It happens. You walk into a room and it appears all hell has broken loose. Chips have been crushed and ground into every piece of carpeting and furniture. Your walls have been colored on and the wet stain on the cushion was not likely left there by the dog. “Junior!!!!!!” you yell so loud that Fido runs cowering into the corner while Junior dives under the bed to avoid detection. Mind you this is a completely different experience than you had imagined when Junior made his debut into the world. In your imagination, Junior was the perfect child wearing matching clothes and playing harmlessly with toy trains. Not a child covered in dirt and prone to tantrums. You, yourself were also perfect in this imaginary world. You showed no signs of sleep deprivation, had clearly showered, and did throw tantrums either.
Sure it would be great if our children arrived in the world without barbaric tendencies as well as knowing how to say “please” and “thank you” — but they don’t. They hit, bite, steal, eat their boogers, poop in their pants, and engage in a myriad of destructive, impulsive, non-awesome behaviors. As their older, wiser, parents it is incumbent on us to teach them how to manage these destructive impulses so that they are well equipped to go out into the world and not get undone by their own doing. As the world’s sages have told us, our ability to regulate our own actions is the key to a happy life.
Self-discipline is what keeps us from eating our way to a heart-attack, drinking our way to oblivion, and sleeping our way to a divorce. We respect ourselves more when we are in control of who we are, which is why holding on to that internal picture of yourself is important. As children we learn to be disciplined from our parents. A parent’s voice is the first voice children hear teaching them the difference between right and wrong. It is no surprise that many of us internalize our parent’s voice and play it back in our minds many years later. Here are three tips to make sure that the voice your children hear inside their heads has massages worth repeating — messages that will help them grow into their awesomeness:
Tip 1: Hold your child accountable for both good and bad.
To keep being heard by your children and not get ignored requires a careful balance of discipline and complements. Yes, children need to be corrected for errant behaviors, however they also need to have their good behaviors acknowledged as well. Too much praise leaves them without the ability to identify their own areas of growth, and too much criticism leads them to thinking they can’t do anything right. Both praise and criticism can be done simply by stating facts. If your child crumbles cookies on the sofa, it is not required that you yell, curse, or beat your chest, though all might feel like the most appropriate thing to do. It is possible to simply say “you made a mess so now you need to clean it up.” As Yoda pointed out, “Remember, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they.” Often when you are parenting the dark side of our nature is barely under the surface and always seems more readily accessible than the Force. Regardless of which side you draw from, Junior needs to clean up his mess because whether we are young or old we all need to clean up our own messes. The quicker Junior learns this, the better for society in general. As a parent you can help clean but even a two year old quickly learns that cleaning up chip crumbles is not worth the price of the fun had making the mess. This works for potty training accidents too.
On the flip side, when a child does something well such as matching their clothes, using good manners, using the potty, studying hard, or clearing their dishes, recognize their efforts. “Thanks for being such a great helper/hardworker/etc..!” This feedback is helpful in teaching children what you want from them and allows the Force to move more fully into your life.
Tip 2: Tell your children what you WANT.
Well-meaning parents often say “Don’t spill your juice.” instead of saying, “Hold your juice with two hands.” When possible avoid using the word “Don’t.” Instead, say what you want them to do. Clear instructions are easier to understand and produce better results. For example, replace “Don’t wet your pants” with “Use the potty when you need to go pee-pee.” Or, “don’t fall” with “look where you are going.” Or, “Don’t do drugs” with “keep your mind clear and stay in control of your actions.” The more simply you can say something, the more likely it is to work and keep Junior on his path to awesomeness.
Tip 3: Make sure you both understand each other’s point of view.
As parents we are in a prime position to impose our will upon our kids. We are bigger, stronger, and know more (sometimes). Yet here is the rub: Though they are puny and uneducated as to the ways of the world, kids are actually smaller versions of the adults they will become. They are people, just people in smaller bodies. The best rule when dealing with a kid is to ask if you would like to be treated the way you are treating them. Do not fall into the crazy trap of citing your parent’s lack of parenting skills as an excuse for your own. You are writing your own story.
If a ‘timeout’ is necessary, tell your children why you are putting them into timeout. For a two year old, one sentence is fine. At the end of ‘timeout’ have them repeat the reason to you so everyone is completely clear on how to avoid going into timeout again. Small children do not need a full briefing. “I’m putting you in time out because you did not listen to me when I told you to stay close to me.” Is just fine. When using timeout base the amount of time they are ‘out’ on their age – 2 years equals 2 minutes, 7 years equals 7 minutes. When time out is done, talk over what happened. Ask: “Do you know why I put you in timeout?” Make sure they understand their role in causing the consequence. Along those lines you can also ask kids what consequences they think are appropriate for certain actions. Recently my four year old nephew wanted to run as fast as he could with a sharp stick in his hand. Rather than telling him he might fall and poke his eye out I told him he needed to let me hold it so both he and the stick stayed safe. Then I asked him an appropriate consequence if he ran with it and he said, “Auntie Kristin put me in time-out.” I never had to because he gave it to me, but if I did, there would not have been much drama because we had an agreement.
Truthfully, these three tips work with all kids regardless of whether they are two or forty-two. These are just good rules for living.
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