Underused Parenting Tools, Part 2 of 2
How did it go with Tool 7, the first six Underused Parenting Tools? Did you try anything new? Laughing, decluttering, nutrition, worry about yourself, working out, and routines can all be more effective tools then nagging, cajoling, reminding, and reprimanding.
In Tool 10, I continue with the second half of my Underused Parenting Tools. Read the list and consider: Instead of reminding my child to pick up their toys, what if I train in tidying up? Perhaps I could solve my Morning Mayhem problems by using my pre-frontal cortex -- the one tool we have that the kids don’t?
The Toolkit is here to support your learning and to offer you new parenting tools. Our families, our kids, and we ourselves are dynamic. We change, we grow, we shift – keeping the parenting game fresh with new and encouraging tools helps our family change, grow, and shift in positive and productive ways.
What do you think training is? (Pssst . . . this is a great way to start training your child – with a question about what they already know!) Go back and think about parents, coaches, bosses, and friends in your past that really trained you well. Did they give lectures? Did they use terse and annoyed voices? What elements inspired you to do well, to try something new, to persevere? Training is not telling your child to do something. Training is asking what task your child might want to do. Training is asking the child to show you what they already know about the task. Watch, listen, learn. Provide some instruction, encouragement, and independence. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Some tasks you can help your child train in include: putting chips in baggies, making a salad, folding towels, sorting laundry, making YOU a cup of tea or coffee, sweeping the porch, buying presents for relatives (use a budget) on Amazon, grating cheese, setting the table (fancy & not fancy), calling a doctor's office to make, cancel or change an appointment, riding the bus.
Training is relationship building. Remember, do NOT train if it’s really game time, do not train if you are cranky, do not train if you are trying to MAKE the child responsible for his laundry. Training is a life-long skill and a real relationship builder. Such a win/win! Check out Splish, Splash . . . Chores and Seriously, How Do I Get Them to do Chores for a few more tips and tidbits and a sampling of chores by age.
The pre-frontal cortex, sigh. . . .this sucker is truly the most underused of the Underused Parenting Tools! It’s a shame too, because it’s one tool we have that our kids do not have. Our pre-frontal cortex is fully developed at 25, so most of us have had a full decade or more of this sublime, nimble, amazing tool. What does it do, you ask?
Differentiate among conflicting thoughts: I really want to shriek to my four year old, “Seriously, put your shoes on, it’s not that HHHHhaaaaarrrddd". I also want to act encouragingly and I suspect simply escorting the four year old to the shoes is going to be more effective, encouraging, and relationship-building then the shrieking.
Determine good and bad, better and best: Getting up at 7 am, or 15 minutes before everyone else is good. Getting up at 7:30, or 15 minutes after everyone else is bad. Getting up 6:50 and having my coffee is better. Getting up at 6:30, having my coffee, doing 10 minutes of yoga stretches, and getting dressed BEFORE anyone else wakes is best.
Determine future consequences of current activities: If I nag, nag, and nag – child will only do things when I nag. When I shut the old trap I see what the child does and can start working towards improvement.
Working toward a defined goal: I would like each person in our family to get up on their own, take responsibility for self, and leave the house with maximum of goodwill and minimum of tension. This week I will wake up 15 minutes before everyone and have my coffee. In two weeks I will wake up 20 minutes before everyone and have my coffee and do 10 minutes of yoga stretches. In 3 weeks we will begin training on laying out clothes the night before – etc. In a couple months, our defined goal of leaving the house on time with each person responsible for themselves and enjoying maximum goodwill is happening. Not every day – because family is family and we can’t expect miracles!
Prediction of outcomes: I can predict my two year old can’t tolerate the grocery after daycare. I can predict that I am not a good "trainer" first thing in the morning when I am groggy. I can predict that my tardy spouse will be late to the soccer game. I can predict that the teen will roll his eyes at the curfew time. Re-read The Only Shocking Thing for down and dirty tips on outcomes you can predict by age group.
Social "control" (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes): Pass by the Ben’n’Jerry’s, want it passionately, do not buy it because you know you can’t stop at one bite or one bowl. Feel really, really angry at your spouse at a dinner party – want to pinch his head off. Suppress (NOT repress) the urge to pinch head off in the moment, discuss spousal infraction in the car. Talk calmly to child who is screaming at you (resisting the urge to scream at child to stop screaming in front of every gosh durn person at the park, who CARES!).
