I’m big on metaphors. I think they can be useful for putting emotionally-charged topics into perspective. One metaphor I find myself going back to frequently is my ‘parenting toolbox’. That mental space in which I keep my various parenting tricks and strategies. This metaphor probably feels very natural to me because 99% of the time I am reaching for my actual toolbox, it is because of something my kids did…
Just like the array of tools available to tackle the various household projects we may be faced with, it can be useful to have a number of different strategies to combat the tiffs, issues, and power struggles we can find ourselves in with our kids on a daily basis. I’ve come to learn that there is no one method that will work with every child every time. My money is on versatility as the real trick to parenting without losing your mind.
During times of stress (fa la la!), it can be difficult to remember to go back to the tool box and I often find myself trying to force a certain strategy (lecture? ::sigh:: guilty) over and over instead of trying a new tool. So I offer this as a gentle reminder, to myself as much as anyone, to remember to go back and dig around in the old tool box when you’ve got a problem that your usual go-to is not fixing. I promise, you are not failing as a parent and your kid isn’t a heathen; you just aren’t using the right tool for the job at hand.
In case you are looking to pick up a new tool or two, some of the faves in my box are…
This time of year, I just don’t feel like I’m doing enough breathing and my guess is that my kids aren’t either. So when we start butting heads on brushing teeth or listening ears appear to have been mailed to Antarctica, I will ask them to join me in a little bit of stretching and breathing. I’m no Yogi master, but sometimes a quick standing back bend and down dog can really clear the air.
There are days when kids just don’t particularly feel like being treated like kids. They are craving some logic and respect. In these moments, I find leveling with them and working together towards a mutually agreeable plan to be a simple, yet powerful, solution. “Honey, my job is to keep you safe and what you are doing right now could hurt you. But I can tell that it is a lot of fun for you. Any ideas how we can solve this problem? Let’s be a team and fix this.”
Play a Game
We all know the classic “Who can pick up blocks the quickest?!” right? Well, you can apply the same playful logic to any number of tasks and chores. My kids are all about being timed to see if they can beat the clock lately…3 minutes to get dressed – ready, set, go! Half the time they don’t even realize they are doing the boring chores they fight me on every morning because now it’s a game!
Our voice is one of the most powerful parenting tools we have. The way we speak to our children communicates so much more to them than the words alone. It’s easy for kids to start tuning out when their caregiver’s voice falls into the same monotonous speech patters. When we are keyed into the impact our voice can have, it gains a lot of weight. I tend to speak in a higher sing-songy pitch with my children so dropping an octave can quickly catch their attention and let them know I mean business. On the flip side, my wife tends to speak in a lower, more matter-of-fact tone, and has noticed that when she brings it up a touch to a higher and more playful level, it can have a big impact on the aura of the room…and willingness of the children to cooperate.
Sometimes the best way to end a power struggle is to simply walk away. It takes two to tango…it take two to fight. I believe energy is powerful and often notice a huge shift in a situation when I simply direct my energy elsewhere. And then there is one of my favorite oxymorons: “actively ignoring” in which you reduce negative attention-seeking behaviors by intentionally ignoring them. I think of it as the grown-up version of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting “lalala I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”. Amiright? My kids have heard me say “I will give my attention to children who are behaving nicely” so many times that they’ve started using the technique with each other. Just this morning my son said to my daughter, “I dont like the way you’re talking to me so I’m going to ignore you until you are being nice.” I had to giggle.
Sticker charts, pom pom jars – you name your favorite craft product and there is a positive behavioral support method out there that uses it. And then there is that other dirty 5 letter word…listen, sometimes a good old bribe is what it takes to get the job done. But I have a very specific way of phrasing my bribes so they aren’t quite so, well, bribe-y. (More on that here).
Good luck and godspeed my friends. And don’t forget…this is the most wonderful time of the year (HA)!