Don't let Instagram fool ya, it's not always that pretty around here. How can I say this without you judging me... Ha! There's really no nice way to put it, I tried with the whole "strong willed" thing. My oldest can be a terror. Let's be clear, I absolutely adore her. She's the sweetest little thing and I worship the ground she walks on, but she can be exhausting to raise. What do I mean by that? I mean, she can throw fits like no other, constantly tell me no, yell, hit, throw, generally just not listen, she's done it all. There's been many days where I've wanted to break down because I just didn't know what to do and felt like I was failing her. Sound familiar? Please say yes. I know some of you are like, "Nope, control ya kid". Well, if you've got advice that doesn't involve hitting my child I'm all ears. It has taken me a long time (years actually) of trying different things to see what works for Ava. I've purposefully put off sharing this post to give some time implementing these techniques to see if they really help, and they have. I've noticed that when I'm consistent with doing these things, she's a happier, more well-behaved kiddo and our days go a lot smoother. So, here are my tried-and-true tips:
1. Change your perspective.
It all starts here. It's important to try to remain positive as much as possible. Our children feed off of our energy, so instead of looking at it as "you can never listen" "why are you so bad", know that the same independence that makes it hard to raise them will serve them well in life. Our job as parents is to guide them so that they can use that trait as a tool rather than having it inhibit them. Just as it is hard for us to deal with our emotions and every day stressors, the same can be said for our children. It is even harder for them because they don't have the ability to express themselves as well so it gets overwhelming. With that being said, have realistic expectations. I think it can be really easy to start comparing our kids to other kids around their age, but accept your kid for where they are and love them for who they are. How can they be confident if we are constantly putting them down instead of praising them? If you're concerned about your child's behavioral development, talk to your doctor. As long as your child is on track, tell yourself not to worry. And if your child is not on track, at least now you are on the path to give them the guidance they need.
2. Be consistent.
Whatever form of discipline you choose, or even if you choose not to really use discipline, your response to your child's behavior needs to be consistent and immediate. Children have to be taught over and over what behavior is acceptable and what is not. They need to know what will happen when they misbehave. While it is important to be firm, you don’t necessarily have to “punish” your children to change their behavior. A lot of times it’s more about getting their attention and teaching them how to deal with their emotions. Pulling them aside. Counting with them. Having them have a seat. If they won’t do this, have them sit and immediately tell them to get up. Eventually, you can increase the time if need be but the purpose really is to teach them to listen when you tell them to sit. Hold their hands and look them in the eye. Take deep breaths with them. Ask them if they’re upset, mad, sad, etc. It will help them learn to articulate how they’re feeling. The goal should be to identify what helps your child calm down and re-set so that you can talk to them about the behavior and teach them what the right thing to do is.
3. Give them more attention.
One of the reasons why my oldest can be draining is because she needs a lot of attention. Being a law student, I haven't always been able to give her the attention that she needs. What has helped me is to make sure that she gets more of my undivided attention, and when I can't do that, I spend as much time as possible with her while we each do our own thing. Every now and then, I make an effort to take her out with just the two of us. Every day I'm splitting my attention between her and her sister and I can imagine that its not always easy for her.
4. Watch your own behavior.
You know that saying, "When you point the finger it points back at you"? Yeah, I hate that one too. But in this case, it can be true. Just about everything our children learn, they learn from us. The good and the bad. Whether we are conscious of it or not. They will learn from our actions more than our words. Every day we are teaching them how to act, speak to others, handle our emotions, etc. So when I see my daughter doing something that I don't like, I try to stop and think- is there anything that I might be doing that is teaching her this or causing this? If I can't, I try to think is there anything in her schedule that is teaching her this behavior? For example, I've noticed that she was copying a lot of things from movies that I didn't want her saying. So I started to cut down her tv time drastically and be more selective with the things I let her watch.