For more ideas, CEO in da House illustrates some nifty ways you can expect your own CEO to support and talk to you.
Yours, ours, and theirs. It’s a tool. It’s a lifelong skill. When things get rough with a child, go back and clean up bedrooms and everyone's sleep routine. This is a bit of a paradox because you can’t MAKE someone go to sleep AND you can do a lot around the whole sleep topic to make the bedtime/sleep time more effective, successful and pleasant. Take a quick look at Underused Parenting Tool: Sleep for a quick refresher and the recommended hours of sleep by age group. If you want more detailed information on sleep and the brain, check out The Organized Mind. Daniel Levitin shares detailed scientific research about sleep and it’s truly fascinating. Here’s a good juicy quote: “Sleep is among the most critical factors for peak performance, memory, productivity, immune function and mood regulation". If you live with children, who couldn’t benefit from better MOOD REGULATION? He is pro nap! Check out what happens, for you and your young child when we nap: “Naps also allow for the recalibration of our emotional equilibrium-after being exposed to angry and frightening stimuli, a nap can turn around negative emotions and increase happiness." Think new power struggle de-escalation strategy – take a nap!
Seriously, never, ever, not ever should we underestimate the power of a good time to help with our parenting. Fun should be at the top of everyone’s list of things to do each week. Fun soothes the soul, fun rounds out the inevitable sharp edges of family life. Fun gives us things to look forward to when we are doing mundane tasks we don’t feel like doing. When (you guys when, NOT if) kids are uncooperative – try a dose of fun instead of a dose of terse talking to. Could be a fairy tale after a 10-minute house tidy. Might be a quick trip to Starbucks for a fun, sugary treat after an SAT Prep course. Consider a Friday night movie night with ONLY food the kids like after a week of balanced meals. Perhaps we could sleep in Sunday with no demands upon waking after a week of Nana visiting and a lot of "best behavior". Family fun can be expressed in as many ways as there are families - two-week family vacations, weekend car camping, quick trips to the zoo, listening to the books on tape together – but really, have FUN with your family. Fun works with the tantruming toddler and the surly teen. Instead of punishment or consequences, think how can we uphold these limits AND add fun into the mix? There is more to read in Enjoy, Relax, Have Fun! and When in Doubt, Laugh it Out.
The way we enter the house after a long day out of it and how we come together is a very, very powerful tool. If we are stressed, if we reach for sugar, if we are over-carbed, if we slam a beer because we are starving we can predict (thank you pre-frontal cortex) that our evening might be roller-coastery or sluggish. However, if we have a plan, if we are prepared (not perfect), if we have mostly nutritious food in our house, if we are not stressed about meal time we can expect that our evenings have a fighting chance. Honestly – if you are having power struggles over homework, consider sidling up to the child while you online shop at your local grocery store and ask what would make their week more yummy and relaxing. If they request sugary and gross stuff (which they will), I try to honor one thing and then fill the cart up with veggies, lentils, pasta. If white pasta will float their boat every now and then, I indulge. Parents with a menu plan can handle nighttime drama better, kids with predictable mealtimes are more apt to succeed. If we can make it to the table without having yelled at each other, we are more likely to share our joys and sorrows. I started with www.savingdinner.com. Do NOT underestimate this powerful tool, Wait, What?! I Have to Make Dinner AGAIN? might give you a chuckle and some additional ideas.
This is really Vicki Hoefle’s idea of "Do nothing, say nothing", which translates to - stand there and see what happens. Parents these days are high achieving, so we can’t wait around to see what happens. I hear you, “Unacceptable!”, I have modified this technique and renamed it Mountain Pose. I added in the ab workout (who couldn’t benefit from standing up straighter and sucking in those middle aged abs!?). Please read Mountain Pose for a full refresher. Quick & dirty, the idea is that you stand and wait for your child to do what they know they need to do, no yelling, reminding or cajoling. Somehow your rational brain cells will mix with your child’s irrational brain cells and without talking you will find that teeth get brushed, dog gets fed, sibling squabbles die down, backpacks get hung up. It takes longer in THE MOMENT then yelling, but has no nasty side effects, no later apologizing necessary and in the end saves you the relationship and all that time you need to talk through feeling bad about yelling at your kids.