Parenting is both hard and rewarding at the same time. The hardest parts are when our children aren’t complying, we don’t know why and nothing we’ve tried works. In my last article, I identified different reasons children might not comply. As promised, I put together this list of the top 10 important parenting survival tips that I reference all the time and share with my clients. They’ve truly helped my clients and I navigate parenthood.
- Connection. I decided to put connection at the top of the list because it’s the most important in nurturing the relationship with our children and preventing behavior problems. We humans evolved because of our social bonds in our clans, tribes, and households. A strong connection can be considered the foundation of well-built home, designed to weather the toughest of storms and natural disasters. Children need to a good foundation mixed with equal part of of warmth, hugs, love, laughter, safety, structure, and discipline. This means, plenty of hugs, play, conversations, understanding, and giving our children our undivided attention. In PCIT, parents are instructed to spend 5 full minutes a day (more if available) engaging in Special Play Time where the focus is on engaging in child directed play. This means you following their lead even if it means them calling a blue truck a pink dinosaur. No criticism, no teaching, no correcting. This helps children feel special and loved. Connection earns us money in the bank, making it easier for them to comply down the road, while also rewarding us parents with the much needed bonding we need from them too.
- Ask yourself, “what are they trying to tell me?” I read a parenting article the other day that encouraged parents to ask their children, “What are you trying to tell me right now?” during a tantrum. Children are determined to get their caregiver’s attention in positive or negative ways. It’ll all depend on which type of behavior has been reinforced. My 3 year old both noticed that I was more receptive to giving her attention during cooking if she shouted, “Ouchie, I fell!” than “Mommy, come play with me.” When she doesn’t comply with playtime clean up, she’s telling me that she doesn’t want special play time to end. Some children have sensory issues with certain clothing textures, water, tastes (like the ones who genetically, taste soap when they eat cilantro!).
- Addressing vulnerabilities is crucial to help regulate emotions for everyone, regardless of age. Mood is a big contributor to non-compliance in children, and stress level for the parent. When we’re hungry, tired, sleep deprived, and sick we’ll be irritable at best, and suffering at worse. One of my favorite Emotion Regulation Skills has the PLEASE acronym. They are both basic and live saving in parenting (and life in general). It stands for:
- Physical illness – treat physical illness for both child and parent. When we feel better, we act better. Take prescribed medications. Get medical check ups for yourself and your child. You might be seeing that irritability and/or non-compliance can be related to a medical issue (i.e. hearing issues, developmental delays, ear infections, low energy).
- Lead with healthy behaviors (P and L were originally under physical illnessness). Modeling to children healthy behaviors is also important. They will take deep breaths when they’re upset if they see you do it. Likewise, seeing you follow rules and respond in a calm way, will show them what you expect of them.
- Eating – balanced meals is important for you as well as your children. Poor eating habits can bring on tummy-aches and general unhappiness. Hangry is the very real combo of being hungry and angry. Snickers displays this concept where once the monster has it’s snack, they turn back into a human. When we don’t eat well, we may not have the energy to engage or even comply. Full disclosure: I’ve apologized several times for my behavior when hangry too.
- Avoid mood altering substances – in children this might be sugar, certain foods, electronic devices, anything that might overstimulate the child. This reminds me of an episode on Orange is the New Black when there is a flashback to Pensatucky when she is given soda before a behavioral assessment. Studies have also shown the impact of too much screen time close to bedtime, impacting sleep cycles.
- Sleep is of major contributor to challenges with mood for children and adults, alike. Think back to your or your child’s most sleep deprived moments and what the behavior was like. My daughter goes from goofy, to delirious, to combative as the evening progresses. On a day when I’ve gotten enough sleep and a good meal, I might have the reserve to deal with it. When I’m tired too, it sounds like World War III in my house.
- Exercise helps produce the feel-good chemicals in our brain. It also helps to tire us out so that we sleep better. For children with a surplus of energy, exercise will be crucial. Bonus: engage them in a team sport and there are so many benefits such as, following rules, sportsmanship, and structure.
- Specific Praise. Catch them while they’re complying throughout the day and praise the specific positive behavior. It lets them know that you’re paying attention, it helps you describe the specific positive behavior you like and want to continue seeing in them. Examples include, “thank you for listening right away”; “Thank you for helping me. You’re such a good helper.”; “Thank you for using gentle hands”; “I really like how you get in your carseat right away”; “Nice job eating all your fruit. You’re so healthy!”; “Great job sharing your toys. You’re such a good friend.” Labeled praise is a win-win skill. The parent feels good about praising the good and the child’s self esteem goes up knowing that they did something well.
