When trying to get your message across, whether it be a request to pick up shoes or finish homework, often the shorter the request, the better. Keep it simple. “My love. Shoes.” or “Start.” Brief and to the point. Yep, that’s it.
Going slow is good but sometimes just stopping and standing still, like you’re rooted to the ground is even better. In parenting, sometimes it is our first reaction to say something profound, give a direction, lay down a consequence, come up with a new rule or say a loud and emphatic “no!” Or, things are going well and we think we have to move on to the next thing before someone (it might be us) gets bored and into mischief. During those times, it may be best to just stop, be still and quiet. Hard? Absolutely. Necessary? Absolutely. Even our own silence is golden.
Many children, especially young little people, benefit from pictures to help them understand what emotion they have or the emotion others are having. If your child is younger or struggles with the demands of language, try drawing pictures to communicate something important to them. For example, the other day I explained to a 3 year-old that her screaming, throwing things and stomping her feet made me think she was very angry and mad. I reflected the same angry face to her to have her understand I was “getting her.” In addition to teaching her the words of angry, mad, frustrated, etc., I drew a picture so that if she couldn’t come up with the words, she could just show the picture to her parents or teacher. There are dozens of resources for helping children identify emotions and express them (two places to start include the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation at Georgetown University and the Center for Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) at Vanderbilt – don’t let the poorly chosen stock image on the front cover of this document scare you!). But when you don’t have time to search through existing resources, just have your child draw how they feel. Or, grab some play-doh and mash out that anger. The message to get across is all feelings are OK and that your child is still loved and lovable with all those feelings, even anger. But, the behaviors associated with the anger (kicking, screaming, etc.) are not OK.
One of the most stressful circumstances for me as a parent is when I really need to be somewhere (at work, for example) and neither child is cooperating with my sweet, love-filled requests (to put it mildly). I can feel my blood pressure rising, my shoulders tensing, my voice increasing in volume and my requests start turning into angry demands. Shockingly, my children don’t suddenly stop the dilly-dallying and put their shoes on and start walking to the car. Often, they become angry, stressed and start yelling too. We all end up in Nowheresville.
About a year ago, I introduced my children to the “British Lady at the shoe shop.” She speaks with an English accent and fumbles around trying to find the best fitting shoe for each child. Think of Amelia Bedelia meets Supernanny. Because I use it sparingly, it tends to work beautifully. Other times, I have introduced a mime, an alien and the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. None of these have special powers (or do they?) but they do change the situation quickly and dramatically. Often when we sense our parenting is spiraling downward and the stress is accumulating, we just need to break that momentum. Whether we create a new character to guide kids through a required task, let them be the parent or we just whisper the requests, it shifts children’s actions (or inaction as the case may be) into doing what we need them to do.
For your viewing pleasure:
Baby book, blog or napkins. No matter your choice to record all the memories of your children’s lives (and your parenting successes!), there is an inherent desire in all of us to capture and document the memories. It is so easy for this earnest and heartfelt routine to get stressful. From the choice making of manner of documentation (book or blog) to the learning of the technology (more so with blog than book) to the staying up late just to get it all documented, this practice can get a little stress-filled. But, it is so valuable and enjoyable in small doses.
One way of implementing this practice that can weave it in to life a little easier is to pair documenting of ordinary moments with something else that is “ordinary.” For example, jot down those memories (in whatever form) on the day you take the recycling to the curb, on the day you get a certain magazine in the mail or each day right before backing out of the child care setting where your child is. The main idea is to pair the act of journaling with another act that happens regularly and predictably. Often a few notes of what has happened during the last day, week or month is enough to trigger other memories when you re-read the entries. But, this method can reduce the stress of “having to get it done.” Try it!
For a while, early on in the parenting world especially, put the books down and read your baby instead. This was the best advice I heard once in the wee hours of sleep deprivation but I needed to hear it more. It is counterintuitive because when we’re new at something, we want to figure it out (most of us). The less “figuring out” you do, the better. Just be in it and keep moving forward. Life moves forward whether or not you read the book.