One of my jobs is to facilitate a weekly parenting group using the Middle Way curriculum, which focuses on positive parenting. Positive parenting, as I define it, is when parents’ goals are 1) to build a lasting relationship of positive influence with their children, 2) to enhance their children’s experiences through constructive guidance, and 3) to manage behavior in ways appropriate to the development needs of the child. Here is a refrigerator-perfect positive parenting toolbox (Parents toolbox) from one of the Middle Way lessons that is useful for a variety of parenting situations. Each tool is explained in the post below.
1. Find privacy: Use this tool to limit the shame or embarrassment you and your child might experience when correcting a behavior or facing a difficult moment. It is especially important to use this tool when parenting demands occur in a public setting, like a grocery store. Tell your child you are taking him/her to the restroom or outside because you want to talk respect their privacy. With smaller children, they may not want to go, that is okay. Let them know finding privacy is a punishment, and continue on.
2. Lower voice: Speaking in a calm and soft voice can actually reduce stress in those we are talking to. They will not always respond in kind, mind you, but the effects will occur internally. At the very least, your voice will not be adding to the upset.
3. Reassure: Let your child know you understand, you get upset too. Remind them that you love them and you are there for them. You may want to use their name in a loving way, promoting intimacy and reassuring them that you are there to help. For instance, “Sammy, I see you are struggling.”
4. Past triumphs: Everyone likes to feel good about themselves, kids do too. It is a good idea to take note of when your kids are doing well (catch them being good–shout out to Amy Wilson). Not only does this shore up their self esteem for more difficult experiences, you can remind them of what they can accomplish and encourage them in the area of trouble by drawing a parallel. For instance, you might say “Remember how frustrated you used to get when you played a new video game? And now you know how to calm yourself and that you will soon be good at it. I think you will get through this too.”
5. Use silence: When someone is angry, they cannot listen. Unleashing a flood of words will do no good, so use a moment of silence to give everyone a chance to collect themselves. Remember though, this is a tool, not a weapon–do not try to hurt your children with your silence. Maintaining gentle eye or body contact buffer any ill effect.
6. Time Out: This is great tool and can be used regularly; however, it will need to be adapted to the child’s developmental stage. A good rule of them is a minute of time out for every year from 2 up to 10 years old. After ten, time outs should reflect the rules of physiological”flooding”–it takes 2o minutes to flush the stress hormones from an activated ‘fight or flight’ system out of the body. The simplest ways to do this are drink a lot of water then sweat, pee, or cry them out. After your body has returned to homeostasis, re-engage with the issue in a calm manner. Sometimes an older child will end the time out when they are calm by simply finding the parent to talk. If the parent is calm too, I say go for it–work it out! If not, let the child know you will find them when you are ready.
7. Add space: Proximity is a good tool for intimidation, just ask any 3rd grade teacher what happens when they move close to a kid’s desk! So, when in a conflict with your child, a little space can remove some of the intimidation they may feel just from being small and largely powerless in the world. Another trick is to get down on their level, or sit beside them on a sofa or bed. At times, you may both be so worked up, distance is important for both of you. In a case like this, give yourself a bit of space (I used to go set on my front porch when my son threw a tantrum). However, before you do, make sure you child is in a safe space before you separate, and let them know what is going on and for how long.
8. Or move toward: If your child is in danger of hurting themselves a move toward my discourage the behavior in question, think of the 3rd grade teacher. In addition, proximity is not threatening when comfort is being offered, so move in when you sense your child is in need of a hug or some touch. Perhaps you can gently place a hand on their shoulder. Not only is this comforting but it also increases attention to what is being said.
9. Acknowledge anger: Let them know you understand they are mad, then tell them it is okay to be angry. In fact, listen and label other feelings you hear in your kid’s conversations with you. Not only do they feel heard and validated, you are teaching them how to stay in touch with themselves. Plus, acknowledging negative feelings can prevent power plays children often use with anger and sadness (e.g., fit-throwing and pouting).
10. Use humor: Sometimes laughing at the situation can diffuse the tension; however, be careful with this one. Humor should not be at the expense of the child, and avoid sarcasm because kids often don’t get it. A good example is something like “Wow, we made a mess of that didn’t we?” and laugh with your child. Exaggeration is a humor technique kids generally respond to. You might try something like “Geez, if we don’t calm down, we are gonna explode lava all over the house!”
11. Find the source: Sometimes a behavior or outburst has little to do with an immediate situation, look for a precipitating factor that is influencing your child. For instance, a recent move may be adding to the anger a child feels at dropping a bowl of cereal. Talk about that with them, if they reject the idea, let it go. Simply having the talk is modeling an important skill they need to develop for future situations they may find themselves in.
