Last week, I talked about whether we should be rewarding children for their behaviour. We looked at why so-called Reward Charts can be ineffective in the long term, even though they may be a quick fix. After a while, the child either gets bored or the stakes increase and they rewards become a ‘bargaining chip’.
Today, I am looking at other ways parents can support children rather than getting stuck in the position of giving Rewards or Punishments.
When you see your child making an effort in any way, perhaps helping you with a chore, playing well with a friend or perhaps trying to learn something new, acknowledge this with them. Give praise but focus on the effort they have made rather than the outcome.
- Have respect for your child and acknowledge the challenges they face. For example, if they are happily playing with their toys and you need them to get their shoes on because you need to go shopping, take a moment to be in your child’s position and see the situation from their perspective. Verbalise that you understand how they may be feeling. Think how you could make these transitions more manageable: for example telling them ahead of time and setting an alarm to go off at a particular time. You could also give a few reminders leading up to the event. Let them know that they can leave their toys out so they can return to them later. You could also think whether it is possible for your child to take a toy with them.
- Encourage your child to co-operate with you. For example, “We need to do ……………, shall we do it together?” Make whatever you need to do fun. Again, see the challenges from your child’s viewpoint.
- Show appreciation, ‘I really enjoyed playing ………. today with you’. “Thank you for helping me do……..”.
- Remember to look behind any ‘bad’ behaviour. Are they bored, tired, hungry, thirsty or restless? As parents, we need to deal with these first rather than react to the behaviour. If, as an adult, we get irritable because we are hungry, how much more difficult is it for a young child who is not yet able to always express their feelings? We may ask them “Why are you feeling like that?” However, a young child may well not be able to link how they feel with what they need. We have to do a bit of detective work ourselves to try and discover what is wrong.
- Explain what you need from your child and why. You need to ensure you use language in your request in a way which is developmentally appropriate. Break the activity down into small steps rather than giving too much information all at once. Get down to your child’s level, make eye contact and repeat your request if needed. Importantly, you must remain calm in this situation.
- As already mentioned, as a parent you need to be able to tune into your child’s perspective. Be ready to emotionally connect and physically connect when and if they need this. It is incredibly challenging when a child is upset but as the adult you need to stop, breathe and check in with your own feelings. You need to be calm (or pretend to be!) and hold it together. If you let your emotions overwhelm you, this can easily escalate the chaos already in front of you.
- Give them (and/or you) space and opportunity to become calm. Be ready with a hug, affirm you love them and then, if appropriate, revisit what has happened and calmly give encouragement to solve any problems together.
There are also times when distraction can be really effective. If you know your child has been triggered or is showing signs of being emotionally overwhelmed, you may need to step in and ask if you can help by giving them a hug or perhaps playing together. It is important to involve them in the decision making.
- Focus on the needs of your child. Ensure they feel safe and secure when they are with you. You are their safe space and they need to be able to rely on you emotionally, mentally and physically. This doesn’t mean they always get what they want but they always get what they need. You will likely need to support them when they are feeling disappointed by validating their emotions and reassuring them that everything is okay.
A final thought: these approaches are not quick fixes. It takes time to learn to parent in this way, just as it takes children time to learn something new. You don’t have to be perfect but hopefully this blog has given you some alternative methods to consider.
If you would like to talk to Julie further about how to parent in a gentle, responsive way you can contact her in a variety of ways.