Every parent dreads the nights where bedtime seems to last forever. We go through our bedtime routine, read books, snuggle, and say goodnight and within minutes they are back up. The list of bedtime requests can be seemingly endless, from a drink of water to a missing snuggle to a suddenly discovered splinter. I believe one time our daughter asked if we could make the birds stop chirping. Sometimes, you can even watch them ponder what they should ask for next.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a bit of a mismatch between parent and child needs at this time of the day. Parents are ready to say goodnight, get their own chores done and possible have a little time to relax. Kids are finally winding down, have enjoyed the connection with us during bedtime and want more of that special time together.
While periods of bedtime whack-a-mole are absolutely normal, they can make for frustrated parents and exhausted kids. Often, it’s a matter of providing some gentle reminders to our children on what bedtime and nighttime are for and some boundaries to help them stick to their part of the solution. Here are some tips to help you through this common parenting challenge.
Start With A Conversation
Before kids (and adults) are willing to try something different, they need to feel heard. Therefore, starting off with a conversation where you listen, empathize, and validate what your child might be feeling, is critical to gaining their cooperation.
Ask questions that help you understand your child’s perspective. You can show empathy by sharing a time when you had a hard time sleeping or when you felt lonely, or when you were a child and didn't want to go to bed. Stick to how he might be feeling/how you felt at first. Our tendency is to quickly move on to how their actions impact us. By taking the time to listen first, we are much more likely to invite cooperation instead of rebellion.
Find A Solution Together
Now that your child has had some time to feel heard at a calm time, you can move on to problem solving together. Remind your child about the problem with a quick validation of feelings:
"Remember when we talked about what might be hard for you about going to bed/staying in bed? We totally get it, and we can't make you sleep. That is totally up to you. We do need to figure out how we can solve this problem though. Parents have their chores to do after bedtime so our family can be ready for the next day, and during the night we need our sleep so we are rested and ready for a good day."
Then you might ask, "You are really good at solving problems. I wondered if you had any ideas of how we can solve this problem of needing lots of things at bedtime and wanting us to come in during the night?"
Depending on the age of your child, they may come up with some great ideas by themselves, or you can offer a few possible solutions. Here are some favorites that have worked for many families I have worked with, including my own.
1) Create A Bedtime Box. Share with your child that while they may not be able to go right to sleep, perhaps a box of special items to play with while they get ready to sleep could help them stay in bed. Find a shoebox and decorate the outside together. Then, have your child pick out some special items to have in their bed so they have everything they need to feel safe and cozy at bedtime. Maybe a few books, a flashlight, a favorite toy or two and a lovey. At bedtime, ask them what they can do if they are having a hard time sleeping. Likely, they will be excited to have their new special bedtime box and that will keep them occupied for a few nights and break the whack-a-mole cycle.
2) Bedtime Request Tickets. This is one of my favorites, and a good parenting tool to keep in mind. Sometimes, just saying yes to the behavior is the surest way to see it disappear. Bedtime tickets operate on this principle. Your child gets a certain number of tickets/passes to use at bedtime for those extra requests that pop up after we have said goodnight. Then when requests are made, they trade in a ticket. We follow through with the request with kindness, no lecture about getting up, how many tickets are left, etcetera. They get all their tickets back the next night at bedtime to use again.
You might say, “I know sometimes you need things after bed, and that is fine. How about we make some tickets you can use to get those extras after bed. How many do you think you need, one or two?” You might want to start the bidding lower than you think they might need so when they say, three, you can say, “Hmm, three, I think we could do that.” Right there, you are yielding and they are getting an opportunity to feel some personal control, leading to greater cooperation. Next, use index cards or paper to decorate your bedtime tickets together.
It is helpful to get clear in our mind ahead of time on how many bedtime tickets you feel comfortable with. It is also helpful to discuss with your child any boundaries you may have on what tickets can be used for. For example, if snacks are not an acceptable request at bedtime, that should be made clear when discussing how to use them.
3) Extra Love Under the Pillow. I think this one works because it is about validating their feelings that it can be hard to say goodnight and sometimes they miss us. At bedtime, tuck a whole bunch of extra hugs and kisses under the pillow and remind your child that when they need an extra one, they can grab one out from under their pillow. Silliness is key to this one. On a similar note, The Kissing Hand is a wonderful book that operates on this same concept of giving your child a ritual for feeling connected to you even when you are not present.
4) Brainstorm What Your Child CAN Do When They Can’t Sleep. So often, we spend time telling our kids what they can’t do and forget that they might need help recognizing what they can do. Make a list together of what your child can do if they can’t fall asleep or wake up and feel lonely or scared. Possibilities include looking at a book, counting sheep or their favorite stuffy, going on an imaginary trip in his mind, snuggling with a particular stuffy or blanket, reaching under his pillow for an extra hug or kiss, and using their bedtime box or tickets.
Keys to Success
The actual solution chosen is less important than the way we use it. Here are some tips for using solutions effectively:
Let the child choose the solution and involve them in the process. When kids are involved in the process, they are so much more likely to cooperate and follow through on their part. Put your own solution on hold so that your child really has a chance to participate.
Get clear on the logistics. Talk about how you will use whatever solution is chosen. Discuss any boundaries you have on how they may be used, what things you will help with regardless (if your child is sick), what they can take care of for themselves (going potty, getting a tissue), and any other potential situations that may come up.
Practice, Practice, Practice. You don’t need to wait until bedtime to try our your new solution. Children love to role-play, and this gives both you and your child some practice with how things will be before the situation occurs.
Review the plan at bedtime. As you are getting ready for bed, take a moment and review your plan together. Instead of telling your child what your agreed plan is before bed, try asking. "I am really excited to our new bedtime box (or tickets or whatever plan you have agreed upon). I can't remember though; what's our plan for how to use them?” Then, wait for your child to answer. You might add, “Oh, that's right...and what will you do if you need to go potty? And if you can't sleep and want a hug?” Having your child do the reminding helps them take ownership of their part of the solution.
Then quickly and kindly remind him or her of your part. “I have my part too. Let’s see if I have this right. If you call us after you use your tickets, I am not going to come in because I know even though its hard, you are ok and have everything you need to get through the night. I can't wait to see you in the morning and hear about all of the things you did to take care of yourself.”
Follow Through! It is so important that we keep our word. It’s even more important that we keep our word using kindness and firmness. That might look like a quick reminder "What was our plan for what would happen at bedtime? Time to go back to bed now." Then calmly walk them back to their room. If they keep coming out, walking them back without saying anything or simply pointing towards their room are both options. Avoid lecturing as this just gets both parent and child riled up and the child gets a whole lot of attention anyway. I know this part can be hard. It might involve tag teaming with your partner so one person can go for a walk when they feel they are no longer able to do this calmly.
We are trying to be kind and respectful to our kids, while also holding firm on the boundaries we have set and communicated to them. If we do this consistently, the behavior often goes away quite quickly.
What if the solution didn’t work? If things don't go well on any given night, a very short, calm discussion the next day can be helpful. For example, "I notice that after you used your tickets last night, you called for us a few more times." Then just pause and see if your child says anything. You can add, "I know this is new so it may take us a bit to get the hang of. Looking forward to trying again tonight." or "I bet you felt sad when we didn't come in again." That's it. We often add lecture and rehashing at this point and that just puts kids on the defensive. So, keep it short and kind.
If your new plan doesn’t seem to be working at all, its time to back to the drawing board. Again, avoiding blame is important. You might say, “It seems like our solution didn’t work. Let’s look at the ideas we came up with before and see which other one we would like to try.” When we avoid blaming and shaming, we keep kids feeling connected and willing to try again.
