Do you ever imagine how much valuable time you would save if your children did what you asked – when you asked them to do it?
‘Many parents make discipline more time-consuming and stressful than it really needs to be,’ says Tanith Carey, author of Mum Hacks: Time-saving Tips to Calm the Chaos of Family Life (White Ladder Press).
Of course, like everything in parenting, it’s easier in principle than in practice. But there are a few things parents do that can actually be counterproductive.
Tackle these parenting mistakes and you might even get the kids to listen the first time you ask them to do something, instead of the fifteenth.
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Expert solutions to 6 common parenting mistakes:
1. Shouting at the kids
Yelling at the top of your voice may work the first time – by stunning children into submission.
The truth is that the novelty quickly wears off and you’ll simply teach your kids to switch off and close down – or scream back at you. Plus, you’ll waste your own time and destroy your peace of mind by feeling like a terrible parent afterwards.
Learn to spot the signs that you are about to lose it and that the reactive part of your brain is about to take over.
As far as is realistically possible, stop what you are doing for a moment, go into the room where they are, make eye contact and tell them what you want in a low, clear, authoritative voice, which gives the message that you expect them to do it, not that you don’t.
If necessary, get down on their level, so they know you mean business. A little eye contact goes a long way.
2. Bending the rules
If you make up rules on an ad hoc basis, you’ll just confuse your kids. You’ll also be inviting time-consuming conflict because your children will think they have room to manoeuvre and will try to argue the point.
If you’re feeling a bit tired and fuzzy, you may also forget exactly what you said before – leaving your kids to push the boundaries even further to see where they lie.
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Avoid conflict by setting out your rules in advance and sticking to them – make the rules realistic for the ages of your children.
Writing the rules down in black and white also means that you and your partner will be on the same page, as will any caregivers who come into your home, like grandparents and babysitters. The rules become the bottom line, which your children know they can’t argue with.
Try to make the rules positive, not negative, and underline the fact that they apply to everyone in the home – even the grown-ups – so they feel fair. Give acknowledgement and praise when children stick to them.
Although many parents believe they are being sensitive and inclusive by letting children have an opinion on everything from what to eat to what to wear.
It actually can be frightening for a youngster to have too much power – no child wants to be more in charge than a grown-up.
You can, however, give them a restricted selection of choices. For example: ‘You can stay inside and do some drawing or go outside and play soccer. Which of these two things do you want to do?’
Let them choose between two equally good options. They don’t have to know that you’d be happy with whichever one they opt for.
4. Entering into a debate
Another mistake that some parents make is allowing requests to sound optional.
If you want your child to have a bath, but it comes out sounding like a question, your child may take advantage by saying no – and you will have an argument on your hands.
Once you have made your decision, keep any explanation brief. If necessary, make direct eye contact and state clearly in fewer than 20 words why that’s the rule.
At neutral times, when there’s no argument going on, talk through with your child the reason that rule is in place. Discuss issues, like tidying up or bedtime, before there’s a blow up so they understand how you would like it to go.
When the child can imagine and rehearse in their minds how you want them to behave and can foresee how pleased you will be when they do, they are more likely to do it your way.
5. Giving in
Time pressures can mean that in the limited hours you have with your kids, you want to make it conflict-free. Parents also fall into the trap of thinking that saying yes all the time makes their kids happy.
The problem becomes worse when parents who had a disciplinarian upbringing decide to behave the opposite way with their kids.
Set limits and stick to them; otherwise, children will test your resolve.
Remember that, as a parent, if you never say no, it will be difficult for your kids to deal with rejection from others as they get older.
6. Feeling guilty
So many parents start off well in laying down the law – and then ruin it by worrying that they’ve gone over the top when the child cries and screams. Because as adults we know we would have to be seriously upset to become so hysterical.
The fact is that younger children can weep at the drop of a hat – that’s the way they are wired. ‘I can’t count the times I’ve been amazed by seeing my kids developing a tantrum from zero to 60 – and just as rapidly going back to zero again,’ says Tanith.
Unless you’re stressed or have completely the wrong end of the stick, your initial instincts were probably right. Make it clear that when Mommy or Daddy says no, they mean no.
If necessary, repeat it like a mantra until they get the message. Otherwise, clear your diary for an endless round of exhausting tantrums and whinge-fests – exhausting for you, not them.