I love sharing ideas about parenting. Some of the below ideas are not new, and others I would love to hear discussed more in parenting conversations. The below parenting elements work wonderfully with my children. Your mileage may vary. Feel free to share your own stand-by parenting advice in the comments!
1. Boredom is good. Children, particularly young children, are not like us. The world is completely new to them. They don’t need constant stimulus, and in fact I believe that stimulus can easily become too much for them. I strive to keep my youngest home at least one full day once a week. This isn’t always possible but I do what I can.
When my five-year old is bored, I sometimes tell him to make up a story or game by himself for a half an hour and then come back and tell me what he did. Then I leave him alone in his boredom. Invariably he excitedly tells me about a new idea he explored during his time alone. As an only child, I know from experience that kids are fine and better off with some boredom in their life. Boredom is the mother of imagination.
2. Talk, really talk, to the baby (and toddler). I feed my pre-verbal or early-verbal children words and signs. I’m patient and help them express themselves. I slowly explain complicated things to them. They understand more than one might think, and what they don’t understand they will learn quicker than one might anticipate. A parent’s expectation of communicating with them gives them confidence that they are able to communicate and understand the parent.
3. Smile, deeply smile at the children. Often. Thoroughly smile at them. Smile until it sinks into their soul. I am so happy just to be with you.
4. Never lie. I don’t mean Tooth Fairy lies; magic is part of childhood. I mean that when they ask if a shot at the doctor will hurt, tell them yes, it will hurt for a second and then it’s over. How will a child trust what a parent says when the parent occasionally lies (even if the parent thinks the lies are in the best interest for that moment)? Of course, telling the truth doesn’t mean telling the WHOLE truth. It means telling a developmentally-appropriate truth that contains no lies. Where do babies come from? A daddy helps to put a baby in the mommy’s tummy where it grows big and then the baby comes out. What happens when we die? No one knows for certain, but this is what we believe…
5. Play with them. Get down on the floor with them. Let them lead the adults into their world of make-believe. It lets them know that their play worthwhile and interesting. Plus it’s great fun!
6. Redirect, redirect, redirect! Ignore as much bad behavior as you can and glowingly praise good behavior. Toddlers work hard to determine the cause and effect of their new world. When a child’s bad behavior isn’t dangerous, then redirect or ignore it as often as you can bear it. When they have good behavior, lavish them with affirmations, hugs and love. I sometimes bluntly tell my toddler in as dead-pan of a manner as I can manage, “I’m not interested in that” when she does something naughty, and then I look away. When she does something good, I sing her a song, bounce her around and smile at her. The toddler years are the easiest age to get this correlation engrained.
When my five-year old exhibits bad behavior, I again try not to be a part of any cause and effect game he might be exploring. I’ve become rather good at calmly saying to him that what he did was a bad decision, that he will lose a car for it and he will want to make a better decision next time. I sometimes fail at the calm delivery of this, but I do my best. I think that once a child finds that a certain bad behavior triggers an emotional response in a parent, it’s all downhill. A parent’s authority is compromised, and the bad behavior becomes more entrenched.
7. When children are young, wear them in a carrier or in your arms as much as you can. When they are older, hug them as much as you can. A parent is a child’s native environment. Babies and young toddlers can withstand changes and chaos easiest if they feel secure attachment. I’ve heard that inward-facing is best (even with young toddlers) so that the carried child can see the parent’s reactions to the world. Inward-facing also allows an overwhelmed child to turn away if they feel over-stimulated. We all need hugs and affection. Babies, toddlers and children receive most of their affection from parents, which helps them feel loved. Simple but important.
8. Tell your child that you love them every day. Show them that love does not relate to their actions in any way. Tell your child that you love them when they are exhibiting bad behavior. I try to emphasize that I don’t like their behavior but I always love them unconditionally. I tell them that they can’t do ANYTHING in this world to make me stop loving them. Not one thing. Love is different from like.
9. When choosing compliments, it’s best to choose traits that they can control, rather than absolutes. There’s been a good deal of research on this, and I recall as a child being affected by this. “Smart” is an absolute. When someone says that you are smart, you tend to shy away from doing anything that might prove them wrong. I like to tell my son that he is attentive, that he did well thinking through a problem, that he works hard, that he made a great effort, that he is creative, loving, great company, inventive, focused and fun. I try to limit the use of the “S” word, however.
10. When a caretaker is needed, be exceedingly certain that any situation you leave them in is a good one. When I interviewed daycare situations for Sunboy, one director commented on how impressed she was with the grilling I gave her before I would allow my son to be left there without me. She said that many parents are happy to dump their kids off without a thorough vetting. I found this to be flabbergasting, particularly with a child who is not yet verbal enough to relay their experiences in our absence. Our kids are by far the most precious thing to us in the world. How much research do we put into a new car or a new house? How much more precious are our kids than those material things?
Now that my son is five years old, highly verbal and a wonderful snitch in these situations I’ve started to relax a little. But when he had a limited vocabulary and ability to get himself out of a bad situation? Mama tiger. Unless you are there (or have a hidden camera) you can never know for certain what transpires in your absence. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find a stable, caring, consistent situation with skilled caretakers who are committed to learning your child’s personality and nurturing them. But it can take some searching, research and grilling.
11. Never forget how precious children are, no matter how exhausting they might be. Little people in the making, looking to you as their mommy or daddy for love, self-worth, confidence, how the world works and everything else you can imagine. Enjoy every minute. I continue to be stunned that my son is in kindergarten more than a quarter of the way to being in college. How did that happen? Sometimes, it’s this thought that gives me the burst of energy that I need to make it through a long day. *soaking it the moments*
I’ve shown you mine. What are some of your favorite parenting elements?