It’s okay for your child to be sad or mad. Remember that believing in your child's ability to handle being sad or mad, is what builds resilience. When you start off with validation and empathy, involve your child in problem solving, and then follow through with kindness and firmness, letting him be sad or mad is not the same as ignoring or punishing. Instead, it sends the message that each member of the family is important and we each have a role to play. You believe in your child and know they can play their part.
When we rescue kids from their hard feelings by either going back on our word and trying to make the hard feeling go away OR we punish in an attempt to make them pay for their behavior, the long term message we send kids is that we don't believe they can handle their feelings.
It really is amazing what our kids will do when we give them the chance to rise to the occasion. Remember that change takes time, and mistakes along the way are opportunities to learn and grow. Whack-a-mole nights will happen, but hopefully these tips can limit your game playing to the arcade instead of the home.
It’s Not Fair! Ever heard those words from your child? Remember saying them yourself? With two children in the home, I have the opportunity to hear that whiny jingle quite frequently. If you have missed this opportunity, park yourself outside an ice cream shop and count how many times you hear that phrase as children pass by.
Why is this the go to phrase? What are they really saying? And, how do I respond with something other than the dreaded, “Life isn’t fair, son?"
Why Do They Say It?
Imagine if your boss held the power to decide what you ate, when you ate, who you sat next to while you ate, and whether or not you got a treat at the end. Not only that, but the person at the cubicle next to you gets to have a longer lunch break because they are older than you. What might you say to yourself, your boss, or anyone else you can find? All together now, “It’s Not Fair.”
In previous posts, including this one on clothing conflicts, I discuss how children sometimes feel powerless. So much is decided for them that at times, they just have had enough. It’s not all about being “controlled” though. Families who have worked to find constructive uses of power for children, giving them choices and involving them in decision making, still hear those three little words.
One of the most common times we hear this phrase is when our children think someone else is getting something that they are not. Someone else gets to stay up later, someone else doesn’t have to eat broccoli, and someone else gets to have ice cream. Even worse is when the other person is a sibling!
I believe there are two key reasons why kids (and adults) go to this phrase:
1) We are born with a belief that this is a just world, where every person is worthy of having their needs met. Yes, we grow up and realize that, sadly, we won’t get all of our needs met all of the time, but down deep, we want to believe the world is just.
2) We compare. One of the earliest ways babies make sense of their world is through sorting. We continue doing this comparing throughout life as a check-in, asking ourselves, am I normal? Am I loved the same? Am I worthy of what that person is worthy of? Siblings seem to be the perfect specimen for comparing ourselves to.
Jane Nelson, of Positive Discipline, says it so well: “Children are great observers, but poor interpreters.” They pick up on subtle nuances that many adults miss, but they often have mistaken beliefs as to why something is happening. A sibling having a later bedtime might be interpreted as, “Mom and dad want more time with my brother than me.” If that is the child’s belief, you can imagine the number of times you will hear “It’s not fair!”
As adults, we know that fair does not mean equal. We know that judging ourselves and others usually leads to feeling worse instead of better, and creates a competitive environment instead of a cooperative one.
Here’s something else adults know: Life is, in fact, unfair. We know this from the horrible injustices that occur all around us. We shield our children from this though. We avoid the hard conversations; we don’t want them to ask why some children are born in to poverty and violence.
I think one of the reasons “It’s not fair” pushes our buttons so much as parents is that we look at our kids and think, “do you even understand how fortunate we are to have what we have?” The problem is, we have a role in this too. As we do things for our kids that they are capable of doing for themselves, as we rescue them from difficult emotions and never let them fail, they never get to see that life is full of challenges. Even more importantly, they miss the opportunity to develop resilience-the tools to handle hard emotions and the belief in one’s ability to use those skills.
What Are They Really Saying?
Let’s think about it. Picture in your mind some little thing that seemed unfair to you recently. Maybe your boss picked a coworker to take the lead on a project and you were hoping for that role. While our inner child believes, “it’s not fair,” the truth is we are experiencing a feeling. That feeling often appears to be anger or jealousy. What lies underneath the anger is something different: fear.
Somewhere in our brains, our sense of safety is threatened. We are afraid someone is loved more than us. What could possibly be worse than wondering if your parents love your sibling more than you? This plays out in all of those situations where we feel powerless and out of control. Thinking to ourselves, "someone else is deciding my fate." Feeling the fear doesn’t mean that we rationally believe in it. Nevertheless, in that moment, the feeling is there.
We don’t like feeling afraid though. It feels well, scary! It feels overwhelming and powerless. To many of us, anger feels better. It feels powerful. Jealousy and judgment feel more powerful too, so its pretty easy to see why we go to those feelings first.
Let me guess, you are saying to yourself, “My child does not seem scared, she seems needy and helpless.” Sometimes it seems those 3 words are code for “I am not getting what I want and I don’t like it.” I think these still have a deep down fear attached. It goes back to that overdoing for our kids, and the mistaken belief that comes from doing too much for them. Our children start believing that the way to feel connected and loved is to have us providing special service for them. Imagine what happens when we finally hit our wall and say, “No.” If they believe our "Yes" is the same as "I love you," then "No" is pretty hard to swallow. Their feelings of safety are threatened; they don’t like that, and out comes those words. Is it playing in your head yet? “It’s Not Fair!”
Bottom line, “It’s Not Fair,” is actually a code for “I am feeling scared.” Do our kids know that’s what they mean? Most likely, the deeper fear is not a conscious thought for them. Even as adults, we often don’t realize that the same thing is happening in our moments of jealousy and “poor me”.
How much better could we respond if we tuned in to the actual feeling behind those words? I know my body feels completely different in response to “I’m Scared,” than it does to “It’s Not Fair.”
How Do I Respond?
So now we have a better understanding of why they say it and what the underlying feeling might be. Here are some tips for how to respond in the moment, and how to help your child work through their feelings.
Create a family culture where each family member feels connected and know their thoughts and feelings matter. You can do this through family meetings, including children in problem solving and decision making, practicing active listening skills and making sure the message of love gets through even when kids make mistakes. When children, and adults for that matter, feel a sense of belonging and significance, they feel less helpless and more of an active participant in life.
Give your child opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways. Remember that, “It’s Not Fair” comes from a place of feeling powerless and scared. Giving our children more responsibility allows them to have some constructive use of power. I am continually amazed how cooperation increases and whining decreases when we up the level of chores our kids help with. Our children get to pick a significant new chore on their birthday each year, and they really look forward to having a greater sense of ownership in their home and life.
Show Empathy. "It’s Not Fair" usually comes with a diatribe about how Johnny gets to eat five scoops of ice cream every night and your poor son only got one. Start by reflecting back the underlying feeling that your child is expressing.
Sounds like you really are enjoying that ice cream and wish you could have more.
Sounds like you are feeling angry that you didn’t get as much ice cream as you wanted.
Avoid the Urge to Lecture. Start with one empathetic statement and let it sit. So often, we just keep talking. We go on to how Johnny’s family has different rules or how you know Johnny’s parents and you know they wouldn’t give him that much ice cream.
What happens next? Well, we negated the nice empathetic statement we made by telling him why there is no reason to feel what he is feeling. The child then needs to defend their feelings and continues to whine about the lack of humanity you have shown by giving him only one scoop. Next thing you know, you are quite angry yourself and the next comment may sound like, “Life isn’t fair, and you are lucky you are getting ice cream at all!”
Sound familiar? We get ourselves in to trouble when we keep talking instead of just taking a moment to hear our kid and reflect back. We want to rationally explain why there is no need to be upset about this, how it’s just not a big deal, or if they would just stop complaining and do X, we could get over this already.
