Children more than ever need to know that we are in charge. They have a basic innate need to know that we know more than Google and that we are invincible. When our children see us giving up or getting flattened by life, they lose their confidence in the world. After all who could ever be more important or more powerful in their lives than their parents? Even if children have some sort of understanding of God, this is still a very intangible thing. You however, are real, tangible and right in front of them.
You are not born into this world to get your self-esteem from your children. This is why you have friends, perhaps a partner and a connection with something greater than yourself. This is where it is your responsibility to respect yourself enough to set clear boundaries with your children. When they see that you respect yourself then they begin to respect you. Remember they learn through watching and listening to you.
They actually gain a lot of insight when you speak with your friends about your approach to parenting and when you compliment your children to your friend when you know that your children are listening. Remember to always shape their thoughts and behaviors towards what you would like rather than constantly pointing out their failings. If you want your child to listen then tell them they are a wonderful listener. If you want them to stop hitting then praise them for being so gentle. “He is such a gentle young man. He always looks out for his sister and he is careful of her feelings”. You are not lying; you are projecting their potential so that they can see it as an option or a possibility in their life.
You are showing them a behavior or characteristic, and very plainly showing them how it would feel to act in those ways. Why else did US president Barack Obama get a Nobel peace prize before he did anything overtly to promote peace?
If others speak of your positive characteristics then you want to live up to their expectations. When you see your child acting in a way that is positive then confirm it for them “wow you are being so gentle with your little sister there, I was just telling my friend the other day how gentle you are. It takes a strong man to be gentle to others” All of a sudden gentleness becomes something to strive for.
At the same time when you see your child acting against the characteristic i.e. being rough, put a halt to the behavior saying something like “Hey, we are gentle in our family remember, play a bit more gently please”. Be specific if you need to be “You can give her a gentle hug if you like but don’t push at her like that because it will hurt her and you’ll end up in time out and that’s no fun”.
If he persists with the behavior then act swiftly and remove him from the room to a time out. As a parent you need to play nice and then act swiftly and with decisiveness to correct poor behavior. It is easier if you have a plan of what behavior you are targeting so that it doesn’t take you by surprise.
Remember, parenting is about connection. This goes for praise as well as correction. You might have your own secret code for when your child is behaving well, like a high five and they may begin seeking opportunities to get this special signal. In the same way it is possible to have a code for discipline which could be very subtle, like a look or a signal or not saying anything. This can be used well in public situations where you warn your child without shaming them. For example, if your child is about to jump on someone else’s couch you say ‘Mark?’ in a really normal tone of voice. When he looks at you, you just give him a smile and a knowing nod and he understands not to do whatever he is about to do. If he holds back from the behavior acknowledge him later with “Hey Mark?” in the same tone, when he looks at you give a thumbs up and a knowing glance. Later you can reward him with a lollie or a treat and remember to say “hey you did such a good job listening today, I think you’ve earned yourself a treat.”
This way they begin to learn that good behavior immediately equals good things i.e. the thumbs up or the high five and then later with a treat.
As you and your children learn this system you should be able to communicate very well with a gesture or a glance that is very subtle, that gets the message across and gets a result without shaming them or embarrassing you.
Later you give them a brief sentence about why you asked them to stop. “Thanks for not jumping on our friend’s couch. It looked like it could be a lot of fun but we need to respect other people’s things”. In this way they get praise and information that they can store away for other situations that involve other people’s property.
Wherever possible get your kids to act as a team either with their siblings or with you. When one child does something positive reward the whole team. For example, if one child shares with another you say “wow, great sharing, I think you just earned the whole team a reward”. When everyone gets a reward for one person’s good behavior now they want their siblings to be good and they themselves have a motivation to be good.
Add yourself to the team and reward yourself. For example, say “good job mum!” and pat yourself on the back “hey kids I just folded that whole load of washing AND put it away, I think I just earned us a treat”. This way they kids learn that letting mum do her tasks uninterrupted equals rewards for everyone and all of a sudden they are getting rewarded by letting you do your thing. It’s also great for your own self esteem to get a high five from the kids for something that you have achieved during the day no matter how bizarre or mundane.
A great trick when you are feeling burnt out is to verbally put yourself in time out. When you are losing it with the kids or getting super frustrated then say, “That’s it mum, you are losing it. TIME OUT” Then storm off to your room and if it is safe to do so shut the door for a few minutes. The kids will be so surprised that you live by the same rules that you impose on them that they shouldn’t disturb you. Check an email or Facebook or read or deep breathe for a minute or text a friend and then come out. You don’t need to apologize for your behavior as you do not need to make your children apologize. Remember time out is for taking a break and diffusing a situation, not for blaming or shaming yourself or someone else.
Go about your business as though it’s no big deal. You may find that when you are getting cranky your children will ask you if you need a time out. Rather than getting offended this is a great step forward because they are showing you that they understand the principle and know when to implement it. It is also awesome that your kids would help you to have time on your own for a few minutes!!
Play as many games as you can to get things achieved. Having trouble having breakfast or taking your vitamins because the kids keep interrupting you? Then get them involved in being a part of the solution. Tell them that you are playing a game called ‘Focus’ tell them that you are getting distracted when you need to eat breakfast and get them to help you concentrate. When you get distracted get them to say ‘focus’ and then get back to what you are supposed to be doing. Make it a game by saying “oh, I better wipe this bench” while the kids yell “focus!!” “Oh I better put out the rubbish” “focus!!” “Oh I better concentrate on eating my breakfast”. Then eat your breakfast without distraction and when you are done hi five the kids for playing and get them to put a tick each on a white board or a piece of paper. This gives them a sense of satisfaction again for helping you to do what is important without too much distraction.
It also teaches them the art of focus so that when eventually teachers at school or you yourself tell them to focus on what they need to do they remember how to do it.