Raising kids can be exhausting. Kids are loud, throw tamper-tantrums, don’t listen, talk back, run away, and often don’t do what we grown-ups want them to do. They don’t want to put on their shoes or brush their teeth, share toys or eat at mealtimes. Or do their homework or hurry up in the mornings to get to school.
I have found myself feeling overwhelmed because everything seemed to be a battle. There were days I felt like I’d done nothing but scolding and yelling and giving the same instructions 300 times. I felt frustrated and unhappy with our everyday life together. I got caught up in the negative spiral of “what doesn’t work”, and I realized that I was in danger of losing the joy, fun, and humor that comes with raising young children. I’m sure you’ve been there, too.
It’s not personal
Let’s not forget: kids don’t (usually) misbehave to make us angry. It’s not personal. Kids throw tantrums because they don’t have emotional control over their actions. Their “bad” behavior is often an expression of being overwhelmed by negative emotions: disappointment, anger, fury, and frustration. Recognizing these feelings and finding better ways to express them is a learning process and depends on the age and maturity of your child. And let’s be honest, identifying and controlling your emotions is hard as an adult too, especially when we deal with negative feelings.
I try to remember that if my son throws a tamper-tantrum, talks back, freaks out, screams, or hits, it doesn’t mean that I as a parent have failed. It means only that my child is developing normally, showing age-appropriate behavior. This knowledge has tremendously helped me to deal with these (sometimes difficult and embarrassing) situations in a better, more relaxed way. I try to step back, take a deep breath, and think before I react.
We decide how we react
While we won’t be able to (always) control our kids’ behavior, we have it in our hands to determine our own reaction. We don’t have to get angry, get loud, threaten consequences, and punish when they misbehave. We can wait until the tantrum is over. We can take ourselves out of the situation to calm our own emotions. We can also work on our expectations and rules. We expect our kids to sit still, not to run, to say please and thank you, not to say potty words, not to burp or fart, to eat their vegetables, to be kind to others, to do their homework, to clean up, to play by themselves (but don’t make a mess), etc., etc. We don’t often explain to our children why we expect from them what we ask them to do (“you have to do this because I say so”). I realized that our family had some rules and expectations that even we as parents didn’t know why we had them or where they came from . . .
So let’s ask ourselves – which rules are really important to us as a family? Is there a way to explain the reason for the rule to my children that would help them understand and follow it better? We decided on a few rules that are important to us and that we enforce. Saying hi and bye and please and thank you, for example. But then we don’t care too much about using potty words at home (we tell the kids that there might be other rules about that elsewhere). We think of our rules and expectations as a framework for our life together. Everyone knows which rules have to be followed. Beyond that, we like to give the kids lots of choices and the freedom to decide things for themselves.
Less is more
In other words, pick your battles. With less, but clearer rules, I realized that I didn’t have to say everything over and over and scold and yell as much. I also learned that there are good alternatives to our flood of words (e.g. a gesture, like the finger in front of mouth if you would like to child to speak quietly or a thumbs-up if something worked out). Routine and visualizations (e.g. a picture of a child washing his hands in the bathroom as a reminder) also helped with having to instruct less and finding a smoother way to live together. Now that the kids are a bit older, we have a weekly plan or rule sheet for them to read (with pictures).
Often, it’s not that kids don’t want to do things, but that they simply forget. I know it’s boring to do the same thing over and over again, but this approach has really worked for us. I don’t have to remind my kids as often about what the expectations and rules are, and thus, they don’t have the opportunity to say no as much. It has made our everyday life together much happier and relaxed.
I think sometimes we just need less in parenting: less talking, less commenting, less scolding, less threatening, less having to repeat instructions over and over. And sometimes we just need to shut up and let it be.