I think that there are times when our kids get into mischief because they are hungry or overtired. Sometimes they are discouraged and want to share the pain. Sometimes they feel as though there is never any time in the day where they are given choices or have a voice. And sometimes the connection between them and us is weak and they are reaching out.
When the mischief, regardless of the intention, shows up regularly, it’s time for us to get curious. If you begin to notice that it happens at a regular time of day, during certain transitions, you can invite your child to solve the problem with you.
Chances are, if it feels annoying to you, it feels annoying to your child, as well.
This is long-term parenting. This is creating opportunity to build a relationship with your child in a mutually respectful way. The skills your child gets to practice when invited into looking for solutions are life skills. Problem solving, perspective taking, compromise, making offers and counter-offers, these are all skills that we want our children to become comfortable with before they make their way out into the world. The only way to assure that is to give them lots of opportunity to practice.
This is a real shift in the way many of us were raised. If you want to bring up a child who is respectful, cooperative, and thoughtful, the surest way to get there is through a more democratic model in the home. It also involves trusting that the way kids behave is often because of lack of skills and a deep longing for a relationship with their parents.
So what does this look like?
First, as I mentioned above, begin to notice the times of day that are the most overwhelming. If there is more than one, pick the one you are the least emotionally invested in to start.
Invite your children to reflect on how that time of day feels for them. Then be prepared to hold the space for your kids to be really honest. Sometimes it is difficult to hear their perception of you. It is, however, powerful to let them share.
Then, share how it feels for you. I am really honest and non-judgmental here, owning my own behavior during this time; “So, I am noticing that I get really grumpy and nag-gy in the morning when you are getting ready for school. It feels really bad to have our morning time feel this way.”
Then, ask them what their ideas are for making morning time smoother – how might they take ownership for themselves? Some kids will be full of ideas, others may have grown weary and feel as though you are trying to trap them. There also kids who aren’t used to being asked their opinion, so they won’t be very forthcoming to this request.
Be patient. It is okay to ask, “Do you want to hear one of my ideas?” It’s also okay to say, “Think about it for a bit and I will check in with you again tomorrow.”
When they do share some ideas, be sure to record them, and add a few of your own. Cross off any of them that are unreasonable, disrespectful, unrelated or aren’t actually helpful (make sure there is at least one of your suggestions for your child to cross out). This isn’t a list of, “if you don’t ___ then ___;” this is a list of solutions to the problem.
When the list is full of solutions on which you can all agree, allow your children to pick out what they would like to try for a week or two.
I always ask, “What will help you remember?”
My kids often will create routine charts or make lists to hang where they can see it. We record any agreement or system we create – both for their benefit and mine – so we can remember the details and hold each other accountable. When the solution stops being helpful, we go back to that original list or start again. And we don’t need to be angry; instead, it becomes the common language in the home, the logical way to work things out.
The lovely thing is that the expectations – whether it is chores or homework or being ready for school – don’t change. But my flexibility around how it happens, and the experience for the kids of having a voice in the matter allows for an increase in the likelihood of cooperation.
And I am down with that!
Try this with your children. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t “work” the first time. Instead, recognize that this may be the first time you have worked this way with your child, and it will take practice. Keep your agenda in check and pay attention to the signals you are getting from your children. Are you being controlling? Are you showing up friendly and curious? Is the mood for the discussion right?
Trust yourself and the process. Know that it is the process itself that is gifting your child that opportunity to practice and develop social and emotional skills for their life ahead.
Casey O’Roarty is a Positive Discipline Trainer and Student Life Coach, living in Monroe with her husband and two kids. She has two upcoming workshops in the area and a new e-course available soon to support parents. Find out more about her and what she offers on her website at www.joyfulcourage.com.