5. Physical activity.
This is really important for kids like my Ava. They have all of this energy inside and all of these emotions in their tiny bodies, they have to let it out some way. If I don't give her a positive, controlled way to let it out, it will come out the wrong way. So I do my best to give her a physical outlet, or at least give her activities that keep her occupied. We like to go on walks and hikes, she really enjoys being in nature. We try to get outside as much as possible, but when I'm too tired we sing songs at home that get us moving, like "Head, shoulders, knees and toes". She loves to wrestle with her dad and play fight, so that helps too. Another thing that is important to pay attention to is diet. Look at how many sugar or processed foods they are eating. Ava eats pretty simple and really healthy. She doesn't eat a lot of processed food or sweets. Her snacks are mostly fruits and veggies and when she drinks juice its watered down. So there wasn't much for me to change in this department. Instead, I went and got her a kids multivitamin and I honestly saw a huge change in her behavior the next day.
When your kid is throwing a fit, it might just be that they are tired. We still have a hard time getting Ava to nap, but we always make sure that she tries to take a nap at the same time each day. Even if she doesn't nap, at least she will have that quiet time to refresh. Some things we try to get her to nap are taking a walk, reading a book that is advanced for her, playing relaxing music, diffusing lavender or putting in on her feet, and warming her blankets.
7. Be preventative instead of reactive.
Look to figure out what is making your child upset. Does she need anything? Is she hungry? Sleepy? Uncomfortable? Having a hard time expressing herself? Not getting attention? Just like you would a newborn. I've noticed that we spend our efforts in parenting this way when they are really young and that tends to go out the window as they get older. But it still applies. It helps me make sure her needs are addressed, which results in less meltdowns. Eventually, you'll start to notice a pattern of what makes your child tick. Then you can sit down and evaluate how you can avoid these reoccurring problems. Maybe she needs another snack time at 10:00 am, or maybe a slower morning, etc.
8. Try to make a routine as much as possible.
Children thrive off of a routine. At the same time, every child is different. Some children do better with structure than others. You know your child best. So develop a routine that is as flexible or as strict as they need it to be. Dn't hesitate to adjust the schedule if that's what your child needs. Its better to adjust it to what works best for them and change it more often, than keep a schedule that clearly isn't working just for the sake of trying to be consistent. I've had the hardest time with this because what works for me and how I envisioned parenting doesn't work for Ava. I like lots of structure, I like having a set time for everything. I want her to be able to sit down and do activities for prolonged periods of time, but that's not how she does best and that's okay. She's more receptive when I set the boundaries and let her have a free-for-all within those bounds. What's important is that she learns what she needs to in the way she is receptive and that she has an enjoyable childhood.
9. Pick your battles.
As much as it is important for our children to listen to us, there is a balance. I don't want to be constantly battling my 3-year-old. Some things are non-negotiable and so I set boundaries. She has to sit at the table to eat her food. No, she can't stand on the couch. But some battles, I'm pushing just for the sake of pushing it. If she's only taken two bites and she's done eating, that's fine. But she has to put her plate in the sink. Sometimes we break the rules a little bit and jump on the couch, or do bubbles inside. I want her to be a kid and more importantly, I want her to know that its okay to have an opinion and to have fun. I feel that this will help her have confidence as a person and be a leader while also knowing that its important to follow the rules.
10. Take care of yourself.
I know I said at the beginning that it all starts with your perspective, but it starts with you too mama. You have to be the calm one. You have to guide them, not throw a fit with them. And that is sooo not easy. It’s probably the hardest part. Nobody can work your nerves like your kids. Somehow they know all the right buttons to push. But don’t let them. As the mother, we have the power to control the situation. And I've learned that when I'm happy and content, so is everyone else. So I take the time to do things that I like or relax, because I need it to be a better mom. I need it to be able to take a deep breath and be calm instead of yelling.
I hope you guys found these tips helpful. If you've been struggling with the same things as me, I'd love to hear what works- and doesn't work- for your family.
Thanks for reading,