“Just come and get this kid!” was often the plea I heard from parents as a volunteer on the Family Helpline.
By the time parents made the call to the Family Helpline they had already done everything they could think of to reach their child and get them to listen or obey. They were at the end of their rope, just like I was.
Twenty-eight years ago I was almost as desperate and called for help myself. I was hanging on by a thread and was at a loss what to do. I was lucky, though, and found my way to Parents Anonymous and received concrete, practical answers. The answers came to me in the form of our I Am A Parents Anonymous Parent booklet, IPAP for short, and the ten lifesaving tools for parents. These tools saved my sanity and more probably my children.
Ten Parenting Tools from the IPAP
Ignoring a child’s behavior may be hard but unless they are endangering themselves or others, parents can eventually adjust. This is also called “picking your battles.” Many things like picking noses, swearing or leaving the milk out on the counter will usually stop if you ignore it. When a child is scolded or reminded they will often increase the negative behavior that gets them attention. At the same time, recognizing them when they are doing something positive, like reading to their sibling, putting things away or blowing their nose instead of picking it will grow behaviors parents want more of. Feed attention to the behavior – good or bad – that parents want to see more of.
Taking away privileges gives children a short time to think about the infraction of rules. When the child stands and jumps on the living room furniture they can lose the privilege of being in the room for a short time. When the time is up, they regain the privilege. Adjust the amount of time to the age of the child and degree of seriousness. As an example, if your five-year-old child hits another child, they lose the privilege of playing with that child for five minutes and must sit away from play. If they were to hit the child again it might be a good idea to end play with the child for the day. When play has ended, check to see if the child might be ill, hungry or perhaps needs attention. Please keep in mind that time amounts should not be too long or parents run the risk of inviting resentment from the child.
Logical consequences are tied to the negative behavior you want to stop. If a child pulls the puppy’s tail then they are not allowed to play with the puppy for a set period of time. If internet privileges are misused then the child loses the internet for a time. If a child uses crayons to draw on the walls then hand them the materials to clean them off. The goal is to tie the consequence to the behavior.
Rearrange space or place to stop problems that arise. When children leave toys all over, get a basket to make it easier for kids to pick up and corral them. If toys continue to be a problem, gather a portion of them and lock them away for a time. Swap-out toys so kids enjoy what they do have; when toys reappear, they’ll be appreciated. If chores are not done, make a chore chart to help kids remember. If they forget again, give them extra chores.
Redirecting behavior is easy and saves pointless nagging. When a parent sees a child begin a negative behavior or activity they present a positive option. As the child stands on the sofa wearing shoes, a parent can offer to take the shoes off – and perhaps tickle the feet. When a child pulls the cat’s tail, give them a toy to pull instead.
Grandma’s Rule, called “when/then,” saves parents’ sanity. “When you have picked up the toys, then you can have a snack.” “When you have finished your homework, then you can go outdoors.” Each when/then has something parents want tied to something the child wants; it is a perfect trade!
Humor can change a mood in almost any situation and parents can always find it if they look. When a small child picks up stones and piles them in the car, the parent can ask, “Building a new driveway?” or “Is that your new pet rock?” Laughter releases serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones. After a grab-your-tummy, cheek-hurting laugh everyone is more relaxed. Laughing gives immune systems and energy levels a boost and can reduce pain; all the more reason to find funny rather than fault.
Showing children how to do new things is a must in order to complete a task, chore or activity correctly. Never assume children have watched you do something and therefore know how it is done. Want a child to answer the telephone properly or fold laundry? How about filling or emptying the dishwasher? Anything parents want their children to do, they need to show them step-by-step instructions at least one time, maybe more.
Family meetings are a great way to gather family together and catch up on news, information, schedules or to set chores for the week. At family meetings, each family member has a chance to speak about matters that concern them or other family members and share news. Meetings work best when they are held at the same time each week, each member is present and the meeting is run with basic rules for all: Speak respectfully, be nonjudgmental, and adhere to time limits and listening without interrupting, etc. Family meetings can improve how a family functions, in relationships and by mutual respect of others.
Time out may be the most popular parenting tool in our toolboxes for young children! Time out is meant to be used with intentional misbehavior, harmful or dangerous behaviors like hitting, biting, pushing, etc. The purpose is to stop the behavior, isolate the child and give them a chance to calm down and think about what they did, not to punish them. As a child grows, a time out can become a personal skill for self-management.
Follow these points:
• At about age two, give one minute for every year of the child’s age.
• Place them away from the center of activity.
• Briefly explain why they are in time out and for how long
• Set a timer if available; children have little concept of time and the timer will help, especially when they know to wait for the timer’s ring.
• When the timer rings, children begin with a clean slate and show them that by noticing their good behavior as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind that young children have little concept of time and will not be able to tell time until they are older. The amount of time should not be too long or parents run the risk of inviting resentment from the child and the lesson could be lost.
These ten tools are relatively simple and effective; over time children will learn self-control and be able to manage their emotions and behavior somewhat better. No single parenting tool works for every child; parents must be patient and try many things until they achieve success.
“Lord give me patience, but please hurry.” – Unknown
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt