It seems everyone knows how you should parent your kids these days…except, maybe, for you.
With so many voices shouting at you, who do you listen to? How do you know what works…and what doesn’t?
Simple. You stick with tips that are backed by research. That way you can move forward confidently and know you are doing what is best for your sweet little one.
Sure, part of it is trial and error because no two children are exactly the same; however, there are some universal traits that all kids share.
Understanding the basic principles of child development will help you make good parenting decisions so you can worry less and enjoy your kids more.
Help Your Child Create Habits Early
Habits are those activities we do without thinking, and they are often established early and carried out without thinking for years (decades!). You wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, you close the car door after you get in, you start the coffee when you wake up.
Helping your child establish healthy habits is like creating ideal default settings for them. The earlier you do this, the easier it is for them to learn.
A simple way to do this is not to present certain choices as optional, but instead as normal and expected. For example, if you want her to eat vegetables, serve them to her (don’t first ask if she wants them). If you want her to wear a sweater, hang it up by the door. Making something a choice opens up the door for refusal.
Remember, children may still resist or turn down things they dislike. However, research indicates that it is far less likely if they are not asked whether they want something and just set up to make it a habit.
Be Crystal Clear & Never Assume
Often we get upset when our kids do something when they should have known better. What parents often forget is that kids actually don’t always know better!
Children’s brains operate very differently than adults do.
Think for a moment about how literal your child is; it’s probably given you quite a few giggles and stories to share. Their minds are very concrete at this stage of development, and as such they don’t infer conclusions the way an adult would at all. Life is simply taken at face value.
So instead of giving them the facts and assuming they will know what to do next, try simply stating or restating exactly what you want from them.
Let go of your expectations of what she should already know. You might be pleasantly surprised at how well this works; you’ll start to see a child who is eager to do the right thing instead of overwhelmed by choices.
Keep the faith that your kids want to do what is right instead of assuming they are being intentionally obtuse!
Connect The Dots
While obedience is essential for our kids to learn (after all, it can literally save their lives in some situations), so is understanding and reason. By connecting the dots in their minds for cause and effect, you are actually helping them have the tools they need to follow your instructions.
Children are more likely to accept limits when we explain ourselves at first, so they can make sense of what we are saying.
For example, you would say, “Hold my hand in the street because it will keep you safe,” instead of insisting on blind compliance.
There are two caveats here. First, keep your explanations brief and concrete. Kids do not listen to long winded backstories. Next, safety comes first. In certain situations, it is better to be firm and insist.
Remember, too, that children are more likely to accept exceptions when you explain yourself most of the time.
Stay Positive & Look Ahead
You will inevitably have to discipline your kids. It happens. But how you do it? Well, that’s up to you.
It can be a beautiful time to strengthen good behavior and nurture your relationship with your child or it can turn into a time of frustration and self loathing for your little one.
Try and stay matter of fact when disciplining. Once you’ve dealt with an issue, refocus on the positive and move forward.
When children feel like they have failed, they are more likely to give up. They are thinking, if I already messed up, why even try?
Let’s say your kid spilled his milk. It happens, right? You might hand him a rag to mop it up. When he is done, give him a warm smile and praise how he solved his problem. Ultimately, our approval encourages kids. And if it happens again in the future, simply handle it the same way.
Work on Delayed Gratification
Being able to wait for a greater reward is a vital life skill.
Measure your child’s ability to delay gratification by trying the Marshmallow Test. Haven’t heard of it before? It’s fascinating and helps you teach the importance of patience for a future reward.
Place a treat that he likes in front of him (in the original study it was a marshmallow, hence the name). Tell him that if he waits, he can have two. Then leave the room for a few minutes.
Kids who are able to wait for the second treat are on track for success.
According to the original study, those who could delay gratification saw benefits once they grew up. They did better in school, got along better with others, and handled stress and frustration between. They even had lower addiction rates and were less likely to become obese.
To practice delayed gratification, make the Marshmallow Test into a game (because making it fun will take out the stress!). Start with a small time frame and gradually extend it. Call it The Waiting Game.
Your kids will eventually beg to play it, once they get used to the idea of a reward. Also, look for any opportunities throughout the day to practice waiting. Any time your child asks you for something, you have the chance to ask them to wait.
Always Keep Your Promises
Parents often forget the promises they make, but kids don’t.
When adults consistently break their word, kids trust them less going forward. Kids who don’t trust adults are less likely to cooperate with them.
This hurts your relationship and hinders your ability to teach your child(ren) well. Consistency and trust are some of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
Have Faith in Your Child’s Capabilities
Research indicates that children live up to our expectations of them — no matter what that expectation is.
In one study, researchers told teachers that some of their students were gifted. Although the supposedly-gifted students were selected at random, they performed much higher than their peers by year’s end.
The simple belief in their capabilities made a significant difference in what they actually achieved!
It may be tricky to purposefully change your beliefs, but what you can do is change your perspective. Reframe misbehavior in a positive way. For example, a distracted child may have a vivid imagination.
This will help you see the best in them, and as a result they will live up to their best.
You’ve Got This!
Motherhood is challenging.
There will be moments (days, even) that you doubt yourself. There will be times you feel like you’re drowning and your child is dommed for lack of a better parent. But those will pass.
After all, you’re growing, too. And the more you learn, the better you’ll do. Keep reading and know that you are doing the world’s most important work!