Bits of Sweetness: On raising great kids

On raising great kids

Picture this. You're our for the evening, enjoying a lovely dinner at your favorite romantic restaurant with the love of your life. The ambiance is perfect. The candles are flickering. You gaze into each other's eyes. There is no rush to get back to the demands of life. You are thoroughly enjoying this time. All of a sudden, an ear-piercing, blood curdling scream fills the entire restaurant. "NOO!! I DON'T WANNA SIT DOWN!! I WON'T EAT! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!!! AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!" Chaos ensues. Silverware is thrown onto the ground. More screams are uttered. The parents of the guilty little person simply exchange glances and continue on with their dinner. Every other person in the restaurant is inwardly breathing a sigh of relief. "Phew. That wasn't me!" Sound familiar? If not at your favorite dining spot then your local grocery store or shopping center. We have an almost-four-year-old son. It is hit and miss with his meltdowns. Part of good parenting is knowing what to do with these lovely displays of emotion.

I watched an episode of Dr. Phil appropriately called, "The Brat Ban." Much of the discussion was about a no-tolerance policy towards young children in many places. Opinions were varied. (Interestingly enough, the people with the strongest opinion that no children allowed should be enforced did not have any children of their own!) The audience had to vote on a video clip of an out-of-control-child in a restaurant with what they would do if they were the parent. The answers went something like, a)tell the child to calm down b)ignore the fit or c)take the child outside. Most of the audience chose c. One audience member made the point that there was one more option that more people should consider. Simply, don't take your child to the restaurant!! What a profound statement! (sarcasm intended).

As parents, we all have expectations for what we desire our children to be like (or who). We expect them to say, "thank you" when given something. We expect them to sit nicely at a meal as a guest at someone's home. We expect them to show us respect. How this actually goes down is another story altogether, but regardless, we all have expectations in the back of our minds.

A few months ago, I needed to pick up several grocery items. I had our son with us. He was tired. He was emotional. He was not in a very compliant mood. I love a good adventure though! (Don't you?!) As I pulled into the parking lot, he began to whine, "No Mama! I don't want to go to the store!" "Andrew, we need to get a few things it will be fast." "But I don't want to!"

That should have been my first clue! It's easy to just make choices for our kids, isn't it, and to just brush over what they said, enforcing our expectations and authority anyways.

We entered the store and picked out a cart. I put our son in the cart. Well, tried, at least. He would not go. He wanted to walk. After a little battle, I let him walk. "Ok Andrew You can walk. But you need to stay right by me." Two seconds later he was ten feet away. "Andrew, come here!" No luck. I chased him down and took hold of his little hand. Screaming ensued. "Andrew!" I whispered in a you-better-listen-to-me tone. "You have to stay with me!" "Noo!!!" He whined. He threw himself on the ground. Ok then buddy. Privilege gone. I put him in the cart. He was not having any of it. He screamed louder than I have ever heard him scream. Which then turned into trying to hit. Which simply escalated louder, and louder. We hadn't even picked anything out yet, but that was a blessing right then! I turned around and left the store.

Having a screaming, fit-throwing child in the store is frustrating, but I as his mother should have been a lot more perceptive and understanding. It was a bad time to try to do a shopping trip. He was not in the mood and it definitely did not go as planned!! Part of good parenting is understanding your child and having the discernment to know when to plan and do things! If your child throws fits every time you go to a fine-dining restaurant, maybe you should stop taking them with you! Know your kid! If your child has a spot like mine does in the afternoon when they are cranky, don't plan a big social activity right then(think birthday party or dance lessons).

One of the hardest things about parenting is seeing your child go through disappointment or hard emotions like sadness or anger. It's easy to try to prevent them from going through some of these things, or at least to soften the blow. After all, "real life" is hard enough, isn't it?! Having worked at a learning center for 3 1/2 years, I have stories of parents who softened the blows of life for their kids. Like the twinkies used as a bribe and reward for every little good behavior. Or the promise of a fun activity any time the child was sad. Or a new toy regardless of the child's behavior that day. The list goes on. As parents we want our children to grow up happy and healthy, but are we really doing that or are we unintentionally doing the opposite?

At first look, it would seem many many children are very happy and healthy children. The real test comes though when something happens to disrupt the balance of a child's life. I don't mean anything majorly life-changing(like moving or a new family member born), but the little things in life add up and soon equal the big things. It's the toy getting taken away from them. Dessert being denied as a viable dinner option. Being told no or being told to obey. We want our kids to be well-rounded happy beings, but does softening the blow accomplish that?

Sadly, it does not. I think part of the problem is in our lack of resolve and stubbornness as parents to enforce what our kids need, not what they are screaming that they want. It is easy to give in isn't it? To just say yes,to just let them do what you told them not to this one time. In the long run though, it becomes harder, and the screams just become louder. I think we, as parents, might be scared. Scared of what our kids will think of us for saying no. Scared that they might remember what a terrible parent we were. Sometimes it's the energy (or, well, lack of.) It takes work to make these little people listen!! (After all, have you  ever tried carrying a kicking, screaming child to their room for a quiet time?) I think we need to step it up. I know that isn't sugar coated, but sugar-coated parenting is not going to get fabulous results. It lasts about as long as that m&m in the hot sun.

Step it up. I said it. We, as parents, need to take our role seriously. You know what? It is ok to say no; to set boundaries and enforce them. This sounds terrible but please let your kids cry!!! If you tell them no and they are throwing a fit, let them cry it out! (at home preferably to teach them this though!) Dare to listen to the tears. Don't cave! After all, would you rather listen to a three-year-old's tears and tantrum now or have to deal with it thirteen years from now when they are sixteen?! Be consistent! If you tell them no tv before bed, stick with it!! Kids need this! Ohhh they would have us fooled with their pleading cries and screams, but it is true. They will be chaotic without it. Have you ever seen SuperNanny? Consistency and stability are huge. She enforces it and I can vouch that it works! Kids need to learn how to deal with life too. By preventing them from dealing with hard emotions, we actually help them throw temper tantrums. You wouldn't tell a sixteen-year old to just stay off the road instead of teaching them how to drive. Likewise, kids need help learning how to "drive" the roads of life whether that means the happy ones or the frustrating ones. Now, I do think age-appropriateness teaching comes into play. You have to know your child and what they can handle. You can help your child with the areas they do not do well in though. Say your child does NOT like to share. Instead of trying to either 1)limit their playdates or 2)try to find a lot of social settings for them to learn with other kids, why not teach them at home? You as the parent can play with them and teach them to share. It's ok to take a turn with their toy and to role-play what they might face with other littles.

Don't react. Really. Don't! It will feed their frustration and anger. I know how tempting it is when you have just been hit with a very hard toy by your child or, they are kicking and screaming over brushing their teeth to respond in a loud irritated, upset voice, but it doesn't teach them anything but to do the same. Love. Calm, quiet love. It works wonders. Kids actually want to listen!!!

Parenting is such an adventure. So many memories, milestones, and sweet moments. Many that make you want to take a parent-timeout too! But, really, I wouldn't trade it for the world!

P.s. If you have a parenting question, feel free to ask away!! I've worked with just about every age!




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