Let's admit the truth. Children are stress producers.
For example, they. . .- don't want to get up and don't want to go to bed
- watch too much TV
- don't want to do their homework
- tie up the phone for hours
- don't want to clean their rooms
Let's also admit another truth. Parents spend a great deal of their emotional energy getting frustrated, acting frustrated and trying to get over being frustrated with their children.
And, in their frustration, what do parents do when their children aren't doing what they want? They tend to scold, order, threaten, label, criticize, scream and yell, all of which is supposed to produce a well-behaved child.
Unfortunately, it usually doesn't. A child's behavior often gets worse. Children, in fact, will usually opt for negatives when the choice is negative attention or no attention.
In time, grim relationship patterns often take over the people. There are few nurturing responses, lots of anger, lots of verbal attacks. Everyone is unhappy and everyone thinks it's someone else's fault.
What can parents do to reduce frustration, improve relationships and get more responsive children? Here's a smorgasbord of tips to interrupt old patterns and to get new, more nurturing patterns, started.
- Give up killer language (sarcasm, criticism, threats, orders, etc).
- Your child can't have a fight without you. So interrupt an accelerating negative sequence by doing the unexpected.
Be understanding, apologize for your part, say something positive, try to problem solve, or state your wish to get over the problem and about the business of loving again.
- Stay out of corners. When you find yourself at loggerheads with your child ("You'll do what I say, no matter what!"), STOP ACTION.
Leave the situation until you've regrouped and can speak calmly. Then come back, express your concern that things have gone badly and suggest you both start over.
- Give your child room to make mistakes. There are no perfect "10's" in this world. Nor is there any task, interrupted schedule or broken object that is worth scarring the fragile ego of a child.
- Soften your approach. Use humor, touch and a quiet voice. Live each day with your child as if it were your last.
- Tell your kids that everyone needs eight hugs a day and then go around giving and collecting them.
- Create neutral time to repair and nurture the relationship.
- Model the respect you want your child to show you.
Use "emotional courtesies" - "please," "thank you," "you're welcome," "Are you comfortable?" "Here, take mine."
- Set up hard and fast family rules that eliminate name calling, swearing, abusive language and physical fighting.
Don't wait even 30 seconds to intervene if your kids violate these rules.
- Don't let kids just "fight it out." Decisively interrupt fighting and separate children without taking sides.
- Cheer signs of progress if a child follows through or shows the kinds of positive behaviors you're after. Good behavior that gets no attention may not be repeated.
- Ask for feedback from kids. "Am I sensitive?" "Do I listen to you without interrupting?" "Is there anything I can do to make you happier?" When you get feedback, don't get defensive. If the shoe fits, wear it.
- Say "I'm sorry," "I was wrong" and "Will you forgive me?" frequently. These words are so healing.
- Handle problems privately with children. Your children will be more likely to cooperate if their problems are handled without an audience and they are allowed to "save face." Under fire from a number of quarters, kids have a tendency to muster their defenses rather than to deal responsively with adults.
- Talk at bedtime. Most children will do just about anything to postpone sleep, so bedtime is an excellent time to find out what is on your kids' minds or to tell them what's on yours.
- Create "peak experiences" - the "once in a lifetime" experiences that can happen every day of a lifetime. Having a spontaneous picnic in the backyard, settling down on your child's bed to talk or bringing a treat home from work, for example, can imprint permanently on relationships and self-concepts.