At the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn, people often ask me how I get my children to be so well-behaved. Today I’m going to attempt to answer that question as honestly as possible. I think I can boil it down to four main points.
- They’re faking it. They are on their very best behavior, and I’m using my “good mom voice” because you’re watching. We are a normal family. We have normal children who occasionally talk back, openly defy us, and fight with one another. They don’t do these things all the time, but when they do, there is a consequence. Sometimes the consequence comes from Mom and Dad, and sometimes it is a natural consequence of the situation.
- Luck. I have to attribute some of our kids’ good behavior to luck. We are really laid back, and luckily, our kids seem to be pretty laid-back too, which leads to a mostly calm atmosphere at our house.
- We took a parenting class. That’s right, when our girls were nearly two and nearly four years old, it became clear that we didn’t have all the answers, so we went looking for them. We attended an all-weekend seminar called Parenting With Love and Logic.(affiliate link) It was kind of a bummer way to spend an entire weekend, but ultimately it was well worth it. It changed our lives at the time, as we had a couple of little petunias who were quickly learning how to push every button we had. Parenting With Love and Logic focuses on lovingly letting our children have the consequences of their poor choices, so that they may learn from their mistakes while their mistakes are small. We don’t use every single tool we learned in the class, but the ones we used right away have had lasting benefits. Our favorite by far was the Uh-Oh Song. We used a pack-n-play in the living room instead of her bedroom, but it’s the same idea. Our 18 month old would sit on my feet and scream any time I was engaged doing anything that didn’t directly involve her. I’m the first to acknowledge that children need to be held and loved and given attention, but I believe in letting them learn to be independent as well. It’s simply not realistic for me to physically hold a child all day. Within three days of implementing the uh-oh song, there were no more “mommy’s washing the dishes” fits. A close second-favorite is giving choices when things are going well, so that kids get a sense of control over their fate. It comes in really handy. For instance, if I get a feeling they are going to resist bedtime on a given night, I’ll stop everything about half an hour before our normal bedtime and ask if they’d like to go to bed now or in half an hour. They always choose to stay up for another half-hour, which makes them deliriously happy. It also puts them in bed right on time, which makes me deliriously happy. When they grow up and read this they’ll probably feel betrayed. But then they’ll use the same tool with their kids-because it works.
- We have a routine. Routine. Routine. Routine. I’m a huge fan of giving kids a routine. Does that mean we’re never out past bedtime, or we turn down invitations in favor of nap time? No. It does, however, mean that most average days at our house look the same. Our kids pretty much know what to expect from their day. It’s comforting to them, and I find it really minimizes moodiness. When our kids are being really rotten, I can usually trace it back to a deviation from, or change in the routine, such as a late night visiting friends, or starting a new sport. I mentally give it a couple days to settle out, while letting them have the appropriate consequence for their behavior. When they were babies I used advice from the books On Becoming Baby Wise, (affiliate link) and On Becoming Toddler Wise (affiliate link) to get us started on a routine and a sleep schedule, and I was able to change it to fit our needs as they got older. I loved the common sense approach and attest that it worked for us. We’ve been getting good night’s sleeps around here for years. (Okay, that’s not true. I never get a good night’s sleep, it’s just not who I am, but the rest of the family is out cold from 8 pm ’till morning.)
The bottom line is that you don’t have to use every bit of good advice you ever get. Choose a few tools that work well for you, and stick with them consistently. Good behavior isn’t usually something that will just happen on it’s own. Don’t be afraid to ruin your kid’s day with a well-placed consequence. After all, isn’t it really she, that ruined it by making a poor choice? Don’t be afraid to give the gift of the consequence as often as it is necessary. Don’t be afraid. You’re the parent. They are looking at you to try and figure out who it is that they are supposed to be. Help them figure it out with consistent, loving guidance.
What are your favorite tools?