The waters of parenting are challenging, mysterious, and deep. To do things the right way is challenging and not often so obvious, as we often know what the end result is but not how to go about achieving it. For instance, you might know that you want your child to accept it when you say “no” to something without having a meltdown, but how do you get to that point? How can you impose boundaries and limits while still being respectful?
I will be honest with you- it takes practice, patience, and training. You need to have a plan or an idea on what you want to say and how you want to handle a situation before it happens. Or at least have a feeling of what kind of message you want to convey. Some of my favorite books on Positive Parenting you can find on Amazon: “Positive Discipline A to Z”, “Positive Parenting”, and “Happiest Toddler on the Block”. These 3 books really cover nearly everything you could want to know about how to handle negative behaviors and how to do it in a way that doesn’t damage your child’s spirit by being too harsh, mean, or having extreme consequences.
The best way to go about handling behavior like this is to think: “What would I tell my friend if I was their caretaker and they asked for something not in the plan?” Proceed in simple terms, being respectful of your child’s needs and feelings, but maintain the boundary. So if your child wants a candy bar from the checkout line area, simply say matter-of-factly, “We’re not getting candy today. Maybe another day.” If they persist, ask them if you can “put it on their wishlist”. Generally, this will appease them since they feel that you understand them (that they want it), even though you aren’t buying it for them. You can also say, “Let’s get a candy bar the next time we come to the store.” Let them have a treat on occasion, so that you’re not always saying no, but always speak respectfully to them when saying no. Validate their feelings and maintain the limit. (The book recommendations I gave go into this technique in more depth).
Having a connection and relationship with your child is important for them to trust your wisdom and insight. If they know you have their best interested in mind, they will mostly act and behave and listen to your wisdom. This is especially important if you want them to listen to you about important topics later in life during their teenage years (think: sex, drugs, alcohol, the wrong group of friends, etc.) The small stuff now is still just as important to them as the big stuff later in their lives. Establishing an open, honest, and trustworthy relationship NOW will help keep lines of communication open during their later years. You can do this by not blowing up, by being present, by working on solving a problem versus blaming someone for why it happened, and for cleaning up a mess or a mistake instead of shaming them. If your child spills food while busing their dish, just say, “Let’s clean that up. Here, I’ll get you a washcloth,” and then show them how to clean up their mess so they can learn responsibility and that it’s not a big deal that they spilled, but they should clean it up.
To teach your child empathy and consideration for others, you must also treat your child in this way. If they are injured, ask them what happened, what hurts, if they want you to kiss it, etc. If your child doesn’t want to hug your relative they barely know, don’t force it. Ask them if they want to give a handshake, a high five, or just wave “hi” or “bye bye”. Respect your child’s personal boundaries. Unless it’s safety-related, let them go to the beat of their own drum when it comes to certain decisions. Let them pick out their shirt from 2-3 choices, have them choose a book or 2 to read before bed, and have them help you do household chores as young as 1 or 2 (like tidying, putting laundry in the hamper, busing their dishes, etc.) which will lead to better habits, responsibility, etc. in their coming years.
Narrating what’s going on is helpful to a child’s understanding of culture and why we do the things we do. If you’re at the store and your child is running, you can say, “We are at the store, we don’t run here. Need to use walking feet.” This establishes a boundary, states where you are, what type of behavior is expected, and tells the child what they CAN do, which is the most important part. Just telling a child “stop it” isn’t very helpful since they don’t know what it is they are doing wrong. Giving a positive frame of reference (walking feet) shows them what’s allowed and will serve as a reminder anytime you’re at a place where “walking feet” are required (which is more than not, haha!). In our family, I also say, “This is a parking lot, hold my hand”, “This is not a playground, you need to sit nice on the chair”, “You see a ceiling above you? That means we’re inside. You need to use your inside voice.”
My 4 year old now will ask if he can scream as soon as we are out of the car (since it’s technically outside when we get out) and when I say yes, he then proceeds to scream in the parking lot on our walk towards the grocery store. He’s got my spunk, that’s for sure! He’s my more challenging child, but he’s also a lot like me, so I owe it to myself (and my mom for what I’m sure I put her through….) to work towards being a Positive Parent, a role model, and the biggest fan for my son. I’m his mommy as my first job and then his confidante/friend as number 2. In that order, so that I can guide him to the right path and then revel in the friendship we have when all’s well. And even when it’s not.