- Label and Validate Emotions. The best way for children to understand what they’re feeling is for those around them to help them label their emotions. Otherwise, they grow up not knowing what they’re feeling and why. Help your children label their emotions by stating the obvious (to us), “You’re really mad that playtime is over,” “You’re really angry that you can’t have candy at 8pm,” or “You’re sad that mommy has to leave for work.” This shows your child that 1) you are paying attention, 2) you understand their emotion, 3) their emotion makes sense given the situation. Sometimes this is all that’s needed for them to feel heard and paradoxically, can calm them down since they won’t need to keep crying or engaging in the behavior to show you. Secret: This works for adults too! If you notice that your child might be responding to a flashback or bad memory, you can validate and say, “you’re having memories of the [insert scary event] and you’re feeling scared. You’re safe right now.” (This also works for adults)
- Give specific instructions. Here it’s important to break tasks down for children and tell them exactly what you want to see them do. These are statements, not questions. For example, instead of “can you go get ready?” say, “please go put your shoes on.” You’re probably shaking your head because your first instruction is very calm, but when you get to the 7th time repeating it you’re reached the edge of your patience. Oh wait, is that just me? See the next strategy for this.
- Use When/Then Statements. This skill helps children know what you will hold them to. Catch here is that you need to be consistent so they can learn to know what to expect from you each time you say it. Examples can be: “When you finish the food on your plate, then you can have dessert;” “When you get all 4 stickers on your chart, then you can use the iPad for 10 minutes;” “When you get in the carseat, then I can put your favorite song on (Moana’s “You’re Welcome” – if you must know what ours is);” “When you get in the shower, then I can bring you the bath toys;” “When you finish your chores, then I’ll give you the wifi password (a favorite for the teens).
- Pick your battles/Ignore – ignore what’s ignorable such as whining, making silly voices, sighs, annoying behaviors that aren’t too serious or involve safety issues.
- “Own your stuff.” Here we have an opportunity to reflect and ask ourselves, “What am I doing that contributes to my child’s behavior?” I’ll raise my hand and share first. Sometimes I respond to a text or two (or 5) during dinner time and my attention drifts away from my daughter. Dinner time is our first reunion from being at work all day. To get my attention, she does something she’s not supposed to at the dinner table. I get it. She’s looking for ways of getting my attention: connection. That’s my bad. When I remember, I put my phone face down and turn the ringer off. I’ve started adding a bath time alarm too so that it doesn’t get too late and it keeps me on track, in terms of schedule.
- Self-care is incredibly important for parents. When we take care of ourselves, it allows us to be there for others like our children. It’s the idea taken from the pre-flight safety tips where they tell you to “put your own oxygen mask on, before helping others.” We need to be ok if we want our kids to be ok. If you’re wondering how a bubble bath is going to solve your child’s behavior problem, it won’t. However, it will give you moments of relaxation so that you can develop clarity and reflection so that you can reduce your own vulnerabilities. Self- care here can mean, 1) a long bathroom break, 2) having your A.M. coffee still warm and in silence, 3) saying NO to overcommitting, 4) staying an extra few minutes in bed, 5) cashing in on all those folks who offered to babysit for you, 6) getting with your “tribe” or “your people” who get it and will let you vent (bonus, if they will also babysit for you). Stay tuned for a future post on Self-Care.
Lastly, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can in this moment. This is another favorite ism of mine that I tell all my clients. Parenting is a lot of work. Some days, moments, children, situations are harder than others. Reflect on this moment so that you can do better in the next. Like Oprah says, “when you know better, you do better.” Reflection helps us do better. So go and do anything that helps you reflect. I absolutely love working with parents. I offer parenting consultations on an as needed basis.
If you feel triggered by this article and are in need of some immediate resources, I urge you to contact:
- 911 or go to your nearest ER if you feel you a danger to yourself or others
- 211 – in LA County it’s the social service directory for grief groups, therapy resources, housing, and more. It’s also online, google, “211”
- LA County Access hotline for a psychiatric evaluation wherever you are located. The ACCESS/HOTLINE Phone number is : 1-800-854-7771. ACCESS operates 24 hours/day, 7 days/week as the entry point for mental health services in Los Angeles County.
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to inquire about an appointment with me in the Long Beach area. I can also help connect you to other therapists if you live elsewhere.
- If you would like to access your insurance mental health benefits, there should be a Member Phone number on the back of your insurance card. Ask them for their list of approved therapists. They can also email it to you, making it easy to cross reference the list on www.psychologytoday.com where you can check their profiles out.
Thank you for reading. Follow me on Instagram under @mendingrootstherapy to get updates about new articles, quotes and other musings on mental health.
Therapy Models referenced: