3 Ways to Make Parenting Simpler (and More Effective)

It feels like déjà vu to me.

Billy misbehaves, so Dad gets in his face to convince him that the behavior is unacceptable. Dad builds a case like a lawyer, spelling out as many reasons he can think of to discourage Billy from behaving that way again. Then Dad follows the evidence with sentencing. But ten minutes after Billy is out of timeout, he’s a repeat offender.

We want kids to link their actions to consequences, but bombarding them with information is giving them too many cords for one outlet. We need to simplify our process if we want to actually get through to them and inspire them to behave better.

So before you arraign your juvenile for his next infraction, slow down, and choose just one of the following responses.

Option 1: Ignore them

"Why are you ignoring me? Oh, you're too busy parenting... got it."
“Why are you ignoring me? Oh, you’re too busy parenting… got it.”

Why would you ignore somebody you love? Sometimes kids, even subconsciously, just want attention. And if their behavior gets that attention they crave, they’ll repeat that behavior.

A former mom-boss told me how she thought “What would Michael do?” when Hugo was acting out. In his tantrum, he went into the bathroom and pulled the toilet paper from the roll, calling upstairs that he had done so. Instead of scolding or punishing or reacting at all, she kept about her business. A few minutes later, Hugo began gathering the toilet paper up and calming himself down.

Ignoring isn’t necessarily a default response. The only way to ignore children appropriately is to ignore them intentionally (i.e. only in response to behaviors that are perhaps obnoxious but not unsafe). As the child learns that their destructive behavior doesn’t work, they’ll choose other (and eventually constructive) means to get your attention.

Option 2: Enforce a consequence

But some behaviors merit a consequence.

For a consequence to be effective, it must be directly related to the behavior. Taking away dessert privileges for breaking a lamp reflects the parent imposing his authority rather than informing the child of the situation, which is what we’re after. Doling out punishments inspires fear and disempowers children; developing introspective skills and awareness discourages the behavior in real, sustainable ways that can be extrapolated to future situations.

However, it is crucial to the application of a consequence that it be presented devoid of emotion. If the father is angry when he tells his daughter to clean up a mess, then the wires get crossed and she may believe she is sentenced to clean up because her dad is angry and mean, rather than realizing it’s to rectify her action.

"You have feelings too? Good to know."
“You have feelings, too? Good to know.”

Option 3: React authentically

We’re human. We react like humans. If you have an emotional reaction to something the child did, sometimes the best thing to do is to just let it out.

If you try to use this as a manipulation to manufacture some response, you are really lying to your child and yourself. But if you are truly saddened, disappointed, frustrated, or otherwise upset by something your child did, articulating that sentiment can serve as a discouragement in their mind.

A loving relationship is the reward of parenting, and if you have built that strong bond, the child won’t want to hurt your feelings. I’ll say, “I’m mad that you stretched out my shirt” or “I’m sad that you broke my Lego tank” and then Hugo can use this information to frame his perspective on how to behave.

Once you’ve chosen how you want to respond, give that response its moment to sink in.  After you see that the child has processed the situation fully, you can then open up a discussion and expand upon ideas or feelings. Or perhaps you reacted authentically in the moment but there’s still a broken lamp or errant T.P. so after a little while, it’s time for the consequence (time to clean up!) The situation may call on diverse responses, but in due time. Put simply: don’t overwhelm the child in the moment.

Overloading the child with lots of reasons he erred just dilutes each point so it’s less likely to be retained. We want the child to learn and mature, so the next moment you’re struggling to find an appropriate response to destructive behavior, make it easy on yourself and do one thing at a time.

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The Manny Ends the Debate: Should You Be Friends with your Kids?

“We’re doing the same thing!”

The online debate rages: Should you be friends with your child?

With echoes of Amy Poehler saying “I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a COOL MOM” in Mean Girls, some profess that they have to be on their child’s level to get the scoop. The caricature of these friend-parents includes allowing underage drinking, failing at jargon, and standing idly by as their kids make prodigious mistakes.

And in the red corner: the heavy-handed authoritative parents step into the ring. Like the God-fearing residents of a pre-Footloose Beaumont, they worry that if they give an inch, their child will take a mile. They clutch to their parental role as the only remaining thread of a severed rope preventing their child from plunging into the abyss of egregious deviance.

