What does it really mean when our kids are listening? It means they are cooperating and being responsible—two very important habits to help our kids master for future success. Parenting that kids can understand teaches habits they will carry for a lifetime, and it will help you and the entire family get along (including you and your spouse!)
I recently wrote an article on what makes kids brains grow bigger which shows that when parents express love to their children through effective and nurturing communication, they become happier and more well-adjusted. Positive parenting without bargaining, yelling, or intimidation will help you develop nurturing communication. Keep reading to learn 8, easy parenting hacks that will teach valuable life lessons.
1. Be a great teacher.
A great teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart. We must be truly honest with ourselves that our role as parents is being the most important teacher your child will ever have. As parents, we are the guardrails in our childrens’ lives, perfectly positioned to keep the car on track. Surely the car will veer off plenty of times on its journey.
Accepting that our children will make mistakes rather than expecting them to be perfect is half the battle in embracing your honorary role as teacher of the year. Learning to tolerate imperfection does not mean sacrificing values; it just means to apply a bit of patience and understanding while your child comes into her own. Compassionate parenting builds and maintains healthy parent-child bonds and supports that all important brain growth that can change the world.
2. Create house rules.
Enlist your entire family in creating a list of house rules that are easy to understand. Mutually agreed upon expectations gives your family the basis of understanding it needs to create respect between one another. It also makes parenting a heck of a lot easier when everyone is on the same page. A family meeting where rules are brainstormed and agreed upon allows everyone to practice important communication and teamwork skills like speaking in turn, listening, and contributing.
Be sure to select rules which the whole family, including adults, will follow. The single most important aspect in creating respect is that we as adults(parents) should model the behavior that is being asked of our children. Lastly, rules should be limited to 4 or 5 and be phrased in a way that states how you want the behavior to look. For instance; “We will speak kindly to those we love” rather than “Don’t talk back.”
3. Establish clear consequences.
Successful parenting requires a few steps so that the behavior and/or lesson you are trying to teach actually sticks. Consistency with consequences is a way for parents to allow kids to practice the desired behavior. If they don’t get it right the first time, try and try again! Consequences need to fit the offense, so while sitting down to create the house rules it is helpful to get together with your spouse to determine agreed upon consequences for when the rule is broken.
If you want, the kids can even weigh in; they usually pick consequences that are more punitive than necessary so it is interesting to get their perspective. This approach establishes communication and cooperation between parents. It also irons out disagreements that often happen when Mom and Dad bicker over how to handle the infraction as it’s happening, which takes the focus off of the negative behavior. Kids love this as they quietly slip away unnoticed while mom and dad attempt to hash it out.
4. Count to three.
One of my favorite parenting gurus is Thomas W. Phelen; he wrote 1-2-3 Magic and it was one of the first and most effective parenting approaches my husband and I used as new parents. Among many other concepts, Phelen introduced the importance of giving children a measured warning system when their behavior is annoying, obnoxious, or unacceptable. Children are not little adults, and they are not born knowing how to act. In fact, it is our job as parents to teach them what we expect from them.
As mentioned before, when this is done in a way that is nurturing and supportive, the parenting process supports brain growth in the way of problem solving and emotional regulation. Once you notice a behavior from your child that is annoying, obnoxious, and/or unacceptable, you simply state (without yelling) what it is that you would like your child to do instead. If he/she does not comply with your request in a few seconds, you begin to count, using a firm tone of voice, eye contact, a visual prompt (holding your fingers up to coordinate with the number), and pausing in between numbers to monitor response. What happens at 3? A consequence for not favorably complying to your request.
Teaching children is much easier done when parents can learn to reduce the chatter from the peanut gallery. In other words, try to reduce criticism and judgment while getting them to meet expectations. It is very difficult to manage our frustrations while parenting, especially if it a behavior that has to be revisited over and over again. However, modeling how to keep it cool under pressure and expressing a sense of acceptance for the person behind the behavior are values that we want children to internalize.
Once a consequence is given for the negative behavior, drop it and move on pleasantly with life. Continued expressions of parental anger cause lingering feelings of guilt in our children that go beyond just the rule that was broken; it begins to feel like a personal attack. A healthy sense of self is our parenting goal. If this dynamic of forgiveness is hard to establish, it could be there is a personal feeling of intolerance within ourselves that we may be feeling. If this is the case, talking it out with your spouse, a counselor or someone you trust can help.
6. Clean it up.
Going back to the brain science again, studies show that any safe, nurturing interaction between a child and a caregiver has positive effects on the brain and how a child feels. Even if your frustrations have gotten the best of you, cleaning it up after you and your child are both calm will help to reset the relationship. Parents can have a conversation with children about how frustration can make us say and do things we don’t mean. We can teach our children to say sorry if we as parents are willing to own up and say sorry too, rather then to place blame on the other person.
Once again, as parents we are modeling another lifelong value of taking responsibility for our actions. Cleaning up does not mean we negotiate the consequence; it just means we attempt to reconnect with those we love to show them that no one is perfect and our love is unconditional. A famous line in our house is, “I do not like your behavior and even when I am mad at you, I still love you.” Once the safe connection is re-established, consequences can be calmly discussed.
7. Wait until they can get it.
I like to take the quality over quantity approach to parenting. Not every parenting moment is meant to be a teachable moment. Children must be receptive and ready to hear what you are trying to teach them. When tempers are high, children are unable to tolerate the boundary being set. Therefore, it is very effective to wait until your child is receptive, so little pauses between the rule being broken and the delivering of a consequence is way to get them to listen.
These pauses also give you an opportunity to connect with your spouse on ways to handle the negative behavior. The more they experience both parents on the same page, the more your teaching efforts will be successful. Not to mention, it just feels really good to know you and your spouse are in agreement around something as important as raising your children.
8. Love, love, and love some more.
A common misconception for parents is that they should parent the way their parents did. “My father would NEVER tolerate that.” The truth is, times are forever changing. Our kids are exposed to so much that no matter how hard we try, we cannot shield them from it all.
In order to roll with this changing world, parents need to be flexible. Certainly I am not suggesting that we sacrifice family values for the sake of change; however, we must have a plan for parenting and also identify something that we can hold onto regardless of change. That thing is LOVE—simple L-O-V-E, love. It costs nothing but has such insurmountable value to our children.
Children who feel felt, children who feel loved by their family develop brains that have a lot of potential to solve problems, help themselves and help others. Children who feel loved develop a sense of self worth that gives them courage and stability. This kind of self-worth keeps them from the things we want them to stay away from anyway. Show love through kind words, an unsolicited hug, curiosity in their interests, non-judgement, communication, expressed kindness to your spouse, being on the same page, and firm boundaries. Want until you see the closeness you can establish and how much better they will listen!
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