What happened the last time your partner tried that with you? Most of us can relate to times when we really just need some support and a listening ear, and our partner or close friend goes in to problem solving mode. They tell you it really isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe you are mistaken and your boss doesn’t like your coworker more. Are you sure you are not just overreacting? If you are like many of us, when that happens, we feel dismissed and unheard. This makes us dig deeper in to our perspective and defend our feelings. If instead, we are met with a listening ear and an empathetic statement, we are often able to let go of the negative feeling or at least feel supported in it.
Trust Your Child’s Ability to Handle Discomfort
Your child may continue complaining and trying to change the outcome of the situation. Your job is to stay out of negotiating in the moment, unless you are really open to changing the outcome.
You can continue to offer more empathy, share a time where you felt that something was really unfair, offer to help them explore how they can solve the problem, or ask if this is something they would like to put on the family meeting list to discuss at a calmer time.
It’s hard to see our children upset, and this is another place we can get stuck as parents. If we view our job as making our kids happy, it is easy to give in to every demand in an attempt to make their difficult feelings go away. Unfortunately, this sends our children the message that we too believe they are helpless and can’t handle the discomfort they are feeling.
The conversation might look like this:
Child: It’s not fair; Sara gets to stay up later than I do! Why does she always get to do more than me?
Parent: Sounds like you are feeling angry that you have an earlier bedtime than your sister.
Child: I should get to stay up that late too! I want to stay up until she goes to bed tonight.
Parent: I remember that my brother got to stay up later than me, and it bothered me too.
Child: (crying) So then why are you doing this to me? Please mom, please let me stay up tonight?
Parent: I know you are upset, and its time for bed. I'm looking forward to reading to you when you are in your PJs.
At this point, your child may be upset, and it can be hard to see. Trust them. Trust them that they can be mad, sad, jealous, or any other emotion and they will get through it. They will be ok, and so will you. You can still be empathetic to their feelings, without letting go of the boundaries on their behavior. Instead, we can spend our energy focusing on managing our own anxiety and frustration in the face of their emotions. Not only do they get to flex those resiliency muscles, they learn that we believe in them and that helps them believe in themselves.
Pay Attention to How You Handle Disappointment and Frustration. We are all going to have moments when the world just seems to be spinning without us and life really feels unfair. Sometimes we need a moment to wallow in it, and that’s ok.
It’s important to keep in mind though that children learn so much more from what we do than from what we say. If we regularly model responding to life’s stressors with anger, pessimism, and blame, we can expect our kids to do the same.
If instead, we acknowledge our feelings and then think of ways to reframe the situation in a positive perspective, we teach our children how to do that as well. Focusing on the positive helps us feel empowered instead of hopeless, and models for our kids resilience in action.
Have a Conversation Around Fairness. This is a worthwhile conversation for all families, whether you hear the "It’s Not Fair" whine often or not. Share with each other what your definition of fair is. Ask the children what fair means to them. Share times that you felt jealous or that life was unfair and what helped you move through those feelings.
Who decides what is fair may be an interesting discussion question, as well. Do parents decide? Do we each decide for ourselves? Does it matter if someone else says its fair when we feel differently?
Our family has had multiple conversations about the difference between “fair” and “the same.” For example, if one child goes to bed earlier than the other, its not identical, but it likely may be fair because the younger child requires more sleep than the older child. We define fair in our family as each person getting what they need, not necessarily getting the same thing. If one person needs new shoes because they outgrew theirs, it doesn’t mean the other gets a new pair then too. What we think our kids need and what they think they need, is not always the same, and that’s often the spot that feels unfair to them.
This conversation is most helpful when NOT in the midst of a major "It's Not Fair" meltdown from child or parent. Small discussions in calm moments can help your children develop their own concept of justice, which will grow and change along with their own development.
So next time you hear, “It’s Not Fair,” slow down and think about the emotion your child is having. This gives us the opportunity to step out of our own ideas of fairness and help them develop resilience in the face of difficulty.
As each school year starts, I watch parents and children struggle with morning drop offs. Children are in tears; parents shift rapidly between both anger and guilt. Parents are ready to start their own day and after the first few days of challenging drop offs, are beginning to lose patience. At the same time, they are often feeling guilty about leaving their children when they are upset.
I have had my own fair share of challenging drop offs over the years. The worst was when I was early in my second pregnancy, and my 2 year old had just started preschool two mornings a week. She cried, I cried; yet finally the teacher, bless her, made me leave. I looked back only to see my daughter pounding on the window saying, “don’t leave me.” I was sure that I was dooming her to years of therapy due to severe abandonment issues. I spent the next three hours contemplating my failures as a mom along with doubt about my ability to handle two when I couldn’t handle one.
And then I went to pick her up. Her teacher, skilled with first time parents such as myself, let me know my daughter had stopped crying approximately 20 seconds after I drove away. From then on, she was a happy camper. My daughter greeted me with smiles and hugs, excited to tell me about her morning at school. It was as if the drop off from hell hadn’t even happened for her. Well, I was sure glad I worried about that one all morning!
Yes, transitions are hard. Drop offs can be filled with intense emotions. Never the less, there are ways we can make it easier for all. If the school year has been filled with disaster drop offs, take a look at these tips to ease the stress for all.
1) Believe in your child, check in with yourself.
The biggest thing parents can do is to manage their own anxiety around the transition. Kids often do fine in new environments, with new routines and schedules. It’s us parents that tend to stress about it. Our children often pick up on that stress and this can make the adjustment harder for them. It’s not only ok, but perfectly normal to feel nervous about a new school or sad about how fast your child is growing. Find support for yourself so you can be present for your child’s emotions.
2) Visit and talk about school ahead of time.
Most schools will be happy to have you visit with your child before they start. Even driving or walking by a few times and pointing it out can be helpful. Reading books about school and talking with your child about what they can expect will help them be ready for that first day.
3) Let Your People Go!
It’s tempting to stick around hoping your child will stop crying. It’s also tempting to sneak out thinking that will be easier for your child. However, neither of these strategies work well. The long drawn out goodbyes increase the anxiety in our children, and the quick sneak out plays in to their greatest fears about being left. Instead, create a goodbye ritual with your child, give those last hugs and kisses and tell them you can’t wait to see them after school. Then leave!
As was the case with my own child, I have watched many children stop crying within seconds of their caregiver leaving. It’s the actual separating that can be hard for children. Once they know they are staying, they usually jump right in to the fun. Keep in mind that teachers are amazingly skilled at handling these transitions and can often do their job better once you are on your way.
Remember this is a transition. As I discussed in Easing In, giving your child and yourself time to adjust is essential. It may be bumpy, but your ability to stay calm and model persistence will go a long way to helping your child do the same.
The most dangerous stickers out there are the ones you see on sticker charts. Yep, you heard that right. Sticker charts can actually do more harm than good if you can believe it. Why you might ask? Well, if you read Beyond Praise a few weeks back about the negative effects of praise you might have some insight as to why stickers might be the reason your kids aren’t doing what you want them to.
Based on the work of Alfie Kohn and Carol Dweck, research has found that sticker charts, rewards, and bribes actually manipulate kids, create reward/praise junkies, steal a child’s pleasure, decrease motivation or interest, and in regards to academics reduces achievement. And, stickers are not the only dangerous means of getting children to do what we want. There are marble jars, ribbons, stars, trophies, and sweet treats that are equally at fault.
So why do parents use sticker charts? Quite honestly, those that I see use them have not had the opportunity to try other means of supporting or encouraging their children. Many parents are winging it and rely on the practices of the good ole days when mom or teacher used a sticker chart with them. I too had a sticker chart! My sticker chart was used way back in Mrs. Robb’s 3rd grade class when I won a trip to Chuck E Cheese for filling up my star chart, and it was awesome! The problem is I cannot remember what I did to earn those stars for some reason. The point I am trying to make is that kids get focused on the prize, and the lesson or skill we want to establish or reinforce is lost. The stars or stickers are just external motivators that get kids to do what we want, but do not help encourage our kids to be the kind of people we want them to be.
