5 ways to be a kinder parent

Parenting is a roller coaster.

Some days the roller coaster is fun, and you sail along, thinking I’ve got this parenting thing down.

Other days you’re thrown back and forth, you feel sick, and you want to get off the ride. On those days, it can be really hard to be nice to your kids. You love them, but you don’t always like them. And sometimes your jaw drops to the floor wondering how a child you raised could be acting in the horrible manner displayed before your exhausted eyes.

People talk a lot about the concept of nature vs. nurture in parent/child relationships. Surely, there are some things that are just inherited, but I’ve thought a lot about that second word: nurture. What does it really mean to nurture our children?

Merriam-Webster defines the verb “nurture” as being “to help (something or someone) to grow, develop, or succeed.”

Nurturing implies gentle, loving care. You wouldn’t yell at your plant if its leaves started turning brown. You would seek out the root of the problem and try to remedy it.

But “fixing” things is a lot simpler with plants than with kids, and sometimes our human failings get the best of us. On those rough roller coaster days, sometimes we lose our patience, we nag, and we even yell. Sarcastic comments slip out in a moment of frustration before we can close our lips to keep them in. We don’t want to be the Machiavellian “enforcer” parent who rules by fear, but we also know the dangers of letting the line between parent and “fun friend” get too blurry.

How do we find the balance between two equally unfavorable extremes?

We learn to nurture.

Here are five ways you can focus on nurturing your children and become a kinder parent.

1. Slow down

Life is busy, and getting out the door with multiple children is no small task. If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself hurrying your kids along, snapping at them to get their shoes or go to the bathroom. However, I’ve made an effort lately to slow down and allow my kids more time to do whatever they need or want to do. The other day, I was on a walk with my son, and I told him as he tried to push his bike up a big hill, “It’s okay; take your time.” He replied, “Are we not in a rush right now, Mom?” It made my heart hurt a bit to think that I’ve made the idea of taking our time an exception to the rule. When I allow my kids to take their time, I have to build in a lot more time for the things that we do, but we also notice more of the beauty around us and we laugh and talk more.

2. Give them quality time

Parenting requires a lot of multi-tasking, and I pride myself on being able to fold laundry, play a game with my son, respond to a text from a friend, keep dinner simmering on the stove, and make sure that my two-year-old doesn’t get the lid off the flour bucket and paint the kitchen with it. However, sometimes less is more. Sometimes, our kids need to know that they are more important than the laundry, or the text message, or even than dinner. For me, that means setting aside times when I put down my phone out of arm’s reach so that I’m not tempted to “check something really quick” while I’m playing with my boys. It means letting the dishes sit in the sink for just ten more minutes while we act out the story of the Three Little Pigs after lunch. It means snuggling my little boy for a few minutes in bed and just letting him talk about whatever is important to him, even though I really want to have some time to myself. This doesn’t mean that we give our kids ALL of our time. It’s okay to set aside time to accomplish household tasks, or tell kids that you’ll be able to help them in a minute. Most of the time, however, delaying the task to give your child your full attention for just five minutes will not hurt your long-term goals, and it will build a stronger relationship with your child.

3. Get on their level

Kids spend a lot of time looking up to adults. The question is…are we talking to them, or are we talking down to them? After realizing a few months ago that I was spending a lot of time being (and sounding) frustrated with my kids for not listening, I did an experiment where I made it a goal to get down on my son’s level as much as possible to talk to him. In this process, I realized that the proximity helps my son to listen, but it also makes me much more aware of my tone of voice (and volume). Even when I’m frustrated, I find that once I’m looking into those chocolate brown eyes, I remember he’s just a little person learning to navigate this big world, and I remember to tread gently.

4. Have a routine and set clear expectations

Kids crave structure and boundaries. Having a daily routine is a simple way to help both my boys and me to know what is coming next each day. With a routine, my boys transition better between activities, and they don’t fight me as much on things that are a part of the schedule. We cut down on tantrums, and that means fewer times I have to keep my cool when my kids are losing it. I’m a kinder parent because I have fewer fires to put out, so I’m not as exhausted by the end of the day.

5. Give positive instructions and praise

Kids hear a lot of “don’t” phrases each day. Don’t touch that. Don’t hit him. Don’t jump on the couch. It’s important to make sure that as often as possible, we are using positive imagery with our kids. However, not all praise is created equal. When praising our kids, it’s important to be specific. Lauren Lowry of the Hanen Centre for Child Communication encourages parents to “describe your child’s behaviour and effort, not his or her attributes.” Simply saying “good job!” doesn’t tell your child what specific behavior they should repeat, but describing what your child did: “You shared your toy with your brother” or “You concentrated hard to do that puzzle” focuses the praise on actions that your child can control.

Learn more about the skill of Observe and Describe

Through all the ups and downs of parenting, I try to remember the words of Peggy O’Mara, who said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I want that voice to help them grow to be intelligent, kind, optimistic, respectful men, so that is the kind of example I need to set for them. We can tell our kids over and over to “do as I say and not as I do,” but they will most likely follow our examples more than our advice.

We don’t have to be perfect parents (it’s good for parents to see Mom & Dad admit to and apologize for mistakes, too), but as we strive to be more nurturing and kind, we will help our kids develop the traits they need to succeed in life.

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