Is there a trick to raising great kids? Something that is almost guaranteed to work?
We’d all love that! And because we want to raise good kids, we’re often focused on how to prevent bad behavior. When we talk about parenting techniques, that’s usually what we’re talking about: How to you curb bad behaviour?
We’re focused on how to react when kids do something wrong. Our starting point is already the negative. And a few weeks ago I raised quite a ruckus on the blog and especially on Facebook (I didn’t realize it would be so controversial) when we talked about how spanking babies is abuse, and how spanking is not a good parenting technique.
Now, I do believe we need good discipline techniques, and consistency is vitally important.
However, there’s something that’s even MORE important, and it’s this:
We need to interact with our kids and get to know them, because good behaviour flows out of relationship
I know a ton of parents who know how to give a good time out, or who spank consistently, who at the same time do not know how to actually play or interact with a child.
I think we have focused so much on discipline that we have neglected the happier parts of parenting–just how to interact.
Now, I have to confess that I absolutely HATED playing with my kids. I hated playing when I baby-sat, too. I’m not one of those sit-on-the-floor-and-play-Barbies moms. I never have been.
What I could do, though, was talk to my kids, read to my kids, and listen to my kids. And I found that the more I talked to them, especially outside the house, the more they would play when they were inside the house without demanding that I participate. So it was a win-win!
I’m not saying, then, that a good parent is one who is always playing anything and everything with her kids.
Not at all. I know many of you, like me, struggle with stuff like that. But do discover how and when you are best at interacting.
I always found it easier to involve the kids into my life than I did to try to enter theirs. When I was cleaning the kitchen, for example, I’d give them a cloth and a spray bottle of water and they’d go to it with the bottom kitchen cabinets. We’d talk and laugh and they would be “helping Mommy”. They really liked cleaning time, because they got to spray water!
We also folded laundry well together. While I was folding, I’d throw sheets up in the air for them to run under, like a balloon. And then, when they were done that, they always got to fold the pillow cases and the facecloths into nice squares. They could do that even at 2, and they were quite good at it.
And even though they were entering into my sphere, they were “playing”. They were laughing, and having fun. And they felt as if they had my attention because I was laughing with them and talking with them. I figured I had to clean anyway, so if I could involve them, then I was playing and doing my own chores at the same time. Then later on, they might let me have some downtime!
The cleaning took 4 times as long as it would have had I done it without the kids, but it still got done, and everyone thought we were playing. And we were together.
The key that I have found is this:
If you want to raise great kids, then when you are with your kids, ENGAGE with your kids.
Think about the difference between sticking a kid in a grocery cart, ignoring them while you shop, and then getting upset when they start reaching for things or whining, and putting them in a grocery cart, and playing games and talking to them the whole time you’re grocery shopping. What happens? They think it’s a treat!
Whenever I announced to my kids that we were going grocery shopping they were so excited, because we had games we played there–how many yellow things can you find? How many things that begin with a “B-B-B” sound? Let’s count to 6 for all the fruits and vegetables!
And the benefit is they were learning colours and numbers and letters, all the while.
When they were older, we played the, “how much is all of this going to cost?” game, or “which is a better bargain?” We looked for food groups. They learned, and they felt like they had my undivided attention.
(Want more detail on the grocery games? Check out How to Prevent Tantrums Before they Start!)
When you’re out with them walking in a stroller, talk to them, don’t look at your phone. Point out the puppies. Look at the birdies. Clap when something funny happens. Even sing songs with them!
When you’re in the car, and they’re able to see out the windows, look for colours and letters and animals. Engage with them, and they’re far less likely to whine or start fighting with siblings. And when you engage with them, you build relationship, so that they’re going to feel more securely attached. They know you enjoy talking with them. They know you’re safe. And they’re more likely to want to do what you say–but also, you pre-emptively prevent meltdowns because they’re not bored.
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Sometimes I think we demand too much of ourselves, thinking that raising great kids involves getting into the sandbox, or acting out Barbie’s wedding.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but that may not be who you are. But if you involve them where you can, where it’s more natural for you, as often as you can, then they won’t feel abandoned if you make them play by themselves at times.
A child feels secure when parents pay attention and talk and laugh with him or her. When parents talk to them and try to teach them things about the world, they learn, “I am important. I am loved. The world is an understandable place, where someone will always help me to figure it out. And my Mommy thinks that I can handle it.”
Isn’t that we want?
On the other hand, if your view of parenting is to raise a child who is completely compliant, and who does not make demands (because that means that they are “spoiled”), you’re setting yourself up for failure. Your child won’t feel secure, which means that they will become even more demanding (they’re searching for love and for affirmation). You’ll become more frustrated with them and more frustrated with your own parenting. And you set up a downward spiral.
What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?
I see so many parents who really don’t know how to interact with their kids; they go for the more appeasement model of parenting. Kids act up and whine, and they try to get the kids to stop by offering bribes, or trying to distract them, or feeding them. The only time they actually talk with the children, then, is when the children are whiny. When they’re not whining, then the parents leave them alone because now they can grab some time to themselves.
What I don’t think parents realized is that if they took some time when the kids are in a good mood and just talked to the kids–even if you do it while you’re already doing a chore that needs to be done, like cleaning, or making the bed, or dishes–then your kids would be less whiny at other times of day, and you could get those minutes to yourself.
But it needs to start with you putting a priority on interacting with your kids and engaging your kids in the world around them.
And that, I believe, is the secret to raising great kids.
What do you think? Let me know how you involve kids in the everyday things of life!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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