I think what it comes down to, are two questions: What are you really trying to teach and what is the message you want to send? Is the lesson “you must have all your toys put away when I say so” or is it “you need to learn to take responsibility for your own belongings”? Based on our experience working with hundreds of families we would argue that parents really want their kids to learn to be responsible. Unfortunately, a sticker chart cannot teach that. It is a short-term solution to gain compliance, but not a long-term strategy to instilling the traits, characteristics, and qualities that we want to engender in your children. The research has found that kids who are raised on rewards and sticker charts are more self centered, materialistic, and are more easily influenced by peers, money, and recognition.
Sticker charts can actually work against you, making them an even more dangerous means of getting kids to comply. Stickers or rewards can backfire and end up draining both your time and energy. One of the messages we are sending when using rewards and stickers is that you get rewarded for doing the things I want you to do and there is room for negotiation. When children become sophisticated enough in your practices, they often will reply to your requests with, “What are you going to give me or do for me if I ….?” or “Why should I?” There is a real “What’s in it for me” attitude that tends to develop. And they also become skilled negotiators because when we use a reward or sticker, there is a negotiation taking place. “If you do what I want or ask you get a sticker!” One of the most common complaints that we hear from the parents of school age children is that their kids continue to negotiate and manipulate and it drives them crazy. Well guess what, these kids were not born with this skill. They learned these skills from the adults in their life. So if you don’t want your child to negotiate and manipulate you constantly, you need to stop modeling and teaching it to your children. When you take a step back and look at the use of sticker charts with a wider lens, it is easy to see how using sticker charts are actually a means of teaching the fine art of negotiation.
Parenting is hard work and requires our constant involvement and attention. Using tools like sticker charts, rewards or bribes are short cuts that can get our kids to do what we want, but it does not get us to the end result we really want. The ideal end result being respectful, thoughtful, responsible, and empathetic children. Rewards will produce short term results like put clothes away or brush your teeth. But even those results can and will quickly disappear once the sticker or praise is removed or is no longer provided.
So, what is a parent supposed to do if sticker charts are not the most effective way to help and teach children? There are lots of ways to help children become respectful responsible young people. Here are just a few strategies and ideas that you might find helpful:
1) If you are concerned about getting kids to bed and getting them out the door in the morning, using the routine or responsibility charts that we discussed last March can help kids become responsible for themselves by acting as a tool to keep themselves on track
2) If you need kids to follow through on a request made, how you ask can make all the difference. Check out some of the ideas shared in You’re Not The Boss of Me!
3) And if you find it challenging to get your child to be respectful, use their best manners or feel empathy when they have hurt another, thinking about how we teach these skills is important. We addressed this issue in Liar, Liar Pants On Fire: Making Kids Say Sorry When They Don’t Actually Mean It!
Ideally, you want to have a plan in place that reflects your family’s values that includes tools, strategies, and responses to anything your child brings you. This plan is most effective when is it planned in advance, well thought out, and is delivered by a parent who can be both kind and firm. Staying connected, calm, and respectful is the key to any parenting response. We don’t actually have to make kids feel worse in order for them to do better. It is just the opposite: kids do better, when they feel better. In addition, when they feel good from the inside, based on their own moral compass, they can do amazing things. Give your kids the opportunity to be successful and they will amaze and delight you!
The first thing we can do to ensure everyone is having fun is making sure everyone is getting enough SLEEP. It is fine to stay up past bedtime every now and then, but sleep deprivation can often be the culprit when kids are uncooperative, whiny, cranky or just a straight up ugly mess. Last summer in our Maintaining Sleep Schedules post we talked about making changes when needed, creating an environment that is conducive to sleep and eliminating disruptive sleep behaviors. The research has shown that kids rack up sleep debt if they are not getting enough sleep. Just losing 20 minutes of sleep 3 days in a row can significantly affect cognition – the ability to learn and process. The research has also found that IQ levels can actually drop a grade level or two. It is important to keep structure while being flexible. Just remember that we cannot expect our children to function properly a day or two after staying up late, especially when they have been up late a few days in a row.
Maintaining STRUCTURE and consistency in your days this summer will not only ensure that the summer activities go more smoothly, but will also help the transition back to school in the fall. The easiest way to keep some structure in place is to stick to morning and bedtime routines as closely as you can. In March, we shared some ideas on creating Routine Charts and Banishing Breakfast Battles. Sadly, these issues do not resolve themselves because our children have more flexibility in their daily routines. Routines not only help maintain sanity, but they also give children a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline. Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments, helps avoid power struggles, and helps us as parents maintain consistency in expectations. Now, who does not want that?!
The last thing you can do to maintain your family’s sanity and have more fun this summer is: LIMIT THE SUGAR! A handful of studies have shown that sugar has a huge impact on a child’s behavior. Some even consider it to be toxic. Sugar is a treat and can be consumed every once and a while, but should not be a staple in your child’s diet. Studies have shown that consuming the amount of sugar in just one can of cola can suppress the immune system, can induce hyperactivity and aggression in children and also decrease a child’s learning performance. (Note: These studies are not conclusive. There are also a handful of studies that show sugar has no effect on behavior. You know your child, so you decide how much of an impact it has on your child)
What we do know for sure it that a high level of sugar consumption does promote obesity and diabetes. Your child will probably not develop the newly diagnosed “disease,” obesity, or diabetes this summer but the ongoing consumption of these treats starts laying the foundation for these diseases. Consistent consumption of sugar will lead to sugar cravings, and the more your child eats sugar the more they will want it. So, be mindful of all the treats that are available to your child and make the choice to limit how much and how often they can indulge. You will be glad you did and their growing bodies will too!
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On occasion, GROW Parenting will answer reader questions on our blog. We choose questions based on the issues we frequently hear about from families we work with. In today’s post, I answer a parent’s question regarding potty training their three year old.
Dear GROW Parenting,
We are really struggling with potty training our three-year-old daughter. After using the potty for a while, she has now pretty much decided not to use the toilet. She will have an accident and then say next time she will use the potty, but then does not.
I have tried some different angles to convince her using the potty is a good idea since unfortunately, she is not too concerned with poopy underwear or wet pants. When she has accidents, I let her know I am disappointed, ask why she didn't use the potty when she was on just minutes before her accident, or remind her that her friends all use the potty.
Is there something I am missing? Should we go back to diapers for now? She does still wear a diaper to bed. Any words of wisdom greatly appreciated!
I feel your pain. The transition to using the potty can be a challenging time for parents. We want to encourage and motivate them, but ultimately this is completely their task and we have little control over whether or not they use the potty. Yet, we often feel pressure from preschools, extended family members, and all those parenting books to get our children using the potty by a certain age. Add in a toddler or preschooler in the midst of developing their sense of independence, and we have the perfect set up for major power struggles.
Regardless of how we approach it, we will get through it quicker with that calm, nonjudgmental mindset. We really want to convey that it is her body, and her choice. When she is ready to use the potty, she can. You can let her know that you know she can do it and will when she is ready, but ultimately its up to her. Generally, until they really believe this is our attitude, they often use it as a power struggle to find a way to maintain their dignity.
Here are a few options to think about:
1) Go back to pull ups temporarily. You could say that you know she is not interested in using the potty right now, so you are going to go back to pull ups. She can let you know when she is ready to use the potty regularly, and then she can switch back to undies. It has to come across as not a punishment, just that if we don't want to use the potty, we need to wear pull-ups so that it is easier to clean up.
2) Let her stay in undies and just accept that she is going to have accidents regularly. We can help motivate her by helping her be involved in clean up (when its pee, not poop of course!). She needs to take off her wet clothes, put them where the laundry goes, and put on new undies and clothes. If this is not something she usually does, you want to be sure to take some time for training. This means walking her through it a few times so she knows exactly what to do before asking her to do it by herself.
