. Ask your child, have you discussed this with your mom?
6. BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION
Children communicate their feelings through their behavior. They may not even know what they are thinking or feeling but it will come out in how they act.
It is our job as parents to help them translate their impulses, thoughts and feelings into language. Even a tiny newborn is communicating his/her needs and feelings about things. It is our job to learn to listen and to learn their language. As they grow and are capable of more, then we must help them develop verbal communication skills (and learn our language).
When you see a behavior, negative or positive, think, what is my child trying to tell me by this.
WONDER WITH them: I wonder if you might be feeling sad that we had to leave your friend’s house. I wonder if you might be upset about what happened at school today.
Teach them to use their words, help them to identify and label their feelings. Model this process when you talk to your children and when you are talking in front of them i.e. with your partner. You might say to your child, I am feeling angry and need to have a minute to calm down before we can talk.
Children’s’ books are a great resource for helping with this process. There is a list provided on the website.
7. SHOW RESPECT
Your child and you are of equal value but not equal power.
Always show your child respect and be ever mindful not to abuse your inherent power. When you make decisions that affect your child offer explanations. Your child does not have to agree or like your decisions but they should be told of them and have a chance to respond. This can be done while always maintaining the appropriate parent/child hierarchy. Please note that this does not mean that you have to justify your decision or repeat it many times.
Example: You may not have any more chocolate. Too much sugar can give you a belly ache, sweets are a treat, not a meal.
8. PROVIDE STRUCTURE AND SAFETY
You are in charge, you are responsible for your child’s survival - and they know it. If they sense that you can’t handle it, or don’t want to, they will act out. It may seem cruel that they would play off of your difficulty but they are motivated by fear. They will pressure you to step up to the plate by increasing their negative behavior. They hope that then, you will provide limits, safety, structure, consistency.
9. A FAMILY IS A SYSTEM
All members of a family work in concert with one another. Each has a role in making the family run.
Children know everything there is to know about how you feel about one another and how you feel about them. This information is communicated constantly and non-verbally to everyone in the house. Don’t think that things are secret because they are unspoken. The unspoken can be the strongest form of communication.
Family members can carry information, behaviors and feelings for one another i.e. Dad is mad at mom, the child absorbs this and acts out toward mom. Mom and dad are fighting, the child acts out to distract parents from their marital difficulty and onto him in an effort to “protect” the marriage.
10. LEARN ABOUT EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
It is critical to understand what your child needs and is capable of at any given stage of development. A good book on early childhood development is a must for the bedside. Read it every few months to see where your child is and where they are heading. This helps you have realistic expectations of your child, it helps you set reasonable limits.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
Tell your child that you love and enjoy her. That you respect her opinions, judgment and individuality.
It is our choice to have children, they don’t ask to be born. It is our responsibility to raise and provide for them. It is their responsibility to grow up and leave us and function as independent adults. We cannot live our lives through them, have them meet our unmet life goals or carry out our unresolved anger. They are not a vehicle through which we can live. They are their own person, with their own style and opinions and needs. They must be nurtured into being their best selves, even if this does not align with what you might want for yourself, or for them.
You cannot look to your child to take care of you. You must find other adults, your family, and friends or a therapist if you need additional support.
HELPFUL TOOLS FOR YOUR PARENTING TOOL BOX:
Give your child lots of choices, real and perceived; they are less likely to rebel if they feel empowered. For example: Would you like spaghetti or maccaroni? Do you want the green bowl or the red bowl? Should we go to the store before or after lunch?
Use humor to defuse tension, but not at your child’s expense! Making jokes, being silly and distracting from areas of conflict or tension can be useful, but take care never to mock or make fun of your child.
Unexpected reactions can break tension and stop the escalation of an argument. For example: If you're in a battle over teeth brushing and you suddenly say, "I think I just saw an elephant out the window, let's go look." This is nonsense but it breaks the deadlock, adds some silliness and can reset the moment. Maybe you can brush teeth together while looking out the window for the elephant??
Under-reacting to a situation can be useful. Bring the child to your state of being rather than being sucked into theirs.
Give warnings, not threats. Think of it as a head's up; useful information for your child to be able to plan and modify their choices. For example: I will be upset if… There will be a consequence if… In five minutes we will need to leave… If you are not able to lower your volume, I will not be able to continue this discussion with you.
Remember that the qualities that make raising children such a challenging task, are the same ones that endear our children to us. They are also the assets that we want them to have as adults – curiosity, spunk, creativity, strong opinions, bravery, a touch of defiance, passion, individuality…
Most of all, take care of yourself. No one can give out without taking in. Be sure to have sources of support and release for yourself.