As a parent, it’s nice to have a toolbelt (okay, maybe an entire toolshed) of strategies.
In my years of mommin,’ I have noticed trends - tools that seem to work well for myself and my kids so that parenting shifts from a list of things I have to do to my children (get them to listen, behave, and be respectful) to something I have with them (aka a relationship).
Sure, I need to be their sturdy leader, but it doesn’t mean I have to do it with force, and it doesn’t mean my child has to be obedient. Somewhere in between all of that power trip stuff and permissivity is the sweet spot - one where I can stay true to my needs while also staying curious about my child’s … one where I can set boundaries and validate my child’s experience … one where we both win, learn, and grow.
Sounds a bit like a unicorn, doesn’t it? Even as I write it, I snort a little chuckle. Because it does sound a tad Fairy Tale-ish. But the data I have collected (better known as the life experience of being in the parenting trenches for several years) has given me strong evidence that supports just this.
So, here it is, my list of favorite parenting tools, the little black dress of tips. Read through, pull out the ones that speak to you, see if it fits your family, and if not, return it to the rack. But chances are, you’ll find something to take home.
Here we go …
1. Do A Trigger Worksheet
I got this little gem from a parenting course I took when I was pregnant with my first child. I laugh now, because, at the time, I sat there rubbing my beautiful buddha belly thinking, Why would I need this? I can’t imagine EVER getting triggered by my child. Ha, jokes on me. It didn’t take me long to dust this off and give it another look.
We are mirrors. Our children take in what we reflect back to them, and they reflect back the parts of us often asking to be healed. We all have these shadowy parts of ourselves, and the things we struggle with now are often the things that we had to suppress in our youth to fit into our family system. Heavy stuff, right? But this tool - a trigger worksheet - makes it not so scary to bring those parts to the light.
When you find that there’s that thing (or several) that your child does that sparks a flame inside of you (like the I-Am-About-To-Lose-It flame, not the pretty Bath And Body Works candle one), ask yourself:
When my child does this, what thoughts do I think? I think ...
What is it that I feel? I feel …
What goal do I have for my child right now? My goal is that my child …
Then, (brace yourself) cancel your super awesome goal, because your goal has nothing to do with you. Replace it with one that does. When my child does (XYZ), **I** will …
And yes, this works with partners, co-workers, and anyone who ruffles your feathers. Not just a parenting tool but more of a doing life tool.
2. Schedule Special Time
My child feels 100% satisfied with the time and attention I give him, says no parent ever. I mean, our kids are basically bottomless pits when it comes to their desire and need for connection. This can feel tricky for parents. There is only so much time in the day, so much to do, and it can feel like Mount Everest to climb.
But here’s the thing, research has shown that just 10 minutes of Special Time in your home each day can transform (Yes, for the people in the back, I said TRANSFORM) your home. Here’s how to do it:
Create a chart
- Name the Chart after your child (If you have multiples, each child gets their own). This can be as simple as writing “Sofie’s Special Time” across the top and the days of the week (M-S) down the left side of the paper. Make the chart with your child, and get her amped for this new thing ya’ll are going to do.
- Every day, invite your child to pick one thing that he wants to do that is just for him. Cook together? Sure. Play Legos? Okay. Transform into Superheros or play house? Why not. Read books, go for a walk … you get the idea.
Whatever your child chooses, invite your child to set a timer for 10 minutes.
When the timer bings, you can choose to move on or to continue the activity.
After you complete the activity, place a round, colored sticker on the chart for that day of the week, and label the date and activity you did.
So, why do kids like this? Because it is concrete, measurable, tangible, predictable … all things that feel safe and good to them.
Couple of things ... 1) During these 10 minutes, follow your child’s lead, put away distractions, and really give focus to your kiddo. 2) This is not a bribe or punishment. It happens every day regardless. For older kids, you may decide once a week will suffice or one bigger outing once a month. The key is that this never becomes a carrot to dangle, but rather a safety blanket that communicates your connection.
3. Practice The Meltdown
Sounds a little weird, but I swear I am not off my rocker (well, not entirely, anyway). Practice the big emotions beforehand. Let me play this out for you.
Say that the big power struggle is always during the transition off of screen time. Moving from a preferred task to a less desired one is hard for most of us, especially a developing brain. So, when that moment comes that you say, “All done. Turn off the tablet,” their little body responds in a big way because they are being pulled in by their own emotional current. What results is a colossal meltdown.
Instead, replace all of the stress, anxiety, aloneness, and emotional shock with play and connection by practicing the meltdown ahead of time. It may look like this: “You know, I know that when I ask you to turn off the tablet, it feels hard. You really like your show, and I like that you tell me what you want. It is important to me. I also know it can feel a tad scary to feel out of control. So, let’s practice what it might feel like when it’s time to turn off the cartoons. I can go first. Why don’t you tell me to turn off my tablet.”
When your child role-plays this with you, drop down into a meltdown of your own, bringing in some silliness. And then switch, inviting your child to practice her own meltdown. After this little rehearsal, go forward with your normal TV time. If your kiddos are anything like mine, when it is time to flip the off button, there are fewer tears and more laughter.
4. Affirm Your Trust
This one is short and sweet but packs a powerful punch. Instead of commanding and demanding and sending messages that your child needs external force, is likely to mess up, or is incapable of doing something (all of which can be inadvertent messages of overpowering), focus on empowering him with this statement: I trust you to __.
I trust you to keep the markers on the paper.
I trust you to stop at the mailbox before going any further on your bike.
I trust you to pick up your toys before dinner.
I trust you and your brother to work this out.
I trust you to listen to your body.
Try it a few times, and see what happens.
5. Take A Time-In
Creating a short, playful, daily ritual to check in with our feelings has been a parenting and marriage game changer.
Each night, before bed, we come together in our family’s Calming Corner to talk about when we felt happy, sad, calm, and mad (or any other emotion) that day.
Other times, when I can tell that the heat is rising, I throw out a random feelings check-in. Let’s pause and get back in our bodies. What is it feeling? Ready, go!
Sometimes, noticing my child’s emotion helps diffuse it. It seems like something doesn’t feel good to you/didn’t work out the way you wanted it to, huh?
Another way we explore feelings is by measuring them. How big is your frustration? Is it this big? This big? … Once, when coloring, my son became upset when his blue crayon crossed over the line, and so I asked him to show me with crayons how big his feelings felt. He dropped two handfuls on the table and said, “This mad, mom.” This offered me a chance to validate his feelings and co-regulate.
While there are many more parenting tools to mention, these are 5 of my go-to's. They’re like my best girlfriends, they always have my back!