Again, it is so important not to share any judgment or anger. Just “Oops, looks like you had an accident, what do you need to do to get cleaned up?” Not making a big deal about it will actually get her through this stage quicker.
3) Regular potty times. Sit down with her and say that you have noticed she has had more accidents lately. You can let her know that it's ok to have accidents, but the clean up takes time away from getting to do fun things. To help you guys not get delayed by accidents, you are going to have regular potty times during the day, and would like her help figuring out when those times should be.
You might say that you always have to go to the bathroom when you wake up, so how about we have that on our list. Then ask her what other times might be good to have potty breaks. Make a list together of all the potty times. Some good times to suggest if she doesn’t mention them are wakeup, before leaving the house, before meals and snacks (since we often wash our hands then any way), and bedtime.
Next comes some planning together about how you will remember when to go to the bathroom. Ask her how she would like to know it’s a potty time. Should you make a chart with pictures? Set alarms on your phone? The point of this is to get her involved as much as possible.
When those potty times arrive, we need to follow through. You might say, "Oh, the potty timer is going off, what do we need to do now?" If she doesn't want to go, you can use a "when...then..." statement such as, “When you go to the bathroom, then we can go to the park." Then you need to keep yourself busy to avoid reminding, nudging, coaxing, threatening, etc. I know this can be very challenging, but the more we avoid those constant reminders, the less power struggles we create, and the quicker the process goes.
4) Don't ask her to go to the bathroom. Asking invites a yes or no. With our independent little preschoolers, usually it’s a loud and proud “NO.” Try using when…then… statements whenever possible. When you have gone to the bathroom, then we can finish our game. Even just saying, its time to use the bathroom is likely to be more successful than, "will you please go to the bathroom?"
You can mix and match any of these. The important part is the lack of judgment, punishment, shame, and praise. When she does use the bathroom, you could say, "Thank you for taking care of your body." Or, "I noticed you went pee pee on the potty!"
And, you may want to start with just taking a week or two break, either using pull ups or not making any big deal about accidents just to get it out of the power struggle stage. Sometimes both parents and children have been so worked up about challenges, that a break allows us to calm down and connect with each other. Once this happens, the methods mentioned above may help quicker.
Bottom line, I promise she will be using the potty before college. My daughter dragged her feet on this one too. Until I was ready to accept this was completely her task, she was not going to lose dignity by going potty on demand. This makes sense though, as many of us resist when we feel forced to do something. Can you imagine someone demanding you use the potty when they say so? Remember, they have no shame about going in their pants at this age unless we have shamed them about it. While an adult is motivated to avoid the stigma and discomfort associated with accidents, we have had our little ones going to the bathroom in diapers since birth.
Once my daughter started preschool the fall after turning three, she basically potty trained overnight. The routine of going potty at the same time every day with her classmates, and the lack of me being involved seemed to be the key. It was a great opportunity to learn again that my daughter is her own person, with the ability and desire learn and grow when I give her the space to do so. I am grateful she reminds me of this often.
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I was recently reading a piece that a business management expert wrote about being a good leader and boss. As I read this short bite in insight, I realized that all of the principals and ideas that he presented apply to success in parenting.
In working with clients over the years on navigating challenges at home with their children I cannot count the number of times a mom or dad has said to me, “I do all of these things in the work place and am very successful at it. But for some reason I did not connect the way I communicate with my employees/boss as the same way I might speak to my children.” This blog post is a twist on what Lex Sisney wrote about on “How to Give an Order” on his website Organizational Physics.
How should you give an order to your child?
It’s pretty easy actually. Don’t.
Instead of thinking that your role as parent means having power over your children, think instead of having power with them. (Note: This idea comes up in Positive Discipline a lot when they talk about working with children versus doing to children.) Put another way, the order shouldn’t be given by you to them but should come from a shared awareness of the situation itself. For example, let’s say that you have company coming over and toys need to be picked up and beds made. Your child comes into the kitchen and you bark out an order, “Get back to your room to clean up your toys and make your bed before our friends get here. Go!!”
Fast? Yes. Effective? No.
Why isn’t that effective? Because every time you issue an order to your child you deplete your reserve of authority and you also deplete their reserve of power. Authority is the authorized right to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to something. Clearly, a parent has more authority than their children. But, like an artesian well with a fixed amount of water, each time the parent draws upon his or her authority, they take some water from the well. If they keep being “bossy” and playing the authority card, that well will soon run dry and they won’t have any authority left at all. Yes, you have authority over our kids. But when you over-play the authority card and issue orders like, “Clean up your room because I said so,” you are already doomed. Your kids might listen to that once, maybe twice, but soon their reaction is going to be, “So what? You can’t make me. In fact, I think you’re meanie.” And if you try to revert to even more authority, then the relationship with our child is only going to deteriorate faster to where you’re constantly issuing orders, following up, and then feeling exacerbated and frustrated that those orders are not instantly followed. I think I can safely say, based on my own experience as a parent and as a family coach, that most parents would prefer being happy and highly effective to being exhausted and unhappy.
Remember, each time you draw on authority, you lose a finite resource. So use it sparingly and only in emergencies.
The other thing that happens when orders get issued is the “orderee” feels a loss of power. Power is the ability to exercise self-determination, creativity, and to help and/or hinder a situation. And children are starving for it because, quite honestly, they have little to no control or power over most of their lives.
Here’s an example: Think of the last time you were issued an order by an authority figure? Wasn’t your reaction something like, “What a jerk that guy is. He’s not even seeing the situation clearly. Idiot! I wish that I were in charge and then I’d show him.” Now whether you or the authority figure was right, or the orders were right, is not the point at all. The point is that instead of thinking creatively and objectively about the problem and finding breakthrough solutions, you reacted negatively to the act of being given an order itself. You felt less powerful and if you did follow through on the order, didn’t you do just enough to meet the letter of the law versus exercising your full creative power?
So, each time an order is given, both the order-giver and the order-taker lose. The order-giver loses authority and the order-taker loses power. The best way to give an order is not to give an order at all. Instead, make sure that respective accountabilities are clear and then draw out the facts and viewpoints on the situation itself so that the former “order-taker” naturally creates and accepts their own order and follows through with self-determination and creativity. Let’s go back to the scenario where you have company coming over and you need your child to clean their toys and make their bed. Instead of an order like, “Go clean your room now!” It is a mutually respectful dialogue on the situation itself:
Parent: “So the last time I walked by your room I noticed that your bed was not made and your books were on the floor. Does it still look that way?”
Child: “I put most of my books on the desk.”
Parent: “What do you think we need to do to get it ready before our friends come over?”
Child: “I don’t know, put stuff away.”
Parent: “Anything I can do to support you?”
Child: “Yeah, can you help me with my blankets? They are all the way off my bed and I cannot lift them up”
Parent: “You got it. I will be up in a minute to help with that. What can you do with the rest of the books on the floor until I get there?”
Child: “I can put the rest of the books on the bookshelf.”
Parent: “Great, let me know when you have that done and I will be up there right after.”
It’s obviously a simple dialogue but the right spirit is there. Will they actually clean their room? Who knows. Nevertheless, their chances of getting the room cleaned in a timely manner are significantly higher than if the parent was barking orders. The child has their power intact and is thinking and acting in a creative and self-deterministic way and the parent isn’t depleting their authority to get it done.
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On occasion, GROW Parenting will answer reader questions on our blog. We choose questions based on the issues we frequently hear about from families we work with. In today’s post, I answer a parent’s question regarding a child who loves to entertain and needs some guidance around when he can do that.
Dear GROW Parenting,
Well, it turns out I've raised a Class Clown! My 2nd grader is more interested in entertaining his friends than paying attention in class, in gymnastics, and in after-school activities.
