There is no question that parenting is an extremely stressful job. After all, caring for another human being’s emotional and physical well-being for at least 18 years will definitely cause your stress levels to rise. And children can be exhausting, defiant, crazy-making and absolutely wonderful - all at the same time.
This article offers advice to give your parenting an extra edge, while maintaining your sanity. Hopefully, you will pick up some discipline tips and learn how to connect with your kids in a stronger, more effective way, without sending your stress levels through the roof.
Do understand your child’s threshold for stress
We all have stress. Children are no different. Sometimes, we forget that being a kid can be challenging and difficult. The difference between adults and children is that adults have more advanced nervous systems that can help absorb stress, which allows adults to use more savvy coping skills. But children’s systems are not that advanced. Their stress gets manifested in not-so-subtle ways, such as acting out, screaming, crying or defiance. Each child has a different threshold for stress tolerance. That threshold is set by personality, temperament, heredity and trauma. Understand your children’s threshold for stress tolerance by evaluating their histories and recognizing their behavior, instead of simply trying to stop it.
Do connect with your children in meaningful ways
Most behavioral issues in children stem from a broken relationship of some sort. Seeing your children’s behavior escalate in some way should serve as a message to you that they are not experiencing safety in their relationships. To help with this, plan times to meaningfully connect with them. Take your children on a walk. Spend time coloring together. Do activities with your children that they enjoy. Just being present can help curb a myriad of behavioral issues.
Do discipline children using a 3:1 ratio
Most adults have experienced a performance review at work, where you are told 25 things you do well and one “opportunity for growth.” No matter how great you performed, this “opportunity for growth” will stick in your mind for weeks to come. It is the human condition to be sensitive to criticism. Be sure to tell your children what they are doing well and not just what they are doing wrong. A good rule of thumb is to practice using three affirmations for every one correction or disciplinary action.
Do use vulnerability in your parenting
Parents often believe they must have every single answer. This mindset can sometimes lead parents to put on a facade that makes them appear as if they have always been exempt from bad choices and mistakes. Many parents believe their children would lose respect for them if they knew about their failures. However, research actually indicates the opposite. Children and adolescents crave authenticity. They more strongly connect to parents who model vulnerability and openly share how they have handled their past mistakes and failures. So be sure to show kids that you are authentic and make mistakes, just like them.
Do manage your reactions to stressful situations
Parents who have poor stress management skills cannot expect their children to manage stress effectively. It doesn’t matter how many parenting books you have read or how many parenting conferences you have attended. Modeling is the most effective parenting strategy. If you cannot regulate your emotions appropriately in the face of stress, do not expect your children to do so. Practice breathing in the midst of chaos. Take a timeout if you feel yourself losing it. Before you yell, practice pausing. These little interventions will not go unnoticed by your child. Children’s emotional intelligence is largely learned from watching their parents handle their own emotions.
Do not teach life lessons in the midst of a tantrum or meltdown
When your child is throwing a tantrum and having a meltdown, he or she is in a state of stress. During this experience, stress hormones flood the brain and the “logical” part of the brain stops working temporarily. When you try to teach someone a lesson in the midst of such stress, it is similar to talking to a brick wall. The brain is actually incapable of registering new information in this state. First, help your child de-escalate. Then, after your child has calmed down, have a conversation with them about appropriate behavior.
Do not choose activities that create additional stress
If you are a parent who is struggling to manage your own stress appropriately, don’t make unwise choices when it comes to the activities you choose to do with your children. Know your threshold of stress tolerance and choose your activities appropriately. If you have an afternoon with four children, opt for a day in the backyard instead of taking the kids to Dave & Buster’s. Don’t choose the 1,000-piece beaded craft project when your child tends to stuff beads up his nose. Instead, choose a simple craft with minimum pieces and parts. While these solutions might sound simple, stressed-out parents tend to make many unwise parenting choices.
Do not use threats or control tactics to manage your child’s behavior
Threats and control tactics actually encourage defiance. Parenting strategies that are rooted in eliciting fear usually have an adverse effect. While it is okay to have firm boundaries, don’t communicate them in a threatening or controlling way.
Do not tie your identity as a parent to your child’s behavior
If you are constantly worrying about how others perceive you because of your child’s behavior, you will be caught in a dangerous cycle. This way of thinking causes parents to make choices based on fear - instead of what is best for your child. Practice self-awareness and make parenting choices through the lens of what is best for your child - and not your reputation.
Do not take control away from your children
Everyone has a need for control, and it can be very frustrating to have orders “barked” at you all day long. Look for ways to give your children control over small things. For example, let them choose the vegetable they want to eat with dinner. Give them a choice as to the order of their bedtime routine. Giving a little control can go a long way for a child.
Remember that by understanding your child’s threshold for stress and connecting with them in meaningful ways will have a positive effect on their development. Don’t shy away from being vulnerable with your child and always look for ways to incorporate more affirmation into your discipline tactics. Stay away from threats and look for the most opportune times to teach life lessons to your children. If you’re struggling to control your own emotional reactions, seek out someone to help you model more appropriate responses. Children learn what is modeled for them, so a parent’s emotional health is crucial. Above all, take a deep breath, know that kids are resilient, and understand that it is never too late to make parenting changes to help your kids grow into strong and confident adults.
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