So, one of the nerdy things I’ve chosen to do with my life is compose a list of parenting strategies that I find fall on the spectrum somewhere from ‘useful to keep in the back of your mind’ to ‘I don’t know how I’d parent without this’. (Right now, my list is mostly centered around dealing with toddlers and preschool-aged kids, but since I’m about to have a baby, I’ll be compiling a list of those strategies over the next year.) In the hopes that this list might be of some use to someone else, I thought I’d go through and share the items on the list, a few at a time, with my thoughts and experiences tagged on. Here are the first five:
- Use unconditional love and praise. “I love watching you do x.” “I love you because you’re mine.” “I love you no matter what.” “It’s nice to be here with you.” A little kid’s life is full of feedback, both positive and negative, verbal and nonverbal, where it’s easy for them to link their behaviour to how much their parents love them. I try to regularly use no-strings-attached language like this to express that my happiness in them isn’t hinged on their being ‘good’, but on their being my kid and being themselves. It’s especially nice getting this parroted back to you as a little blonde boy slips his hand into yours and remarks confidingly, “I like being with you, Mummy.”
- “Leaving well is part of coming next time.” For regular outings, remind them that if they aren’t able to leave a place well, you will pass up the next opportunity to go there. This is a great, great tool to have in your toolkit. It only takes a couple of reinforcements for your kids to learn that you mean business (for Scout Kid, it was missing out on a special bike ride with his daddy), it’s catchy and easy to remember, and it drastically cuts back on the amount of whining that comes at the end of a fun outing. I use it for screen time as well, as that’s another situation when the end of the time often results in a lot of whining.
- Involve them. A kid who feels they’re part of what you’re doing will have no desire to act out. For example, I can literally not recall one instance of the boys making mischief or being defiant while we were baking together. Although I can recall plenty of instances where ingredients were eagerly dumped in at random…
- When their behaviour makes life easier for you, pause and thank them, and tell them in specific terms how that behaviour benefitted you: “Thank-you for being so helpful in the grocery store. When you walked nicely beside the cart, it made it much easier for me to focus on getting the things on my list.” “Thank-you for cleaning that up without being asked. Now I finished my work more quickly so we can spend time together.” I don’t like using praise as a motivator all that much (see #1 above; I want them to know that my love for them isn’t hinged on how good they are) but I think expressing it as appreciation instead of praise changes the narrative such that they can see that they’re bringing me happiness without feeling the pressure of bringing me happiness or risking losing my approval and delight in them. I’ve seen their behaviour in a few areas really blossom because of this technique, particularly the areas of ‘not being little terrors at the grocery store’ and in the area of playing together peacefully.
- Introduce non-verbal communication, with which you can both encourage and check your child silently. You can use the I-love-you sign across a room if your child seems troubled, or in a situation where you can’t use words without sounding angry. A stern stare or raised eyebrows can be used instead of repeating an instruction. A thumbs-up can be a moment of encouragement and connection when you’re in the middle of something but they’re looking for some input. I love especially using a little hand-squeeze when we’re walking together to say something like, “Isn’t this nice, you and me?” They notice and smile up at me, and squeeze my hand back.
I’m always looking to expand my list, so do let me know in the comments if you have any life-changing strategies or tools!