There are worse problems to have of course, but it's becoming an issue more and more often. It's not so much what he's doing, but the fact that he doesn't know when to quit. Any good exercises for self-control or paying attention to what's going on around you?
Thank you for writing to us with such a great question! Sounds like you have a creative and outgoing son who just needs a little coaching on when and where it is appropriate for him to share his talents. While his humorous approach may be causing problems for him, this is a wonderful opportunity to help him build his self-control and self-discipline skills.
The first step in helping our children learn to regulate their behavior is to help them gain awareness of the thoughts and feelings that are motivating those behaviors. It can be very challenging to stop a given behavior when we are not yet aware of why we are doing it.
One of my favorite strategies for helping children draw awareness to their thoughts and feelings is to play a game called Freeze. Here’s how it works:
When you guys are home, introduce the idea of anyone being able to call out freeze. Everyone has to stop talking and still their bodies. Then have each person “notice” what is going on around him or her. You might notice that the room was loud. A sibling might notice that they can't get their brother's attention. Your son might notice that he is feeling really happy. In the beginning, the goal is to just get people practicing the concept of freezing and noticing, without any judgment as to whether what they notice is right or wrong.
As this game is being introduced, I would play with it in a fun way. You could say, “I want to teach you this new way that any of us can stop a situation that feels overwhelming or stressful. Anyone in the family can say freeze and everyone has to stop what they are doing for a minute. We will say one thing we notice about the situation.” Be sure to really make it a game as you introduce it. Tell your son to get as silly as he can and see how quickly he can stop his body/voice when someone says freeze. Reverse it and you act silly, loud, crazy and he gets to yell freeze. Make it fun and silly.
As you get more practice, add some feeling words to the description of what is happening. You could say, “It’s loud in here and I feel overwhelmed.” Help your son name his feelings as well. His feeling may be "I am so happy, it’s hard to sit still.” It’s ok if his feeling in the moment and yours don’t match up. The idea is to just build this skill of being able to notice what we are feeling in ourselves and what those around us might be feeling.
As he gets better at describing what his feelings in moment, you can now begin to have deeper conversations about feelings. Sometimes we are so frustrated with our child’s behavior, that we overlook the feeling behind it. It may be helpful to share with your son that all feelings are ok, but we need to be mindful of when and how we express them.
Some great questions to spark conversation are: What are the appropriate ways we can express our feelings? Are there places and times that are better for acting on our feelings than others? Could he plan a regular silly time after school? Would he like to have friends over for a stand up comedy show, or do one at recess? The one that might help him the most in the moment is what can he do when he has the urge to do something but it’s not the right time? Maybe he can write a word or two down so he can remember his silly joke at recess and tell friends then. The more you invite his ideas, the more likely he is to recall and use them in the moment.
Our long-term goal as parents is not to rid our children of the habits that bother us, nor is it to decide which feelings are acceptable. Instead we can focus on what skills our children need to manage their behavior.
The goal of playing freeze is really about helping your son:
- Notice his feelings and desires in the moment.
- Be able to stop and reflect when he is feeling them.
- Assess when a good time to express those feelings and desires might be.
- Still get to do the things that he enjoys but find a way to do them at an appropriate place and time.
Thanks again for sharing your question with us and we hope your little comedian continues to find joy in making people laugh. Laughter is one thing we can all use throughout life!
Yes, we all do it. We make them say, “I am sorry” even when they are not. Or maybe they just don’t understand what there is to be sorry for. Regardless, over and over I hear parents tell their kids to say, “I’m Sorry”. And when kids just parrot “I'm Sorry” like they are told many times, the next request is to “say it like you mean it”. Are we just asking them to be better liars? Why do we do it?
There are a handful of reasons, but mainly because we really do want them to be sorry, and we, as their parent, want to save face when other parents are watching and listening. How do we as parents expect them to truly feel sorry when we don’t create the space to allow them to feel what we think they should feel? The message we are often sending is that it does not matter what happened that led to this action and that sometimes the one who cries the loudest gets the apology. So what can we do instead? There are a handful of responses that will not only teach children how to handle strong emotions better but will also lead to actual empathy.
Here are a few ideas to try out instead of asking your child to repeat an empty statement:
1) Start by asking what happened. There does not need to a victim and a perpetrator in every situation. Give each child the time and space to say what happened that lead up to the painful statement or behavior. You may learn that there should actually be an apology from both parties. You can simply ask, “What just happened?” or “What made you say/do that?”
2) Help your child identify how their action or statement made the other child feel. Help them to notice some of the cues that might indicate a feeling. Ex, “Did you see Emily’s face? How did she look? How do you think that made her feel?”
3) Problem Solve. If your child is actually at fault, help your child to figure out how this situation can be rectified or solved. The goal is not to make them feel worse. Children actually do better when they feel better. And sometimes the opportunity is to help your child build a new skill so that they can handle a future situation in a healthier, safer and more positive way.
4) Model empathy, plain and simple. The best way to teach your child empathy is by demonstrating empathy towards them yourself. Your actions always speak louder than your words! Get more ideas on teaching/modeling empathy and compassion in our Compassion Starts With You post from last Fall.
Making mistakes is part of growing up and being human. They help us and our children to become better people. Making repairs and Saying Sorry when we mean it, are two great skills that we all probably need to work on! So slow down and take the time to connect with and coach your child. The outcome will be a child who has an internal moral compass that will drive them to make a truly honest and heartfelt apology.
In our last post, Melissa shared the amazing power of routine charts and the secret to making them work. This week, we kick it up a notch by sharing how this tool can be used in new ways to solve recurring challenges in the home.
Once upon a time, we were a well functioning team each morning. It was surprising, given that I was not and am still not a morning person. We had one child, and daddy delighted in helping our toddler kick off the day. We had a lovely routine chart that helped us move through getting dressed and brushing teeth. My part was to press snooze, imagining that somehow that extra seven minutes of sleep was going to make a difference. I was eternally grateful for my husband's willingness to take the lead in the morning so I could grumpily move from sleep to wakefulness and put on my happy face before joining them 15 minutes later. Our little one was free to choose what she wanted for breakfast when they arrived downstairs.
When our second was born, breakfast was still calm for a while. Little sister happily joined along in whatever we did. Her breakfast requests were easy: milk, milk and more milk. And then it all changed. Somewhere around age two, little sister woke up to the world and realized no big sister would rule over her breakfast! Nope. She had requests of her own. That's when the Breakfast Battle in Seattle began.
Some days little sister would say she wanted what big sister wanted. That was until she took a bite and realized that she didn't like it. Then she would want something else. Other days they wanted different things. Two kids, two working parents, and two different breakfasts? For those of you who read our post, A Parenting Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters, you may remember that short order cooking was not an option in our house. Our system of how our kids were choosing breakfast in the morning had set us up for feeling like we were running a restaurant. Our first plan of attack was to tell the children they needed to agree on something they both wanted. It was a good first step, but you can imagine how quickly they were able to mutually agree. Particularly with hovering parents, eager to get breakfast on the table and everyone out the door. Next try was alternating days; one child picked one day, the other picked the next. This worked ok, but most of the time the child who didn't pick just didn't eat their breakfast. Not to mention the complicated mathematical formula needed to figure out how to deal with their being five weekdays and two children wanting to have the same number of days to choose breakfast. The alternating days didn't seem to work for any of us.
After weeks of frustrating mornings, it was time to come up with a new plan. We had just made some changes as a family to our morning routine chart and that's when it hit that this amazing concept of a routine chart could be used in other ways. Maybe even to solve our breakfast challenge!
The grownups in the house did some reflecting on what we were and were not willing to do in the mornings. We were willing to give them the opportunity to choose what they wanted for breakfast, as long as they could agree on what they wanted and the choices were made before we needed to make breakfast. The next step was to bring the kids in to the conversation.
