I am so excited to bring you a guest post to this little blog. A wonderful mother I met through an antenatal class often talks about the strategies she uses with her children. They are so fantastic I asked if she could share some here. I find Lori is great at blending her professional skills with parenting in a real-world way that anyone can achieve. While Lori has specified toddler in this piece, these skills could be used with any age child. Enjoy!
As a psychologist and a parent I often find myself questioning the way we parent. It is so easy to fall into a trap of short term wins as a parent as we are often tired, busy, or even embarrassed by our children’s reactions or behaviours and we want them to stop. However, short term wins can impact over time and I believe it’s equally important to think through long term consequences. I research and read A LOT!!! Not just looking for gentle parenting strategies that have worked for other parents or parenting experts, but examining the research into impacts of different techniques and strategies long term. Every child is different which is definitely evident with both my children; and it has been trial and error at times. However, there are a number of techniques and strategies that we have found really work. I believe these work to encourage, work to empower, work to enable, work to impart and work to build emotional intelligence and resilience over time. I hope you find them as useful as I have.
8 important lessons I’ve learned with parenting my toddler.
1. Judge intention not behaviour. So often we react to children’s behaviour and get cranky at them when their intention was something completely different to our judgement. Toddlers don’t always know the best way to show their intention so their actions and intentions can often be incongruent. If we can stop and think about intention before responding we can better understand our children and what they are trying to achieve as well as minimising our negative reactions.
2. Give choices where possible. Toddlers like to have responsibility and independence. While there are some instances where we have to give more direct requests, look for those opportunities where you can give them a choice. For example, “which of these three options would you like for morning tea?” “which out of these three outfits would you like to wear today?” “where would you like to sit to eat your lunch”, “which park would you like to go to?”, etc.
3. Where you do need to give directions, explain the “why” behind requests. Providing toddlers with an understanding of why we want or need them to do something helps them appreciate the importance behind our request. I also ask my toddler why when she asks me something to get her thinking in this way as well. In my opinion she can never ask “why” enough and I will never answer with “just because” or “because I said so!” as it teaches her nothing positive.
4. Ask them what to do, not what NOT to do. If you tell a toddler “don’t run” they don’t know what the alternative is at that split moment. Saying “walk please” is a much clearer instruction. I then follow with the why.
5. Ask questions, not statements, and get them to think about it. Asking questions helps your toddler link behaviours and experiences to outcomes, consequences and emotions as well as think about these linkages. Common questions I ask my toddler “What was the happiest/saddest thing that happened today?” “What does respect look like?” “What do you think you could do differently next time?” “Why do you think they did that? What was their intention?” “What does proud feel like?” “How do you think they would feel if you did that?”
6. Encourage and discuss positive behaviours and actions; why these are positive and the impact they have. There is a wealth of research on this topic showing the long term benefits on wellbeing, resilience and even intellect. Be aware of the positive language we use and the impact of this in their interactions with others.
7. Talk about the not so positive behaviours. Why they were no so positive and the impact they had. Then encourage them to come up with an alternative way they could approach the situation next time.
8. Teach them positive ways to manage their emotions. Deep breathing and cuddling works really well and are simple techniques if they are feeling out of control. Sitting with them when they are feeling this way also helps them feel secure and reinforces we are there to support them through all emotions, not just when they are happy. Also, if they hurt themselves or get upset about something, let them feel that emotion (don’t try to stop it or distract them from it). This reinforces it’s okay to feel all emotions. All emotions are healthy; it’s how they learn to manage these that is important in teaching resilience and stress management techniques.
There have definitely been challenging times but we have stuck to these methods and I really feel like they have really paid off! Don’t get me wrong; my children are not perfect, and we don’t expect that. In fact, we encourage mistakes in this house as it’s an important way to learn. That’s what we do as adults and we model this for our children; letting them know when we have made good and not so good choices in our own reactions. And just like us, they are allowed to express their emotions; it’s just a continuing journey to work out together appropriate ways for them to do so.
Lori Burdon is an experienced psychologist who specialises in organisational psychology. However, since having her first child over 4 years ago she became passionate about researching and reviewing parenting practices within a psychological context and putting these into practice. Lori is focused on gentle and positive parenting techniques to assist her children in becoming resilient, emotionally intelligent and empowering them to choose their own appropriate behaviours and actions.