After being in the parenting education field for over two decades I have come to realize that the most effective parenting strategies are those that focus on the atmosphere in the home and not behavior modification of children. If you want to create the family of your dreams, you have to spend more time on changing the atmosphere in your home. Too many parenting programs focus on manipulating children’s behavior to gain compliance. They strive for a position of leverage of parent over child that often ends up in child over parent. The objective is to make the parent more powerful and the more children submissive. This might work in the short run but after a while the home has a negative atmosphere that suffocates everyone!
A friend of mine sent me a comic strip that said: “Don’t yell at your kids. Lean in and whisper. It is much scarier.” There is some truth to this pictorial pun as so many parents rely on force of will and voice instead of building relationship and attachment. Of course there are times where you will have to stand your ground with a child. You absolutely need to give consequences for inappropriate behavior but you cannot do this without some sort of emotional balance. Over time, the more you order your child around and expect blind obedience or choose to yell louder because obviously he wasn’t listening the first time, will create a climate of hostility and resentment. Is this the type of dream home you were picturing?
Research on attachment and neuroscience validates this need for emotional balance. Children with secure attachment styles are more cooperative, make better morale decisions, perform better in school, and have more empathy toward others, just to name a few positive qualities. Children without healthy attachment styles appear to have little conscience, poor academic performance, and severe behavioral problems. Although these are two parenting extremes, my personal observations are that most parents lean to the lack of emotional warmth and attachment style of parenting. Spending a half hour coloring with a child or watching a cartoon with them once in a while will not make up for hours of yelling and power struggling.
To achieve this type of dream family, you have to wake up in the morning with a dedicated intentionality to shift the atmosphere in your home. Call this new idea your new parenting mission statement. Call it whatever you want, but you have to make it job number one until you achieve the home life you have dreamt about. You cannot begin the day thinking about how you will “get” someone to do what you want him or her to do today. Although you need to get your child to school on time and you may need to get all the days chores completed, you have to keep the bigger picture in mind that you are going to create a new and better atmosphere along the way.
In order to change an atmosphere, you have to start working with your child from the inside out. Put your emphasis on their internal motivations and not on behavioral expectations. This will require you to spend some time getting to know your child better. Really, getting to know them. This will cost you time and energy from other tasks like laundry, work or television programs. Yes, television! It will also cost you some preconceived ideas about what it means to be a “good parent” in today’s society (we aren’t going to go into those today however).
When heated moments come up with your child, and they will, you have to kneel down, look your child in the eye, and whisper words of direction and encouragement. As the comic strip suggested, this may be scary to your child, not because of the evil tone you take in your whisper but because they have never heard you lower your voice and talk in such an intimate manner. This is guaranteed to get their attention!
You also have to start a practice of nurturing your family members “inner gold” to see a substantial return on relational investments. This will require you to focus on the atmosphere of your home more than control strategies or chore charts. Try making a chart of each person’s unique qualities and attributes. I know you may have to think long and hard but anything is worth noting. Once you have a list of them, how can you create an atmosphere to build on those qualities? What encouragement can you give each family member? How do family members talk to one another? What will make your home safe enough for the other family members to put this precious trait or gift out in the open for examine and nurturing? Once you have started this process, most of the battles you have been (unsuccessfully) fighting will no longer necessary.
Spend 80% of your time developing this atmosphere. The other 20% can be spent on chore charts. Here’s a quick example about how this can benefit mom, dad and the kids:
Johnny is the typical teen. He has a habit of putting his large feet on the coffee table. Mom doesn’t like his size 13 feet on the table and this turns into a huge argument every day. Mom now decides to change the atmosphere or to be more specific, change the living room. Now, there is no coffee table. It holds mom’s quite holiday items in the back room. Mom sits on the couch and asks Johnny about his day. He mumbles in confusion at this new tactic mom is taking. Mom shows empathy for his long day at school and sport practices after school. She offers to make him a snack and sits back down and eats it with him instead of complaining how this snack will ruin dinner. She also hasn’t commented once about how his feet stink after practice. He lets slip that a friend got dumped by his girlfriend. Mom never moralizes or tries to teach a lesson on how to treat a girl. Instead she asks questions to encourage more conversation from Johnny and just says ‘Uh-huh" to the parts of the conversation she has an opinion about. Frequently, mom states: “Tell me more…” about parts of the story to draw about out more conversation and information. After the snack is over, Johnny surprisingly takes his plate to the kitchen without mom “reminding” him to do it. Maybe it is because there was no coffee table to leave it on but mom is just glad to not have the battle with him. Mom gives Johnny a choice to work on homework before or after dinner time instead of telling him to get it done now since he just had a snack. Johnny just walks to his room to start on it, slightly bewildered by what just happened but with a smile on his face.
Here’s another example:
Sally is just 6 years old and very impulsive. She often runs instead of walks, leaves her toys all over the place and rarely finishes a project once started. Trying to get her to eat her dinner without talking or getting up from the table is a constant source of frustration for her parents. Dad decides to try something different and instead of yelling at Sally to pick up her toys or not run through the house, he puts left over toys into a “buy back bin”. When Sally completes her dinner without getting up from the table, he lets her “buy back” her toys to play with. If she doesn’t sit with the family, they stay in the bin over night for safe keeping. Tomorrow is another day and another practice at sitting down during dinner. When Sally runs through the house, dad asks her to do a “redo.” Sally has to go back from where she ran from and “redo” this behavior by walking. This seems to work well for Sally, not just in the area of running, but in many behavioral areas she struggles with. When Sally talks at the dinner table, dad doesn’t remind her for the hundredth time to be quiet and eat her food, he engages her in more conversation. Sally loves this opportunity for attention and finishes her food in record time which has been another source of contention with her parents. She even ate her broccoli which she said tastes like dirt. After dinner, mom and dad turn off the television and wait on doing the dishes till she is asleep. Instead they work on her homework together versus having her sit at the kitchen table alone to do it and then they read a book and get ready for bed. They make getting on her pajamas a race between her and mom to see who can change the quickest. Sally always wins and gets 17 kisses as her prize. They have a set routine ever night now instead of bedtime being somewhere between 8 and 10 pm! Now mom and dad have more time together too.
* The two examples above utilize Parenting Toolbox tools entitled: Talk Tools, Moving the Furniture, Time Cushions, Choices, Redo’s, Energy Drains, Homework Hassle Helpers, Following the Leader, and Bedtime Routines. You can get them and more by ordering my ebook here!
Take a moment right now to reflect on the current atmosphere in your home. Is it warm and cozy or cold and unbearable? What is one thing you can do differently by changing up the tone, routine or focusing on the inner “gold” of your child? How can you work with your child’s behavior instead of against it? What new tool or tip can you incorporate versus yelling louder? What needs to be physically moved, turned off or reordered to bring a more positive atmosphere in your home?
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