We started out with a question, as that is much more likely to encourage their participation in the discussion. We simply asked how they felt the current system of alternating was working. They both admitted it was not working for them. We let them know that we see how important it is for them to have a say in what is for breakfast but that our system was not working for us either, and asked if they would like to try something different. Again, asking instead of telling helps get their buy in.
Knowing that routines and planning ahead worked very well for us, I shared my idea of creating a breakfast chart. The idea was that together we would make a chart where they could select from various weekday breakfast options. We brainstormed a list of all of the items that were ok for weekday breakfasts. When they suggested things that were not a good fit for weekdays, we put them on a separate list so we could be sure to include those on weekends. When we had our list, together we found clip art or made pictures of the different breakfast options. I made a very basic chart with the days of the week and a space for the breakfast choice for that day.
Making the chart was only the first step. The next was to come to some agreements around how we would use it. We let them know that we needed to have their decision before breakfast time each day and wondered how they thought they could accomplish that task. Kids are great problem solvers, and we got another reminder of how well they can do this when given the space to do so. Big sister suggested they fill in the breakfast chart for the week after family meetings on Sundays and this worked for little sister too. We let them know that we were confident they could handle this task all by themselves and so we wouldn't be bugging them about it. We would simply prepare what was on the chart for a given day. We also committed to having the weekday breakfast options on hand. The girls couldn't wait to wrap up our family meeting and get going on their new breakfast chart.
I must admit, as we finished making our chart and they were ready to fill in the week, I was sure an argument would ensue over what to do about that fifth day where they would have to decide together. I knew we had been clear that this was their job, so I stayed out of the room so I would not be tempted to get involved. Within minutes they had decided each day of the week together, made sure they had a variety of choices in there and had a blast doing so. Even though I know how well this kind of thing can work, sometimes I still am shocked at how quickly and easily change can happen. This was one of those moments.
On Monday morning, we all approached breakfast with excitement as our new system was ready to go. There was no need to discuss, nag, or lose patience. I swear they even ate more breakfast that first week! The first month sailed by like a smoothly oiled machine. One Sunday night in the second month, I noticed after bedtime that they had not changed the chart from the previous week. While in the past I may have tried to rescue them out of this by giving them time to fill it out in the morning, I reminded myself that we had been totally clear that we would prepare what was on the chart, so we went ahead and made what was on there. There were a few tears and groans, but I stayed calm, and within minutes they were over it. After school, they rushed to the chart to set it up for the rest of the week and we were back on track.
Over three years later, we don't have breakfast hassles anymore, and we rarely use the chart. I remember my husband being concerned that all of these charts would feel too rigid and be more time consuming then they are worth. Just last week he mentioned how amazing it is that the creation of the chart and relatively short-term use of them solves the problem for good. It's not the chart itself that creates all the change, but what the chart represents. For our family, it represents trust in each other that we can work together to solve problems, that mistakes are a wonderful opportunity to learn, and that respectful sharing of power with our children creates peace in the home while helping them feel connected and capable.
So, routine charts are not just for bedtime anymore. With some planning and teamwork, your family can use routine charts to solve many parenting challenges quite effectively. The keys to success are to make them with your child, get clear on what each person is responsible for and follow through with kindness and firmness when things get off track. The benefits are well worth the time spent making the chart. We give our children the chance to show us how capable they are, which increases their self-confidence and self-discipline. As for us parents, we get to stop nagging and just sit back and watch our kids shine.
Every parent at one time or another has either thought about or made a chart for their child. It seems like there is never enough time to get out the door in the morning or get kids to bed without power struggles, no matter how much time you have. The type of charts that we suggest using are not reward charts, because there are no stickers or prizes that your child identifies or earns. Yet, there are valuable gifts that are received such as valuable life skills and responsibility! Now who doesn’t feel great about helping their child develop confidence, independence, and responsibility?
At GROW Parenting, we love integrating routine or responsibility charts into our parenting plans because they help take the power struggles out of our daily routines. Most parents that we work with want to create more clarity and consistency in their parenting so they don’t have to keep reminding and repeating themselves. It is just too exhausting and time consuming! The routine chart is a beautiful tool that can help parents help their kids to do what they need to do without the hassles, power struggles or melt downs. We draw our approach to creating Routine Charts from Positive Discipline, which is unique because it brings the child into the process by allowing them to identify what needs to be on the chart, how it looks and where it goes.
The secret to these charts is to create the chart WITH your children. Start with either a bedtime or morning routine. Ask your child to tell you everything that he or she needs to do to get ready. If your child is too young to write, then take dictation. Then narrow the routine down to 3-8 tasks based on your child’s age and ability. When you are ready to actually make the cart, be sure to get your budding designer/artist involved. Have them design the cards for each task. Children love pictures of themselves doing each task or pictures they have drawn of the task. Then let your child hang the routine chart where he or she can see and reach it. This generally tends to be in an area where the routine takes place or a central passageway in your home. Involving children in the creation of their routine chart not only increases their sense of belonging and significance, but also reduces power struggles by giving them more power over their lives and increases their willingness to follow what they have helped create.
Once you have your chart ready up and to go, the next important step is to take time for training. Walk through the process and practice the routine together. Younger children will need more direction and assistance when using the chart initially. Nevertheless, eventually all children can manage their chart on their own. This is a process and takes time, patience, and energy. However, the payoff is worth the investment because your routine will begin to flow and the power struggles will begin to dissipate!
You might be thinking, “What happens when kids get sidetracked and derailed?” The answer is: We gently help them get back on track by either asking questions or using verbal or physical cues. Some questions to ask might be: “What is next on your routine chart?” “What are you going to do now?” or “Where can you look to find out what you need to do next?”. Sometimes having a code word or hand signal can be helpful to redirect them back to the routine. This keeps you out of the power struggle and keeps them focused on what needs to happen next. The ultimate result is less stress and more joy in your home!
We love using routine charts with our own children and our clients report success when implementing with their families. We would love to hear what you have tried or noticed using routine/responsibility charts and other creative ideas you might have!
With some families, fashion frustration starts quite young. I know many parents who at one time during infancy were shocked with what their partner dressed their baby in. I think my own husband delighted in dressing our first child in the craziest outfits possible just to watch my blood pressure rise. Alas, the days of my control over my daughter’s clothing choices were short lived. Somewhere around age two, my daughter was ready to debut her own sense of style and who was I to stand in the way?
Well, to be honest, I did try and stand in the way. Like many parents, I worried her choices would leave her too hot, too cold, too fancy, or too grubby. But then there were the days when her choices involved stripes, polka dots, and clashing colors; dresses with pants, shorts and rain boots at the same time; and the dreaded solid color from head to toe, in pink no less! It’s not like I am a fashionista myself, but I worried my little mismatched munchkin was color and pattern blind and would someday end up on “What Not to Wear.” I would try and be subtle, “How about we change your shirt so it matches your pants.” Like any strong-willed two year old, the answer was always a resounding “NO!” It’s amazing how fast those power struggles put me right back in the dressing room arguing with my own parents over back-to-school clothes. I quickly realized that conflicts over clothing must end and put my professional hat on to help me get some perspective.
Young children do not have many choices. They go to bed when we tell them to, they eat what we give them, they go to school where we take them, and are cared for by those we leave them with. It’s amazing they adapt as well as they do. Somewhere along the way, they want some sense of power as well. As they become more involved with dressing themselves, they naturally begin to use this as an opportunity to assert themselves to feel some independence and control over their world.
