I’ve often heard parents rationalizing punishments and rewards by citing the real world. When the kids grow up, they’ll be in the real world. In the real world, they’ll have to get a job and then, they had better be prepared. Punishments and rewards are everywhere, in the real world.
It was one of those idealistic parenting moments. I was in the kitchen washing dishes, and all four of my children were happily playing together in the living room.
The game of the moment was a pirate one, and there were plenty of giggles amidst the “Arghs.” In one of my glances, I saw my eight year old wielding a foam sword in perfect form. Another time, my three year old was proclaiming to be the Dread Pirate Roberts (I’ve mentioned we are a family of bibliophiles). The throw pillows morphed into a gang plank and the fish in our aquariums were hungry sharks.
As the climax of the game approached, I heard something that made me pause. “Send in the baby! He won’t harm her.” I had to laugh at my son’s use of diplomacy.
Though conflict, we learn to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and other people. Conflict provides an opportunity for growth and learning. This is true not only for children, but also for ourselves.
Everyone tends to get frustrated at times. Our family is no exception. Whenever that happens, we remind each other, regardless of age, to take a deep breath.
Taking a deep breath helps to calm us. The physical act of deeply filling one’s lungs and exhaling reduces stress. When stressed, we breathe in short, shallow breaths; deep breaths help to relax us. Breathing deeply also releases endorphins which help us to better deal with stress. It helps us to clear and focus our minds.
The time it takes to take a deep breath also breaks the current cycle of reactive thought. We can once again focus on finding a solution rather than expending all of our thought and energy on our frustration.
Everyone likes to feel that they have a purpose in life. Generally speaking, people want to be helpful, needed, and a contributing member of society (or a family). Sometimes knowing how to go about that is difficult. It can be even more so when you are small and have seemingly little to offer. When this need to help is not being met, it can manifest itself in less than desirable behaviors.
My three year old is going through a phase right now. He is aware and proud of his independence but still needs help with many things. He wants to contribute to our family but doesn’t always know how. Sometimes this presents as him following a family member around, most notably an older sibling or his father, and acting in ways they don’t appreciate. Asking him to stop doesn’t help with his needs. Instead, it is times like these that he seems to need some positive direction.
Positive direction differs from redirection; positive direction directs the person to an idea or outlet that meets their unmet need. When my son begins bothering someone in our family, I’ve found it very beneficial to help him with some positive direction. Simply put, I ask him if he would like to help me with something. That one simple question, regardless of what it is, is enough to meet his need to help out. It doesn’t matter if he helps me make cookies, wash walls, or pick up toys. He is a contributing member of our family and happy to be so. Of course, there is also the added benefit of some special time with a parent.
Cooperation has long been a survival skill. Tribal communities have utilized cooperation in order to meet everyone’s needs for millenia. With the advent of nuclear families, the focus on such cooperation took a back seat. Once again, with the increasingly interconnectedness of our society, it is once again becoming readily apparent that cooperation, along with communication, are vitally important to our species. Cooperation begins at home.
My three year old has been the hardest of all my children to get in his carseat, preferring to take extra time to get in his seat. After making certain that the seat is comfortable, I have a few things that have helped us with the dilemma.
1. Planning extra time. Starting somewhere after age 1, I planned in an extra five minutes to account for him taking his time to get in the seat. Around age 2 1/2, that got bumped to 10 minutes for a while but luckily we worked through that pretty quickly.
2. Going over our plans before we get in the van. “I’d like you to get in your seat right away. We don’t have a lot of time and we need to leave now in order to get to our underwater basket weaving class.”
3. Making a game out of it. “Where are we headed today? To the moon? To Mars? To chase dinosaurs? Etc.”
4. Deep breath. I take a deep breath and remind myself that they are only little for so long, and I should enjoy it. When I am stressed about leaving, it just seems to take even more time for him to get in his seat.
5. Food. Even now, my son will often ask for a mint when we get out to the van. I tell him I will get the mint while he gets in his seat. It’s not used as a bribe. The mint or snack isn’t dependent on his compliance. However, I know it’s harder to concentrate if you are hungry. Dividing tasks also helps him to understand that we are in this together.
6. Making certain we have enough home days. My son is a homebody. If we have been going places a lot, he will drag getting into his seat even more. He needs time at home.
7. When he was younger, playfully scooping him up, kissing him, and putting him in his seat (rather than having him climb up himself) prevented a lot of it. That doesn’t work now because he wants to climb up on his own.
8. Go fast. This summer I’ve mentioned that the faster we get buckled, the faster we get the air conditioner on, and the faster we get home to a nice drink with ice in it.
9. Something to do. Giving him a toy or activity to do in his carseat helps. Luckily he is still RFing, so it kind of keeps stuff in his carseat rather than the stuff falling down.
10. Making certain he has other times to explore the van. It’s pretty exciting, I have to admit. The idea of (pretend) driving somewhere or looking at buttons is appealing. If he has time to do that when we aren’t in a hurry – prime times are when cleaning out the van or when we are sitting in the van while I nurse the baby – he is less likely to want to do it when we are on our way.