I have a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a 9 month old. Though I have some experience, I am not really what one would call a ‘seasoned’ parent nor do I think I have all the answers. I was originally inspired to write this post after responding to this letter:
“I have a 4 year old daughter and she can be, shall we say, quite a handful! Don’t get me wrong, she is very loving, but a lot of the time she is hard work and is very disobedient. I have tried timeouts and taking things away and also taking to her about her behaviour but it doesn’t seem to work. What works in your home? What is your secret because your family seem so happy and well balanced.”
What a compliment! But not exactly true. We definitely DO have our happy and well balanced moments but the unhappy and unbalanced moments are just as frequent (if not more so.) As I responded to the email, I realized that I had a lot to say on the matter and it was all more a way to remind MYSELF of the things I should be doing every day rather than things I was already doing. I try my best–don’t we all? But it’s easy to forget when life gets crazy, which coincidentally are the same times that the kids seem to get so much harder. So here is my list:
Make sure all physical needs are being met
My kids are major bears if they are hungry or tired. I can definitely tell when my oldest is super tired because he is EXTRA whiney and cries about everything, because I think that is an easy response that doesn’t take much energy when he is so tired. If my 2 year old is hungry, he is very stubborn and will just refuse to cooperate. Sometimes he goes down for a nap without eating lunch so I make sure he eats a real meal right when he wakes up. Some kids are adversely affected by lack of certain nutrients, like protein. My best friend has to give her 3 year old protein for breakfast or else she starts throwing fits like crazy.
Are they Bored?
Being a parent is exhausting and sometimes we just want some down time. So it’s easy to turn on the TV for the kids so we can relax for a few minutes…I’m totally guilty of this. But more often than not it doesn’t help me at all because my kids are BORED. Cures for boredom?
Give them a chore to do–they will either DO the chore or find something to do to AVOID doing that chore. Win-win!
Go visit a park. Kids need space to run around and get their energy out.
Go on a walk or a bike ride. My kids love to just get out and run.
Go visit friends or cousins. Maybe set up a certain day each week to get together with other little kids.
Play with them for awhile–do a puzzle or play play-dough with them or read them books.
Sidewalk chalk outside
And if all else fails, put them in the tub! Kids love to play in the water. Just be prepared to clean up a sopping wet bathroom.
Have a Predictable Routine
M/W/F my 4 year old has preschool. I wake up at 6:30 and exercise. If the boys get up while I’m working out, they are instructed to stay in their room and play until I’m done. I shower and dress and we all eat breakfast, including my baby who usually wakes up at 8. Then we go to preschool and drop Will off. Me and the two other kids go run errands or whatever until Will is done at 11:15. We pick him and go home and after a quick lunch, the two youngers go take a nap, hopefully for several hours. I will do an activity with Will or have him do quiet time in his room. During this time is ‘me’ time when I do blog stuff or crafts or just relax. We also live with my in-laws so he goes and plays with his grandma for an hour or two. That is a big help. In the afternoon we clean up the house or go somewhere like the park if we need to get out. And then I make dinner and we frequently take a walk around the neighborhood while dinner is cooking. We come home, eat dinner, then they can watch a movie until it’s bedtime.
Those days ALWAYS go SO much better for me with the kids because they have a structure and know what to expect. Also I notice they are better behaved when they have more time to run around outside or go do something. So it’s really hard on the days when I’m tired and just want to stay home. It’s honestly just easier to take them somewhere than to ‘relax’ at home because that doesn’t really exist anymore. But then again, I have two boys and they have LOTS of energy that they need to spend or they start getting really hyper and fight like crazy. And try to do at least one KID outing a day (like going to the library or park, not to the grocery store.)
As far as disclipline, I’ve noticed that positive reinforcement with my 4 year old works much better than taking things away. This means doing things like recognizing good behavior or promising a reward for following instructions rather than taking away privileges. But it’s so easy to jump to the negative thing so I have to consciously work at being patient and giving rewards for following directions or whatever. But if he hits his brother or something he has to apologize and do a timeout. And praising him for good behavior which often goes unnoticed like “wow–I love the way you are playing so nicely with Lucas right now! It makes our house so happy and peaceful.”
You can do a point system or some type of visual reward system. Every day the child starts out with 5 points and each time they misbehave they lose a point. When they lose all points they have some sort of major punishment, like getting privileges taken away. But if they keep all 5 they get a treat, and if they are extra good they can earn extra points to work towards a bigger prize, like a special outing with a parent. I have also heard a Red/Yellow/Green system where the child stays on ‘green’ all day until they misbehave and go to yellow. If they continue to misbehave they go to Red with a disciplinary action.
Sharing the Workload: Involvement helps them to feel unified with the family
I think by the time your child is two years old, he/she can start helping out with the workload in small ways. My two year old can do things like take clothes out of the dryer, pick up blocks or train tracks and put them away, put dirty clothes in the hamper, push a laundry basket from one room to another, even sweep the floor (okay that last one is pretty ineffective.) But he loves to be involved when I am working because they love to feel big. My 4 year old has the assignment every morning of unloading the utensils from the dishwasher and sometimes the rest of the dishwasher (he puts the stuff on the countertop.) I also frequently go tell him to pick up 15 things in his bedroom. Giving him a number gives him a goal to work towards and an end in sight. He can also load up the washer with dirty clothes (with my supervision), make his bed, clean up the living room, plus all the things my 2 year old can do. We frequently do housework in the afternoon so the house can be clean for when Daddy comes home. A clean house helps Daddy to feel less stressed out after a stressful day.
Validate Their Feelings
Some great advice a friend gave me when I was complaining about my whiny 4 year old is ‘just acknowledge his feelings.’ When Will is frustrated sometimes he just wants his feelings validated–“I know, it can be so frustrating when your brother takes away your toy!” “I know, going to bed is not as fun as playing with Legos. We’ll play with them a lot tomorrow!” And letting him say what he has to say without interruption really helps him to feel like he has your full attention and respect. Just think about how you would like to be treated when speaking to someone…you want someone to recognize that your feelings are valid and to listen without interruption.
Follow Through with Punishment
As far as discipline goes, warnings don’t really carry much weight. “If you do that one more time, you’ll have a timeout!” Well he did it one more time. So what happens? He has to go to timeout! He MUST go to timeout or else he will never take your warnings seriously. You have to follow through what you said. And think of punishments that fit the crime. For example, when we say family prayer and my 4 year old is giggling or being silly and not being reverent, he has to practice being reverent for 1-2 minutes after the prayer is over, sitting quietly with his arms folded and his head bowed and eyes closed.
Spend Quality One-on-One Time
This is an excellent thing to start doing if you don’t already do it. It can be hard, especially when you have several kids. But if you take just ten minutes out of your day to give one child your full attention, doing whatever he/she wants to do, it helps to fill their Love Basket. Meaning that sometimes all it takes is just ten minutes of time with your child for them to function happily and independently for the next several hours. Every time you find your child is driving you crazy, try having Special Time with him or her and see what happens.