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Thursday, October 28, 2010

what's in your parenting toolbox?

So I have had this post in the making for quite some time. The title staring at me, all ominous like -

“Parenting Toolbox”

- which would imply that I have such a toolbox at my ready for say when little man smacks sister across the face because “she was laughing in a mean way” or when sister screams “NOOOO my MAMA!” when little man tries to sneak in a cuddle.


Not so much.

a bad picture. but a nice moment.
I am at that “feeling inadequate” phase – AGAIN. Just when you think you have it figured out. You figure out you don’t…have it figured out…and then you have to start figuring it out all over again.

Such is parenting.

There are though, things that do work.

So in an effort to make myself feel better, and to remind myself that I have in fact learned things about parenting in the past four years, and that I do – somewhat – know what I am doing, sometimes, I am going to make a list.

First, as a general parenting philosophy. We are a no-spank, limited time-outs kind of family. We aim more for instruction rather than “discipline” per se. Time outs are for extreme situations (Smacking sister in the face for laughing, for example) not for the small time offenses (not picking up when told to pick up, etc) and not for small children (I really firmly believe that young children, even till age 3 or 4, have a hard time distinguishing actions and consequences and managing their responses appropriately. A frustrated, tired toddler WILL take a swing at you or a sibling from time to time. We say “No hit, gentle hands, gentle touches” and leave it at that.)

But, everyone has their own philosophy because every family is different.

In any case, if you are interested (which I imagine you are if you are reading this blog, HA) here is what is in our Parenting Tool Box:

1) It’s all about framing your message.

Say NO! only when you really need to.

Like, when your kid is running out into the street to get a ball or is about to throw said ball at little sisters skull. Overusing NO! makes kids more likely to tune it out.

Use “May” instead of commanding. “You MAY go pick up your toys before bed now.” “You MAY play with your own toy car, give your sister’s back to her.” BUT be firm about things in which there is no option.

When you TELL your kid “Pick up your toys.” “Give your sister back her toy NOW.” your kid instantly goes on defense. Great, what do I HAVE to do now.

But then, sometimes you need to be firm. I am totally guilty of too often saying “please, can you….get in the tub…get in your car seat…PLEEEEEEASE!!!” But with some things, starting from a point of no argument is important. When you need to go to the store they need to get in their carseat. Period. You know what I am saying?

2) Have fun with parenting.

Humor diffuses tough situations so well, in life and in parenting. Your child is whiney and crabbing and you sense a meltdown soon. You make a funny face and attack their bellies with tickles. Pretty soon they are laughing hilariously, instead of the whiney cry that was about to be let loose.

Every now and then get down on their level and remember what it was like to be as high as the kitchen counter. When you laid on the floor and raced cars around the house. When you stacked cups and knocked them down. When you laid in the grass and looked at ants crawling in the sunlight. Remember? Remember that magic? Every now and then its good to remember.

Music is soothing and can get a kid to do about anything. Sing about putting on your socks and shoes. “This is the way we put on our socks, put on our socks, put on our socks, etc etc… before we go to school.” Sing about putting away the toys. “This is the way we put away toys, etc. etc” Sing about eating broccoli (a still popular song at our house. “Broccoli, broccoli, everyone loves their broc. Let’s do a broccoli dance, let’s do a broccoli dance, let’s turn around like this and wiggle in our pants!” Yes, I still sing it. But, it has paid off. They LOVE broccoli!)

This is a great book that talks a lot about these kinds of techniques, also about the development of children from infancy through school years. A great read.

3) Give options when it doesn’t really matter, but limit choices so the kid isn’t overwhelmed.

For example: “Do you want toast or cheerios for breakfast?” Not “What do you want for breakfast.” To which they will reply “FRUIT SNACKS!”

Giving them two reasonable options lets them feel in control but doesn’t overwhelm them with limitless options (like that feeling you get when you go to DSW. All you want is a new pair of sandals. There are HUNDREDS of pairs of sandals! AHHHH!! RUN AWAY! But going to Target where you have six options is much more reasonable.)

4) Be a yes mom.

For example: You are getting ready to run errands. Your child wants to wear his Batman cape, a tie, and fluffy slippers. You had laid out a nice matching ensemble. Take a deep breath and say it. Um. Sure. Why not?

Again: You are trying to get the dishes done before dada comes home (for once) you find it too quiet in the living room and go to investigate. Your children are pulling all the cushions off the couch and chairs and creating a tent city in your living room. Deep breath. Um. Sure. Why not? (Although, I add – YOU HAVE TO PICK IT UP.)

See where I am going with this? It’s easy to say no, it seems. But really, it’s easier to say yes. (And more fun, usually.)

5) Always give your kid (and yourself) an out.

This was a huge one for us. Its easy to have too high expectations on our kids which then leads to us to becoming frustrated when they don’t live up to our (unreasonable) standards. If you allow them an out of the situation, well, 1) it’s really nice of you, and 2) it prevents a lot of frustration and turmoil.

For example: We all have moments where we say things like "If you don't stop whining at me about not getting a Happy Meal, I am gonna....umm...THROW YOUR NEW SWORD IN THE GARBAGE." or “If you don’t finish all your food on your plate you can't have any dessert...EVER.” But then you are at a birthday party and your kid doesn’t eat well when they are overwhelmed and you know this and you regret saying it. So, amend your unreasonable threat “if you eat four bites, because you are four, THEN you can have some cake.”

