I often talk with parents who are feeling backed into a corner. They do not want to hit their children, but they are trying to figure out how to peacefully parent a child who is doing something unsafe or unkind time and time again. They feel like the child is pushing buttons on purpose or that the child will not “get it” any other way. They are struggling. Let me tell you, I am no guru. I am not all knowing. I am, however, someone who has been in those shoes and is happy to help others brainstorm peaceful ideas to set our children up for success and help them make wise choices. Here are some of my favorite ideas that may help parents who want to be peaceful and want to expand their Parenting Toolbox. Remember, it takes time to learn how society does things. Children have significantly less years to learn these norms compared to a parent.
1. A treasure box or sticker collection book can be a lifesaver, especially if your child is strong willed or has a special need. The key is to use it sparingly and only as a reward that can be earned for kind and safe choices rather than using it as a bribe after a negative behavior has already begun. A gentle verbal reminder is fine, but discuss the reward and behaviors expected before a misbehavior occurs.
2. Discuss and/or act out the issues and potential solutions. Also practice using your words to get what you need.
3. Model dealing with stress, wants versus needs, waiting, playing in a kind way, sharing, taking turns, and other situations.
4. Freak outs happen. Calm the child or give the child space if you feel like you could harm him/her or if the child says for you to back away. Discuss the issue once everyone is calm.
5. Verbal praise is HUGE. I like to be told “you really focused on the issue” or “you worked hard to solve that problem”, don’t you? Children like to know we are proud as well. You can say something like, “How do you feel about your choices, Jake?”, and affirm that way instead of placing your own value on the child’s choices. Keep in mind that hollow praise like saying “good job” all the time defeats the purpose and makes kids look to us for constant praise. This will distract them from focusing on and developing their internal ethical compass.
6. Allow your child to practice skills and decision making. If your child always runs toward the road, have a few friends come and help you keep him or her safe while practicing staying within acceptable boundaries. Find indoor playgrounds or outdoor parks that have fences and only one exit/entrance. Patience, practice, and modeling are the key.
7. Ask your child to help you make a short list of rules for behavior. Often children who participate in rule creation will value those rules and understand why they exist. Keep it simple, though. My family focuses on safety and kindness in our rules. This has made it easier to comply with the rules while still maintaining self confidence and individuality.
8. Use dolls and other toys to practice your family rules.
9. Discuss rules and expectations before you go out or are in a situation. Afterwards, discuss the things that were done well and the behaviors that your family will continue to work on at the next play date or park day. Remember to say at least one positive thing even if it seems small. You may need to focus on one or two negative issues rather than all issues so you and your child are not overwhelmed.
10. Take a break. Cut yourself some slack. Have someone who can back you up or give you time to yourself every once in a while.
11. Know your limits when out and about. Know your child’s limits as well. There is no shame in ending a shopping trip and having the store hang on to your non-perishables until you get back later in the day. Ask for the food “to go” if needbe. You could even move your dinner to a park for fidgety eaters.
12. Foods and other environmental factors can trigger behavior issues in many children. Keep a food journal for 1-2 weeks and look for patterns in behavior and foods. Processed foods are the largest offenders. Genetically modified foods and allergens are also often an issue.
13. Children cry and whine to communicate. Sure this is hard to deal with and frustrating. The “American” in me wants it to stop because people might look. The mom in me wants it to stop because my child is hurting or needing something. Always respond to your child’s cries. If your child feels the need for space, honor that request as long as he or she is in a safe situation. Your crying child is not what most people are worried about in a store. They are more worried about how you will react to that child because most people do not want to see a child be hit or yelled at. Please do not say “use your words” if your child is having a meltdown. Your child is already communicating with you and demanding one way of communication over another just adds fuel to the fire. You could try saying “how about we hug until you are calm enough to explain so I can understand” or “show me what you need”.
14. Note your child’s triggers. One of my children gets hyper when she spins, yet calms down when she climbs or swings. Another of my children cannot handle others being in his personal space which leads to meltdowns. Avoiding triggers helps, but also warning children about potential triggers can give them a sense of power and acceptance. This way they can make a plan in advance, usually with your help if they are young, for dealing with the triggers.
There are many more ideas out there. Please know that you are not alone. Peaceful parenting is hard work but it does pay off for you and your child.