Parenting Tip of the Month
By Heather Totten
Parenting Tip #1 ~ Be United / Don't Give in / Be Consistent
Branching out from pregnancy journal to parenting journal and now into a 'parenting' tip of the month sounded like a great opportunity for me. I was excited to pass on all the knowledge and experience that being a mother of four could give. So, as I sit here to type, why is my head blank? What do I do, what have I learned from my experience, or what have I seen work in other homes that I can pass on as 'golden' words of advice to all of my readers. And I guess being my first entry, I wanted it to really be an important one. After some pondering about how to bathe your kids without complaining, to riding a bike, getting rid of a pacifier, and sleeping problems . . . I finally found my NUMBER ONE tip and it is actually three in one. And that IS: "BE UNITED, DON'T GIVE IN, and BE CONSISTENT with your kid(s)."
I can offer you a million little odd things that work for me and make my life easier as I progress through the day with my four kids, but none of them will work if you and your husband/partner are not on the same page. None of them will work if you give in to your kids at every whimper or whine for something they want. And none of them will work if you don't follow through with what you say and be consistent with them.
My husband and I often agree with how to raise our kids. It makes raising four kids rather smooth and easy, but we learned early on to stick together. It doesn't take much for the three year old to figure out mom said "no" but dad will say "yes." And then the cycle begins. Your kids learn manipulation at an early age and how to get their way. Before you know it you are in a quiet restaurant when you both realize the screaming toddler sitting across from you who is demanding ice cream for dinner because mom said "just let him have it" and dad is saying "'no" is behaving just like the child you and your husband swore you would never have; swore before you had kids. It was that time in your life in which you and your husband had all the answers on how to raise the perfect child from birth to college and beyond. It was before you were a parent when you would gawk and wonder what is that mom doing sitting that poor child in a time-out in the middle of Wal-Mart. Anyway, reality hits - you are the parent. And you realize you and your husband better start working together or you will have many more of those uncomfortable episodes where you pray to just eat a meal without the entire restaurant staring at you.
Kids are SMART. The moment you can show them you and your husband are NOT on the same page, is the moment they lose respect for you. By losing respect, they will also not listen. They will undermine you. They will yell at you because they know you won't follow through with any kind of a consequence that they can't handle. And most importantly, they will learn by your example. You will be forced to make decisions that your kids will hate you for, and it will take 20 years for them to actually thank you for the life lesson--20 years from now when they are teaching their own kids the same thing you taught them. Yes, that little baby you hold tight in your arms will in fact challenge every bone in your body. He will say things to you that invoke a rash of tears and terror all at once. And you will wonder 'how did he get this way.' It is just part of life and part of growing up. It is your responsibility as the parent to set the foundation --a solid foundation. And setting the foundation can be harder than you think.
Don't Give In. ~ Do you have a child who is terrible to take to the grocery store because they 'beg' for everything they walk past? THEN DON'T BUY IT! Do you have a child who falls on the floor in a tantrum because you don't get them a treat? DON'T GET IT FOR THEM! If they learn that begging will get them what they want, expect that begging to last longer next time. Think of them as professional beggars. They are great at begging and wearing you down especially when they sense you don't have the patience for it all. It is hard. I've given in on occasion and regretted it. I have a simple rule that works in my house; if you beg for it or throw a fit for it--you don't get it. Ask for it nicely, and I'll consider it. That does not mean they get it either, but I'll appreciate the nice way they asked and we can talk rationally about it and I will listen to their reasons as to why they want it. Now, I don't have a fit free house. I hope you are not thinking that I do. This is not a tip to get rid of all fits. I don't think that can happen. Every 2 ½ year old throws fits. Part of it is due to their inability to communicate and frustration surrounding it. I understand that. But, complete disrespect for me or my husband and fits that go along with it are not acceptable.
This brings us to my last tip; don't offer a consequence that you are not going to stand behind, or you might as well not have offered it at all. In other words, Be Consistent. For example, "Johnny eat your dinner or you won't get any cake at the birthday party." BUT, he does not eat and since you don't want to hear all the banter, you give him the cake and simply say 'now, next time I really want you to eat or you really won't get any cake.' Come on. We've all done this. This example is even mine. So what did Johnny learn? Don't eat. Threaten the possibility of a fit in front of company. Get my way. Ok . . . mark that one up. 1 Johnny. 0 Mom. Think of it this way, if it is not your intention to really take the cake away, and then give him another option that you will follow through with. For instance if you don't eat your dinner, when you are hungry before bed you will get your plate of dinner back. So, he gets his cake, you avoid the fit in front of company, but when he gets his normal bed time snack, you pull out the remaining dinner from the refrigerator and give it to him. He gets mad, but company is gone and he either gets to go to bed a little hungrier OR he finishes his dinner. It is probably not the best 'life lesson,' but it is a lesson you are willing to follow through with. You have to make sure you offer consequences that you are willing to follow through with or it is not worth offering any at all.
So, be united with your husband. If you and your husband disagree, close the door and talk privately to work out a compromise. Then go back to your child as a united front and make the decision together. Don't give into a fit, even if it is hard to listen to the screaming. Most of the antics are for your entertainment alone. If you child is of an age to do this, tell them to go to the bathroom and throw a fit in front of the mirror because you don't want to listen. The moment they see themselves crying and screaming in the mirror they will begin to laugh and realize how foolish they look. And finally, follow through with what you threaten as a consequence. Turn the table on them and don't look at an hour in their room as a 'punishment' but as a 'consequence' to their behavior. Let them realize their behavior is their decision and the consequence is due to their behavior. In other words, it is their fault they are in their room. In fact the term 'punishment' is not even used in our house.
Have fun, be united, stay away from 'giving in,' and be consistent. All are difficult at times, but like your kids, learn from your mistakes and go on. Together you'll all be a better team, you'll have more smiles, more time to enjoy each other, and more time for fun things - even if you have to feel like the 'not so fun guy' occasionally.
Heather Totten is a stay-at-home mom with four children and a busy husband. She is incredibly organized, and shares her sense of family, parenting, and organization with us in her monthly parenting tips column. Read what's new with her family in Heather's Parenting Journal.
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