Parental patter rarely helps. We need to listen, not lecture, ask, not tell. There is absolute mommy magic in a strategy called "mirroring": validating a child’s feelings by reflecting the feelings right back. Doing so not only makes a child feel heard, but it also honours her personal power, her right and capability to be self-determining. Here’s what this powerful brand of reflective listening might look like:
You (cheery): It's bath time!
Child: I don’t want a bath. I hate baths. Go away!
You (breathe): It sounds like you’re really mad. You look really frustrated. What’s bothering you most? Can you help me understand?
Child: It’s not fair. You’re always bossing me.
You: So if I’m hearing you right, you’d like to make more decisions for yourself. You feel like you’re ready for more responsibility. Is that right?
You: Well, I’m so glad you told me. I had no idea you were feeling babied. Let’s put our heads together and come up with a solution.
Read more: When your kid says she hates you>
I’m serious. Parent educators now know that pampering, more than neglect, is associated with poor outcomes. Doing for a child what he can do for himself sends a vote of non-confidence. Parents mistake acts of service for acts of love — making beds, building dioramas, intervening in sibling issues.
Take care that you don’t take over. Inhibiting independence (rescuing, babying, servicing) is a serious disservice — it says, "You are not able." So, if you find yourself complaining about "these entitled kids today," you should probably stop clearing their plates and doing their laundry.
Read more: How to turn your child into a capable task-master>
I don’t think we realize just how punitive we parents can be. From the child’s perspective, life is full of corrections and criticisms. But, all of those corrections are better received if the child’s good-will tank is full. So, consciously catch your child’s good deeds (particularly if they’re few and far between).
In my house we exchange "appreciations" — we go around the dinner table swapping verbal high-fives. For example, I might acknowledge how helpful it was when my son took out the garbage without being asked. For his part, my son might appreciate his little brother for not barging in on his sleepover. Doing so deepens connections, and creates cohesion in the family.
Tip: If your family appreciations run awkwardly short, a member may ask for a compliment. "I spent a lot of time this week driving people to games and practices. I’d really appreciate it if someone would compliment me for that."
Easy or convenient discipline strategies that ease stressful situations in the short-run — known as the band-aid effect — rarely stick. Sure, caving in to a well-timed temper tantrum in the grocery store may spare you the embarrassment of another "scene," but will it teach your child how to manage disappointment? Similarly, running to school with (yet another) forgotten lunch bag may save you painful pangs of worry, but will your child learn responsibility?
Our job as adults is to see the big picture. Often, that means short-term pain for long-term gain. Recognize how often you fall prey to the band-aid effect, take a deep breath, and isolate the teachable aspects of the misbehaviour.
Read more: How to tame public tantrums>
You heard me right. Make mistakes. Make lots of them. Foster a family that has the courage to be imperfect. We live in a world that prizes top performance (best marks, highest scores, lowest weight). The casualty is courage. Kids simply stop risking anything that doesn’t come with a guarantee of triumph. Or worse, they cheat to maintain the appearance of awe-inspiring achievement.
This perfection-or-bust attitude is potentially catastrophic. Mistakes are a prerequisite of learning. Without the courage to fail, we’d never succeed. So, model mistake making. Laugh about your failings, apologize for your errors, learn (and teach!) from your transgressions — with grace, humility and good humour.
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Too busy with the kids? Here are some ways to make your relationship with your partner "intimacy efficient."
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