Parenting is difficult.
Every day we face new parenting challenges. Our children test and push boundaries, and as parents, we have to maintain our cool in the face of frustration. Ultimately, the parenting decisions we make in these anxious situations are not nearly as important as the process of staying calm, responding thoughtfully and choosing the response consciously.
Here are some tips to help save your sanity in those "pull-your-hair-out" moments:
1. Give your kids some space.
If they're in a bad mood and they storm up to their room, leave them alone. If they have a falling-out with a friend who left them, let them be. If your toddler wants to pet a friendly dog, step back and let them without hovering. Kids need space to grow. Often, our anxiety kicks in and convinces us that they need us to intervene. Most times, they don't.
2. Silence is your friend.
Silence is far more effective than yelling. For example, are you tired of the kids fighting in the back seat of the car? Try this approach: Say nothing! Pull over when it's safe to do so. Take out a book, magazine or newspaper that you will be keeping under the driver's seat for this purpose only. Start reading. Stay totally silent. When the kids question why you have stopped, simply ask (in the calmest and least sarcastic voice you have), "Are you done fighting?" Once they are quiet, resume driving. If you have very stubborn kids, it may require you to find a park so you can actually get out of the car and read on a bench. Average time to stop fighting is about 15 seconds to two minutes. Works 100 percent of the time! If you do this a few times consistently (yes, it will be inconvenient and you may be late for something), you will abolish fighting in the backseat forever!
3. Stop the power struggle with "that's OK."
Parents are in never-ending power struggles with kids. At the top of the list is homework. Newsflash: homework is not your problem! We get so stressed because when our kids forget their homework, don't complete their homework or don't take their homework seriously, somehow we believe this is our problem. Why? If they don't want to do it, simply say, "That's OK." Because it is. They just can't do anything else until they do. No TV, computer, playdates, dinner, soccer practice, dance class, etc. Take a peaceful "that's OK, it's your choice" attitude and be willing to follow through. This may mean that if homework isn't done, they made the choice not to go to soccer that night. That's OK. Have them call the coach to explain why they can't make it to the game (or the party or the practice or wherever). Let them take personal responsibility for their choices and their consequences.
4. Clearly communicate expectations and consequences. Behavior issues often arise because expectations and consequences aren't clear. For example, are you having trouble getting your child to wake up in the morning and get downstairs on time? No worries. First, stop fighting with them. Fighting gets you BOTH off to a miserable start on an otherwise glorious day. Decide what you want from them. What time is reasonable for them to be downstairs and ready to go? After you get clear, let them know the new rule and the consequence if they break it. "Johnny, starting tomorrow, you are responsible for getting yourself up and downstairs in the morning. If you aren't downstairs by 8 a.m., that's OK, but you won't be able to go out after school. And if you miss the bus, that's OK, but you won't be able to watch TV or play on the computer. You will, however, get another chance tomorrow." If you can simply follow through without lecturing or yelling, the behavior will stop within a few days.
5. Use terms of endearment to lighten the load. When I am still in control, but on the verge of losing patience with my children, I bring myself back from the brink by ending requests with an endearing term of the day. My personal favorite, most fun, and most recent discovery is "Doll." "I asked you five times to empty the dishwasher, Doll." It may sound silly, but it works. It reminds us that the person we are angry with, and with whom we are about to lose control, is also our precious, dearest loved one. "I just tripped over your shoes that are in the middle of the floor, Hon. Can you pick them up now, Sweetheart?" The trick here is to not sound sarcastic, which is my personal challenge.
The reality is that many parents spend too much energy trying to manage the minute details of their children's lives, striving for perfection but reluctant to provide their children with opportunities to make their own decisions and bear responsibility for their own choices. We want our children to become responsible, mature, decision-making adults and the only way to make that happen is to let them make their own choices while they are young and live with the consequences that follow.
Kids are frequently told what to eat, what to wear, how to handle tough situations with friends or teachers, when to do their homework, etc. Parents are always doing things for them that they can do for themselves. However, there is no other way to create mature adults who can make decisions than to let our children do so under our supervision. Let's replace "I'll take care of it" with an enthusiastic and encouraging "You can do this!" Your children will thank you (many years from now, of course). Be patient.