I received the invitation to contribute an article to this series on Parenting, whilst I was smack bang in the middle of hosting my own magnificent personal pity party, all in honour of my perceived parental failure. So my initial response to the email was not exactly enthusiastic, more along the lines of: ‘OH HECK NO! What advice can I offer anyone?’
As the night progressed, and the drama around me settled, it became obvious that I needed to at least try and write something. The lie that I can’t contribute, just because my life hasn’t reached perfect equilibrium was designed to keep me, us, inactive and bound by our own insecurity, and I’m so done listening to lies!
So here’s 4 parenting tips that have worked for our family. I make no claims to be an expert, I’ve never read a single parenting book, nope, not one, ever! All I can offer is my life experience thus far, and a few things I’ve managed to learn whilst trying not to fall off this rickety old parenting roller-coaster.
My children, for the record, are now aged 14-Boy, 12-girl & 7-girl.
We have also recently acquired a fabulous 18 year old ‘daughter’, whose beautiful behaviour I can take no credit for, as she’s been raised by phenomenal parents up to this point. However any wonderful successes from her in the future, we shall definitely be claiming as the benefits of her time living with us- Gotta take what you can!
I also want to say, every child is unique, every parent is unique what works for me may be a disaster for you. Parenting is akin to an Indiana Jones adventure. Sometimes you’re in a classroom lecturing attentive ears, other times you’re out of breath, dodging arrows and trying not to get blown up. And then there’s those rare moments when you’re grasping the holy grail and feeling like you could rule the world. It all part of the fun!
1. I’m Not Raising Kids!
It is my personal opinion that I’m not raising kids, I’m raising adults.
Yes, they’re children now, but that’s not what I’m raising them to be.
My job, my responsibility, is to equip these young people to enter into, and interact with a world filled with other fellow humans. This means teaching them to give voice to their feelings, opinions, ideas, dreams and desires, in a way that honours both them and those around them.
One of the best ways to do this is by teaching them self-awareness, asking them to explore how their actions may affect those around them.
Every single day contains a lesson. As parents we must recognise all the opportunities around us that provide these lessons.
It could be as simple as grocery shopping and coming across a cereal box that’s fallen or been left in the middle of the aisle. Point it out to your child, ask them: ‘Do you think we should do something about this? Is it dangerous?’. You might be met with enthusiasm as your child lunges to return the box to its home. Or you might be met with ‘Why? We didn’t drop it!’.
Perfect, discuss that!
Discuss why we might have a responsibility to sometimes deal with things that aren’t our ‘fault’, in order to prevent further damage. Ask your child what might happen if someone who was vision impaired, or slow to react, were to stumble across that cereal box?
This kind of discussion segues beautifully into age appropriate lessons in spiritual dynamics, social justice and the precious injustice of true grace!
I promise, a lesson lurks around every corner and the relational bond with your kids will grow as you embrace these lessons and transform them into daily open dialogue. It’s never too early or too late.
2. Beans Means… Distraction?
This is a tip I can unfortunately take no credit for, which sucks, because it’s brilliant! It was shared with me by a friend, who from what I can recall, received it from child-psychologist, yes, an expert, so drumroll please……
Your child needs beans.
Huh? Bear with me…
When a child is in a state of extreme distress or in The Tantrum Zone, our response is usually frustration and anger. We want the tantrum over, and we want to discipline our child for their poor behaviour. That, however, may not be what your child needs in that moment.
What your child needs is to calm down so that they can verbalise, or you can help them give voice to, their true frustrations.
This is where the beans come in. Next time you’re at the supermarket, go to the section where they keep dried legumes. Select two different types, one smooth, and one rough, and preferably in contrasting colours. Dried red kidney beans, and white chickpeas would work really well.
Fill a small container with half of each type of bean, and ask your child to separate the beans into 2 piles of their own kind, and to call you when they’re done, it should take a minimum of 10 minutes, so adjust the beans amount to suit.
Something to do with the concentration of having a job to do, and the different tactile interactions with the beans, causes the child to calm down and reach a place of reasoning.
You cannot reason with a child who is in distress.
The idea of the beans is not to punish or discipline your child, but to bring them to a more settled emotional state where you can talk to them about what was going on and why they had reacted so strongly. It will enable you to express yourself clearly also.
Make sure you introduce this new exercise and its concept to your child when they’re happy and drama free.
We introduced it to our kids as something that we would try next time they were upset, we showed them what the beans looked like and demonstrated different ways to sort them.
There is absolutely no point trying to introduce it for the first time, while your child is in the middle of a melt-down!
My only regret with this technique, is that we didn’t know about it sooner!
Remember, it’s ok if your child has fun whilst doing this.
If I’m honest, this was the part I struggled with! I didn’t want my child to enjoy this, they’d only 5 minutes earlier morphed from adorable small human into something from a horror movie, why should they have fun! But that’s not the point. The objective is simply to calm your child to the point where constructive conversation is possible.
IMPORTANT: Obviously, this is not going to work for very small children as there is a real risk of choking. So please be hyper-vigilant!
But for kids under 3-ish you could substitute this with balls & wooden blocks that are kept separate from toys, for this specific purpose.
KIds need consistency. They need boundaries and they need to learn that when you say ‘no’, it’s a no. Sticking to that ‘no’ becomes increasingly difficult when you’re exhausted, and heading into the third hour of your child’s banshee crying with intermittent screams and some head-banging and wall-kicking thrown in for good measure.
All you want is for the tantrum to end. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ANY REMAINING SANITY, PLEASE END!!! But your child needs to learn how to cope with not getting their own way, it will happen, to varying degrees, all through life and they need to know how to deal with it.
Today’s parental resolve, may mean that tomorrow’s tantrum only lasts 2.5hrs, the next only 2hrs and so on. It gets better, and it gets easier when you tell yourself this is not just for their short term well being, but their long-term maturity also.
4. I’m Sorry
Kids watch everything we do. They hear more than what we often realise, certainly more than I’d like mine to hear!
Just yesterday, a family member was asking if I had any advice for toilet training a two year old girl. I asked the mother: ‘Does she ever watch you guys using the toilet?’
Her reply was, “No, we don’t give her the chance, we keep her out of that area of the house, behind the baby gate.”
Their reasoning was their child’s own safety. But children watch, it’s how they learn. We teach them to eat by modeling eating. If a child does not get to see behaviours acted out, how then can they learn without anxiety and fear of the unknown?
We must model it, and one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our children, is to model the apology.
Learning to kneel at your child’s level, look into their eyes and say with sincerity, ‘I’m so sorry, I messed up, I got angry too quickly’ or ‘I’m so sorry your feelings were hurt when I did…’ Or, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you properly when you were telling me about…’ Will change your world!
You are human. You’re flawed. You make mistakes. Allowing your kids to see this vulnerability will in turn change the way they relate to you, making both of your lives easier.
Parenting is a hard gig, man! Seriously draining stuff. But if you are physically able, and you got out of bed today, you’re on the right track! Even better if you managed to throw some food in the general direction of your beloved spawn!
And hey, you even took the time to read an article by some crazy mum on the Internet, presumably in the hope that you might learn a thing or two, I think you’re on the right track, and I hope you weren’t disappointed.
So let’s band together, let’s encourage one another. Let’s share our failures, and celebrate our successes.
Let’s do this thing!