If you’re even asking yourself this question, you’re far from the reason for parenting.

It’s preposterous to think that loosening the reins will result in the child running wild and, conversely, that your child won’t open up to you if you don’t feign interest in One Direction. You can build structure and define expectations without being domineering. And you can have common interests and a repoire without being a pushover.

Your goal should be to build a RELATIONSHIP with your child. That relationship should be built on trust, respect, and communication (and those all go both ways). Aiming for or avoiding a “friendship” has no bearing on any of these pillars. The more caveats, restrictions, rules, or expectations you attach to the relationship, the more you limit what it might become.

So instead of asking whether you should be friends with your kids, why don’t you think about whether your child really knows the authentic you. Consider if you’re staring at your phone when you could be engaging with your child and whether you’re really modeling healthy behavior. We can dedicate our love and energy to more productive parenting ventures than labeling the relationship.

Things You Should Never Say To Your Kids

I never say never. But I never say these things to children:

Any Command

Authority is in direct conflict with a Practice Life Method philosophy. Our goal is to allow our children the freedom to cooperate, not to force them into submission. Issuing commands is not only verbally abrasive, but it reaffirms a tiered power-structure and invites power struggles with the child. Instead, frame things as “It’s time…” or “We need to…” to present circumstances clearly and objectively so children can understand expectations.

“You’re acting like a baby…”

I don’t believe that any particular facet of humanity is age-specific. Grown-ups can finger paint, kids can have responsibilities. Building a hierarchy based on age is discriminatory and won’t help empower your child to actually be a productive, constructive member of the family.

More specifically, comparing a child’s behavior to that of an infant’s is increasingly dangerous if there is a new baby in the home. As big sister watches and builds associations between baby brother’s behavior and the attention he gets, big sister may mimic similar immature behaviors to get attention. Then when you say “You’re acting like a baby,” all big sister thinks is “I know, that’s the point, now where’s my attention?”

Best case scenario? “Are you a baby? I thought you were a big girl,” confuses the child. Worst case scenario: you’ve crossed wires and your child doesn’t understand what’s wrong with acting like a baby, so she continues to act like one.

False Threats

We’ve all heard it. “If you don’t ___ right now, I’m gonna take your ____ away for a ____!” The child hardly winces because he knows that the parent is full of it. False threats represent an adult’s intention to parent by forced submission, which goes against our big-picture parenting goals. And, more immediately, false threats simply teach children that adults are not worth respecting because they don’t mean what they say.

“Stop crying!”

Elliott Cortez, Ph.D. says, “Telling a child not to cry is telling a child not to feel.”

My goal is for children to be outwardly expressive and internally critical with their emotions. That means they express their feelings to those around them while being mindful of what those emotions are telling them about themselves. To achieve this goal, we cannot diminish feelings or any representation of them. While I don’t allow feelings to change a circumstance—if he’s sad that he doesn’t get a toy when we go to buy a present for his friend’s birthday, that still doesn’t mean that he’s going to get one—I’m always willing to listen to him process his emotions and support as necessary.

A Lie

When Leslie Knope tells her triplets that “peas turn into cupcakes in their tummies” it may seem like a harmless little fib. But as we get to “Don’t go into the garage, there’s a boogey-man out there!” then it’s a little clearer to see that our white lies might do some damage. If you create boogey-men, you are inventing something for the child to fear. And at that point, what are you expecting to happen when you eventually do ask her to go out to the garage?

To avoid stepping over the line, don’t draw the line at all. A lie to get a child to (or not to) do something is a manipulation and circumvents reality (not what PLM aims to accomplish because we are striving for mindfulness).

If she shouldn’t go in the garage right now, then “The garage is closed.” And eating veggies should be implicitly expected and structurally supported. The Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa can still come around (tradition has its own merits), but full out lying is unnecessary and obtrusive to parenting.

 

Our words should be a clear representation of reality. If we can accurately articulate circumstances and our emotions, then maybe, just maybe, our children will use communication, not as a crude tool, but as an authentic means of expression.