It is important to give our children room to do this, but like other opportunities for independence, this room can come in ways that work for parents as well. Basically, it comes down to accepting that we have to pick our battles with kids. We have to assess whether an issue is important enough to us to stand our ground or whether it’s something we can let go. We all have different values and thoughts on what the answer is for each of the challenges we face with our kids. The best approach is to let go of all the stuff you can, so that your word and limits on the really important stuff (safety, respect, health, etc.) will be heard as important.
What I realized when it came to clothes is that there were a few things that were important to me. I let go of control in the areas that were not important to me, and made some clear decisions around the areas that were important to me. We created three guidelines around clothing choices when she was about two, and those are the same three we use over five years later. Here’s what we came up with: dress appropriate for the weather, dress appropriate for where we are going (we don't wear fancy stuff to school, or we need to wear something nice to a fancy occasion), and no bellies showing unless we are in swimsuits. This last one helped me address both moving out of beloved clothes that were way too small, and the concern that “sexy” is entering the wardrobe of girls at a frighteningly early age. A few years ago, we added one more step to help us avoid morning hassles- our kids need to pick out their clothes the night before.
Our mantra for clothing challenges, and most parenting challenges, is to be kind and firm at the same time: We give our children the freedom to dress how they want, but we are firm on our three guidelines. Our children know these guidelines and have agreed to them.
When choices don't fit those rules, we ask, "How does that choice fit with our rules about what we can wear?" Then the child gets to be the one to evaluate that and select again. When we have clear guidelines and our children know what they are, we can then ask questions to prompt what you have talked about. This is much less likely to lead to a power struggle. "What do you need to wear so you won't be cold outside?" "What do you need to put on before we leave the house?” When she does do what she needs to, just add a simple thank you.
I know the question you are about to ask; I can hear it from here. "What if my child chooses not to put on a coat, then she is going to freeze!" I have two good options for you:
1) You can say, "Well, we can't go out without our coats on. I will know you are ready to leave for school when you have your coat on/bring it to me to help you put on.” Then casually and calmly find something to do while she works that out for herself. Try to stay away from hovering, telling her things she already knows, engaging as little as possible without being disrespectful. They are looking for power. If you don't react, she is going to quickly learn that she is more powerful when she takes care of what she needs to.
2) You can give your child a choice. "Its really cold outside and I feel concerned you will be really cold without your coat. Would you like to wear it or carry it/put it in your backpack?” When we give them a choice, they are likely to choose, especially if we are kind and respectful as we say it. If you leave the house and your child later says, “I'm cold,” you can say, “What can you do to get warmer?” Try to steer clear of saying, “I told you so” as that just gets kids in the power struggle place instead of thinking for themselves, "wow, mom was right, I do need to wear a coat."
There are of course other options, but if they don’t model respect for ourselves (the firm part) and respect for our children (the kind part), I am not sure if they will get the results you want as quickly and lovingly.
Parenting through this kind of challenge is hard. You grow this baby inside you, they are literally part of you and rely on you completely in the first year, and then you spend the next however many years reminding yourself that they are their own person and we have to view them as such. Yes, we have to keep them safe, but we also have to allow them to take risks, to learn things for themselves, develop self-discipline, self-confidence, etc. Allowing them to make their own clothing choices is one of the ways we can let them separate in to their own unique person.
It is amazing what happens when we get clear on what really matters to us, and communicate that in a calm respectful way to our children. Clothing struggles are just one place where parenting in this way can really help us. There are still going to be days when you must bite your tongue and accept that your sense of fashion may differ greatly from your child’s. When we are clear on the guidelines though, it becomes easier for us to let the rest go.
What I do know for sure is that this kind of parenting works. It’s about parenting from kindness and firmness at the same time, allowing our kids room to both succeed and fail, and learning that a good portion of parenting challenges involve us shifting our own perspective. It raises amazing kids who know how to take care of themselves because they have been given room to do so. They are respectful and empathetic because their parents have been with them. Chances are, with all the room to express their fashion freedom as little ones, they will grow in to self confident adults with a style all their own. Be sure to hold on to pictures of those crazy outfits. Your grandchildren will love them!
At GROW Parenting we work with many parents of school age children. We frequently hear from parents that they feel like their children are trying to “manipulate” them. Parents are reporting this behavior as early as the ripe old age of two! And yes, these children can and do become very skilled manipulators or negotiators. However, this only happens when someone has been modeling and teaching these skills. Read More...
On occasion, GROW Parenting will answer reader questions on our blog. We choose questions based on the issues we frequently hear about from families we work with. In today’s post, I answer a parent’s question regarding setting limits on technology use.
Dear GROW Parenting,
We have a 5-year old boy who has been exposed to iPhone and iPad games and stories, some educational and some not so educational (ahem, angry birds). On a daily basis, he asks if he can have our iPhone or iPad to play a game. Often it seems like my exhaustion level is what dictates whether or not he gets to have it. Yes, we have a time frame of no more than 1 hour total between pre-recorded TV shows and games. Some days are just full of play and friends so no games. Even when I set a timer so he knows when it is time to stop, it still ends in a battle or tears. I'm just so struck by how insistent he can get in arguing with me about getting a chance to play the games. What do you suggest to achieve a good balance while maintaining a good relationship with your child, especially boys?
On occasion, GROW Parenting will answer reader questions on our blog. We choose questions based on the issues we frequently hear about from families we work with. In today’s post, I answer a parent’s question about how to get her child to apologize.
Dear GROW Parenting,
My 6 year old threw a fit at camp last week for a variety of reasons. We have figured it out what caused it. However, during the fit she was VERY rude to her counselor. She refuses to say sorry or write a note or even draw a picture. She is embarrassed. I'm embarrassed. Any thoughts?
On occasion, GROW Parenting will answer reader questions on our blog. We choose questions based on the issues we frequently hear about from families we work with. In today’s post, I answer a parent’s question regarding preschoolers and hitting.
We have been struggling for some time with our three year old hitting and kicking others. It is happening both and school and at home. He has an older brother who is six, and is generally a happy, easygoing child. He is very articulate and can express himself quite well, so this behavior is surprising to us.
It's particularly upsetting for us because he acts so happy and smiles when he hits, so it seems kind of deviant; yet my head tells me he's just looking for attention or testing for safety. We know it’s not going to help the situation to think of him as hitter. Instead, we want to understand the need, from his perspective, to hit, push, or kick others. We would love some ideas for how to deal with this issue. Read More...
This article originally appeared as a guest post on Herbivoracious.
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Food is a huge part of human life and most parents I meet cannot wait to dive in to the world of food with their babies. As the wife of a food blogger and chef, we must have spent weeks talking about what our first food would be! Little did we know we were in store for a whole lot more than the idyllic family meals of The Cosby Show.
My daughter tends to gravitate toward me (Papa), who is home with her more frequently. If I am home, she refuses to let her Dad help her with anything, give her a bath, or give her affection. Last night it came to a head when after when she didn’t want him to hug and kiss her goodnight. It was understandably quite upsetting to him. In the back of my mind I'm certain this is normal, but I also feel as though I need to do something. Read More...
Encouraging clean up is a common struggle in many families. Whose job is it? If you clean them up are you letting them get away with something? Is it worth the struggle to make them do it? Lets take a look at these common questions.
This happens to many of us. I wrote about the mismatch of needs at bedtime in a previous post entitled, The Bed Time Dance. The particular mismatch we were having in our house was that the parent working out of the house didn’t have much time to get silly with our then two year old during the work week. We would get all settled in bed and next thing you know, dad and tot would be roaring with laughter and bouncing off the walls. Read More...
As I have witnessed our bedtime successes and struggles over the years, I have a theory on why this time of day is so hard: There is a mismatch in what parents and children want at that time of day. Parents are tired. We have made it through dinner and know that clean up, lunch packing, our own chores are all still waiting for us. If we can just get the kids to bed, we may even get a chance to relax before it’s time for us to go to bed.