Also, redirecting your child's attention is really key when the shit is about to hit the fan, so to speak. "Hey, hey, lets stop whining about your Happy Meal and sing a song, or hey, I know, can you play the I-SPY game with me!? I was just, er,  joking about the sword thing. Yea. Umm. Sorry dude."

(Also, apologizing to your kid as necessary is quite often a good thing. See modeling behavior below.)

little man helped make refrigerator cookies
yesterday which resulted in powdered sugar
all over the newly washed kitchen floor.
here he is helpfully licking it off himself. HA.
6) Incorporate your child into your daily routine.

Kids can sweep, dust, wash dishes, help cook. Let them be part of your life. It puts such a sense of pride in them when they announce to dada that they washed the whole kitchen floor.

And, they CAN.

And they LIKE IT.

Seriously, try it.

7) Think through your day and how it will affect your kid – plan accordingly. Have plans in place for things going awry.

For example: You have a full day ahead of you with errands, doctor appointment and then a birthday party. You KNOW that by the time you get to the birthday party your kid is going to be tired and crabby.

So you can, A) cancel the doctor appt in favor of an hour at the park B) do errands the next day in favor of quiet time at home or C) anticipate a short stay at the birthday party and leave BEFORE your child starts to fall apart when they don’t get the piece of cake with the most frosting, etc.

And then, when the day or activity gets too overwhelming for your child, alter the situation BEFORE the meltdown. It’s much easier to explain removing your child from a loud gathering for a quiet walk outside than it is to pry your screaming child from the table and run outside in retreat.

8) Recognize the kind of kid your child is and the kind of person you are – parent accordingly.

I was really transformed after reading “Raising your spirited child” this past year. The author refers to spirited children as those that are more intense, more energetic, more persistent, more perceptive, and more sensitive than the average kid (all my little man). This can be good (he feels so for people! He is passionate!) and it can be maddening (the drama! The mood swings! The irregular sleep! The picky eating! ).

And it is especially intensified when the child is parenting by a spirited parent (Uh, yea? Who me?) or two (yes, you dada.) I would totally recommend this book if you are in the same boat.


And the crazy thing is about this, with child #2 (or #3 or etc) your parenting style and tactics will need to change. They are different so you will have a different parenting relationship with them! (Fun times huh??)

9) Ease transitions by setting up expectations for your child.

Today we are doing, x, y, and z. Here is how it will affect you. It may sound silly but even from an early age a child appreciates this.

And then, as each activity happens, remind your child of your expectations from them. “Here we are at the park. We are staying for an hour. What is our rule little man?”
“No screaming and crying when we leave.”
“When I say its time to go, its time to go. I will tell you when we have ten minutes left.”

I have said this speech one hundred million times at this point. Seriously. ONE HUNDRED MILLION TIMES.

10) Model the behavior you expect from your child.

I know I have posted on this before, but it really is key.

where my children are sitting as i type about
good parenting.
thought you would appreciate the irony...
This can go from the basic… “Here, little man, is how we shut the door quietly.” Guide his hand to the door, shutting it quietly. This, rather than the impulse of yelling “DON’T SLAM THAT DOOR!”

…or quietly singing and picking up the living room, as they fall in line to help like little ducks, rather than barking forty times “PICK UP PICK UP PICK UP.” Etc.

…or smiling at the lady who takes your parking spot in the grocery store rather than yelling and making a scene, because you will see that behavior again when your child throws a fit over some child at the park who swings in the swing they wanted to swing in and you have to embarrassingly pry your child lose from the swing chains and slink away in shame…

…to the more complex… Dada has been working a lot. The car is in the shop AGAIN. Mama is tired and stressed out. You can snap at your child and turn on the TV (guilty, as I type HA HA HA.) or you can turn on some dance music and smile. Life is good, really, it is.

11) Recognize that your child is the child and you are the adult.

Ooh. Sounds harsh I know.

But, we all know, it is really easy, after a long day, to think of a small child as just a miniature adult. But they aren’t. They are people in progress (well we all are really, but especially them.). Every now and then I find it helpful to sit on the floor at their level and talk things out. Or just hang out. Life is different down there. We need to recognize that. And then it hits you. Oh, you are really little. Sorry dude. I forgot.

Sometimes this perspective shift is key to understanding your child, or being more understanding of your child.

For example: You are sitting in a restaurant, feeling irritated about the slow service. Your kid is going nuts which is making you even more nuts. But hey, of course they are! If you are irritated with the slow food coming of course they are, and they have much less impulse control to be patient!

Or…you are feeling overwhelmed after a long day of travel to get to your in-laws and now you have to sit down for a family meal and politely eat and chat and your child starts throwing a fit saying all they want to do is watch a video. Well, heck, after a long day I would rather watch TV then chat politely at dinner sometimes too!

You see what I am saying.

So. I may need to amend later but these are some key things for us. What works for you?

Gee, I do feel better. Maybe I know a thing or two.


Time to turn off the TV and go wash dishes together. And yes little man, you can use extra soap.

Happy parenting mommies (and dadas too)!


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