12. Anticipate: Be a crisis anticipator! Knowing your child’s sensitivities can help you create situations that give them a better chance of success. For instance, a child that cannot self entertain for long periods of time will not do well in a work meeting for adults. Thinking ahead can help you meet the child’ s entertainment needs and create an opportunity for you and others to praise his accomplishment at making it through such a meeting without being terribly disruptive. If a child is difficult to get out of bed in the morning, set up very clear bedtime and wake time rituals that help them accomplish what you need to happen more regularly. Then praise them often for making it out of bed, positive reinforcement!
13. Contingencies (if/then): This is an excellent tool for setting up a good structure for consequences instead of punishment. An if/then or when/then statement not only tells children exactly what they need to do, but also tells them what will happen if they do it. You can even go one step further and say what will happen if they don’t do it, thereby giving them very clear choices and consequences. The trick here is that you MUST stick to your contingencies, so do not offer what you are not willing to do. An example of a doable scenario might be “When you pick up your room, you can watch TV. If you do not pick up your room by 8:30, you will not be able to watch TV tonight.” Then execute. Even if they do not get it done, they will know for the next time exactly what is expected. A nice response to a poor choice is “I am sorry you don’t like your choice, you can try again tomorrow.” The remove yourself from the lesson. DO NOT LECTURE–the lesson is in the choice. If the parent is consistent and does not give in to lecturing, whining, fit throwing etc., children respond quickly to contingencies; it usually just takes 1-3 of the same scenarios to get a change.
14. Listen more: Sometimes, just simply stating in clear, concise terms what we expect from our children will get the job done, but if not, avoid lengthy discussions because they tire everyone out. When adults fall into lecture-mode, kids simply tune out or worse, have outbursts. Keep your turn to talk short and clear, break it into bite sized pieces and ask questions that keep them engaged. For instance, you might say “Hey, this isn’t like you. I know you to be such and such way. What do you think is going on here?”
15. Empathetic one-liners: Sometimes kids try to get you going, they may bait you with a comment like “You don’t love me anymore” or “I hate this family”. Having a few good one liners that keep you off the hook can help you avoid justifying all of the things you do for your kids. Some examples are “Nice try!” or “I bet if feels that way!” or my favorite “It sure is hard to be human!” Don’t forget you don’t always have to get it right, you can say “Oops, I fell for that one, not next time!” or “Let me get back to you because I just don’t know how to respond to that.”
16. Empower your child: Giving children direction helps marginalize the impact of how dependent they are on everyone to their self esteem and can help them see the positive in these dependent relationships. This can be accomplished with simple redirection. Redirection is when we tell a child not just what they cannot do, but also what they can do. For instance, “You may not jump on the bed but you may pile up some pillows on the floor and fall on them.” You may find this useful for making future plans, such as saying when a child can have a sleepover if tonight is not the night. Another way to empower a child is to give them choices. For example, “You may not jump on the bed but you may build a fort or have a pillow fight outside”. In addition, empower your child by not rescuing them when they are struggling with something. Like when they are trying to fit a book on a bookshelf but can’t quite manage it. Many parents will just take over. Instead, model it for them, then have them try it on their own, or guide them through it and then have them try it again. This gives them a sense of accomplishment that can help diffuse frustration. And they will learn that they can count on you to help them.
17. Wants to wishes: Sometimes kids want things they cannot have for any variety of reasons, like a drink in a car. Instead of denying the want, turn it into a wish. Try “I wish I had one too, I wish I had the biggest drink in the world that had two crazy straws, one for you and one for me.” Not only do you model the reality of unmet desires, you join them instead of separate from them. The end result is the same, there is no drink right now.
18. Problem solve: Help children identify what the problem is then join them in problem solving. Explore options and weigh different scenarios, compare the strengths and weaknesses of different plans. DO NOT solve the problem yourself, participate in problem solving together. Think of this as an activity that exercises the problem solving center of the brain–the more they flex the muscle, the stronger it gets so when really important decisions are faced (like who to be friends with or to date), they have had lots of practice solving problems and making good decisions.
19. Choose your battles: Not all behavior needs to be corrected, even if it bothers you. I like to say, know where you end and your child begins. Some behaviors just get under you skin, that is you, not the child. Some behaviors are minor infractions that include lessons to be learned without your guidance, if you can’t resist, that is you not your child. Sometimes you may be hungry, angry, or tired, this is not a good time to shape behavior, so unless it is dangerous or outrageous, let it go for now because that is you, not your child. If it is important it will likely come up again.
20. When all else fails, restrain: This is a last case scenario tool. Use only in emergencies. If your child is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else (e.g., running toward an expressway, or swinging a stick around wildly near others) reach across the child in a gentle but firm way, drawing the child’s back to your chest. Cross your other arm over them. Using the tension of crossed arms rather than hands prevents bruising and hurting them while restrained. Your mouth will also be near the ear. In a calm voice, reassure the child and let them know EXACTLY what they need to do to be released. When they comply, thank them for keeping safety, turn the restraint into a hug, and release.
If you are interested in joining the parenting group, please email me and I will send you a flyer of weekly meetings and costs.