10 ways to be nicer to your kids
There are 4 types of days. There are great days where everything runs smoothly without much effort; you’re happy and your children are happy. There are good days with some difficulty and frustration, but you react appropriately and are able to help your children manage their emotions and tasks. Then there are hard days where it’s a struggle to keep your children behaving appropriately and an even greater struggle to react appropriately yourself. You handle some situations well and some you would rather re-do. And finally there’s the black days, as I call them. The days where you instantly recognize that you’re not in a good mood and you really don’t want to be nice, especially to the frequently tantruming toddler or the teenager who has a smart comment for everything you say. You know you should change your behavior and you know you probably can change your behavior, but you really don’t want to. As hard as it is on those black days, in the end most of the time you are the one who can change the mood of the day.
So for all of those days that aren’t great days, here are 10 things to focus on to be nicer to your kids.
1. Take a deep breath before addressing negative behaviors
A while ago I watched a popular video of a mom who came into her living room to find that her 2 young boys had emptied a 5 pound bag of flour all over the house. It was in the cracks of the couch cushions, smashed into the folds of the rug, on the lipped edge of the TV screen, on picture frames, all over their hair and the floor. In the video, you can hear her shocked, quiet response, “What are you doing?” repeated over and over. I remember watching with a mixture of laughter and horror and immediately wondered how I would react if I walked into that situation in my house.
Hopefully none of us will have to be in a situation like that regularly, but when you do encounter negative or difficult situations, pause, take a breath and think about an appropriate response before talking to the child. Taking a deep breath lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, thus helping you to calm down. It also provides a brief break to prevent responding in a way you might regret later.
2. Focus on praising
When you find that you are spending your whole day correcting behavior, you need to switch your mindset and look for behaviors to praise. Effective Praise was often one of the first skills I would teach to parents, even for the most difficult children. When introducing the skill parents would often say, “But Erin, there’s nothing to praise,” or “How can I praise when they have so many negative behaviors that need to be addressed?” Watching for positive behaviors will change what you observe, and you may be surprised how many positive behaviors they do every day. Plus, your child will notice the praise and want to do more positive behaviors to receive more positive attention.
3. Spend special time with your child outside the normal routine
Sometimes everyone needs a break from the negative cycle, independent of earned rewards. Changing the scenery or day-to-day activities can make your interactions more positive. This could be a regular, planned date night or a spontaneous break when needed. Encourage laughter during these times to reduce tension and strengthen your relationship. It’s easier to be kind to your children when there are positive memories to look back on.
4. Get enough sleep
Let me be the first to say I know how hard this can be with young children. Our youngest has gone through long spurts of sleepless nights and early mornings, that has often led to decreased sleep for our older child too. It has been a big struggle for our family and we only have 2 children. Because of this, I also know how difficult it is to stay calm and appropriately deal with misbehavior when struggling with prolonged lack of sleep, which is why this is on my list.
Plan a playdate away for your children, nap when your child naps, nap while your child watches a TV show, or go to bed early (gasp!). I saw this meme recently and it made me laugh because of how true it is:
I understand the struggle of going to bed early and staying up late for much needed adult time. It shouldn’t take so much self control to go to sleep early, but sometimes it does. Whatever works best for you and your family, find a way to take a nap during the day or get more sleep at night.
5. Manage outside stress
You can’t always control the presence of stress in your life and some phases of life are more stressful than others, but there are a lot of ways to reduce stress during these times. Learn to say no when you can, exercise regularly, eat healthy, spend time with loved ones, use relaxation techniques, manage your time wisely, talk with a counselor, etc. When external pressures are lower you’ll be able to interact more positively with your children.
6. Think about your child’s age, understanding, and functioning level
When I taught the Teaching-Family model to families, specifically with teenagers, I often spent a lot of time trying to get the teenager to see the parents’ point of view and the parents to see the teenager’s point of view. Sometimes I would think to myself, “Don’t you remember being a teenager?” I’m only at the beginning stages of parenting and I can already see that sometimes I expect my children to have the same thought process I do, which is even more unrealistic because my children are 3 and 1!
Take a moment to think about your child’s developmental stage and how this affects their perception and actions in the situation. Then, if you feel there is something lacking that they should know by this age, teach them rather than make a snide remark. As parents we should view our role as teachers of the skills children lack and always look for opportunities to do so.
7. Use empathy
Similar to praise, empathy can instantly calm a tense situation. It can break down the wall your child has put up, and changes your reaction to be more positive and understanding. Because of my training in the Teaching-Family Model, I frequently use empathy with my daughter and now she regularly uses it with me too. Even at a young age when children are assumed to be self-centered, they can start to see another’s point of view. This skill will help them with future relationships. Model the skill for them now by empathizing during difficult moments.
8. Practice frustration tolerance
Learn how to manage small frustrations (whether related to your child or other areas of your life) before the problems are too overwhelming to cope with. If our frustrations have not been reduced appropriately, they will continue to build, making it that much easier to snap when your child does something wrong.
9. Find time alone or away from children
Making time for yourself can be difficult for every parent, especially for single parents, parents of children with disabilities, parents with spouses serving in the military, or parents who have demanding jobs that take them away from the home for extended periods of time. BUT, there’s always a way to take a break. Even if it’s reading a book, participating in an online group, or taking a class online, there’s a way to take a break mentally, even if you can’t physically.
However, hopefully through the help of a spouse, family members, or friends you can go out on a date, to dinner with friends, or shopping by yourself.
10. Stop and reset
One day when I was having a particularly hard time being nice to my children I had the thought that tomorrow I’d be better. But then I quickly realized, “‘why do I have to wait for tomorrow?” I recognized that I’m not parenting effectively and that I can stop and reset now, without waiting for tomorrow. Now when I realize that I am not parenting as I should, I say “reset” in my mind and try to start over with acting how I know I should. Sometimes I reset many times throughout a day. We all have bad parenting days. Forgive yourself for what has been done in the past and work on being better for the future.