ARTICLES AND TIPS ON PARENTING
How to clearly communicate your expectations to your childrenand gain their obedience while helping build their self-esteem.
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Tips on parenting: communication and expectations
“Look at this mess. You’re such a little pig.” “Why can’t you ever do what I tell you to?” “No, no, not like that, you’re doing it all wrong… let me do it.” “How many times do I have to tell you….?” Have you ever heard parents using these words with their children? Do you ever hear any of these coming out of your own mouth, and wince?Most parents know about positive reinforcement, that is, teaching their children their desired outcomes by reinforcing positive – not negative – behaviors. And yet, go out to a public restaurant filled with families, and listen to how other parents talk to their children. Comments just like those above can be heard over and over again, and these, unfortunately, only serve to break down the child’s self-esteem.How then can you teach your child appropriate behaviors, without whining, nagging, pleading, or yelling? How do you get your child to understand – and actually carry out – what is expected of them? One effective way is through Positive parenting.Positive parenting means reinforcing good behavior. It means focusing on what the child is doing right, versus constantly criticizing what they’re doing wrong. It means giving clear and appropriate directions ahead of time, and clearly communicating the ramifications of non-behavior.Does this mean you shouldn’t punish your child? No, not at all. Punishment – whether you use time outs, spanking, withdrawal of a favored toy or privilege, etc. – is an appropriate consequence of misbehavior. Positive parenting, however, does mean that you – as the parent – take responsibility for clearly defining the expected behavior up front, and making sure the child understands the expected behavior – and the consequences.Take, for example, a situation where little Susie is invited to Johnny’s birthday party. Her mother knows that Susie is – shall we say – “high spirited”. As they pull up to Johnny’s house, Susie’s mom tells her, “Please be good at the party”. Susie now has received a very vague direction, and if she was really excited about the party, probably didn’t even tune her in. She’s excited about the balloons, presents and cake, as well as playing with her friends. She runs inside, where she is loud, gets into a fight with another child over a toy, cries when Johnny doesn’t open her gift first, spills her drink on her dress, whines when there is no ice cream and drops her cake – which she was eating in the family room instead of the kitchen as directed – on the carpet. Susie’s mom is mortified, yells at her and finally drags her out of the house, kicking and screaming, into the car where she berates her for being so bad. She drives home, embarrassed and fuming, with little Susie sobbing in the back seat.Sound familiar? We’ve all had similar experiences, either with our own children or with guests. Let’s look at how Susie’s mom could have handled this differently.“Susie, I know you’re excited about going to the party. Let’s sit down before we leave, and talk about what is expected at a birthday party.” Susie and her mom sit down on their sofa where they can talk quietly before going to the party. She makes sure she has Susie’s undivided attention before continuing.“Birthday parties are a lot of fun. There are going to be a lot of kids there, and I want to make sure that you understand some of the basic rules before we leave, okay?” (Susie nods) “When we’re at the party, I want you to use your inside voice, even if you get excited, okay?” (Susie nods) “You also need to be a good listener for Johnny’s mom, and do what she tells you to do, okay?” (“Okay, mom,” Susie says, ready to leave). “Just a couple more things. Please walk when you’re inside the house, just like when you’re here, and be careful of their furniture okay?” (Susie nods) “Finally I want you to say please and thank you and only use nice words, okay? If you can’t do all that we’ll have to leave the party, okay?”When they arrive at the party, Susie’s mom stops the car. “Let’s make sure we remember how we are supposed to act at a birthday party, okay? We need to use our inside voice, and be a good listener, right? We also need to walk – not run – inside the house and say please and thank you and not use any bad words. Do you think you can do all that, so we can stay at the party?” Susie agrees, eagerly. She knows what all of those words mean, and her mother has her clear attention.Susie now knows clearly what is expected of her. She may still get excited, and she’ll probably still spill her juice on her dress (but maybe not, if she isn’t running). If she starts to get into a fight with another child, her mom can quietly intervene and say “Remember you need to be polite and use only good words? That means taking turns too. Let’s not use any bad words, I don’t want to leave the party, do you?” When Johnny’s mom tells them to stay in the kitchen, she will (hopefully) listen. If so, Susie should be praised on the way home for being a good listener, and using such nice manners at the party. She won’t even mention the spilled juice, because it was an accident.If she doesn’t listen, and she’s blatantly disobeying, she needs to leave the party – that is the consequence that was laid out. She’ll still cry, but her mom will tell her politely but firmly that “Little girls who use bad words and fight at birthday parties don’t get to stay. We have to go home now.” Later on, when Susie is calm, her mom can calmly talk to her again about listening, and the consequences of not following directions.Our little ones need clear direction, and they need to know that we’ll follow through on our consequences when they disobey. This can usually be handled with positive words, not belittling ones that break our children’s wills and erode their self-esteem.Even when criticism is necessary, it’s possible to phrase it in positive, constructive words. Laying out the behavior that was expected, rather than criticizing what was wrong, helps the child understand what they should have done… not just realize that they did something wrong. “Don’t color on the floor!” can be “Please only color on the paper. You need to clean up the floor where it got messy now.”It’s also important to realize that accidents do happen, especially with toddlers. Try to explain what happened, and why, and don’t dwell on it for any longer than necessary. “Whoops, the glass spilled because it was too close to the edge of the table. Let’s try to keep it up here so it is out of your way when you eat, okay?”Finally, try to be objective about what is and isn’t willful disobedience. By trying to constructively instruct your child, with positive and clear directions up front, you can help them understand the expected behaviors before problems occur. You can also help them understand – and accept – meaningful consequences for misbehaviors, as well… all without destroying their fragile self-esteem in the process.Copyright 2002 by PageWise, Inc.
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